Thursday, October 12, 2017

Happy Furry Book Month!


It's October again, and that means:


Happy Furry Book Month, everybody :)

Once again, we're taking the month of October to celebrate and enjoy anthropomorphic literature, both new and old, and there are a number of sales going on with various publishers to do just that.

I won't be taking up too much of your time here, as October can be a pretty busy month, but I did want to recommend a book for your enjoyment on this specific month - Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence Schoen

We'll do a proper look at this book sometime in the future but, for now, I'll just say that Barsk is one of the best modern anthropomorphic books that I've read while also being a fantastic science fiction book that raises good philosophical questions while also just immersing you in another world. The main characters will stick with you long after you've put the book down, which I think is a mark of strong, effective story-telling. If you love sci-fi, literature, or even just really love elephants, then you should totally give this one a read!

You can learn more about Furry Book Month and the available publisher deals here: https://furrywritersguild.com/furry-book-month/



Until next time, happy reading!
-Chammy

Monday, September 25, 2017

BOOK TALK - MouseHeart



Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

From the summary on Amazon:

Hopper is just an ordinary pet shop mouse before he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization.

But all is not what it seems. Though Hopper is treated as a royal guest, he misses his siblings that he lost in the escape attempt. That, and Atlantia is constantly threatened by the rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere in Atlantia, cats that leave the citizens unharmed… and no one can seem to answer why.

Soon, Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of a colossal battle, one that crosses generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets: Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends.

And one powerful secret about his destiny



Some days, you just want to read something that really scratches a familiar literary itch and calls back to nostalgic days. As I started reading Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler, this was distinctly how I felt. This is a newer book, the first in a series, published in 2014, and yet it harkens back to the kinds of books about animals that I read growing up. Redwall, The Wind in the Willows, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and many more were sprinkled throughout my childhood and teenage years, and Mouseheart hits on so many notes while still being original that it’s astonishing.

Most of the classic anthropomorphic children’s fiction themes are here. You have a society of talking animals that live just out of sight of modern day human beings, living beneath the subways of Brooklyn. The animals also have to interact with and form their own understanding of various human devices like subway trains, abandoned subway stations, and litter. There’s actually a really fun scene that almost seems to call out to the cliché, where a rat is selling discarded human memorabilia and coming up with obviously outlandish or incorrect stories about their origins. Also, like many classic talking-animal novels, there is a healthy amount of interaction between predators (cats) and their natural prey (rats and mice), with moments that prove some stereotypes false and others true.

Rounding out these classic anthropomorphic animal story traits, we also have many marks of classic adventure and fantasy stories. There are kings, princes, and hidden away kingdoms along with rebel armies and prophecies and good old-fashioned swordplay.

So, after hearing about all of this, I suspect many might be already thinking, “I’ve read this story before” and might throw Mouseheart aside as a novel that’s one of many in an abundant fantasy genre.

If you did that, however, then I would have to say that you’re doing yourself a gross disservice and would be missing out on a fantastic and enjoyable story! Mouseheart is an extremely well-written story that knows the genre well and gives its audience exactly what they’ve come for while also offering new ideas and bringing about a feeling of timeless wonder which I feel has been strangely lacking in most modern day anthropomorphic animal fiction.

Exploring Atlantia was probably one of my favorite parts of the book.
The wonderful art throughout also made for a very enjoyable journey!

This is not to say that the book has no problems or negative aspects to it, of course. In fact, one of its most notable factors contributes to one of its biggest problems. Mouseheart, as I’ve said, has the hallmarks of many great anthropomorphic animal stories and fantasy adventure stories… and that unfortunately means that the book’s plot is also extremely predictable. I don’t mean to spoil the entire story, so I won’t list all of the predictable story moments, but I think it’s safe to say that most readers that are at all familiar with young adult fantasy can guess them off of the tops of their heads and be correct.


Main character is a central figure in some ancient prophecy? Check.

Budding love interest that blossoms by the story’s conclusion? Check.

Parents are dead or at least assumed dead at the start of the story? Check.

Misunderstandings are the central reason for many of the main points of conflict between characters? Check.

All you've gotta do is put some mouse ears and a tail on Taran...


It’s hard to read through Mouseheart and not be constantly cognizant of the tropes and trappings of its genre and not comparing it to other works. Yet, as I said above, I believe that Mouseheart overcomes the problems this could be by embracing its nature fully and still telling a tale that’s all its own.

Hopper, the main character, is not the strongest or the smartest, and, unlike many mouse heroes before him, he’s most certainly not the bravest or most selfless either. Hopper is a character with many flaws. He lacks understanding of the world around him, and he can truly be very childish and selfish with the choices that he initially makes and continues to make as the story goes on. By the story’s end, Hopper does grow as a character, but he still has many of his flaws and has grown in spite of them rather than completely overcoming and replacing them. It’s the personal lessons that he learns, especially the aspects of what bravery and heroism truly mean, that make Hopper a more complete character and eventually a hero. What’s more, Hopper is clearly not done maturing yet by the end of the story, giving him greater room to grow in future installments.

Outside of the characters, the setting itself most certainly takes center stage. Although it starts humbly in a pet shop in Brooklyn, the story quickly expands into the tunnels beneath and to the fantastical kingdom of Atlantia. The way that forgotten parts of a city are reimagined as mysterious and awe-inspiring locales is one of the major ways that Mouseheart and creates the wonder that I’ve mentioned.


All in all, Mouseheart feels like a story from a classic era of anthropomorphic children’s literature, but written with modern audiences in mind. It tells its tale well and creates a story that feels timeless, which is something that I haven’t been able to say about much modern literature that I’ve read. I would highly recommend it to fans of the genre and anybody who’s looking for an enjoyable read in children’s literature or fun fantasy in general!


Until next time, happy reading all!


-Chammy


Currently reading:


The Echoes of Those Before by James Daniel Ross

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vicki Fox Has Returned!

Do the happy dance!


The last time that we looked at The World of Vicki Fox, I expressed my adoration for the characters and the stories over the years, but lamented over its seemingly indefinite hiatus since 2013. Well, the lamentations are over! I was holding off on saying anything about this until I was sure it would stick, but I’m now very happy to say that Vicki Fox is back for our reading pleasure!

One of the biggest problems that I feel Vicki Fox had over the years was getting a consistent artist to help bring the stories to life. That problem now seems to be solved with a new artist on the team that goes by the name of Jan.

Who is Jan, you may ask? Well, he just so happens to be the artist and author of several other anthropomorphic comic strips of his own creation! I had only barely learned of him before I saw the announcement of him drawing Vicki and her friends so, in the interests of curiosity, I thought that I might investigate this artist and see where they’re coming from and share my findings with you all.

Jan’s primary comic hosting website is www.tigerknight.com and, from there, we have three different comics to choose from. Only one of the strips has had a full run, so I thought it best to look at that one to get a general idea of Jan’s talents. The webcomic in question is titled College Catastrophe, and it’s actually a pretty good fit for those who are fans of the style of comics presented in The World of Vicki Fox.

This is clearly a realistic reenactment of the creative team hard at work!

College Catastrophe is a ‘slice of life’ comic that primarily follows the misadventures of a lion named Jan, his roommate Wolf (a wolf), and the various friends they have and make while living on their college campus. The comic is heavily focused on humor and slapstick silliness, with characters routinely blowing things up, getting beaten up through various school hazards, and getting themselves into some truly ridiculous situations (Wolf is frequently the cause of these with his various hare-brained schemes and skill with turning whatever he touches into some kind of explosive).

Although the drama of the comic is relatively low, it does have moments of romance and loving friendship, especially between Jan and his girlfriend, Amber. The comic is also openly a parallel to the author’s own college experiences and observations, and a fun time capsule of technology and American society around the early 2000’s, so there are a lot of jokes that are clearly centered on the reader having knowledge of college dorms, as well as computer and tech jokes that may go over the heads of younger readers. This unfortunately dates the comic a little, but the comic never gets so deep into cultural references or jokes that it can’t get its point across.

I think what I like best about this is that the mummy isn't just dead, but his eyes are also covered...
and he's still flying the plane.

As for the art of the comic, that is another relatively high point. Although the character designs are pretty simple, they’re appealing and expressive. Jan and Wolf especially get some great expressions going and you can always tell when Wolf is up to no good from his smile. The strip is only in black and white, however, and it rarely deviates from the daily newspaper comic design. There also is not much visual spectacle, as few of the panels, if any, focus on scenery or anything beyond character art. It’s clear that the focus with these comics is on the dialogue and writing.

All in all, College Catastrophe is an appealing and enjoyable webcomic that harkens back to the daily pages of newspaper comics in the 90’s, and I’m very happy to have read it!

With that in mind, after reading the comic from start to finish, I think I can safely say that Jan’s style will probably be an excellent fit for The World of Vicki Fox. It can really hit all of those light-hearted notes and fun characterizations. Plus, Jan himself has grown as an artist since College Catastrophe and it can be seen in his full color work now that does not shy away from background details.

There's clearly a style difference compared to previous Vicki Fox artists,
but the essence of the characters still comes through loud and clear!

I will say, however, that some of the characters don’t quite look like themselves in Jan’s style. Craig Wolf, for example, doesn’t look quite as lanky or charmingly awkward as Laura Howell or Shelley Pleger drew him, and there’s a bit of the ‘Looney Tunes’ edge that seems to be missing from the cast that we’ve grown so familiar with. However, the writing is still familiar, and Jan has only been working on the comic for a couple of months now, so there are going to be growing pains as the cast grows into his style and vice versa. If reading comics lately has taught me anything, it’s that new artists take time to get used to and there will always be an adjustment period!

With all of that being said, I’m happy to see The World of Vicki Fox back and running again and I wish Jan and Michael Russell the best of luck with the comic! I hope that you all check it out too! The comic updates on the first and third Sunday of every month, so keep an eye on your calendars to catch the new pages right here.

What can I say? I always enjoy seeing a good artist at work!

To see more of Jan’s work and read his own entertaining comics like College Catastrophe, head on over to his website! (Some comics are intended for mature audiences, and are clearly marked) https://www.tigerknight.com/

Until next time, happy reading, all!
-Chammy

Currently Reading:

Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler

Friday, April 28, 2017

Save Me, Sweet Nostalgia!

Ironically, I haven't drawn Sonic the Hedgehog in probably several years.


So, I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately while on the path toward making myself a fully certified librarian. A lot of studying does not entirely mean a lack of time to read, however! Recently, I’ve been going back through a wonderful digital collection of one of my favorite comic books back from what I was a kid: Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog.

Goodness this brings back so many memories...

Now, you should probably understand: I am a ridiculously huge Sonic fan. Comics, games, toys, shirts… if it had Sonic’s face on it in the 90’s, I probably owned it or was at least begging my parents to LET me own it. Heck, I’ve even got this really weird fist-sized ball that’s shaped like Sonic in the middle of his signature spin move. The spines are like fingergrips, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to throw around one of my childhood icons like a  football.

Sonic’s comic series was no exception when it came to my fandom as a child. Sonic comics were the first comics that I ever owned or seriously read. I’d glanced at Spider-Man or X-Men stuff, but they just always had these big beefy guys on the covers with arms as thick as my thighs, and it never really grabbed me. When this one kid brought forth a Sonic the Hedgehog comic to me, it was like my brain exploded. I asked to borrow issue #03 to take home, and it was a no small feat to get me to return that issue to its owner. In no time at all, I had a subscription to the comic that ended up lasting for years and years to come. As my subscription started with #14, I even ordered the back issues to make sure I was completely caught up, including the pilot three-issue miniseries. When it came to comic books, for about four or five years, Sonic was it for me.

I kept a solid subscription until about issue #63 or so and stayed subscribed to the Knuckles comic for a little bit beyond that, but not much. The comic now is at or past #290 as of this writing (Actually, there is currently some concern about the comic being cancelled soon), and is noted as being one of the longest running Western comics in existence.

Clearly, I had good taste as a kid… Or so I thought.

You see, as I was reading through these old comics, working my way up to the point where I stopped as a teen to see what lays beyond, I was struck by a terrible realization:

These were not very good comics. In fact, some of them were, frankly… kinda bad.

I mean, yes, they were kids comics and many of the plots weren’t terribly deep because people in the media had this strange idea that children weren’t interested in dramatic story-telling or didn’t have the attention span to keep stories straight for more than thirty minutes, give or take commercial breaks. Even so, as I look back now, there were some serious problems with how the comic was presented, both in story and in art. In the art department, the comic switched artists at an insane rate. At the time, I didn’t know better, but it’s apparently not common to have the art style of your comic radically shift from issue to issue, or even from story to story within the SAME issue. Yes, style shifts are a thing and many artists come together to create any comic, but when your reader sees the characters looking like a Saturday morning cartoon in one issue:



And then looking like an attempt to draw Japanese anime in the next:

Oh Sonic... Why does your head look like a pine tree?

Then you’re going to have some reader confusion. Even for the artists, I can’t imagine this was terribly easy. Archie would bring on so many different artists that I think the art genuinely suffered due to the artists not having enough time to get familiar with the characters or setting.

There's so much wrong with the proportions in this panel,
and yet it's still endearing to me!

However, I can generally forgive goofy art. The artist above, Sam Maxwell, is one of my favorites and did really fun and expressive work in other issues, even if his art was often very silly and strange with proportions. What is much harder to get through is bad writing, and it was going through the later earlier issues where I remember why I stopped reading the Sonic comics.

I want you to look at this series of panels below:

 
Don't worry. You haven't missed anything.

So, if you haven’t read the comics, you probably have NO idea what’s going on here. Of course, you haven’t read the comics, so that’s fair. Let me explain to make it a bit more clear: A mammoth from ancient times came across a mystical Chaos Emerald and had it somehow implanted in his chest, giving him immortality. Now, thousands of years later, he decides to put on a cape and take over the world. He blasts our local heroes with Chaos Emerald energy to kill them, but they’re okay because they happen to be holding on to 50 magic rings that they somehow found in a portal on their way to fight him. They beat him down pretty badly but Mammoth escapes to the Chaos Emerald chamber in the floating island (you knew we were here already, didn’t you?) and tries to take the Emerald to increase his power (I think?) and then some techno-babble mystical goobledy-gook happens and… he’s an emerald now. Rather, he’s *inside* the Chaos Emerald and powering it even further, and the heroes really don’t know how this happens, but they’re okay with it.

Got all of that? No? Yeah, that’s the problem.

They built up to this story here and there through several issues, but even when this issue came as the ‘payoff’ for all of the build up, I had NO idea what was going on when I first read it as a child. After reading through it again with a much more advanced and literary-focused mind as an adult, I can safely say that I *still* have no idea what is all going on here. The story feels like a mess and the art doesn’t really convey what’s going on terribly well and, worst of all, it just doesn’t feel like ‘Sonic’. Of course, don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to say that I loved the characters in the comic and loved seeing stories that were outside of Sonic himself, but this came so far out of left field that I felt like I was reading a different comic.

Nowadays, the comic is much improved. Writing and art is much more consistent and the characters, though changed and having lost some of my favorites (*shakes fist at 'The Writer Who Shall Not Be Named'*), are still fun and excellent designs. I’m only starting to just scratch the surface of the more solid writing in the series now, as I’m at issue #71, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest.

So what’s the point of this write-up? Well, first, I wanted to share with you one of the most influential media experiences of my youth that helped to form me as an artist and lover of anthropomorphic media. It’s thanks to this comic series that I sought out other stories with all animal casts and tried my hand at making my own, and I am eternally thankful to it. Second, I wanted to also share the experience of looking back and taking off the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and realize that, even if something positively influenced us and left an incredible and lasting impression on our literary conscious, it’s certainly not without flaws. We can become stronger and more mature readers and writers when we can start to realize the differences between good and bad storytelling, even in the things that we love.

So what about you readers? Do you have any nostalgic cartoons or books that just haven't stood the test of time? Or do you have any favorite/least favorite memories from the Sonic comics yourself? Feel free to share!

Until next time, happy reading all!
-Chammy

Currently reading:

The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich (A Fox and Hare novel – and yes, that IS what drew me to check it out. I freely admit this)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

BOOK TALK - The Builders

The Builders by Daniel Polansky


From the summary on Amazon:
A missing eye.
A broken wing.
A stolen country.

The last job didn't end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain's company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain's whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score

            ‘Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting’
            This was a phrase that I continuously said to myself while reading through the strange and violent tale of The Builders. When I had picked it up I assumed, both from the cover as well as from the various accolades comparing the book to Brian Jacques and Watership Down, that I was going to be in for a good old fantasy animal adventure. What I found instead was a sea of violence, death, betrayal, and a style that felt closer to Beowulf than it did to any of Brian Jacques works.
            It’s difficult to talk too much about this book without spoiling a number of things, so I will at least give my spoiler-free impressions first here: The Builders is an excellent story that is written in the style of a legend, with plot twists and many violent ends, this is a book for mature readers through and through. It’s fantastic anthropomorphic fiction, playing with many of the stereotypes that the animals involved are known for, and yet treating them as parts of the characters rather than one-note traits or jokes. Although it’s a little short and moves at a breakneck pace, I never felt deprived of characterization. It has a single, brutal story to tell and it does so with great efficiency. I must say, however, that a great many of the characters are very unlikable creatures and there’s not an innocent soul in the book, so it can make it very hard to personally have empathy for any of the cast. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of classic anthropomorphic literature and fans of western legends like Beowulf or North American tall tales.

... What? When I think of tall tales, I think of s'mores around the campfire. Don't you?


            Now, for a bit of a deeper look, I might be diving into spoiler territory as I talk about what I did and did not like about this story here, so consider yourselves warned!
            First and foremost, as I said, I had a bit of a problem connecting with the characters. The first character that we’re introduced to is a battered old soldier of a mouse known simply as ‘the Captain’. He’s immediately abrasive and constantly angry and you know from just looking at him that he’s a surprisingly deadly individual. Those are all cool traits for the gruff old captain stereotype but I never realized how prickly they could make a protagonist. He’s not simply tough with a no-nonsense personality, but he’s also cruel to both ally and enemy. One of the more telling elements of this cruelty is when he visits an old friend who gave up fighting and hires men to kill him, forcing his old friend to fight for his very life and awaken a bloodlust that he’d worked so hard to overcome.
            So, yes, rather than working through reason to get his old compatriot to join him in an eventual battle, or even respecting that ally’s wish to be forgotten, our protagonist throws away the lives of several others in a gambit that, if he’d miscalculated, would have resulted in the death of the very person he wanted to have help him. For the entire book, this incident made me feel just baffled as to why anyone would work with this mouse and why they would approach working with him with such joy and nostalgia. Yes, the Captain is strong and he’ll get the job done, but nobody in their right mind is going to think that they can trust their lives to him.
            This suspension of disbelief is somewhat alleviated as we meet and learn more about the entire cast. As I said above, nobody in this book is innocent, and that’s especially true for our heroes. They’re assassins, thieves, poisoners, liars, and more than a few are betrayers, both of good and bad. In fact, calling them ‘heroes’ feels rather wrong, and even our group of protagonists would most definitely disagree with the title. It took me until near the last half of the book to realize that the titular Builders were working towards positive political ends, as so much of the story feels more like a tale of revenge. It can be very confusing to know how to feel as one reads through this story.
            One thing that is not in question, however, is just how awesome these characters are. I compared this book to Beowulf, and I think the reason for that is because it feels like a classic epic poem in structure more than a novel. In novels, there’s usually an arc of sorts as you see character succeed and fail and grow into an eventual climax. In novels, it’s some accepted for your protagonists to start small and grow into something grand to overcome what were previously thought to be impossible odds. In this book, though, the characters start out being awesome and the entire book feels like we’re watching a legend being built. Strangely, the key villains in the story are actually afraid of the protagonists, and that fear never goes away as each member of the Builders shows exactly why they should be feared. It really put me in a different mood than most stories, and I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like it other than possibly Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. For an anthropomorphic tale, this came like a wicked curve ball out of left field.
            Speaking of, as far as anthropomorphic fiction goes, The Builders is very solid. There’s an extremely diverse cast, including a salamander and an owl, and their individual animal traits are highlighted as a means to bring out their character, but not in a stereotypical fashion. Yes, the weasel is a cheat and a liar, but he’s also firmly a good guy and has one of the more heroic moments in the story. The badger is big and deadly, but he’s also soft-spoken and even a little romantic. The mouse is small and tenacious, but he’s also the most dangerous creature to ever walk the countryside, and everybody knows it.
            See, one of the most common pitfalls that can befall anthropomorphic literature, especially ones written in recent years, is when the characters lose their species identity. It can be easy, when reading certain books with diverse animal casts, to forget exactly what animal someone is, especially when you’re deep into the drama. Modern anthropomorphic stories can certainly have good and complex characters, but sometimes they can definitely feel interchangeable with humans or, at the very least, interchangeable with one another. The fox acts like the wolf who acts like the panther. This isn’t to say that all animal characters need to have dialogue tags that indicate their tails wagging or that they need to include barks and meows with their sentences (Goodness please no on that!), but a character’s species should be intricately tied to their identity, and not something added as an afterthought.
            It’s a little difficult to properly lay out how I mean this, but the best and most literal example that I can give is one of my favorite books: The Wind in the Willows. In a way, you could say that this book cheats by having all of the characters named after the animals that they are. Mole, Ratty, and Mr. Toad are all names that hide nothing… but somehow, upon saying those names, I just get a vivid mental picture of the character in the novel. I can’t say the name ‘Mr. Toad’ and not think of the wide-eyed, adventure-seeking expression of that crazed amphibian as he rides along in his newest vehicle. His species is a part of his character, and The Builders manages to convey that exact same feeling with its characters without resorting to calling them by their species names. It’s quite amazing.

It's funny... For as much as I love Disney, this is still the definitive version of Mr. Toad's appearance in my mind.
Maybe it's the pink human-y look of the Disney version that throws me off of it? Ah well!

            So, while The Builders might be a slightly mixed bag for my personal tastes because of the cruel characters and the intense violence and situations, I will not deny that it is an excellent book, and a perfect example of good anthropomorphic literature. I doubt this will reach the level of popularity as others in the field, and the book leaves absolutely no room for any kind of sequel, but I still feel like it should be getting more attention than it has. If you feel intrigued enough by my review here to give it a look, then please do so and let me know what you thought!

            Until next time, happy reading, all!


-Chammy

Currently Reading:

Mister Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Happy Furry Book Month!

Hello one and all!

I wanted to make you readers aware that October is a very special month indeed. Not just because of Halloween, Leif Erikson Day, or even National Nut Day (October 22 for the curious)!

Celebrating October in style!

No, October is extra special because it is officially known as Furry Book Month! At least, it’s official insofar as the month was declared as such by the Furry Writer’s Guild.
From what I can tell by reading their post about it and doing a little bit of Google Searching research, this is the first month that this has ever been made official, and I would like to join in to promote it to the few folks who read here!


Here are some details from the month borrowed and summarized from Skye Lansing (Check out his author blog here!), who seems to be one of the key promoters:

What is Furry Book Month?
It is a month-long campaign to help promote anthropomorphic literature and the producers of such content. While the focus of the campaign is on newer anthro literature, there is nothing at all wrong with taking this month to share classic from your collection! To help with the promotion, some publishers and book sellers are offering fantastic discounts for some of their books that fall under the ‘furry’ subgenre. You can read all about the current deals being offered at the Furry Writer’s Guild!

What is a Furry Book?
In the broadest sense, a furry book is any book that features anthropomorphic animal characters. We’ve talked about anthropomorphic literature plenty of times here, so you readers should be pros at identifying these! However, just because the book has anthropomorphic animals in it does NOT guarantee a discount from publishers. The discounts for this month seem largely to be focusing on books targeting or produced by the furry sub-culture. This doesn’t mean that you can’t promote and enjoy your copy of Redwall, though! It just means you might not be able to get it for half price.

How long does Furry Book Month last?
It lasts from October 1st – 31st, though some deals from publishers may have smaller windows.



Now, despite the naming, Furry Book Month does not have to be about the Furry sub-culture! Even if you have no interest at all in that, this month serves as a great way to promote the kinds of books that we enjoy! Who knows? If we can expand awareness of this month even further, more publishers and websites might get in on the fun, and it’ll go a long ways toward encouraging more writers in our favorite genre.

Besides that, this is a great excuse for me to talk to even more people about anthropomorphic literature at the library.

These guys have the right idea!

Until next time, happy reading!

-Chammy

Currently reading:

Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad by Brian Scott Mednick (Uhh… he played a fox in a movie once! It totally counts) 
Lackadaisy Vol. 2 by Tracy J. Butler

Saturday, May 28, 2016

REVIEW: Shady Hollow


Shady Hollow: A Murder Mystery by Juneau Black




ShadyHollow: A Murder Mystery by Juneau Black, is an anthropomorphic mystery novel set in the town of the same name. It’s a rather idyllic ‘Mayberry-esque’ town where serious crime is almost unheard of. In classic fashion, it lists the cast of characters we have to look forward to in the beginning of the book, as if we were preparing to settle in for a play of sorts. An interesting omission, to me, is the listing of the species for the cast. Some of their character descriptions do mention what they are, but many are left for us to fill in the gaps until we meet the character in the book itself. Luckily, Shady Hollow follows the old tradition of giving relatively animalistic names to the anthropomorphic characters. For instance, our main character is named Vera Vixen and she is, of course, a fox. Others are a little more subtle like Lenore Lee being a raven who owns the local bookstore, Nevermore Books, and the ursine chief of police being named Theodore. 

Despite the silly names and a setting that would appear to be right out of a Saturday-morning cartoon, Shady Hollow is not at all shy about jumping into the serious realm of murder and intrigue. In the very first chapter, it jumps right into the grisly murder of Otto Sumpf, a frog who is the local crotchety grump, and who is found face down in the river with a knife in his back. From there, the story fans out into exploring the lives of various townsfolk and uncovering all of their little secrets and hidden affairs (including some literal affairs). This leads to more characters than one would expect having reason to murder Otto and shake up the relative serenity of Shady Hollow. As the book goes on, it expands into the classic murder mystery format of laying out alibis and examining motives until the killer is finally revealed.

Interestingly, the book plays around with everything that it knows itself to be. Even though it’s considered to be a ‘funny animal’ book in the same vein as The Wind in the Willows, its animals never shy away from being scandalous or deadly serious, turning the typical ‘playful and happy-go-lucky’ animal stereotype on its head. Characters get drunk, have one-night stands, tell open-face lies, have broken marriages… but none of it ever goes TOO far over the line. One of the characters being a mistress is heavily implied, but never is anything sexual seen. Characters may occasionally say and do awful things to one another and can fight quite bitterly, but there is no swearing or foul language of any kind. Even the murders are written in an oddly ‘off-screen’ manner, where the murder itself is never seen and the injuries are usually physically minor and hidden from view. It’s almost odd to think that everything that we actually get to see, if it were a film, would put this book within a PG rating in terms of content, yet the mystery is treated very much like an adult affair. The motives that characters have can be heart-breaking or cruel, even venturing into the realm of a small town’s socially accepted racism or distrust of outsiders. Make no mistake: this is a work of fiction that is probably best enjoyed with an adult mindset. It’s like watching the stories of Winnie-The-Pooh unravel and reveal what happens when Rabbit finally has enough and smacks Tigger with his shovel over the rampant property destruction.

The mystery novel aspect is played around with as well, and done in a very enjoyable fashion. Early on, Vera takes on the case of Otto’s murder and determines that she needs an expert’s opinion on the matter. Rather than going to a police detective, she confides in her best friend Lenore, who specializes in reading mystery novels. The pair constantly deconstruct what should normally happen in a mystery and compare it with the situations they’re facing, including checking up on alibis and even typical suspects and false leads. While not only fun, it also helps to put the reader into the proper mindset of wanting to crack the case themselves.

With all of that praise, there are a few things that hold the book back. First, the book is a little short, giving us only about 200 pages of very fast-moving text. By the end, it feels like we’ve watched an episode or two of a television series rather than read a full-length novel. Granted, this is a minor problem, as the pace of the novel is brisk and it kept me pretty engaged throughout, but I really would have enjoyed taking some time to learn more about the world of Shady Hollow and the lives of the various characters in it. The drama of the book is a little on the low side because of this. Also, as a related problem, some of the characters are painfully one-dimensional, despite being important enough to warrant a listing in the ‘cast list’ at the beginning of the book. BW Stone, the always angry and always shouting skunk who manages the local newspaper is probably the worst offender, being little more than a skunk-based caricature of J. Jonah Jameson from Spider Man

Ya know, his hair always DID
look kind of skunk-like

Characters like these make it feel like the book is a little tonally confused, as it will try to impart the gravity of a murder and social problems at one moment and remind you that this isn’t a children’s tale, but then it tries to be a little too silly or stereotypical and avoids depth. It kind of makes me wonder if the authors are straddling the line between adult and childish writing because they themselves couldn’t decide on an audience to market this towards. Considering how anthropomorphic fiction IS usually considered to be in the realm of Teen or Children’s literature by most publishers, I could certainly understand such a problem. It also would explain the fairly low-key cover design of a fox silhouetted underneath the title and the ‘A Murder Mystery’ subtitle. A cover fully displaying the anthropomorphic cast with all their vibrant colors and personalities would give a very different feel and might sway too far towards one side or the other. It’s a shame, though, as I would have very much liked to see how the author envisioned this cast!

In the end, despite the little problems I’ve mentioned, I’d give this book a hearty recommendation for fans of mysteries, inventive stories, and anthropomorphic fiction! Not only is it a fun, quick read, but there also looks to be more on the way, if the ‘Coming Soon’ list at the front of the book is any indication. Considering how rare it is for me to see something that bridges my love for both mysteries and anthropomorphic fiction, I’m certainly hoping we’ll see the next book in this series sooner rather than later!

Stand aside, Basil of Baker Street! It's time for the Great Raccoon Detective!

Until next time,
Happy reading, all!

-Chammy


Currently reading:
The Chronicles of Flurry the Bear by J. S. Skye