Book Review: Clara’s Diary by Angelique S. Anderson

Book Review: Clara’s Diary by Angelique S. Anderson

Spoiler free summary: In Clara’s Diary by Angelique S. Anderson, Detective Desmond is a man haunted by the death of his daughter. When a new case lands on his desk that is disturbingly similar to his daughter’s death, Desmond is plunged (OK, I’m going to take this pun for all it’s worth), into a mystery that ties to the strange octopus people who live in this steampunk world. On such person, Sadie, helps Desmond, and her past is the key to all of Desmond’s questions.

The cover image for this book was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Character: In terms of the standard measurements of character (sympathy, competence, proactivity), these characters are ok. I think the reason they suffer is they have odd bouts of incompetence in situations their characters should be the most confident. At every point there should be tension, there’s a brief conversation, and the conflict is resolved in an unfortunately boring way. What could have been a very compelling factor in this relationship ark felt cast aside because the author had a clear idea where they were supposed to end. The problem is, the end is supposed to be a conclusion of a journey, not an objective that denies any twists and turns because the end is more important, and that’s what I think happened here. Desmond is supposed to be this “Sherlock-like” detective (and that is a challenge as well), and the first thing he does is completely wreck a crime scene he probably shouldn’t have been in to begin with. Those little inconsistencies undercut what was actually a pretty charming story.

Exposition: This was actually pretty good. Sure, we have the inevitable dialogue world history, but how else is the reader going to learn about these octopus-human hybrids? So while there were parts that were a bit dumpy is some places, it wasn’t an amount that I didn’t expect. Could it have been better? Yes. Was it so bad it ruined the story? No.

Worldbuilding: This is probably the strength of the story. It has a bit of the same feel as Carnival Row (without the constant sex, which I appreciated). We have this species of sentient beings that are in this world and that world has origins (which are actually pretty important to the plot). The presence of the wordlbuilding was great. The execution is probably what held this story back for me. If you can fast-forward or skip the spicy scenes and focus on the world building of Carnival Row, you see what that show did well that this book didn’t do so well. However, I still feel this book is better because the content is much more appropriate. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t analyze the storytelling aspects of the two. Diary gives us the history and scope of this world through exposition hidden in dialogue. This story would have been better served if we saw this world expand. Yes, it would have expanded the size of the novel, but I don’t mind that much.

Dialogue: So the portions of dialogue that were clearly there to provide exposition through the character’s point of view do drag the story down, but the dialogue is actually pretty charming. Sadie shines in this regard. It’s clever, and the characters have unique voices. The conversations between Desmond and Sadie were a big part of what kept me reading. (I always finish a book, even if I hate it, but reading this book wasn’t nearly as difficult as some others.)

This author portrait was taken from her Amazon author page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: I wonder if any steampunk fans have read this story. You see, I expected much more description here than I got. Steampunk is all about the gadgets and romanticism of a period that wasn’t actually so romantic. Yet this story was pretty sparse. Sure, it had description, and I didn’t personally feel like I was missing out. But a part of me was mentally prepared for these huge blocks of description that just weren’t in this story. I don’t know if that’s common or not. This is probably the second or third steampunk book I’ve read. I think it was better than one, and a little less fun than the other (coming in a future review). So while I didn’t have a problem with the lack of description, I only call it a lack because of what I expected. My question for steampunk fans is: How much description do you expect in a steampunk story?

Overall: The story is charming in its presentation, but it really falls short as a mystery because it was either super predictable or super convoluted. The author didn’t do herself any favors because we always got a giant block of dialogue-hidden exposition right before the “reveal.” That really spoiled it. Instead of sprinkling clues along the way for the reader to gobble up, the author smashed us over the head with a giant sign that (metaphorically) read “You need to know this before you read the next part!” This is a story that I still liked because the characters were actually adorable, but if you love mystery, you’ll feel differently.

Thanks for reading,

Matt





Book Review: White Sand Volume 3 By Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: White Sand Volume 3 By Brandon Sanderson

Spoiler free summary: In White Sand Volume 3 by Brandon Sanderson, everything comes to a head as Kenton fights for the title of Lord Mastrell. He must earn the respect of his peers, preserve his guild, and discover the reason for the murder of his clan.

Character: I appreciated Kenton’s progression here as a rebellious son to one who better understands his father. That might even be my favorite part of this trilogy, but that’s actually a bad thing. The final fight was pretty cool. I’ll mention more about that below. I think I saw a bit more development from some of the other characters, but my issue is with one of the side characters. He has a pretty big shift in the story, and I didn’t really feel like it was natural. He had a very minor role though (in a manner of speaking), so it didn’t have that big of an impact on my opinion. It was just something worth noting.

Exposition: I think this is where the exposition was the roughest. There was a lot of data to share, and it either came up in exposition/narrative boxes or in dialogue that was a bit more Scooby Doo than I would have liked (see below).

Worldbuilding: Most of the worldbuilding was established in the previous volume. There’s a bit of a reveal here that I thought was interesting, and the political reveal (which is an aspect of worldbuilding) was believable if not satisfying.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is brandongray.jpg
This portrait of Mr. Sanderson was taken from his About page on his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Dialogue: So the aforementioned Scooby Doo. There really was a scene here were the Kenton calls someone out, and the guy gives a speech very akin to a villain’s Scooby Doo speech. The only thing missing was, ” … and I would have gotten away with it, too.” That one scene was certainly a bit corny, but the bulk of the dialogue was crisp and witty. It might have been enough to bring the quality down a few pegs, but it didn’t ruin the whole story.

Description: This was probably the place where the graphic novel adaptation was at its best. Sure, there were other scenes that looked cool to see in the other volumes, but the pace and style of this final volume. That fight was cool to watch, and the scenery and scope was brought to life as well.

Overall: I think I’m being unfair, but I can’t help it. I’m used to epic storylines with vivid description that lets me play the movie in my head. I’m used to prose and style that pull me along. I’m used to deeper plots that let me get to know a character, and this format just doesn’t allow for that. But, if I were being fair, I wouldn’t have bought this graphic novel if it wasn’t Sanderson and Cosmere, so I wanted something that felt like one of the other Cosmere books. Maybe I just wish it was a longer series. Maybe I wish the plot wasn’t centered around political intrigue (the assassins and sand magic were tertiary devices at most). It’s not a bad story; it’s just not what I love about Sanderson’s other work. I think fans of the Cosmere should still pick it up to know what happened and get to know the magic system, but it’s not his strongest story.

Thanks for reading,

Matt





The Most Important Thing A Writer Can Do

The Most Important Thing A Writer Can Do

Greetings all,

So earlier today (as I type this), I had some students who wanted to take a portrait of me with my books (I haven’t received a copy of it yet). As I lugged the physical editions of my work (seven items), I couldn’t help but smile. One of the students asked about how one publishes so much.

This is really the crux of a lot of questions:

How does one become a writer? How does one get published? How does one find an agent?

The simple truth of the matter is that none of that happens if you don’t write.

Every time I’m interviewed, every panel I go on, I come to this defining moment. The only way a book ever gets written is if a person sits down and commits to writing it. That commitment is the thing that matters.

I understand time constraints. I’m at work for about nine hours in a day (one for lunch). I have a beautiful wife I love and three sons I enjoy teaching and spending time with. I love spending time in God’s word. Those things all take time.

Then I find time to write. It might be about 20 minutes during my lunch break. I do my marketing and blogging after everyone has gone to bed.

The more you write, the more you will write. It’s a true correlation. However, even if you’re super busy, just find a few minutes. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’ll have a full length novel done in three months. Even if you only write 300 words a day, you’ll have a book finished by year’s end. If you want the book done sooner, find more time to write.

This isn’t the first post I’ve done about finding time to write, but it is essential to hear again and again. The number one reason you probably haven’t finished a novel is because you haven’t started one.

Sure, it’s hard to get an agent. If you self-publish, it’s incredibly hard to market and become successful, and forget about how hard it is for anyone to find that rarified air status like a Brandon Sanderson. But you have no hope of finding that air if you’re not committing at least some time to the craft.

I’ve been at this longer than it feels. Six years is a long time, but 12 titles in six years isn’t half bad. My message to you, reader, is that it starts with the first step, and then you take another.

So just start walking, and keep walking. Before you know it, you’ll end up somewhere you never thought you’d be.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: White Sand Volume 2 By Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: White Sand Volume 2 By Brandon Sanderson
The cover image for this graphic novel was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler free summary: In White Sand Volume 2 by Brandon Sanderson, Kenton ends up Lord Mastrell by default, but the Sand Masters who are left aren’t necessarily fully supportive of him. The ruling council is out to end the guild. Oh, and did we mention the assassins? The only person he can trust (if only a little) i s Khriss, a visiter from the dark side of the planet who has her own goals. Can these two work together to save the Sand Masters guild?

Character: Kenton’s growth here is more as a leader and a negotiator, but the man who strove to earn his father’s respect is starting to see his father in a different light. I stand behind what I said in last week’s post, but character growth is definitely something we see here. Not only does Kenton grow as a character, but his journey as the Lord Mastrell causes him to grow in literal power as well. This is one of the strengths of the trilogy.

Exposition: I feel more or less the same about the exposition in this volume that I felt for the previous. The exposition blocks were more scene and background portions of exposition. The story moved fine, but it didn’t pull me along.

Worldbuilding: The worldbuilding picks up in this volume. It’s more political than any other aspect of worldbuilding, but there is some development in the magic system. That’s probably the part that interested me the most. I have to say it wasn’t quite as prominent as I’d have liked, but it was enough to keep me interested in a story that more politically driven than by mystery or action.

Dialogue: Once more the graphic novel format allows Sanderson’s typically witty dialogue to shine. It also helps drive the plot even if it’s harder to hide the expositional dumps that are normal in dialogue. The story is at it’s best when Khriss and Kenton are talking, though there are some other conversations that stand out.

This portrait of Mr. Sanderson was taken from his About page on his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: I felt like this volume was oddly (strangely) segmented. The idea may have been to weave the political intrigue alongside the assassin plot. So there were some incredible skirmish panels, but there weren’t the fight scenes that normally carry a graphic novel. So it’s good art that lacked the truly epic imagery that we normally find in these limited series.

Overall: This was a setup volume, and I think most trilogies would have this same style, so you can’t really hold it against this particular story. It sets up the drama and establishes a bit of mystery. I still affirm this story would be far better in a longer medium, but it’s an interesting story.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: White Sand Volume 1 By Brandon Sanderson

Book Review: White Sand Volume 1 By Brandon Sanderson

Spoiler free summary: In White Sand by Brandon Sanderson, Kenton aspires to be a master, but he’s barely able to control on stream of sand. That doesn’t stop him from taking on a challenge only a master could overcome. No test, however, can prepare him for the events of the future. His guild is devastated by betrayal and murder, and Kenton must rise up despite his lack of power.

Character: Kenton is a fine enough character. I like his drive and effort. The most interesting part of this book is that Kenton is weak. Most stories reveal a main character who discovers a great power. Kenton is probably the best part of the story.

Exposition: So it’s here that I’ll I’m not a fan of the graphic novel format for Sanderson. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it since I finished reading it a few months ago, and I can’t really identify it except this: the graphic novel deprives a reader of Sanderson’s prose and perspective. So while the story was ok, it lacked the life Sanderson writes with even with the quality of the art. The story didn’t drag, but neither was I pulled along the way I was with nearly every other Sanderson book. Yes, I’ll probably check out Dark One, but I was surprised to realize how much I missed Sanderson’s writing.

Worldbuilding: This is a strength of Sanderson’s, and lack of prose didn’t diminish that. The world is interesting. The way the magic system works within the society is interesting. I feel like this got right what Elantris didn’t do so well for me. I am of the opinion that Taldain has a much bugger role to play in the Cosmere than it currently has, so I may think more highly of some aspects of White Sand’s worldbuilding than is justified, but at its worst, the story’s worldbuilding is comparable to most Sanderson stories.

Dialogue: Where I really missed his prose in some areas, I think the graphic novel adaptation did Sanderson’s dialogue justice. The characters were unique. The conversations weren’t just vaguely hidden expositional blocks. The dialogue was even charming in some places.

This portrait of Mr. Sanderson was taken from his About page on his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: This was the other area I felt hurt the story for me at least in regard to Sanderson. Sure, the art was well done, and it was cool to see the power work in a visual format, but I felt like my imagination was deprived of its ability to visualize the story. It’s kind of unfair to say about the format, but it is how I felt. I think another aspect was actually how there weren’t a lot of fights. White Sand is more of a political drama than an adventure story. It has fight scenes, but they aren’t what drive the story, so a graphic novel loses some power without a lot if great fights to give it that cinematic feeling.

Overall: I’m glad I read it, and it was an OK story, but I hope Sanderson doesn’t release that much stuff (especially Cosmere stuff) in an exclusive graphic novel format. The story doesn’t have the same power it would have in a fully fleshed out Sanderson book. However, I’d take a graphic novel version as opposed to nothing.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 23 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 23 by Koyoharu Gotouge
This cover image was taken from the manga’s buy page on Amazon for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary: Demon Slayer Volume 23 by Koyoharu Gotouge is the twenty-third and final volume in the Demon Slayer manga. Even as the battle reaches its bitter-sweet conclusion Muzan Kibutsuji deals a blow that may mean the end for everyone. The demon hunters must set their feelings aside to take on one of their own. Can such a horrible turn of events ever lead to a happy ending?

Character: Tanjiro shines here in his determination and love, which this manga had established from the first volume. This conclusion brings everything perfectly together, and it’s Tanjiro’s heart, not his swordsmanship, that drives this story.

Exposition: I was a bit surprised here that the volume slowed down for me. The exposition here wasn’t anywhere near bad, but there were some parts that bogged the pace down. I think I noticed it more because I wanted to see how things progressed, and I felt like there were these periodic pauses that tripped me up here and there. It’s not anything crippling, but it’s there.

Worldbuilding: I don’t know how often worldbuilding plays a role in foreshadowing, but this series pulled off a wonderful plot reveal that was satisfying. From the beginning, we see something special, and that element turns out to be so very important as the story comes to a conclusion. Another element, the one that most manga of this style (Naruto/Bleach), would normally be the difference maker. We see Tanjiro’s skill develop, and like those other stories, we naturally assume that development would make the difference. That assumption is wrong.

Dialogue: From Volume 2 to Volume 23, the dialogue is more or less the same. There were several conversation and expositional (or thought) boxes that harken to older genre’s, but they’re not so many that they drag the story down. I found them mostly charming through the series, but the trend got a bit annoying in this specific volume.

Description: The panels aren’t as cinematic as the others, and some would think that means this volume is less impactful. However, I feel the opposite is true. This volume focuses so much more on character. While that means we don’t see as many epically awesome fight moves, we get much more satisfying emotional validation and closure.

Overall: As I thought about this final thought, I decided this: Demon Slayer is officially my favorite manga series ever. It’s predecessors (Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Bleach) were all wonderful, but Demon Slayer gets right what those other series got wrong. Those other series focused on length, but they inevitably ran into repetition issues that where meme worthy. Sure, it’s nice to have another volume to read. Yes, I still thought those series were fun to watch, but they dragged on and on. Demon Slayer is a concise, character-driven story that grabs readers by the neck and drags them along for 23 volumes until we see what might also be the most satisfying resolution I’ve ever read in a manga. That’s my opinion. I’m not saying the other sagas weren’t good, I’m just saying this saga (possibly learning from those others) is even better because I get my big fight and I get my conclusion without having to read 60 volumes (or watch 100 filler episodes) that are basically the same thing. If you haven’t started it, you should. It’s truly wonderful.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 22 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 22 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Spoiler Free Summary: Demon Slayer Volume 22 by Koyoharu Gotouge is the twenty-second and penultimate volume in the Demon Slayer manga. Everyone who has an ounce of energy is doing their all against Muzan Kibutsuji, but many have already died, and most of the rest are inches from death. Tanjiro is somehow still standing, and a connection to his ancestor may provide the key to finding some way to win.

Character: The pace of the last three manga make this a hard thing to evaluate. I don’t know that the characters evolve so much as fill their potential. It’s satisfying to see everyone come into their own, but here at the climax, the focus is on winning the fight. There is development, but it’s more relevant in a different section.

Exposition: This volume follows the same pattern as the issue before (and the one that follows). Everything has come to a head. We might get a pice of information here or there to set a bit of context, but that’s it. When evaluating exposition, the best way to do it is to ask yourself if the story is moving or if you’re getting an information dump. Another way to evaluate it (especially as a reader) is to see if you’re turning the pages quickly or slowly. Slow page turning usually means focused reading. These pages flew by.

Worldbuilding: This is where the pieces of Tanjiro’s ancestry come together. The complete picture isn’t as satisfying as say, the plot reveal in a great mystery, but it still establishes how things have been building and what they’ve been building to. So while it’s not the most satisfying revelation, it’s still a cool connection of the plot elements we’ve seen for the last eight or so issues.

Dialogue: This falls back to the more normal style Gotouge uses. There’s a lot of, “Why aren’t you dead! I’ll kill you all!” If one were to say it was the weakest area of the story, I wouldn’t argue, but I also wouldn’t really care.

Description: The best storytellers create the illusion of failure. Most stories have the happy ending. Most stories have everything work out. Readers (and viewers) expect this, so it’s extremely hard to get the reader to think, “Wait, are they going to lose?” This volume leaves one more with a feeling of “Holy crap! They’re going to lose!” Maybe they do; you’ll have to read to find out. The point isn’t whether they win or lose; it’s making the reader wonder. Creating doubt in the reader is essential, and it’s that much more critical in anime. These comments are appropriate in this section because we see how the fight is going. The art shows just how bad things are. Everyone is holding on by a threat. Tanjiro himself already looks like a dead man walking. These fight sequences and the brief glimpses we have of the currently surviving cast members all create a heart-wrenching tension, and that’s what makes this particular manga stand out.

Overall: If I were teaching a class on plot progression, conflict, and making readers worry for the main characters, this volume would be a critical case study. Everything in this volume is critically balanced on a precipice between victory and defeat. It’s truly compelling. I’m honestly sad that the review for the last volume is next week. This is the volume that I had to wait for, and I had to wait a whole month for the next volume. It was torture! Don’t do it to yourself. Just grab the last ten volumes, sit down, and enjoy!

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 21 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 21 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Spoiler Free Summary: Demon Slayer Volume 21 by Koyoharu Gotouge is the twenty-first volume in the Demon Slayer manga. The battle with Kokushibo, the number one upper rank demon, is over, but what was the cost? As Tanjiro and his friends finally reach Muzan, they’ve already lost so many of their number. How will th final battle go?

Character: This is less about characters developing than it is about character sympathy (which is important). These victories are tallying casualties at an alarming rate, and then Muzan steps onto the stage. This is the devastation that that hides the sun behind the clouds, and some of the losses are heartbreaking, even if those losses relate to side characters.

Exposition: There’s not much in the way of Exposition here. This volume is honestly more like a series of punches to the gut that make you wonder if you’re ever going to breathe again. Sure, there’s probably an explanatory box here or there, but most of what’s going in is related to the oncoming climax.

Worldbuilding: A common theme in anime is that one must establish power levels. We do that by letting characters fight. This guy beats one guy, but then loses to another, creating an unofficial tier system. We’ve seen the upper ranks and how hard they are to beat. Muzan’s entrance to the battle shows just how far he was above the upper twelve. This aspect of the worldbuilding provides a brutal blow to the heroes’ hopes of victory.

Dialogue: Where most of the dialogue for the series is cartoonish in a charming way, this dialogue is both more heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Gotouge is a master guitarist, plucking the strings of your heart, and where dialogue is usually his weakest area, here it is the hammer he uses to crush your spirits.

Description: Just as the winners and losers of fights in a manga establish a power hierarchy, the artistic rendering of those battles (or massacres) is devastatingly beautiful. These images are par for the course of Gotouge’s work, which is to say they’re miles above the rest of the mangas out there today. True, there’s a certain amount of expected gore, but this isn’t the only tool Gotouge relies on. Instead, his style is just as visual for the details of a face or look as it is for the gruesome reality of war.

Overall: So I’ve been saying for a while that one should just read volumes eighteen to the end all the way through, and I hope you heeded that advice. However, if you haven’t yet done so, I caution you not to read Volume 21 without volumes 22 and 23 handy. From a literary perspective, one could say 21 and 22 are cliffhangers that would drive anyone nuts waiting a month to have. This isn’t the volume that one finishes and finds closure in. This is the volume that takes your hopes for the series and stomps on them for forty pages. Read with caution, or have the other volumes ready so you don’t have suddenly buy them when you finish reading this one.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Announcing the Week 3 August M.L.S. Weech July Book Cover of the Week! Vote for Week 4

Announcing the Week 3 August M.L.S. Weech July Book Cover of the Week! Vote for Week 4

Greetings all,

Another week has passed, which means we have a new winner to announce and a new poll to start.

Without any delay, the winner of Week 3 of August is …

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan was an amazing cover. It immediately stood out when I was looking at covers, and I think it stood out against six other great covers.

Week 4 is live now, and you can vote for your favorite right here.

Sun will go on to face this week’s winner, Follow the Hummingbird, and Of Glass and Ashes in the 2021 August Book Cover of the Month.

I’d be grateful if you took a moment to hop on over to my YouTube channel and subscribe. It’s just another way you can support your friendly neighborhood Weech.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 20 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Book Review: Demon Slayer Volume 20 by Koyoharu Gotouge

Spoiler Free Summary: Demon Slayer Volume 20 by Koyoharu Gotouge is the twentieth volume in the Demon Slayer manga. The battle with Kokushibo, the number one upper rank demon, has left Tokito and Genya critically injured, Himejima and Sanemi have shown up to help with the fight, but even then, Kokushibo seems too strong. Can one of the Hashira unlock a power capable of snatching victory from the claws of defeat?

Character: We do get to learn more about the Hashira in their battle. The growth is nice amid the action sequences. We don’t get overly deep, but we still clearly see their motivating moments. The way Gotogue weaves content and character into fights without dragging a story down is masterful, and this volume probably best illustration of that mastery.

Exposition: Similar to the last volume (and the remaining three), the bulk of the exposition is provided via dialogue. That’s still dialogue (if half-hidden). However, this technique reduces drag that might otherwise be caused by flashbacks or dialogue panels.

Worldbuilding: There’s not much in the way of wolrdbuilding here. There are a few tidbits that cause the typical power increase that comes whenever characters reveal new abilities, but that’s something one should expect (if not anticipate). Still, this volumes are more about action sequences than story content.

Dialogue: There’s a touching moment here delivered by dialogue that really makes this volume powerful. The majority of it is the same as always. I just want to be clear, these few lines of dialect are some of the most powerful in the whole series, and it connects two lesser characters in a powerful way.

Description: This fight is really just more artistic awesomeness at heart. The artwork really brings out the beauty of the fight scenes, and I can’t wait to see it animated.

Overall: This volume is a better blend of action and character growth, and that makes it one of the better volumes in the series (which is saying something). This fight started out as something that frustrated me. To think the number one upper rank demon is an undercard is discouraging, but then I saw the fight play out and I realize it sets the stage for the bigger fight to come.

Thanks for reading,

Matt