It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande – Book Review

It’s rare that you find a book on sentence construction that has so warm a tone. June Casagrande’s It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Longest of Titles is an excellent guide on writing, chock-full of common and uncommon issues that plague the amateur and the intermediate writer alike.

“A writer’s guide to crafting killer sentences,” the cover quips at you, and with good reason — why, only yesterday I wrote a sentence so sharp, my fingers are still bleeding. Casagrande offers so much in this tiny 220-page package; her half-amusing hatred of semi-colons alone makes the price of admission well worth it.

What topics can you look forward to reading about? Murderous conjuctions, unparalleled parallels, gerunds to dream nightmares of, and my favourite – short versus long sentences. Plus, appendixes full of well-explained grammar, punctuation and more. It ain’t Tolkien-level extensive but it’s English, not Elvish.

A small complaint – as someone who has studied English for a long time now, plenty of the grammar explanations were at a very basic level. If you’re a grammar noobie, though, this might offer some extra value!

Jokes aside, I learned a lot from this one. Some of the concepts introduced in the chapters, I knew at an intuitive level. Others were familiar. A few surprised me. Either way, I’m glad to have a deeper understanding than I did before, thanks to Casagrande’s approachable book. I’ll be coming back to it time and again. In fact…

I’m planning on writing a post for each chapter of the book over the coming weeks – I’ll need something to do come summer!

Non-Sunday Star Wars: May the 4th Be With You!

I love Star Wars day, don’t you?

This clip accurately represents my feelings for Star Wars every May 4th

To mark the celebration, I viewed one of the few remaining arcs of the Clone Wars I hadn’t seen yet — The Shadow Collective, composed of the following episodes: ‘Revival’, 514 ‘Eminence’, 515 ‘Shades of Reason’, 516 ‘The Lawless’.

It’s an epic trio of episodes, which I know not everyone enjoys since they are all about Darth Maul’s return and grasp to power via the taking over of several crime syndicates, the most significant of which is the Black Sun. Most long-time Star Wars fans should be familiar with the name, at least — it has weight in multiple Expanded Universe sources.

The crux of the conflict is on Mandalore — Darth Maul and his brother, Savage Opress (I can’t help but snort any time I have to write the name down) have come to an uneasy alliance with the terrorist Death Watch, which has long attempted to undermine Mandalore’s rightful ruler, Duchess Satine. Betrayal aplenty as the Death Watch and Maul execute their plan and then come to blows. Maul comes out ahead, but his actions attract unwanted attention – that of the Dark Lord of the Sith himself. The result is one of my favourite battles in Star Wars history, with Sidious at last making one proper appearance in the series, showing mastery in a different lightsaber combat style and being an all-around cackling menace.

There’s more than a touch of the tragic to this arc, as well — enter Obi-Wan and Satine’s relationship, which up to this point had been hinted at but here got a truly heart-wrenching conclusion. Knowing what was coming for Obi-Wan was part of the reason I took some weeks off from my rewatch – Kenobi’s one of my favourite characters, and I had some trouble seeing the scene I knew was coming.

I was happy to see more of Mandalorian culture; these are a people torn between pacifism and the notion of honourable war as a way of life, and I enjoy seeing more about them. With the connection between Clone Wars/Rebels and The Mandalorian, I’m curious to see how the Death Watch connects with the Mandalorians we saw in the live-action series of last year,

I know I’m seven years too late, talking about an arc originally aired this far off in the past when Season Seven has yet to air, but watching the latest season of the Clone Wars without Disney+ is a pain!

What did you do to celebrate this nerdiest of holidays?

The World Maker Parable by Luke Tarzian – Book Review

Self-Published
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 140
Format: ebook

This is an interesting short novel, whose strengths include worldbuilding, an all-encompassing sense of mystery and intrigue, plenty of misdirection and a hell of a clincher.

But first, lend me your ear. It’s okay, come ‘ere, come a wee bit closer. I’ve a secret to tell you — the only reason I wanted to read this book was the design. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s really good design, though – and it extends past the gorgeous cover. The two PoV characters each receive page-wide character pieces, at once minimalistic and very stylized. Wonderful work, truly.

The World Maker Parable is a game of misdirection. How things are is never certain, always in flux, ever in doubt. The characters of Rhona and Varésh are as unreliable a pair of narrators as you’re likely to find on short notice, and both of them are haunted hounded by past mistakes. There’s enough there to make you connect with them early on, both Rhona and Varésh have something to

The language is a draw…most of the time. This is highly stylized prose, both in speech and in description, and it is well-written. Often, it strikes deep. Sometimes, however, it feels a tad clichéd, a little too familiar. And once or twice, you can even hold the author suspect of trying too hard:

With utopia comes darkness. Every candle lit is another shadow cast. Perfection is a lie. Law requires chaos. It is a vicious circle; one I fear we have realized far too late.

“A little too thick on the universal truths there,” I thought as I read this particular paragraph. Despite that, I enjoyed this one. It was a quick, pleasant read that took me a little over an hour, and it was an hour filled with plenty of surprises, each of them more delightfully dark than the previous ones.

The World Maker Parable is a story of guilt and lost love, and the depths of depravity duty might lead you to. I think, if it were another thirty pages shorter, it would’ve been even stronger. It’s not that it isn’t – but the punch it packs by the closing pair of chapters could’ve been even stronger.

Some of the novel, I disliked. The accents to names and words — especially those I saw as unnecessary or as making little sense — really bothered me. That’s very When it comes down to it, I often find myself disliking the use of fictional words, and those found in the Parable weren’t used in a way that made me overcome this dislike. I also caught a number of typos, annoying little mistakes that they are, early on in the novel.

My score for The World Maker Parable is a 4 out 5 stars on Goodreads and Amazon.

This review was part of the World Maker Parable blog tour! Thanks to Timy and Justine for organising this, and for offering me a copy of the book for the review.

Sunday Star Wars: Kanan First Blood – Comic Book Review

Somehow I managed to miss out on talking about the final issue of the previous volume, The Last Padawan, reviewed last week here. All the more power to me, as it was very open-ended – I’m lucky to be able to read both volumes practically in bulk, I’d have chewed my leg off if I had to wait for months at an end for the resolution of the Rebels side-plot at play.

First Blood reads like two of my favourite types of Star Wars stories – a typical Clone Wars TV series adventure wrapped up in a shorter, Kanan-centric Rebels episode script. The Clone Wars portion of this one is a direct prequel to the events of The Last Padawan, and sees the young Caleb strike a connection with Jedi Master DEPA BILLABA after her recovery from severe injuries at the robotic hands of GENERAL GREVIOUS*.

If this Clone Wars-era story were animated, it would most likely be a two-parter, the first one taking place on the Jedi Temple at Coruscant, the second seeing Caleb and Billaba battle against Separatist forces in the Outer Rim. The culmination here is a battle between Billaba and Grevious happening at the same time as Caleb faces off a Kabe Warrior, one of a race of grey-skinned humanoids encountered over one of Asajj Ventress’ arcs in the Clone Wars series. The Kobe warriors are proficient in the martial arts, and this one makes for an acceptable secondary antagonist.

Looks a bit like a some kind of a fallen Jedi, I thought upon seeing him first.

I continued enjoying every panel that showed Master Billaba – she’s at once vulnerable and resolute, and her connection with Caleb was fun to explore. Caleb himself – the young padawan boy, as opposed to Kanan, wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as in The Last Padawan, but that’s understandable. He goes through such a fascinating transformation

As for the Rebels sections, I enjoyed those well enough – seeing Kanan come to terms with what he went through over that first volume made for several excellent character moments, and I never say no to time spent with that delightful group of rebellious kiddos that is the Rebels cast.

What more is there to say? If you enjoy Star Wars, if you like Rebels and Clone Wars, this is a fun story with characters you already love. If you don’t…this isn’t going to win you over in any way. My score is a hint lower than the previous volume’s, at 3.75/5 stars.

*I don’t know why I suddenly began to mimic the opening crawl of a Star Wars movie but by Jim I like it!

The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

Release Date: 21 April 2020
Published by: ACE
Genre: Fucked if I know. Fantasy, sci-fi elements.
Pages: 369
Format: Hardback
Review Copy:  Courtesy of the author.

The Girl and the Stars is a spectacular opening act to what promises to be one of the finest trilogies of this new decade*.

So many of my fellow bloggers have spoken to the quality of Mark Lawrence’s writing, a fact I have only the barest hint of experience with, in the form of Prince of Thorns, Mark’s debut. I had high expectations but… It’s no stretch to say that they were overcome, with remarkable ease, by this latest release.

I hesitate to call The Girl and the Stars a fantasy novel – chock-full with sci-fi elements, it reminds me of the writing of Zelazny and Gene Wolfe more than anything else in how seamlessly it falls under the cap of speculative fiction; the world is, though its characters might not realize it, a post-apocalyptic one. That’s the speculative fiction trifecta right there! Don’t draw any conclusions yet, though – Lawrence might make use of many different genre conventions but in doing so, he makes of them a homogenous mass. Otherworldly is a term often used for fantasy novels, rarely so apt as it is for The Girl and the Stars.

It is a triumph of the imagination, and a wonder. The characters are relatable and deeply human, even those you’d least expect to be. Helming the series is lead character Yaz, a young woman of the Ichta tribe torn away from her family and the life on the ice she has always known:

She lived a life in the jaws of the wind, her eyes trained to find meaning within a hundred shades of white and grey. She lived as a singular mote of warmth upon a vast and lifeless wilderness.

Yaz is forced into the subterranean darkness** of a hole in which the broken children of the tribes – those too different to survive the cold of the ice – are thrown. Lawrence does an excellent job creating a world in the throes of ice, a cruel surface that holds an ever-present danger…only to throw Yaz into a world beyond the one she could’ve imagined, and one she is unprepared for. How could anyone be prepared? The world below the ice is alien – warmer, holding buried secrets and ancient threats. But also the promise of a life different to the one Yaz has spent her whole life living.

I adore the abilities Yaz and those other survivors in the hole have, what Yaz thinks of as magic but is hinted to be something different at one time or another. Mark does a wonderful job introducing how each gift works, and then exploits all of them in unexpected ways at just the right moment. The results are nothing less than a series of thrills.

I admire the way the author shapes a culture like that of the Ichta early on: “Even in their tents they wore mittens anytime that fine tasks were not required. It was easy to forget that people even had fingers.” Look at the way he makes of these people something unique. Through describing so small a thing, he’s already differentiated the Ichta in a memorable way, and has introduced a motif that has an effect on Yaz throughout – skin contact. The prose is brilliant at this throughout – introducing small details and not just calling back to them but using them to the best effect imaginable, creating the illusion in the reader that every detail has some hidden meaning.

Lawrence does an excellent job in exploring several themes throughout the 370-page count of this novel. The questioning of the nature of compromise is present throughout – does survival in the harshness excuse the sacrifice of those who are born different or broken? That’s a question Yaz is drawn to time and again. She is also drawn towards the need to know herself, in a way that mirrors the obsession one of the most fascinating antagonists in the novel, Theus. Something else that haunts the pages is the mention of “fire and glory,” or “Greatness, torment and fire.” Look out for that one.

As for the ending…I have three words for it***: Such sweet torment. Questions linger, a score of them at least. It’s going to be a long wait until the next one – lucky for me, I have plenty of Mark Lawrence’s books to catch up on in the meanwhile. My score for this masterpiece is 6/5, 11/10! 

P.S. If you, like me, enjoy listening to music while reading books, a couple of soundtracks work wonders as background – Austin Wintory’s soundtracks for Banner Saga 2 & 3, and Piotr Musiał’s Frostpunk score.

*If Mr. Lawrence disappoints us down the line, I say we lynch him! Or, if that’s not your thing, write a strongly worded letter.

** This is incidentally the second excellent fantasy book telling the story of a young woman surviving underground through what seems at times sheer force of will I’ve read this year, the first being Rob J. Hayes’ Along the Razor’s Edge.

*** I have a lot more than three words, but the book hasn’t yet been released. I would, in fact, like to scream bloody murder – maybe in a couple of weeks? A deep dive? Do I hear an amen?!

Saturday Star Wars: Kanan The Last Padawan – Graphic Novel Review

I read this on the recommendation of a dear friend.

The first volume of Kanan, The Last Padawan is another excellent, heartbreaking story of the Jedi Purge and its consequences on those few padawans that made it through the cracks after Palpatine’s Order 66.

The first issue presents a very classic Clone Wars era story, with Kanan – his real name Caleb – fighting alongside Jedi master, Depa Billaba. I found the character of Billaba captured some of the finest in Jedi philosophy – her questioning the way the Jedi were forced into the command structure of the Republic’s army spoke to me of the underlying tension many of the wisest Jedi felt about their role in the Clone Wars. It reminds me of an older conflict in the universe, the Mandalorian Wars as spoken about in the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II.

The character of Caleb Dune earned my sympathies time and again, in his fight to survive and leave his old self behind, forced to change for survival’s sake. It’s difficult to lose everything the way he does, to suddenly have every belief and creed you’ve held your entire life a threat to your life.

But onto lighter aspects of this first volume – the smuggler Janus Kasmir, the separatist general, I loved everything about both these supporting characters. Especially Kasmir, he had that “rogue with a heart of gold” nailed! *Spoilers* It was painful, though, seeing Caleb break with both of them, feeling he had to keep them safe by breaking the bond between him and them. */Spoilers* Such a funny thing, bonds – we define ourselves by them, but we often seek to break with them when we feel the need for change. Kanan wanted a break away from who he was – he saw that as his only way to survival; and so he did. It’s a small tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless.

There’s an element that doesn’t quite make sense, now that I’ve thought on it – the two clones, former friends of Caleb and Billaba, doggedly chase the Jedi Padawan without any apparent oversight from Imperial authorities. I’ll chalk this up to the transition period between Republic and Empire but it’s still a crack in what is otherwise excellent storytelling.

I enjoyed Kanan – I loved the art by Pepe Larraz, and writer Greg Weisman does a very good job telling a fine Star Wars story, which offers plenty of context to one of Rebels‘ most likable cast members. My recommendation? If you’re looking for an action-packed story with plenty of fun elements, you can’t go wrong with this. My score for it is 4.25 stars. I will be reading Volume 02 soon!

Giant Days Vol. 02 by John Allison – Graphic Novel Review

If you missed out on my joyful review of the first volume of Giant Days, you can click here.

I barely began my reading of the second volume of the brilliant slice-of-life when already I found myself transformed by it! How, you ask – and I won’t just tell you, I’ll show you!

You see here how one Esther de Groot (my two-dimensional female self) denounces the monstrous injustices of modern, post-industrialist society, a system that seeps away anything and everything unique about human beings! RISE UP MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, TO BLOODY REVOLUTION. It’s a funny pictury, is wot it is.

What happens in this second volume, then? The girls go to a Christmas prom before leaving for Christmas Break – for those of you unaware, before the corona, we had a little something called trah-veh-ling, I think, it’s been a long time – and off they go, enjoying their break; only, Susan gets in trouble with someone who has a grudge against her. Issue 06 is about the girls finding out just wot has happened to fierce, angry Susan, and, would you know it? Before too long, Esther has to use her drama field, the one we spoke about in the previous review.

Oh, and mustachio man threatens some guys with the most worker class threat I’ve ever read, and I love it.

Did I mention that he and Susan smoosh booties?

Meanwhile, the third one – wot’s her name again? She has a crisis of personality. Or is it a crisis of consistency?

Oh, I got it! It’s Petal.

…No, that doesn’t sound right. Anyway, I have to give it to Tulip here, she steals the show throughout the volume, especially when she transforms into a weird Texan who wants to smoke meats – don’t try that at home, kids, you can’t handle it – after watching plenty of Friday Night Lights. But Daisy’s greatest trait has to be her absolute commitment to whatever metaphor she makes use of:

All is well with Susan and Daisy, even as the two of them face myriad difficulties. At the core, they remain true to themselves.

Esther, however – she gets into a bit of a toxic relationship with a guy in his late 20’s, a TA in her English Lit class. I’ll not get into it, but by the end of it, our goth princess of doom’s got herself sorted, I’d say:

This manic grin’s wot I live for. It was entertaining to see lovey-dovey Esther, quite unhinged, though:

Well, then. This second volume’s got everything the first one had – the cheeky humour, the brilliant characters, the art that never fails to express said characters in ways thrilling and hilarious; in a word, the heart. This is another 5/5 read for me. Get it, read it, laugh your heart out. It’s therapy, and it works wonders.

And now, having pronounced this graphic novel fit to read, I go to my rest.

That’s right, it is!

Traitor’s Blade (The Greatcoats #01) by Sebastian de Castell – Book Review

This review originally appeared over at booknest.eu.

 It’s been months since I read Traitor’s Blade, and after deep consideration, I am ready to set out judgement from on high! Heed my words, all ye who have not read this one:

It’s quite good.

I have The Three Musketeers to blame for my love of swashbuckling tales of heroism, chivalry and political intrigue. Castell’s novel borrows heavily from Dumas’ classic, with its three muske—greatcoats, but it adds a little bit of magic, a dash of despair and misery, and plenty of hilarious, occasionally poignant dialogue. The result is a memorable opening chapter to an ambitious tale I look forward to exploring further.

Falcio val Mond is the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, the leader of a band of warriors meant to impose the King’s justice and hold the people of his realm to higher standards of justice. Only, the King is dead, his head rotting on a spike somewhere, and the Greatcoats are disbanded and loathed by all. I would not blame you if you thought, “Hey! That Falcio fella sure ain’t very good at his job.” I beg your pardon, but he is – you don’t know the half of it, and I am not about to explain it, that’d spoil the surprise! Falcio also happens to be the focalizer of the entire novel, and as the book progresses, both his present and past show us that Falcio is not to be fucked with. Why, oh why, do folks continue to insist that they must fuck with Falcio?

The prose isn’t the kind that’ll make your head spin with the ingenuity of its turns of phrase and complex figurative language – what it is offers plenty of thrills due to memorable sword-buckling, rapier-wielding, arrow-flying action. The other element that makes Castell’s prose memorable is the dialogue, especially between lead characters Falcio, Brasti and Kest. It is crackling, and a constant source of amusement. 

I’m fond of the characters – even the King, whose softness ultimately led to his death, I found myself liking. A minor character, the torturer, deserves commendation – Castell did something interesting there, and though I’ll save you the details, this is a character worth looking out for.

A very solid work on the audiobook by Joe Jameson – at almost thirteen hours, you need a narrator who knows what he’s doing and Jameson is just such a one. He’s got range, manages to give virtually all the cast unique and memorable voices. His voice grips you and doesn’t let go. I honestly couldn’t get enough of him, I must’ve listened through the book in two or three days. Apparently Jameson also does the Broken Empire audiobooks – might be that I’ve found myself a new narrator to look out for!

Five stars for the narration, four stars for the novel itself – I think I’ll bump this down to four stars despite my original rating of it – time gives a bit of perspective on that account, at least. What I didn’t necessarily mind at the time of listening to this, I now see as a lost opportunity – the worldbuilding leaves something to desire, and when I think of sections of the book, I come up blank.

You’ll enjoy this if:

  • You love the Three Musketeers;
  • You’re looking for adventure novels which tap into that delightful “fun dialogue + great action” combo;
  • You’re prone to walking around with the heads of your mortal enemies in sacks without remembering how those heads came to be in said sacks;
  • And more! Prob’ly.

Giant Days Vol. 01 by John Allison – Graphic Novel Review

This is my new comic book addiction, I just know it.

In this slice-of-life, first-year university friends and roommates Susan Ptolemy, Esther de Groot and Daisy Wooton have plenty to teach us about friendship, relationships and comedic timing. Also, holding grudges against moustachioed men.

In this story of doom and wonderful drama, Esther de Groot teaches us how to be goth as fuck.

In this adorable comic book by acclaimed comics creator, reality is rendered in a chortle-inducing way, thanks to likable leads whose vastly different personalities give birth to no end of misadventures. I am 99% sure that Esther is my long-lost, two-dimensional twin sister, with all the doom and gloom I’ve ever had at my disposal, and then some.

Esther is so much fun.

Italian doctors sure haven’t.

SO.

MUCH.

FUN! …And did I mention that she can also infiltrate the middle classes when she’s not busy melodramatically dying of some virus?

Esther is brilliant. Every single panel with her is gold. Ohyesitis! But! And this is real important — Susan and the other one are just as cool!

Okay, almost. I like wotshername, flower girl–Daisy, that’s it!– I like her drug-seeking behaviour. Strong role-models are important in these difficult, divisive times!

I love Polish medicine, too, Daisy. But be careful, once you run out of them–oh, no. Oh, it’s too late, innit?

At least the penguin ain’t talking back, is it?

And Susan?

Susan’s got that sly wit I’m crazy about. She’s the one with her feet firmly parted on the ground, the realist who looks out for her baby girls like a mama pigeon – hah, topical! – and she does a wonderful job of it.

…Most of the time.

It’s remarkably difficult not to fall in love with these three friends – and I, for one, have fallen head over heels for them and their whacky adventures. I’ll be digging into the next several volumes of Gone Days, and with everything else John Allison has done.

Also, the art is ace. Every panel is gorgeous.

I might be using Giant Days to work through some coronavirus-related ennui. Thanks for bearing with me.

Star Wars Sunday: Wot I’ve Got to Catch Up On! Comics and Books!

No matter how widely you read, there’s always new Star Wars titles to check out. I have no ambition of reading all of them; I don’t even have the desire to do so. Not all Star Wars releases are good – something the latest movie has reminded us all too well. But I refuse to dwell on the bad *glares in Mickey Mouse*; instead, I will look to works in the universe which might be worth looking at over the next few weeks!

Star Wars Kanan

I haven’t seen all of Rebels! If that’s not a reason for a black mark in my nerd resume, I don’t know what is. Maybe what I need is a shove…maybe what I need is to read more about one of the show’s main characters – Kanan.

Or maybe I’m going to read this because someone requested that I do, a unique new connection I’ve made, a young personage of unquestionable taste and one with whom I cannot wait to discuss every last page of this.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Asajj Ventress is one of the most memorable characters of the Clone Wars era. Her evolution from Dooku’s apprentice and assassin to a suave bounty hunter should’ve seen its conclusion over an eight-episode arc in the last season arc of the

I was hoping that maybe Disney would animate part of this novel now that they brought back the Clone Wars for one last season but when I found out they would only be doing a 12 (13?) episode run, that hope was quickly dashed. Now that I’m finally catching up to the sixth season of the Clone Wars, the time is right to look to this novel, adapted into a proper story by franchise veteran writer Christie Golden.

Mace Windu: Jedi of the Republic

I’m not sure this title should be on the list.

The reason is, the art of this particular run is beyond bad. Look at Windu’s face in the third panel, in the last panel:

The droid’s fine, I guess…

I’m sorry, but this isn’t stylized, it’s just bad.

That said, I’ve heard the writing isn’t half bad, and I genuinely, unironically think old Mace is a badass – so I might bite the bullet and read through this. Plus, the cover art isn’t half bad:

A few Doctor Aphra Volumes

I love Aphra – even though she doesn’t carry a story as well on her own two feet as when she plays a second fiddle to Vader, this amoral archeologist is one of my favourite post-Disney additions to the universe, and her misadventures are a ceaseless source of entertainment. Last I read about Aphra, she had ended up in a well-guarded Imperial prison; I have to wonder, however will she get out?

This would be a great time to catch up with Aphra, as a brand new ongoing series is set to release anyday now! Or has it released already?

The New Darth Vader Run

Kieron Gillen’s Vader run is my favourite Star Wars comic book ever, closely followed by Soule’s take on the character post-Episode 3. Both were 25-issue runs, both had amazing art and fantastic character moments, and I can’t recommend them enough.

This new run has an intriguing concept – something-something, Vader is working with someone who looks like Padme Amidala – what, why, how?! No clue. I would like to find out, though. Yes, I very much would.

That said, I’m not sold on the interior art – compared with the two previous runs, this one leaves a little something to be desired. I’ve only seen a few pages, but this one will take me some persuadin’.

Which of these are any good? Which suck? Find out over the coming weeks and months, right here, on my Sunday (or Saturday!) Star Wars column!