books

Review – “Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples” (Illustrated by Colleen Doran)

918fkn2oh0lWe all know how much I love a good Neil Gaiman story. He’s one of my favorite authors currently writing and I’ve yet to encounter one of his stories that I haven’t enjoyed in some way or another. Some of my favorite Gaiman things are the comic adaptations of his prose work. I always find it really intriguing seeing how comic artists adapt the work of Gaiman (an author who got, perhaps, one of his earliest and biggest breaks within the world of comics) into this more visual medium. This is where Snow, Glass, Apples comes into play. It’s the latest in a fairly-lengthy line of comic adaptations of Gaiman’s work to be published by Dark Horse Comics; ignoring their ongoing American Gods adaptation, it’s the second such graphic novel adapting some of Gaiman’s short stories. What intrigued me the most about this adaptation were the excerpts that featured some of Collen Doran’s illustrations. Her style promised a really interesting, unique, and gorgeous take on the original short story and I was very excited to give it a read. How did it turn out? Just as good as I’d hoped it would be, if not better!

Snow, Glass, Apples (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran)
A not-so-evil queen is terrified of her monstrous stepdaughter and determined to repel this creature and save her kingdom from a world where happy endings aren’t so happily ever after.

From the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, Nebula award-winning, and New York Times bestselling writer Neil Gaiman (American Gods) comes this graphic novel adaptation by Colleen Doran (Troll Bridge)!

The short story this comic is based on is, perhaps, one of Gaiman’s best-known shorts. A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale from the point of view of the Step-Mother. What if Snow White were some kind of vampire-esque monster and the “Evil Queen” was only trying to save her kingdom from this threat? This is the question at the heart of the short story, itself a haunting and suspenseful tale that, as you’d expect, ends in tragedy. It’s a really solid short story, originally collected in Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors collection. I’m a sucker for a good twist on an old fairy tale and this one proves to be more than just “what if the villain was misunderstood”, pivoting hard into more of a “what if the ‘hero’ was actually the monster?” and I really dig that. Gaiman handles the subject with care, walking a fine line between sympathy for all the characters and depicting monstrous things with a monstrous touch. It’s a really solid, entertaining, haunting, and spooky story and it’s one of my favorites of Gaiman’s short fiction.

What makes this particular adaptation unique, though, are the illustrations from Colleen Doran. Doran’s art style throughout this comic adaptation is more reminiscent of religious stained glass artwork than that found in a traditional graphic novel. This stylistic choice really works well for the material, though, as it gives the whole story an elevated visual identity. Doran’s artwork is beautiful and she manages to maintain a superb balance between the beauty of the images and the practicality needed from them to usher the actual story of the graphic novel along. Each of her images, while being gorgeous works of art, exist to serve the story being told. They’re beautifully detailed but never too indulgent. It’s a perfect balance between beauty and practicality.

All in all, this is a must-read for Gaiman fans. It’s a short read – clocking in at around 60 pages – but it’s a beautiful new take on a Gaiman classic that will delight you, frighten you, and make you want to read it again and again. The story is haunting and well-executed, Doran’s artwork is beautiful and perfectly matches the tone of the story, and the whole affair just serves as a wonderful retelling of a great short story. It’s perfect for the spooky season, too, so give it a read.

Five out of five wands

REVIEW: “Books of Magic”, vol. 1: Moveable Type

791348._sx1280_ql80_ttd_I never read Neil Gaiman’s original 4-issue run of Books of Magic, nor did I read any of the subsequent runs, so, naturally, of the four titles initially announced for the first wave of Sandman Universe series, this one was the one I was least interested in. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in the premise – I love a good story about people learning how to do magic – but it was more the idea that, due to my lack of knowledge of any of the previous stories, I’d be totally lost going into this comic and find myself unable to enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, it is still my least favorite ‘volume 1’ of the three in the Sandman Universe that I’ve read so far. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Books of Magic, Volume 1: Moveable Type (written by Kat Howard, illustrated by Tom Fowley, colors by Jordan Boyd) 
While Tim’s trying to study and attract the cutest girl in his class, there are cultists who want to kill him, believing his magical powers will eventually corrupt him, turning him into a merciless mage that will bring upon the end of magic forever! But when a mysterious new substitute teacher for his school called Dr. Rose wants to mentor and educate him in the magical arts so that he can discover the secrets behind the Books of Magic, Tim believes he has the tools to find his missing mother. Is this sudden guidance too good to be true, and what connection–if any–does Rose have to the disappearance of Tim’s teacher Mr. Brisby?

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REVIEW: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

ocean at the end of the lane bookI first read The Ocean at the End of the Lane around the time it was originally published in 2013. It was the first novel from Neil Gaiman I’d ever read; I’d seen his Doctor Who work, watched Neverwhere, and read some issues of The Sandman by this point but I had never read one of his novels in their entirety. Talk about a hell of a way to get into Gaiman’s work. At the time, I was just approaching adulthood, so this novel’s tale of a middle-aged man going through a deeply nostalgic trip down memory lane really hit me hard as it evoked feelings of long-lost childhood and the story itself proved to be far scarier than anything I’d read from Gaiman before – or, frankly, since. Now, since a stage adaptation of the novel has recently been announced by the National Theatre in the UK (it hits the stage in December of this year and I desperately hope National Theatre Live broadcasts it), it felt like the perfect time to revisit this book. It’s been six years since I last read it and I reread books so infrequently that it’ll almost be like experiencing this story for the first time all over again. And how is it returning to this story, you might ask? Wonderful. I truly adore this novel.  (NOTE: this review may feature spoilers related to the plot of the story.)

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

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REVIEW: “Neverwhere” – The Illustrated Edition, by Neil Gaiman (will illustrations by Chris Riddell)

neverwhereI tried to read Neverwhere, the first solo novel from Neil Gaiman, years ago but I had shortly beforehand watched the original TV version of the story, so I had a lot of trouble getting into the novel as it skewed so closely to what I’d so recently watched. Years passed and I’d read a number of Gaiman’s other novels – Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – while never returning to his first to really give it a fair shot. Now,  in the wake of the success of Gaiman’s adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, I thought I’d return to a few favorites of Gaiman’s work while finally giving Neverwhere a real chance. Enough time has passed that I don’t really remember a whole lot of the TV show, so it was really the perfect time to give the book I read. I went to my local bookstore and found a new version of the book – Gaiman’s preferred text, now illustrated by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s frequent collaborators. With this new copy of the book and a copy of the audiobook – narrated by Gaiman, himself – it was time to finally read Neverwhere. Now, having finished the book, I can honestly say that I’m really mad at myself for how long it took me to read this book because it’s really that damn good. (NOTE: This review will discuss elements of the story itself, Riddell’s illustrations, and Gaiman’s audiobook. Also, mild spoilers for a 23-year-old novel follow.) 

Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell)
Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of a major talent. Over the years, various versions have been produced around the world. In 2016, this gorgeously illustrated edition of the novel was released in the UK. It is now available here, and features strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s favorite artistic interpreters of his work.

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REVIEW: “Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

91ygin4voqlNovelizations of movies can really be a hit or miss affair. The best ones take the events that happen within a film and expand upon them in ways only a novel can do – bringing readers into the thoughts of the characters within a film and showing those same events from a different angle or with extra bits that the film might not have had time to show. Unfortunately, most film novelizations don’t do that – they to just be fairly strict prose conversions of the script. So, it’s with that mindset that I approached this “novelization” of Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth – I hesitate to call this book a novelization because Pan’s Labyrinth came out thirteen years ago and most novelizations come out around the same time as the film they’re novelizing. With that context, it might be best to consider this book a retelling of the story featuring in the film – a screen-to-page adaptation, if you will, by a talented author – Cornelia Funke. As is always the case with any adaptation, does the story still work when transferred to this new medium? In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, the answer is yes and no.

“Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke
Oscar winning writer-director Guillermo del Toro and New York Times bestselling author Cornelia Funke have come together to transform del Toro’s hit movie Pan’s Labyrinth into an epic and dark fantasy novel for readers of all ages, complete with haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that flesh out the folklore of this fascinating world.

This spellbinding tale takes readers to a sinister, magical, and war-torn world filled with richly drawn characters like trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family.

A brilliant collaboration between masterful storytellers that’s not to be missed.

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REVIEW: “The Nice and Accurate Good Omens Companion” by Matt Whyman, & “The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens Script Book” by Neil Gaiman

good omens booksCompanion books to movies and TV shows are always a bit of a dice roll when it comes to their quality. While they’re usually filled with interesting anecdotes and tons of pictures, they have a habit of feeling little more than a fluff piece used as an advertisement for that film/TV series. Luckily, this isn’t the case with either of the two books released as tie-ins for Amazon Prime and BBC’s recent adaptation of Good Omens. Both books – a traditional companion and a book featuring all of Neil Gaiman’s scripts for the series – are excellent reads, managing to be both informative and worthwhile reads even for those who know everything there is to know about the series and its creation.

“The Nice and Accurate Good Omens Companion” by Matt Whyman
Following the original novel’s chronological structure—from “the Beginning” to “End Times”—this official companion to the Good Omens television series, compiled by Matt Whyman, is a cornucopia of information about the show, its conception, and its creation. Offering deep and nuanced insight into Gaiman’s brilliantly reimagining of the Good Omens universe, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion includes: A foreword from Neil Gaiman, A profile of the director, Douglas McKinnon, Neil’s take on the adaptation process, in which he explains his goals, approach, and diversions from the original text, Interviews with the cast, including Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Nina Sosanya, Jon Hamm, Ned Dennehy, Josie Lawrence, Derek Jacobi, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, and many others, More than 200 color photographs. And much more!

“The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens Script Book” by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s complete original scripts for the highly anticipated six-episode original series, adapted from the classic novel he wrote with Terry Pratchett. Collected here are Neil Gaiman’s original scripts for the Good Omens television series, offering readers deeper insight into Gaiman’s brilliant new adaptation of a masterwork.

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REVIEW: “Lucifer, Volume 1: The Infernal Comedy” (The Sandman Universe)

91qts0qrbulAs I’ve previously said, I love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. It’s one of my favorite long-running comic series and it had such a perfect ending as written. I didn’t read any of the spin-off material that came out during the original run of the series – such as the original Book of Magic miniseries or Mike Carey’s Lucifer run. But with the launch of The Sandman Universe, it seemed a perfect time to hop onboard the Lucifer train and see what his comic was all about. I gotta say, this first volume of the newest Lucifer series turned out to be a pretty great first Lucifer story for me to read. (Slight spoilers follow.)

This is the one true tale of what befell the Prince of Lies, the Bringer of Light–Lucifer. The blind, destitute old man, who lives in a small boarding house in a quiet little town, where nothing is quite what it seems and no one can leave. He’s trapped, you see? Trapped in a bizarre prison with no memory of how he got there or why. As the Devil soon discovers, the answers lay in wait with his estranged son, Caliban… too bad Lucifer can’t find him. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Detective John Decker is drawn into a shadowy conspiracy whose widely varied members share a single common purpose: to kill Lucifer Morningstar.

From crime and mystery author Dan Watters (The Shadow, Deep Roots) with art from Max Fiumara and Sebastian Fiumara (Abe Sapien, The Amazing Spider-Man, All-Star Batman) bring us the next chapter in the story everyone’s favorite son of God.

This is the first Lucifer comic I’d ever read. I was familiar with the character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but I’d never actually read any of the character’s solo stories. So, as this volume began, I did feel a bit confused as to what was going on. Watters definitely throws readers into the deep end in this story, but it quickly becomes clear that he has a well-thought-out masterplan that proves to be very accessible for new readers – and very rewarding, I suspect, for longtime readers.

In this story, Lucifer has had a son and has abandoned that son in the past – a fact that was alluded to within “The Sandman Universe #1” one-shot (also included in this volume). To right this wrong, he seeks to reunite the son with his mother. Naturally, things don’t go according to plan and Lucifer ends up in a prison he can’t escape from, being held hostage by someone from his past with an ax to grind. And when you’re the literal devil, that’s a lot of people.

The story unfolds in a very interesting way. As I said, it starts off right in the middle of everything, with Lucifer lost in this other world, missing his memories and trying to unravel everything. As the story goes on and the characters all figure out what is going on, the audience is clued in with a series of flashbacks – and a B-plot that ties in directly with the A-plot – and everything unfolds in a very interesting way and ultimately leads to a pretty climactic finale that perfectly sets up the next arc in this ongoing series.

Watters’ writing isn’t the only highlight of this book, however. Accompanying his writing is artwork from Max Fiumara and Sebastian Fiumara. The artwork from these two definitely elevates Watters’ script into something befitting of the devil. The art perfectly builds off of the established features of the Lucifer character – a character designed to be reminiscent of David Bowie – while also adding some new things and perfectly fleshing out the world with gorgeous settings and interesting characters. Watters’ script and Max and Sebastian Fiumara’s art is a match made in heaven – or, perhaps, in hell.

All in all, this first volume of Lucifer is a great start to this ongoing season. It’s a great jumping on point for readers new to the ongoing story of this character and it appears to be a great return to the character for preexisting fans. The story told within this volume is delightful, mixing Christian mythology with The Sandman Universe’s narrative flair. It’s equal parts moving, suspenseful, and bloody. It’s a great book for a great devil.

4 out of 5 wands.

REVIEW: “Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Adam Christopher

91geul5xcolStranger Things is returning to screens this summer for its third season and it seems that Netflix is pulling out all the stops to promote it. With multiple novels and comic mini-series, the Stranger Things universe just seems to be growing and growing. And, here’s the thing: these Stranger Things novels are really turning out to be pretty enjoyable reads. I loved the first one, Suspicious Minds (written by Gwenda Bond) and I quite enjoyed this second one, Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s not quite as spectacular as the first one – and it doesn’t quite reveal anything as shocking or interesting as that book – but it ends up being a pretty solid crime novel with a Stranger Things twist. (Mild spoilers for the novel follow.)

“Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Adam Christopher 
Christmas, Hawkins, 1984. All Chief Jim Hopper wants is to enjoy a quiet first Christmas with Eleven, but his adopted daughter has other plans. Over Hopper’s protests, she pulls a cardboard box marked “New York” out of the basement—and the tough questions begin. Why did Hopper leave Hawkins all those years ago? What does “Vietnam” mean? And why has he never talked about New York?

Although he’d rather face a horde of demogorgons than talk about his own past, Hopper knows that he can’t deny the truth any longer. And so begins the story of the incident in New York—the last big case before everything changed. . . .

Summer, New York City, 1977
. Hopper is starting over after returning home from Vietnam. A young daughter, a caring wife, and a new beat as an NYPD detective make it easy to slip back into life as a civilian. But after shadowy federal agents suddenly show up and seize the files about a series of brutal, unsolved murders, Hopper takes matters into his own hands, risking everything to discover the truth.

Soon Hopper is undercover among New York’s notorious street gangs. But just as he’s about to crack the case, a blackout rolls across the boroughs, plunging Hopper into a darkness deeper than any he’s faced before.

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REVIEW: “The Journals of Incabad Reyl” by Gregory Tasoulas

71j8qiuwuplI’m really picky about the kinds of science fiction and fantasy books I like. I like stories that have a well-defined world while also not requiring an encyclopedia to understand that world. I like stories with well-defined characters who help guide the reader through this other world. So, when Gregory Tasoulas reached out to offer a review copy of his book The Journals of Incabad Reyl for me to review, I thought I’d give it a shot. It seemed right up my alley and, on the whole, I’m not disappointed. It’s not really the kind of sci-fi/fantasy story I’d read, but it did end up being pretty good.

In a different Universe where electricity is the defining driving force of all natural existence, and life exists on floating islands called troves, Incabad Reyl is the greatest scientist of his time. It was his research on the 12 electrons that gave the Equation of fractal dynamics, the Equation that became the basis of Horizon’s modern technology. The Equation that brought about a better understanding of the echomagnetic fields of the 12 permanent Storms and ushered Horizon into an era of technological advancement based on its abundant electrical forces.

But his Equation was flawed and incomplete…

And so, decades after his famous research that put him on a pedestal as Horizon’s greatest scientific mind, Professor Reyl embarks on a clandestine adventure to find what he calls the Master Equation. An equation that will define the elusive variables of the Horizon’s volatile and ever-changing echomagnetic fields. Or so everybody thinks.

His only ally a cryptic Oracle from the trove Ocheron, Lieutenant Auburn Thorn.

Together, the two men leave the trove Accadia, one of the ten Cradles of human civilization and travel to the distant and unexplored trove Tarn, where they venture deep into the uncharted jungle. With the help of Auburn’s oracular abilities, they discover an ancient technomagical building of unknown origins.

While the superficial harmony between the ten Cradles of humanity unravels around them, the two will have to face unforeseen adversities and betrayals, in a race to save humanity’s future.

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REVIEW: “The Buying of Lot 37” and “Who’s a Good Boy?” Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, Volumes 3 & 4, by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink

wtnv-3-4In case it isn’t clear, I love Welcome to Night Vale. I love the novels, I love the live shows, I love the podcast, and I love these script books, too. I always have trouble focusing on audio-only stories, so I find that having the scripts for podcasts such as Welcome to Night Vale really helps me follow the podcast and understand all that is going on within it. Add to these extremely useful scripts a bunch of illustrations and a whole lot of behind the scenes tidbits, and you’ve got a collection of published scripts that any Night Vale fan would love. This proved true for the first two volumes of script books and it absolutely proves true for this new set, too. A note: I have previously reviewed years three and four of Welcome to Night Vale in earlier blog posts, so, rather than review the scripts of these books themselves, I will shortly recap my review of each of the seasons prior to moving onto what’s specific to these two novels.

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novels It Devours! and Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a collection of episodes from Seasons Three and Four of their hit podcast, featuring an introduction by the authors, a foreword by Dessa, behind-the-scenes commentary, and original illustrations.

The Buying of Lot 37 brings Season Three of the podcast to book form. With foreword by recording artist and author Dessa, introductions by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, insightful behind-the-scenes commentary by cast members and supporters, and beautiful illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompanying each episode, this book is both an entertaining reading experience and an absolute must-have for any fan of the podcast.

And, with Who’s a Good Boy?, Season Four of the podcast is available in book form, offering a valuable reference guide to past episodes. Featuring a foreword by twitter personality and highly regarded author Jonny Sun, original introductions by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, fascinating behind-the-scenes commentary by cast members and supporters, and gorgeous illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompanying each episode, this book will thrill fans of the podcast and those new to the amazing universe of Night Vale.

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