The Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: Burns by Aida Rascanu, Beatrice Magrini (Illustrator): A Nice Book Almost as Long as Its Title

The Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: BurnsThe Incredible Ordinary Hero or The Brave Bystander: Burns

by Aida Rascanu, Beatrice Magrini (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 28 pg.
2018
Read: June 2, 2018

This is just a great idea — a double-whammy of a lesson for the readers/audience. First, there’s a discussion of what it means to be a hero (doing things that are heroic) and there’s a little first aid lesson — age appropriate, mind you — to help parents/teachers train up young ones.

The writing was good enough — I think it could’ve been written in such a way to connect with readers better, and to be a little less preachy. But my guess is that the audience will have no problem with it, just the adults. I did think things ended abruptly, though — and that’s going to rankle a kid or three. Still, this is solidly-written.

The art will keep the reader’s attention — and honestly, it could’ve gone pretty graphic, but it didn’t.

From Rascanu’s website, it appears that this is supposed to be the beginning of a series — it would probably work better for reading if there was at least one companion volume. If so, it’d be a great investment for parents of wee ones — if not, this would still be a good idea. Just not as much of an investment, I guess.

—–

3 Stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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Born to the Blade 1.8: Refugees by Malka Ann Older: Pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone

RefugeesRefugees

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.8

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: DATE

Argh. I just don’t know what to say here — clearly, this should’ve posted on Friday, but I only got one sentence down that I didn’t delete. This is only posting today because I didn’t let myself cut anything. This episode is too short, I think. When I consider everything I want to complain about, it all boils down to length (I’m not even seeing page counts on Amazon/Goodreads for the last couple of these). I do think the episode length is a legitimate problem, but at the same time, it’s part of the design of the series, so I should just shut up about it.

Which is just a long way of saying, I think I liked this episode, but I’m not sure — it sure didn’t satisfy my need as a reader to get a chunk of story big enough to appreciate what’s happening around these characters. I’m not saying these need to clock in at 250 pages or anything. Just 10-20% more?

Which is a crying shame — because there’s real opportunity in these pages for Michiko and Kris to get something done (both to help their people and the readers who like them as characters), but there wasn’t time. Ojo doesn’t seem like the same man anymore — which is completely understandable, but I’m having to do too much surmising to get to my understanding. I did like Adechike’s portion of this episode — that was really well done.

Oh, and Lavinia continues to be just the worst person in this world. but that’s not a surprise, really.

The action here revolves around this world preparing for the looming war — I get why the characters don’t know what actually happened to set off the conflict, but it’d be cool to let the readers in on the secret. There’s preparations for war — both in getting fighting forces ready, and refugees from affected/soon to be affected areas streaming into Twaa-Fei. Which is going pretty horribly — between the stress that an influx of refugees brings to an area and a healthy dose of subterfuge on someone’s part.

Speaking of Twaa-Fei, I’d have preferred to see more examples of this compact on between the nations working (however well it actually functions) before seeing it on the verge of collapse. It’s hard to appreciate just what they’re close to losing without seeing it more.

I’m still in this ’til the end, I think I’m still enjoying this — but I feel the authors are holding out on us, which bothers me. I’m trusting they’ll win me over (again) soon.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.7: Dreadnought by Cassandra Khaw: Things continue going from bad to worse

DreadnoughtDreadnought

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.7

Kindle Edition
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 31, 2018

I don’t know what to say here without spoiling — this series isn’t making it easy for me to write about it.

As bad as things looked last week — there were plenty of avenues that were easy to see for things to work out. Not necessarily easily, but possible. It’s still possible now, I’m sure, but it’s not easy to see how. There’s so much distrust in the air that even people who need to be working together won’t. In fact, everyone’s going out of their way to make it more difficult and less likely to work with each other.

Well, almost everyone. Kris and Michiko seem to be acting like themselves — although, since we’ve met them their behavior has basically been summarized by “try hard, ask a lot of questions, and be somewhat confused,” I’m not sure that it’s that helpful. The rest — whether it’s internally imposed, or naturally occurring, doesn’t matter — are stand-offish, distrustful, and taking steps to isolate themselves.

The carefully constructed peace is in grave danger — the questions that need to be answered are: who started and/or is continuing to orchestrate the events that kicked off this unraveling? Who is gaining from all of this? If the answers to these questions are discovered, does anyone have the ability (singly or as a group) to effectively push back? I have my suspicions, but I’ll have to wait and see.

This was well done, and an installment that had to happen — but it’s hard to really judge this until we get more of the picture. I liked it enough, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure just how good a job this episode did. But I’m looking forward to seeing where things go from here so have a better idea.

—–

3 Stars

The Roaring Twenties: A Time of Movies, Mass Production, and Moonshine by in60Learning: A lackluster look at the decade of excess

The Roaring TwentiesThe Roaring Twenties: A Time of Movies, Mass Production, and Moonshine

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning

Kindle Edition, 45 pg.
in60Learning, 2018
Read: May 4, 2018

The Roaring Twenties are frequently considered one of the more exciting periods of American history — it’s right there in the name after all. The cultural, economic and political changes that characterize this decade are the fodder for all sorts of reflection and analysis. This volume in the series attempts to be an introduction and a survey to this. And it is — just an uninspired and very surface-level one.

Something that most people forget — or misunderstand — is that Prohibition came from Progressive roots — sadly, this volume repeatedly attributes it to others. I’m not sure why — the moral/political battles of yesteryear don’t have to look like those of today.

Finally! There’s a Bibliography! I’ve lamented the lack of one of these in every installment in this series. Now we finally get one — it’s not long, but it’s robust enough to equip someone to start looking into the topic in more depth on their own. Bravo!

This isn’t the series at its best — I’m not sure what it was I didn’t like. It was . . . just dull? Lifeless is a better description. It covered the basics, but didn’t seem to want to do anything else — this series, when at it’s best seems like it’s a compression of something longer and more detailed. But This one almost seemed like it was stretching to fill the pages. Still, that Bibliography is worth at least a half start.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.5: Trade Deal by Malka Ann Older: Tying up loose ends and loosening some new ones

Trade DealTrade Deal

by Malka Ann Older
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.5

Kindle Edition, 25 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 17, 2018


After all the excitement last week, we get a little bit of a breather here as we see some of the fallout from what happened in Kris’ trials. Michiko has to answer to Lavinia for the way things went against Kris and she finally updates her ancestors on the same events. Not for the first time, I wondered if the advice and counsel she’s able to draw upon from her ancestors is really more of a curse and burden than a gift and help. Still, between her own self-doubt and the scrutiny of just about every authority figure in her life, Michikio seems to be reconsidering things and maybe making some positive steps. I have high hopes for her as a character.

While Michiko is under the microscope, Kris is could maybe use a little scrutiny. Between becoming a Warder and completing is first acts as one Kris is starting to settle in. It’s a lot of fun watching the new reality settle in. There’s a sense in which Kris didn’t give a lot of thought to how things were going to be after the trials. I can’t tell if that’s because no one really thought it’d happen, or Kris needed to focus on the immediate challenge first. I’m not sure that Kris has been as interesting before — showing questionable judgement, and an impressively growing awareness of what the future can be.

There’s a little bit of action that’s not really fallout from the gauntlet, but is what we’ve been waiting for, pretty much centering on the person of Ojo. Kris and Ojo finalize the trade deal they promised to make, and then the final shoe drops with what’s been going on with Penelope. While this is happening Ojo gets some news from home that colors everything he does. He’s still the character that interests me the most, even as I’m sure the series really wants me to focus on Kris and Michiko.

This installment isn’t just wrapping up what was left dangling after episode 4, it sets up the stories the series will be focusing on next. This isn’t going to be your typical fantasy series, and will a lot of fun to see what it ends up being — although reading the characters and plots will be better. Given the last paragraph, it’s going to get exciting soon.

For me, the character of Takeshi stole this episode. I liked watching him at work in Episode 4, but honestly, I didn’t pay all that much attention to him before. But between his attitude, his secrets, and his non-Warder activities, he really seems like quite the guy (watching the reactions of the younger Warders running into the concept of non-Warder activities was great, by the way.).

While there wasn’t much transpiring in this episode, I really appreciated it for the character moments, and what it seems to be setting up for the future. I’m feeling better about Born to the Blade as a whole, too. In short, this was good stuff.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.3: Baby Shower by Cassandra Khaw: Yup. Baby Shower. A literal baby shower, just what every fantasy series needs(?)

Baby ShowerBaby Shower

by Cassandra Khaw
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.3

Kindle Edition, 35 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 4, 2018

Huh. I’m still trying to figure out this series, I admit, but the one thing I didn’t figure was that one episode would feature a party soaked in political intrigue. But it works — it really, really works.

Yeah, there’s plenty of magic and swordplay in this series. But there’s almost as much going on when it comes to diplomacy and politics. It’s subtle, it’s harder to follow in this world than you might be used to (but it’s getting easier the more time we spend in this series) — but it’s rewarding. This episode’s focal event is the perfect setting to focus on the subtle games and moves going on with these characters.

Michiko seems to take a step in a constructive direction — and if this goes like I think it will, I might actually like her as a character. Ojo’s still the most interesting character in this series (with the possible exception of Michiko’s secret relative, but he’s interesting for completely different reasons), and I continue to like how he’s being used. I think I might like Kris a bit more now than I have soon.

One thing the series seems clear about is that Lavinia is a bad person — good warrior, savvy at her job, but she’s a bad person. Maybe not King Joffrey bad, but someone in that vein. Which is odd, it seems that the series is going out of its way to show you things from (for example) Ojo’s point of view, but also what Penelope, Kris and Michiko think of him and his actions. The same goes for everyone but for Lavinia. There’s only one perspective presented for her. Now, honestly, I’m not sure I want to look too far into her head — so I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but it just strikes me as odd.

This has a great closing line — it definitely made me want to read on. The episode on the whole does that, too — by the end, I probably feel more settled in this world than I have before and I can start to enjoy things. I wouldn’t appreciate a novel taking this long to get me into the story, but given the starts and stops of these episodes, I’m much more willing to go along with it and three episodes doesn’t seem as big an investment.If you haven’t decided to take the plunge, this might be the time.

—–

3 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.2: Fault Lines by Marie Brennan: I’m still feeling the promise of the series, but want more.

My intent has been to comment on these the week of release, but I just haven’t been able to keep up with everything — today I try to fix that (or get closer, anyway).

Fault LinesFault Lines

by Marie Brennan
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.2

Kindle Edition, 44 pg.
Serial Box, 2018

Read: May 1, 2018
So straight out of the gate, this makes me happy: there’s a “previously on” section — which is great, and something we need to see more of) — and a Dramatis Personae (with a cast this big, a major plus).

The question is, can episode 2 build on the goodwill that the ending of 1 caused? Ehhh…sorta? We get to know the island this takes place on a little better, the culture there — and some more about the nations represented (and those representing them). There’s some revealing interaction with Kris and Michiko, and it’s clear that’s where our focus should be. but I sorta want more time with Ojo than with them. That’s more about Ojo being interesting than the other two annoying me by their actions at the end of the episode. But not much.

For a fantasy world, I like the strange governmental structure — a mix of diplomacy and single combat — that they’ve developed for this series. In reality, ugh. But this is fantasy. so sure, why not? But I’m not sure that I’m buying it. There’s a seeming lack of advisors for these diplomats, which is hard to swallow (though narratively neater), especially with Michiko and Kris there’s a naiveté that screams that these people shouldn’t be left to their own devices. They’re like college students out on their own. Yeah, they might be capable, but they need some more wisdom. Letting an entire people’s futures to be determined by what a young, untried warrior (no matter how talented) who’s easily swayed by elders and friendliness is . . . suggestive of problems.

I think I like this series, but I’m not sure. Goodwill toward a couple of the authors will carry you for a bit, I’m just not sure how long it’ll last without the series doing a better job of entertaining me. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just not totally sold. This many pages in, I should be. I want to be — but I don’t think I am yet. I still assume it’s coming.

—–

3 Stars