When I discovered that Gail Simone was writing a series for Vertigo, I was annoyed with myself for not knowing about it sooner. I mean, seriously Smalerie? Gail Simone. Original horror series. Get on it, girl.
So I did.
Then I wrote a review.
After Chloe Pierce loses her fiance to suicide, she embarks on a mission find out what could have driven him to take his own life. When all signs point towards self-help guru Astrid Mueller, Chloe will stop at nothing to find the truth behind Astrid and her mysterious organization.
When writing a mystery/horror story, the author has the difficult task of providing enough intrigue to keep the reader interested without making them frustrated. Clues need to be left behind like breadcrumbs or shiny pebbles leading you out of the dark forest. Clean Room handles this so well that I simply could not stop reading the first trade. At one point I was forced to put the book down, and it almost felt like the story followed me, hiding in a dark part of my mind and forcing me to think about it when I should have been concentrating on dinner conversation or watching an action flick with my family. I think reading this one as the issues came out might have driven me crazy.
From the description alone, I’m sure that most of you have figured out this book is for mature audiences. There are some VERY disturbing things that both happen and are referenced in this book. And while there were a few times when I felt that certain language and nudity might have been used more for the shock value rather than because it added to the story or said something about a character’s true nature, this story intends to strip characters down to their emotional cores and that is rarely pretty. But regardless of how ugly it gets, it still remains an engrossing read.
Mueller’s organization is an extremely secretive and organized one, providing more access and information as you go up the ranks. While this structure is common among many organizations, there is a lot here that reminds me of Scientology. It’s still early in the story for me to say if Mueller and her followers are dealing with their reality in the best way, but this book makes you really wonder what’s happening behind closed doors. This is true both in the story and in the outside world. What’s being kept from us? What do we have the right to know? And how high do the stakes need to be for you to give someone complete power over you? It makes you question authority and feel uneasy. And it’s very possible these questions might never really be answered in the story, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking.
Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is slick and detailed. His art and Quinton Winter’s colors match the writing well and create a really creepy and stark environment. This is especially true when we get the contrast between the Clean Room itself and the outside world. I will admit that there were a few times I felt that the characters seemed too stiff, but it still kinda works once you start to understand what’s really happening in the story. Without giving any spoilers, I think it’s safe enough to say that what you see on the surface is not always a reliable tool for truly understanding the world of this book.
As for the monster factor, I found them to be suitably creepy. You know when you run across something that’s just spooky or gross enough that you need to share it with someone? To either validate your feelings or just to make someone else shudder? Well, let’s just say there were a few times I found myself showing a page to whoever was unfortunate enough to be in the room with me.
It’s great to see Gail Simone writing, well, pretty much anything.
The story builds, feels satisfying enough to keep you reading, and I defy you not to run out and get Vol. 2 immediately.
Commence impressive movie trailer voice: In a world littered with film sequels, Smalerie finds herself on an unexpected journey. Join her as she bravely reads three distinct titles designed to work as a continuations of films, in hopes of discovering…if they are any good!
Recently, a friend of the blog/Papercutz representative shared an entire box of books with the ladies. We each grabbed a couple and will be submitting our reviews here. Looks like I’m up first!
Sybil the Backpack Fairy: Book 3 Aithor
Michel Rodrigue (Author), Manuela Razzi (Author), Antonello Delana (Illustrator)
Oh man, would you look at how excited everyone is on that cover? 8-year old Smalerie was gunning for this book: flying horses, fairies, hair in all the colors of the rainbow? Yes please! Now if only I could have managed to keep 30-something year old Smalerie out of this.
Quick Summary: Nina has a fairy that lives in her backpack. They have adventures that are fun, but can makes things a bit complicated for Nina. It’s ok though, because fairies are bitchin’ and like to dress like they are off to audition for a magical remake of Flashdance.
The Good Stuff: I have to admit that this is a pretty book to look at. All the characters faces are filled with huge expressions that read well and very clearly. This style also adds to the over all energy of the book, which is extremely high, almost like a sprint at times. Then again, I have a feeling that the abundant use of exclamation points added a lot to that as well.
As a main character, I liked Nina. She is plucky, brave, and makes attempts to keep her fairy grounded in what rules need to apply in the human world – mostly. As an added bonus, Nina takes boxing lessons, a fact established in one of the earlier books.
The Maybe-Not-As-Good: I feel the need to start this part with a disclaimer. When reviewing a book for kids, I never feel that I should be telling parents what their kids should and shouldn’t read. For me, any issues with the book are more talking points for a parent and his/her kids rather than an “avoid this book at all costs.” I might put up some caution tape, but rarely a red flag. My point is, parenting styles are a personal choice, so feel free to disagree. Also, I believe that kids are pretty clever and are often pinpointing a lot of the same issues we are.
For me personally, none of these things I am about to talk about seem like that big of a deal, but like I said, parents and their kids can judge for themselves. But in a world where movie reviews for kids have warnings that adults are seen consuming alcohol, perhaps someone might find this handy.
1) Nina’s erratic behavior leads her mom to take her to see a specialist. The joke is that Nina is fine, she is just dealing with a fairy. While this is a good scene for Nina to tell Sybil that all the magic stuff is a source of stress and that happens to a degree, the end result is that Sybil convinces her not to take it too seriously and then makes a bit of a joke about it by turning the pictures the Doctor asked Nina to draw into a Picasso painting. It’s normal for kids to be suspicious of Doctor types, but perhaps this isn’t the best example out there if a kid really could benefit from the help of a doctor or counselor.
2) Sybil does both Nina’s homework and corrects her schoolwork in class. 8 year old Smal said “Hell’s yeah!” Adult Smal said “Huh, but how is she going to learn anything without learning what she did wrong?!”
3) Nina fake cusses by using the old “@$!&*” method. Huh, who am I kidding? Old and Young Smalerie found this funny.
4) **Spoiler Alert** At the beginning of this book, Nina’s parents are not together. At one point Nina does say that her family isn’t how she would like it to be, and that is normal. What I did find odd was that once her father returns, Nina states how great it was to have a “real” family again. I think Nina needs a reminder that all families come in different shapes and sizes…
This book is recommended for 6-11 year olds. That’s a pretty big range there, so mileage may vary. I would lean towards the younger set.
8 year old Smalerie – 3.5 out of 5 Sparkly Unicorns, something to tide her over until she discovers Sailor Moon
30-something year old Smalerie – 3 out of 5 Mehs, cute enough but not for me anymore
Geronimo Stilton: We’ll Always have Paris (Vol. 11)
Geronimo Stilton (Author), Lorenzo de Pretto (Illustrator)
Summary: The Pirate Cats have gone back in time with a plan to change the past and make themselves rich and powerful in the future. Scaredy-pants jounalist Geronimo Stilton and his friends are off to Paris to stop them.
The Good Stuff: Um, everything? In fact, I was surprised by how charming I found this book. Geronimo is a great character in that he is dedicated, good, but also not perfect. Geronimo is a worrier and afraid of a lot of things. So he might complain a bit for humor’s sake, but that doesn’t mean he ever backs down.
The supporting cast, while along with having silly names (what kind of Mom Mouse would name her kid Bugsy Wugsy?), is strong as well. Each character contributes to the investigation in their own way, though some a bit more helpful then others.
The Really Good Stuff: There is an educational element to this comic that I think really adds to the story. Interspersed throughout the story are fact panels which both provide background history of Paris at the time as well as the building of the Eiffel tower itself. There is a certain kind of mastery involved here since I never felt that the panels took away from the story or caused any unnecessary distractions or breaks. In fact, the trivia that you read even comes up again later in the book as the characters make references to the actions and over all mood of Parisians in the late 19th century.
The Maybe Not-As-Good: My only complaint about this book is that the solution is really simple. I mean, really really simple. Perhaps even a little too easy for the ages 7-11 this book is aimed for. Oddly enough, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. It’s funny how you have a lot less to say about a book that is quite good, but there is very little to find issue with.
Perhaps the only thing a parent might not like is that there is an element of cartoon violence. The lead female Pirate Cat not only states that she means to kill our mousey heroes, but makes several rather unsuccessful attempts at doing so. These are played off as funny, because the cats can’t seem to get anything right anyhow. It reminded me a lot of the old Warner Brothers cartoons with heavy falling objects, but sadly lacking in piano movers and anvils.
Final Tally: Both 8 year old and 30-something Smalerie agree! 4 out of 5 Polly-O String Cheesy Goodness
FTC Full Disclosure: I received free copies of these books from Papercutz. I was not compensated with money or unicorn rides to write this review.
In my 3 Series to Love post back in October, I made sure to mention my enthusiasm for the Fables series. Modern takes on storytelling and reinterpretations of classic characters are some of my favorite things to read. Thankfully Fables has all that in spades! I am certainly not alone in my affection for this long-running series as can be seen by the several spin-offs and tie-ins available in the Fables universe. In a world where there are only so many hours a day to read (pity), I thought it might be helpful to share my enthusiastic fandom by doing a run down of which of these spin-offs I think are worth your time (and money for that matter), and the ones well…maybe not so much.
At the time I am writing this, here is what is available now:
Jack of Fables – completed series
Peter and Max – a stand alone novel
Cinderella – 2 books/series
Fairest – newest series, first trade available
And if I am missing anything, feel free to comment below!
So, let’s go in order shall we?
Jack of Fables
Plot: After a series of films, Jack Horner is now the most popular Fable currently in existence. Unfortunately for him, in order to keep him in check and preserve the safety of the other Fables, Fabletown authorities strip him of his fame and money. To make matters worse, while trying to hitch a ride, he is kidnapped and brought to the mysterious Golden Boughs Retirement Village, a heavily guarded settlement in the middle of nowhere that just so happens completely populated with Fables. Where exactly has he found himself?
How Familiar Do You Need to Be With Fables? This book does make efforts to explain the Fables Universe, but they are short and often feel rushed so as not to interfere with the momentum of the story. Really, the exposition feels more like a reminder rather than an introduction. My advice? It will probably be more satisfying to be familiar with Fables first and branch out at the same time this story removes itself from the main book after the Jack Be Nimble story-arc (Issues #34-35). Down the line, there is a crossover story-line/event back with the original Fables series, so if you want to read both stories together, I’d imagine that would be best and probably what the powers that be had in mind.
I would also like to put out there that having read Fables helps give the story more impact when Jack runs into previously established characters. It’s better to be all “Hell yeah, Bigby!!” than “Oh, so this is that Bigby guy…” Well at least it was for me.
Yes, But Is the Story Any Good? Jack of Fables is quite a good story on its own. New types of characters are introduced with the Literals (literary elements and devices manifest themselves as more than just story characters) and its great to see the Universe expand to include American Folktale characters. Like any series of length it does have its hills and valleys, so i eventually found myself switching from issues to trades to move forward a bit more comprehensively. Also, the artwork is good, but nothing I would call all that memorable.
What Jack of Fables has that is different than Fables itself is the sense of humor. This series seems to revel in its own wackiness. Jack narrates the story himself and is not afraid to break the Fourth Wall. I have found myself often wondering how long they can keep all this up before Jack stops being funny and starts getting annoying, but since I still need to finish the series myself, I am assuming that I will have the opportunity to find that out as I keep going. Jack remains quite himself as always: selfish, careless, and as much of a pig as ever. That being said, a character that doesn’t grow can lose my interest in the end. So let’s hope that Jack begins to learn a little something in the end. Then again, there is something to be said for a character who is such a jerk that the more interesting story is what happens to those who are merely caught in his wake.
Bonus Element: Babe the Blue Ox. Though Babe gets shrunken down to a more manageable size, the same can’t be said about the little ox’s vivid imagination.
Verdict: I find myself stopping and starting a lot with this series. One minute I am reading three trades in an afternoon, the next I was putting it down for a few months. Part of this was waiting for the trades to come out way back when, but they are certainly all available now, and I still haven’t managed to finish the entire series. I am getting close, though, and I certainly plan to finish. Besides, rumor round the web says that the ending is rather big. I think that part of the problem with the series for me is that this series focuses more on American Fables and Tall-tales. While this is VERY cool at times, a lot of these stories and characters are not as familiar to me as the ones in the first Fables series. There are plenty of more well-known characters to even things out, but I did find myself grabbing my phone to look up characters like Natty Bumppo and Slue-foot Sue. And yes, I love getting lost in Wikipedia reading about all these different characters and stories, but it does slow down the reading. And then I run the risk of getting distracted by something else.
Ok, after all that, let’s pretend I have to give you a simple yes or no answer. My answer is yes, because there is a lot of fun to be had, even if you don’t stick it through to the end. Oh, and also…Babe.
Additional Reading: I am merely putting this in here because I feel that this is a pretty great interview with Bill Willingham where he directly talks about the spin-offs and how they fit into his vision of a Fables universe.
Stories spin-off, grow, and change hands. They always have, so why not revel in it?