Tag Archives: urban

The Dreamer’s Awakening (Eloik: Nightmare Fighter #1)

Title: The Dreamer’s Awakening

Author: Martin Bois and Sebastian Levek

Series: Eloik: Nightmare Fighter #1

Eloik has always let fear rule his life. But as a danger which lives in dreams reaches out across to the waking world, he’ll have to conquer his worst nightmares.

Oh good. I’m finally done with this.

I really had to force my way through this. The execution stumbles at a number of points, which took what could have been some good ideas and bogged them down in a story that had me throwing the book at the wall at multiple points.

The first problem was the opening. It begins with an essay that is dry, boring, and left me wondering if I’d actually picked up a work of fiction or a psychology textbook (I actually had to check to make sure I hadn’t pulled one of my nonfiction books by mistake). And the very first sentence has grammatical issues, which doesn’t help the case at all.

Then we get tons of landscape description followed by a scene focusing on two throwaway minions of the main villain. This has little relevance to the plot and is mostly there to showcase the big bad is very scary and Up To Something. The story in general likes to cut away to the villains, which feels completely pointless because we aren’t going back to the same villains (even the Nightmare Queen only shows up once at the very beginning and once at the very end), and everyone portrayed is a flat, cartoonishly evil bad guy. Cartoon evil can work in some cases, but given how seriously the rest of the story is trying to take itself, it really didn’t work for me here.

Then we have the protagonist. Eloik is described as having major social anxiety. Except the way he behaves in no way paints him anything other than COMPLETELY NORMAL. Eloik travels alone for over an hour on public transportation each way, regularly, to get to his mental health appointments. And the appointments themselves are in this giant facility with hundreds of other people, which he sees especially in the big lunch room where he eats with everyone (and he only feels sorry for himself because he has no friends and must eat alone). And on the way home he typically stops in a restaurant for dinner.

Social anxiety? What social anxiety? Here we have Mr. “I’m excused from school because I’m completely unable to deal with other people” . . . dealing with other people. A lot. Complete strangers, too. The only things that even makes him uneasy are a disappearing girl and a bully. THIS IS A NORMAL RANGE OF RESPONSES. So even though the plot keeps emphasizing him being hung up with fear, it’s impossible not to feel like the story is just lying to me.

Add to that the bits that actually are interesting, like his name, are never explained.

Next up was the big sphere used to project “virtual reality” scenarios. This is magic. There are far too many holes for it to work as a piece of technology, like how it creates entire interactive worlds when Eloik isn’t even wearing a headset or gloves to help him interact with it (wrist bracelets? Really?). Basically it would only make sense if it was interacting directly with the brain. It wouldn’t surprise me if the story actually meant it to be a Dream-fueled machine, but Eliok was a fool if he believed this was possible through non-alien levels of technology. I have no problem with magic, but the inconsistency in how it was portrayed bugged me.

THEN the Nazis show up. I wish I was joking.

Look, you have a great big dream world where literally anything is possible, and nothing HAS to follow the rules. You can have evil fluffy bunnies or killer clouds or a Rubik cube that eats your brain. Go wild! Instead, we get Nazis. Because apparently Nazis are and forever will be the pinnacle of evil (and let’s ignore the fact that there were other regimes that killed even more people around the same time period, because Nazis. I get that they’re evil, but I’m so, so sick of Nazis.)

And the story devolves into elaborate conspiracy theories about Nazis, WWII, secret societies, and I’m so close to the end I really want to just be done but I’m wondering if I can force myself to go another few words.

I think this might have been better as a comic, because the pictures were at least interesting, and then I wouldn’t have to put up with a lot of the prose. The prose is often clunky, especially near the end when the whole team is talking with each other. But even being a comic wouldn’t solve the more glaring plot and character issues. Not Recommended.

Pyromantic (Firebug #2)

Title: Pyromantic

Author: Lish McBride

Series: Firebug #2

Ava had hoped that killing Venus, the old Coterie boss, would make her life better. But she’s still bound to the Coterie, and she can’t figure out how to react to the new boss. He seems NICE. Professional. Possibly even a great guy. Still, he’s someone who will use her the same way Venus did, as an enforcer against troublesome supernatural beings. She can’t figure out her relationship with Lock anymore, either–not after turning him down so badly. And she can’t afford to stay in this mixed-up state. Ava’s never far from trouble, but this time she could lose it all . . .

I love these books. I love these characters, and the way they grate against each other but still have bonds stronger than death. I love the easy camaraderie (even though Ava is having a really hard time with that for most of the book because of Lock, but the foundation of that friendship is still there). I love how FUNNY they can get. Every Lish McBride book has had me stopping because I was laughing too hard to keep reading. Some of my favorite quotes:

Ezra, on Lock’s new minivan:

“I, for one, approve of Lock’s new mom car. Obviously I wouldn’t be caught dead owning one myself, but I like that we can transport a body and have enough cup holders for all of us.”


Ava, thinking about Lock:

Now simply wasn’t the time to stray from comfortable paths. I also didn’t want any first-kiss kind of stories to involve the phrase “a few feet from a fresh corpse.” I’m particular that way.


On the way to a mission:

Talking is great, but sometimes a well-placed uppercut is really more efficient.


I also really like that the world goes way beyond the usual urban fantasy menagerie of fantastic creatures. There are several weres, but not of the wolf variety. Kelpies feature prominently in the story, and other more obscure creatures also get a good bit of attention. It makes everything feel much bigger, more magical, more deadly. Because you never quite know what’s going to pop up next.

The mystery is pretty good too. Ava’s thrown into one escapade after another, and in between trying not to die, she and the rest tackle the question of why it’s all happening in the first place.

I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll tie it up here. These are some of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and they’ve quickly risen to the top of my favorites list. I do hope that there will be many more books in this world, both with familiar characters and new. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The True Meaning of Smekday (The Smek Smeries #1)

Title: The True Meaning of Smekday

Author: Adam Rex

Series: The Smek Smeries #1

Gratuity is a precocious 11-year-old who happens to get a first-hand look at the alien Boov takeover of the planet. Little does she know a chance encounter with a Boov mechanic on the run will pull her into a war that’s spanned the galaxy. All she really wants, though, is to find out what happened to her mother (preferably while not being shot at by aliens).

The writing on this is strong, with a good sense of voice and engaging main characters. Gratuity (Tip) is independent enough to tackle her problems herself, even when it involves a long drive cross-country through alien-occupied territory. But she still wouldn’t get very far without a Boov who calls himself J.Lo, whose mechanical genius is matched by his appetite for toxic substances.  And the humor is also pretty strong, much of it in Tip’s wry observations about her circumstances.

But I found myself losing steam as the book progressed. The literary style started into a lot of literary tropes I’m tired of seeing. Oh, here’s a homosexual who got beaten senseless because people are nasty to homosexuals (this is one sentence and feels more like trying to check an Issues bingo card). Here’s how the greatest problems with sticking the entire country into one state are mostly people of different races devolving into bouts of racism (personally, I think the far, far, FAR bigger problem that wasn’t addressed was the severe lack of bathrooms. You can’t just stick millions of people into Arizona and expect to have enough toilets for everyone. And that’s discounting the fact that Arizona is kind of noted for being rather dry, so are the aliens running the plumbing systems now too, so that everyone can afford to flush? What about toilet paper? My thoughts go here because a large portion of the plot does get spent in bathrooms. But you could make the same argument about basic shelter or hygiene or medicines. But the story never talks about people dying left and right, unless they’re shooting each other.)

There were others, but it was in the same vein. The second big thing that bugged me with the end was Gratuity’s mom. The beginning paints her as lovable but not quite all there, easy to manipulate, easy to take advantage of. Given that, I never could believe what she ended up doing (trying to avoid spoiling anything, but it was before the Gorg).

So . . . nice prose, sure. But not for me. I kept fighting to suspend disbelief with the setting, and I didn’t like how the whole book felt like a Message about certain Issues in addition to a story. I rate this book Neutral.

Noragami Aragoto (Anime)

Title: Noragami Aragoto

Episodes 1-13 (13-25 overall; it’s season 2 of Noragami)

Yato’s trouble as a stray god of calamity are only getting worse. Bishamon, the war goddess with a huge grudge against him, has finally pushed him too far. And beyond that, Yato’s shadowed past is coming back to haunt him . . .

This season focuses on two major arcs, which was great for me since I prefer longer stories. I particularly liked what happens with Yukine this season.

Last season, Yato went far above and beyond to give Yukine every chance he could, and Yukine is determined to repay the favor. He’s too new to really know what’s expected of him, so he’s determined to learn how to fulfill his role to the best of his ability (and his abilities are considerable). The methods he chooses surprise those around him, and although he succeeds in many things, it’s still an open-ended question whether or not he can grant Yato’s dearest wish. That part will likely hinge on Yato himself.

It’s also interesting to see Yukine’s building rivalry with Nora, the other major Regalia in Yato’s life, but one Yato doesn’t seem to want—perhaps because she has multiple names from multiple masters. Yukine wants to be dependable enough that Yato can abandon Nora for good. Nora, however, has her own plans for Yato.

Some parts of these arcs felt a bit rehashed, as Hiyori loses her memories multiple times, although one of those times was a good reminder to her that she’s not specially immune from the consequences of forgetfulness. But Hiyori in general is still a great character. She knows she’s important to Yato, but he can still be really annoying to her since he has no concept of how to relate to people as friends. Still, when she does attempt to do something to make him happy, she never expects the kind of reaction she gets. She’s HUMAN (mostly), and although that puts her under basically everyone who has powers, she’s got her own strengths that none of them can duplicate.

And I liked the direction Yato took here, where his troubles are more evident and his hyper personality comes off more like a desperate wish for how he wants to be. He’s hardly mentioned his own history. Yukine and Hiyori are stuck asking the gods who knew him about a lot of the details, but even they only have fragments of the full story. Yato still has his really aggravating moments, but overall I’ve come to appreciate him more as a character, and I hope he and Yukine will be able to work out a new direction for his life.

Overall I think this is a stronger season than the first, with Yukine’s big moment and subsequent development my favorite parts. But I also liked the deepening relational dynamics, the high level of action, and the rising stakes. There’s a bit at the very end that hints at further complications to come, so I hope a third season will be announced at some point. Until then, I’ll be reading the manga to figure out what happens next. I rate this series Recommended.

Noragami (Anime)

Title: Noragami

Episodes 1-12

Yato is a minor deity so desperate for recognition he’ll do any odd jobs that come his way. But while chasing a stray cat he encounters a girl whose attempt to save him causes her to leave her body. Add to that his attempts to gain a new weapon have landed him with a middle-school boy with a troubled personality . . .

I actually found this show because I stumbled across the second opening on Youtube. When I first looked Noragami up the summary made me discount it as some slice-of-life with a bit of supernatural thrown in, but I kept wondering why they’d pick such a rock-heavy song for an opening if the show was really like that. (For the curious, the song is Hey Kids! by The Oral Cigarettes, and has quickly become one of my favorites. Although it is the opening to the SECOND half, so it’s not actually on these eps at all.)

Fortunately, even the first few minutes of the first episode was enough to disabuse me of that notion. We begin with Yato hunting down a Phantom, a monster invisible to ordinary people, in the middle of the city in broad daylight—although after he vanquishes it, his life starts to go downhill, as much of his power as a god is tied up in the Regalia he uses as his weapon, and his weapon has decided she’s had enough and quits.

I never really liked Yato that much. Most of the drama in this first season results from his insensitivity and careless treatment of Yukine, and it’s hard not to get frustrated when some of the biggest moments could have been avoided or reduced dramatically if they’d just sat down and talked a few things out. But Hiyori helps keep things balanced, as she’s sensible in ways Yato isn’t. Although both Hiyori and Yukine don’t know anything about the supernatural world, they have different ties to it, and different roles.

The humor was also a bit hit or miss for me. I did enjoy some of the gags, but I’m not fond of Yato’s over the top hysterics.

That said, the show as a whole was something I liked. It’s fast-paced, and the supernatural aspect allows for new and strange things to show up on a regular basis. Yato when he’s serious (usually when he’s fighting) is a lot of fun. Hiyori is a great counterbalance for him, as she’s sweet and personable (when she’s not trying to beat up monsters or knock some sense into him). And Yukine somehow manages to be an innocent deliquent.

Overall, this has a good balance of action and character, so if it sounds appealing give it an episode or three to see if it catches your interest. I rate this show Recommended.

Audiobook Roundup – Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday

Title: Mister Monday

Author: Garth Nix

Series: Keys to the Kingdom #1

(Also Grim Tuesday, which is the second book in the series)

I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook versions of Mister Monday and Grim Tuesday recently. Both of them are narrated by the same reader and generally very well done. I wasn’t too fond of Suzy’s dialogue as she’s read in a bit of a whiny tone, but the variation in voices was good (so you could tell who was talking before you got to the dialog tags) and there was a lot of emotion in the actual lines.

I still find Grim Tuesday less interesting than Mister Monday, mostly because the Will doesn’t show up until basically the end, and doesn’t do anything much. And the Second Key also isn’t in Arthur’s possession until basically the last chapter. But it helps that Nix’s stories make very good audiobooks—he doesn’t have wasted prose, the plots are tight and energetic, and his characters are well drawn.

Check out my reviews on the books if you want farther thoughts on the plot. The story is good in either case, but you won’t go wrong with the audiobook.

Hounded (The Iron Druid Chronicles #1)

Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles #1

Atticus O’Sullivan is a 21-centuries-old Druid who would prefer to be left alone. But a sword he happened to acquire in his younger days is still being sought by its original owner: the Celtic love god Aenghus Og. Atticus has been on the run for centuries, but this time, when the fight comes to his doorstep, he might be ready to try to end this for good.

This urban fantasy contains a lot of the usual suspects: vampires, werewolves, witches, gods and goddesses. And a few of the not-so-usual in the form of the main character, a Druid (who conveniently avoids most of the less savory things historical Druids have been known to practice in favor of a more earth-worshipping religion). It was also a nice change of pace that most of the gods showing up were Celtic.

The story moves quickly, as Atticus finds himself at the center of a storm of attacks designed to either steal the sword or kill him (or both). I did like his lawyers, and how all of them are deadly in their own ways. And the dog is a lot of fun.

Mostly I wasn’t too swayed one way or the other by this. It’s a decent urban fantasy, but nothing particularly grabbed me and made me want to keep going with the next book. The worldbuilding is probably the best part, but the “everything goes” mindset was annoying because it fails to provide any context for how wildly disparate belief systems can all be equally true. I would have preferred some kind of baseline that could then show how various things worked within it. I rate this book Neutral.