Sunday Webcomics

Recently Bookriot made a big announcement that they are launching a new site called Panels devoted entirely to webcomics. If you haven't yet delved into the world of webcomics, you're missing out on something big here. The evolution of this medium has been a long process considering webcomics have been around as long as the interwebz. From standalone single panel comics that appear in both print and on web to long running novels that are updated daily, webcomics come in a huge variety of genres and formats.
For the uninitiated it's nearly overwhelming knowing where to start exploring. But if you take it in small bits, you'll find that webcomics are an absolutely fascinating medium and there are many that have strong literary merit.

When I first became aware of webcomics, I was already behind the popular culture curve. Because guys, there are thousands and thousands of webcomics out there. I am not kidding. They are everywhere yet I remained blissfully unaware, keeping my nose safely ensconced in library tomes, e-books, and the occasional audiobook. Once in a while someone would craftily sneak in a single-panel comic on Facebook or Tumblr, book-related of course, but that was the extent of my webcomic experience. I remained completely ignorant that most of these single or multiple panel webcomics, like the one below, were actually located on a webcomic site where the author(s) produce all of their work for you to peruse or even purchase in bundled PDF or dead-tree versions. Their comics might be stand-alone, like this:

Or they might create a webcomic that is a series, just like a graphic novel, updating the story perhaps once a week or maybe even every day. Just like your favorite blogs, you can subscribe to their webcomic sites in your RSS reader to keep up with the story. Oh, and don't worry if you missed out on the beginning - the archives are right there and you can binge read to catch up (better than Netflix!).

Post-apocalyptic Freak Angels (2008-2011) is 864 pages long!

Other webcomics build an entire virtual world incorporating various other media, using sound (very Lost-esque) clips and animated gifs. Pretty edgy stuff. The sub-genres run the absolute gamut. From gorgeously illustrated children's comics and illustrations pretty enough to decorate a nursery to haunting horror rivaling Stephen King (indeed, even Joe Hill - the master of horror's son and best-selling author in his own right - is well known for his comic book work), every conceivable format and subject is covered. From novellas to short-stories, from poetry to stand alone panels....if you can dream it, webcomics has it. 

Tiny Kitten Teeth (2009-   ) Ongoing Panel Webcomic

And while there are many websites and portals available to explore the thousands and thousands (did I mention that it's overwhelming?) of webcomics out there, it's been my experience that too much of a good thing can be...well, too much. Finding myself caught between not wanting to devote hours and hours each week in the rabbit hole of webcomics yet simultaneously refusing to ignore an art form with such literary potential, the idea of Sunday Webcomics was formed.

So feel free to join me here every Sunday morning where I'll feature one particularly notable webcomic that is worth knowing about. While there are plenty of fantastic graphic novels out there (and many webcomics are also sold as graphic novels), I'm not going to focus on those. Instead, I'll be looking at the ones that are currently available online, right now, and free. Both the ones everyone is talking about right now and the ones that have made their literary mark and are still freely available online. It's webcomics, but in a smaller, bite-sized form. If you'd like to explore the genre further, I'd highly recommend watching for Bookriot's new site Panels which will launch this fall where more in-depth articles and reviews are sure to tempt webcomic fans everywhere. Meanwhile.....see you on Sundays.

Review: The Secret Place

For readers who have discovered the dark and twisted delight of Tana French's critically acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, the upcoming release of The Secret Place - the fifth book - is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. French has already secured her place as the queen of psychological crime novels; the Washington Post recently named her "one of the most talented crime writers alive." With a bar set so high, there is always that short moment of fear when you open each new novel:  the fear that this time the magic French seems to imbue in each book won't be there.

And then.....

Sigh of relief.

One of French's endearing traditions: every novel's protagonist is plucked from a previous novel where they made an appearance as a secondary character. The Secret Place has harvested Stephen Moran, who fans will remember from the 2010 novel Faithful Place where the eager young detective assisted one of French's most memorable characters, murder squad Detective Frank Mackey, solve a rather gruesome crime. But that was years ago and Detective Moran's career didn't accelerate the way he hoped. Languishing in the Cold Case Department, he's both surprised and oddly excited the day Holly Mackey - Detective Frank Mackey's teenage daughter - walks into his office with fresh evidence in a cold case murder of a sixteen year old boy that occurred on the grounds of St. Kilda's, Holly Mackey's exclusive Dublin boarding school.

Assigned to team up with Antionette Conway, the one murder squad detective all the lads hate for not being a lad, Detective Moran at last has a chance to prove himself worthy of the big time: the murder squad. And thus Moran and Conway enter the byzantine halls of St. Kilda's where they find that the apparatus of the teenage mind can be far, far darker and more twisted than the most deviant sociopaths stalking the streets of Dublin. 

French brilliantly pulls off a dual timeline throughout the novel: Moran and Conway's detecting efforts take place throughout the course of one single day as they interview students at St. Kilda's, while the alternative timeline follows the students in the months leading up to the murder. It's a crafty technique and her success in pulling it off so seamlessly proves that French is at the top of her game in the crime writing scene.
"Late in January, half past ten at night. Fifteen minutes till lights-out, for third-years and fourth-years at Kilda's and at Colm's. Chris Harper - brushing his teeth, half thinking about the cold soaking into his feet from the tiled floor of the bathroom, half listening to a couple of guys giving a first-year hassle in a toilet cubicle and wondering whether he can be arsed stopping them - has just under four months to live." 
Moran and Conway are one of French's better detective teams. Although this case could potentially boost their professional reputations, failure to find answers at St. Kilda's in this one single day might very well do significant damage to their respective career paths. It's a refreshing, if somehow ironic, change to see law enforcement characters dump the Protect and Serve motivation that most often pepper crime novels. A distrust that slowly evolves into grudging mutual respect adds to the acerbic banter between the two detectives, a relationship that doesn't reach it's full potential until the very end of the novel making it somewhat sad, knowing we won't be seeing them again, as protagonists anyway, in future books.

As for our suspects --- oh, our suspects. A girl's boarding school makes for a virtual viper's nest of suspects. These are, after all, sixteen year old girls. But French goes much deeper than that. She understands the vitality that pulsates just underneath the surface there and the myriad of ways that can be expressed - good and evil. Perhaps most disconcerting is the acknowledgment that teenage girls do indeed have to deal with the themes such as slut-shaming and women viciously cutting down other women at so young an age. Disturbing? Yes. Fascinating? Yes. 

All of this isn't to say the novel isn't without a glaring problem. For reasons unexplained, French introduced an element of magic (as in witchcraft magic) to the story. While the idea of boarding school girls playing with magic might have played well, actual magic - however small - added nothing of value to the plot and only served to detract from the seriousness of her writing. 

Aside from that misstep, The Secret Place is an excellent addition to an otherwise notable series. French's uncanny ability to capture the psychological nuances flowing between her characters - both adult and teen alike - keeps everything nicely taut from the very first chapter. Longtime fans will of course be watching the secondary characters -- who will star in the next Dublin Murder Squad novel?

Highly recommended for fans. First time readers are encouraged to begin with In the Woods, the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, although that isn't strictly necessary to enjoy this novel.


Title:  The Secret Place
Author: Tana French
Publisher:  Viking Adult
Date: 9.2.14
Pages:  464
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #5
My Copy: An advance electronic copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Five Summer Books You Ought Not to Have Missed

Summer is winding down, the children are heading - albeit kicking and screaming - back to school, and the beach bags are being shoved into the nether regions of the closet for yet another year. Sadly, another season of poolside reading is wrapping up. While it's nearly impossible to soak up all of the great books that were released throughout the summer of 2014, here are five that were particular standouts. If you missed them, be sure to put them on your fall reading list.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica (Harlequin MIRA, 7.29.14). Kubica's thriller drew plenty of praise and for good reason: unreliable narration, a botched kidnapping of a wealthy judge's daughter, dual timelines, psychological timebombs. Egads. Reading this thriller is like walking a tightrope with no safety net. Kubica demonstrates how a novel can be emotionally "taut" from the very first to the very last page. 

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Putnam Adult, 7.29.14). Those familiar with Moriarty's previous book, The Husband's Secret, might find yourself surprised by how very far this author has come since her last effort. With Big Little Lies, Moriarty propels herself from B-list chick-lit author straight up to an author to officially watch. Her scathing humor doesn't detract at all from the very serious themes of spousal abuse and school yard bullying tackled in Big Little Lies. Welcome to the A-List, Liane Moriarty.

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai (Viking Adult, 7.10.14). This is the story of the wealthy and privileged Devohr family as told through their very old and storied estate Laurelfield. What makes this novel so notable, aside from it's extremely clever wit (have your highlighter at the ready), is the near-perfect structure of the novel, which is told in reverse narrative: three parts, each successively going back another generation in time. Comic and tragic in turn, it's rare to see a novel so perfectly stitched together in form.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen (Harper, 7.8.14). This first of a new trilogy from Johansen was a pretty big deal in the publishing world (think: big money for a debut novel!). In Johansen's imagined future world, nearly all knowledge has been lost and the world has reverted to a medieval-like state. For the small kingdom of The Tearling, the old Queen is dead and now is the time to retrieve the daughter she sent into hiding years ago --- and a Princess who knows little of the kingdom she is about to inherit has to prove worthy of the crown. This would probably be full of over-used tropes were it not for a very non-Disney princess. Kelsea is pointedly not beautiful in any conventional way, nor does her body conform to the idiotic ideals of beauty commercialism churns out. Rather, she is strong. She is resourceful. She is intelligent. She uses her strongest gifts: her mind, her common sense, and her compassion. This alone makes this new series a winner. (*In an unfortunate turn of events, the role of Kelsea in the already-in-development movie version has been awarded to Emma Watson. A lovely young woman. But far, far too conventionally beautiful and painfully thin to play the role of Kelsea properly, in my opinion. Gah, just stick to the book.)

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Obit, 6.10.14). There's not much that can be said about this incredible novel without giving a hint of a spoiler. And if a hint of a spoiler is given, you'll think it's a kind of book that it really isn't. Cryptic enough for you? Okay, okay. Melanie is a young schoolgirl with a very special gift. So special that she's kept locked away in a very special school with other children just like her. I can't tell you what makes Melanie special. You're going to have to read the book to find that out. But I can tell you that you'll fall in love with this little girl. And along the way perhaps you'll ask yourself some of the big questions about, you know, humanity, civilization....that kind of stuff. All this, wrapped up in a package you won't believe.

So pour yourself one more margarita. Enjoy the last dog-days of summer. And whatever you do, don't miss these books.

The Last Policeman Trilogy (World of Trouble)

It was the summer of 2012 when Quirk Books, a small but emerging independent publishing house, released a novel by New York Times bestselling author Ben H. Winters titled The Last Policeman. For Winters, then best known for his novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, a pre-apocalyptic police procedural novel was something of a departure from his tried and true spoof and snark technique.

It wasn't long though before word started to spread. The Last Policeman, we were told, was good stuff. Just read it, friends said. And so that is how I was first introduced to Detective Hank Palace, the only cop left in Concord, New Hampshire who gives a damn. Why he would give a damn is part of the mystery, given that in only six short months the asteroid 2011GV1 (known as "Maia") will impact the earth and all life will come to an end anyway. Certainly no one else gives a damn. People have left their jobs, their families, their homes to frantically fulfill lifelong dreams in the short time they have left before imminent death. The world infrastructure is rapidly crumbling. Religious sects are experiencing a rapid resurgence. But Hank Palace, a newly minted detective is determined to fulfill his crime-solving duties. While the murder case that Palace solves in the novel is front and center, what makes The Last Policeman shine is Winters' adeptness with overriding themes of civilization and the ultimate value of human life. Like everyone else who read it, I was vastly pleased when The Last Policeman won the 2013 Edgar Award for the Best Paperback Original and I eagerly awaited the second book in the trilogy....

Countdown City was released the very next year in 2013. There are now just 77 days left until Maia impacts Earth. Civilization continues to disintegrate and Detective Hank Palace is no longer a detective because, well, there's no longer a police department. The country has gone to hell in an apple cart. Radicals have taken over what remains of the University of New Hampshire and Hank's sister is among them. Rumors spread that Maia is really a government hoax. And the countdown continues. So too does Winters' continued exploration of themes which, like the first novel, is really the shining star here. Readers are hooked. We need book three. Need. It.

World of Trouble, the third and final book of the trilogy, is a book you are torn between racing though because you must know what happens and slowly dragging through because you know what inevitably must happen. Gah. What to do? Open the book....two weeks before Maia impacts Earth. The obliteration of society has made the arrival of the asteroid nearly an afterthought, yet Hank Palace has survived and continues the valiant search for his missing sister who remains steadfastly convinced that covert operations will ultimately divert Maia and save humanity. Yet to what end? What humanity? Without the structure of society, humans have destroyed themselves. 

Did Maia hit?

Winters pens a perfect - yes, perfect - ending to a trilogy that will only continue to garner new fans over time. The Last Policeman Trilogy is a cult classic of our own time. The questions posed about humanity, the false illusion of safety given by the structure of society, and our own roles we play in the structure make these novels exceptionally appealing. I fully expect them to remain in print for years to come. If you haven't read them yet, do I really need to tell you what to do?

Now I'm going to sit back and watch all of the awards for World of Trouble roll in...Edgar Award, anyone?


*Fine Print: This review contains three different books. While I purchased copied of all three books for my own personal library, I also received an advance copy of World of Trouble from the publisher for review purposes. As usual, this is no way influenced my review. Because, duh, I loved these books.