Sunday, March 29, 2015

Visiting the Sins

This debut novel by Melanie Denman analyzes sacrificial motherhood, promising to be darkly humorous and focusing on generational feuds. The book begins with one of the novel’s many narrators, Curtis Jean Caskey, explaining the nature of sin in the prologue, with Curtis Jean in fact being the most prominent narrator of the story, her first main chapter involving a visit to the grave of a character nicknamed “Pokey” on Mother’s Day, with a few of her sections narrating the events leading to the character’s ultimate demise, while also mentioning her love of Vacation Bible School and describing a few family members such as her Uncle Hotshot, her politician father, and her second cousin Alice Ann.

Another narrator is Patricia, who owns a beauty parlor named Pat’s Palace and describes the town of Calcote, Texas as deeply religious to the point where a sign outside the city mentions its nature. The late Pokey gets two chapters of her own, with her parts being liberal in use of the N-word and describing her family members. Alice Ann gets her first and only chapter around the book’s two-fifth mark, mentioning her mother’s retribution for falling in love with a miscreant and suggesting her County is in the dark ages in terms of civil rights. Almost halfway through the book is another one-chapter-wonder narrator, Irene.

The final narrator introduced is Rebanelle, who gets her first chapter around two-thirds into the novel, with the late portion of the book describing a note found in Pokey’s cedar chest that describes a violent family feud through newspaper articles and the geography of Thorny Bog. The author follows the main text with a note that all the characters are fictional but suggests that Pokey was based on one of her grandmothers, gives acknowledgements to those that helped her during the writing process, and even provides some book club discussion questions, following which is the author’s bio. Ultimately, this debut novel is enjoyable and humorous, even if darkly so, though the racism of a few characters might alienate certain audiences.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Donkey's Kite

In the second entry of author and illustrator Liana-Melissa Allen’s Horse Valley Adventure series, Donkey’s Kite, the horses brothers Jack, Max, and Lax, along with their friend Donkey, decide to make kites, although Donkey struggles in getting his to function properly, ultimately receiving help from a goose named Gusty. The first sequel uses an illustrative style similar to its predecessor, The Three Little Horses and the Big Bully Donkey, evidenced by its cover art, which depicts Donkey flying his kite as the equine siblings look on, the goose appearing to aid him by flapping her wings to create an artificial wind gust, the unidentified bluebird from the first book looking on too.

The first illustration in the book, appearing after the copyright information, depicts Max, the light brown and blue-vested horse, reading a book out loud while his brothers and Donkey look on, their television in a wastebasket. The story itself commences on a cool day in March in Horse Valley, setting of the first book, when equines from the area plan to attend Meadow Park with homemade kites. The initial illustration within the narrative text shows Max, without his hat, looking out of his home through the top half of its entrance door, the abode itself near the woods, with small rabbits and birds in the image as well.

The horses and  Donkey proceed to assemble their kites, the next image showing them doing so, with Jack painting his, Lax eying his light blue kite, Max cutting string, and their asinine friend seeming to have trouble with his kite’s wooden crossbar. Whereas the horses gloat about their kites, Donkey laments his creation, their feelings evidenced by the subsequent artwork as they hold their kites. Then they head to Horse Meadow Park, the following piece showing them en route, Donkey’s nose tickled by the tail of Lax’s kite, Max looking hungry while holding their food-filled basket, and Jack looking confident with his pretty kite.

The following illustration shows the horse brothers and Donkey, while Max seeks to satisfy his hunger, testing their kites, with Jack and Lax succeeding but Donkey’s crumpled yellow kite struggling, failing to get it to fly despite his strongest attempts. The next image shows Donkey’s continued lack of success while a rabbit runs away and the unidentified bluebird looks on from the air. As depicted in the following piece, Donkey tries to get his kite to fly from the height of a tree, again failing while the rabbit looks out from behind the tree and the bluebird looks on from the ground.

Kicking the kite fails to get it to fly, as well, the subsequent illustration showing Donkey in the middle of his kick while the rabbit looks on from behind a nearby rock and the bluebird refusing to see his continued failure. He therefore seeks help from the horse siblings, but they’re too busy to assist him, indicated by the following artwork that shows Jack and Lax standing with their kites in hand, the former touching up his with paint and the latter bragging about his to another unnamed equine and a pink-ribboned mare, Max continuing to stuff himself while not at the moment flying his own kite.

The next illustration shows Donkey sadly walking away from his equine friends while the bluebird follows, and ultimately encounters a charging goose in the next picture that seems irate to encounter him, a sign in the background indicating no trespassing and that the area is for geese only, the rabbit looking on from behind a nearby bush and the bluebird hovering above Donkey. The goose mocks Donkey, making him reflect upon his tenure as a bully in the previous book, the next picture showing the goose holding sticks upon his head in mock imitation of asinine ears, while other geese in the lake laugh as well, Donkey looking sad and the nameless bluebird seeming angry.

Another goose interrupts her brethren’s mockery, indicated by the next illustration depicting her surfing above the lake water with the others fleeing the scene, the story introducing the new arrival as Gusty, who admonishes her fellow geese for mocking Donkey, a charge they deny. The following image depicts Donkey alongside the first unnamed monochrome goose, with Gusty politely conversing from the lake’s edge. Donkey explains his situation, with Gusty mentioning that she’s naturally adept at flying, the subsequent picture showing a still-sad Donkey conversing with Gusty while the unidentified monochrome goose angrily evacuates the scene.

The goose notes that Donkey’s kite can fly with the right changes, an illustration showing Gusty examining it while Donkey and the bluebird look on, after which they proceed to reconstruct the kite, the process somewhat depicted in the next image where Gusty adjusts the wooden crossbar, Donkey holds a newspaper under his arm, and the bluebird reads another copy. Donkey rightly suggests that strong wind is necessary for his kite to fly, he and Gusty, who holds the rectified kite, seeming confident in its redesign, a sentiment the unidentified bluebird seems to share given its own happy appearance.

Thus, as initially depicted by the cover art, Gusty flaps her wings to get Donkey’s kite to keep in the air, a plan that succeeds, the following piece showing the jubilant goose watching as her asinine friend gets his kite to fly for a change. However, a natural gust of wind comes, noted by the next art with Gusty, Donkey, and the bluebird looking fearful, Donkey losing control of his kite, its string having broken in the subsequent illustration, he and the bluebird pursuing it. Donkey does retrieve his kite, although he continues to lose control of it, crashing into Max in the next piece, which depicts Donkey crashing into his equine friend and losing his grip on the string while the horse spits a partly-eaten apple from his mouth.

Consequentially, the crash breaks Max’s own kite, noted by the next piece where he’s piled atop Donkey, with Gusty arriving to analyze the scene, other horses arriving in the following art in which Max laments the ruination of his kite. The horses eventually acknowledge their ignorance of Donkey’s initial kite-flying plight, and Max accepts his apology, the subsequent illustration showing most of the main characters, named and unnamed appearing sad. They ultimately come up with the idea of creating a joint kite, the next piece depicting the horse siblings, Donkey, and Gusty constructing it, the nameless bluebird again reading the local newspaper.

The story concludes with the new kite’s success, the final illustration in the main text depicting its paper surface to have the detail of Gusty, the horse brothers, and Donkey, with other horses flying their own kites while acknowledging the new one, Donkey having received the honor of testing it, the story ending satisfactorily on this high note. In the end, the first Horse Valley sequel is a good one sure to garner adoration from younger audiences, although the cover art somewhat reveals the plot detail of Donkey ultimately getting his kite to fly successfully despite the plot introduction mentioning his failure in doing so.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Three Little Horses and the Big Bully Donkey

In the first entry of Liana-Melissa Allen’s Horse Valley Adventures children’s book series, three equine protagonists lose their home to a fire and must depend upon themselves while wandering a forest and defending against an antagonistic donkey that wanders around wrecking other animals’ homes, the story based on “The Three Little Pigs.” The cover art depicts the three eponymous horses wandering along a path with their supply-laden wagons while the titular donkey bully secretly gazes at them from behind a bush on one side of the illustration, with the visual style being general cartoony and liberal with typical animal anatomy.

The story itself opens with the three chief horses, named Lax, Max, and Jack, who inhabit the “magical” land of Horse Valley, living in a home near a dark forest, which they and other animals avoid due to its inhabitance by an asinine bully. The equine trio is returning home from the market when they smell smoke from a fire that engulfs their residence, likely caused from lightning from a storm that occurred in the morning. The first illustration within the book depicts the horses looking upon the flames fearfully, accompanied by a nameless bluebird also seeming fearful due to the fire.

The equines attempt to salvage items from their incinerating home, although they err in doing so, the following illustration depicting them and the aforementioned avian evading the flames, although they manage to save some of their possessions as the fire worsens, the next piece of art showing them inside their burning house, where Lax looks the most fearful of his equivalently-stressed companions. Fortunately, they get out of their former home before its complete disintegration, with Lax sustaining some scrapes from crashing through one of its walls, the next artwork depicting the three horses in the middle of a rainstorm, Jack and Lax sprawled out on the grass while Max looks on, the bluebird, seeming somewhat sore, appearing as well.

Max then suggests that he and his equine brethren move into the woods and erect separate abodes, although Jack recalls the antagonistic donkey and insists they remain together, the subsequent illustration depicting the horses in an argument while their house burns in the background, the bird continuing to appear. The storm appears to be over in the next artwork, the horses bedraggled and having agreed to separate. Lax is first to construct his new residence, although he yearns to watch television instead; he believes he can build a home out of nearby bushes, not wishing to do much work.

The next piece of art depicts Lax’s resultant residence, appearing a little like a green human head with two window “eyes,” the bully donkey peeking out from the woods near an unnamed rabbit, the unidentified bluebird and another red-and-yellow avian appearing as well. Then, as he wishes, he watches TV in his new home, with a humorous reference to the “Horse-Pirates of the Caribbean.” The asinine adversary taunts Lax from outside his bush home, kicking it asunder with a single blow, the horse injured by the thorns from the shrubberies, as shown by the next art showing the wrecked residence and the triumphant bully in the middle of a kick, the nameless rabbit looking on helplessly. The following piece shows a crying Lax stuck in the remnants of his bush abode while the bully laughs haughtily, the rabbit expressing his anger.

In the meantime, Max seeks materials for his own fortress of solitude, the story indicating his interest in playing videogames while eating, finding old branches and sticks to serve as components for his own residence. The following illustration shows his resultant spiky-looking residence, upon which he looks happily while the bully donkey spies on him from behind a nearby tree. Once Max enters his new home to play videogames and eat, the asinine adversary demands entry, which the horse refuses, the next art showing a nervous Max working on both a lollipop and a videogame while the donkey taunts him from outside, another unidentified animal, in this case a squirrel, looking on.

Consequentially, the bully kicks Max’s residence asunder, the following artwork depicting him doing so, the horse caught in the mix and falling into the sticks that once formed his house, the next illustration depicting his legs sticking out of the mess, while two unidentified birds look on and the donkey laughs, having stolen the equine’s lollipop. While this occurs, the oldest of the horses, Jack, too seeks materials for his intended abode, in his instance stones that he decides to mix with honey, mud, and water for a sturdier home, the next piece of art showing him happily looking at a pile of rocks in the woods, the unnamed bluebird from before seeming content too.

The bees in the following art don’t seem very happy as Jack purloins their honey, the bluebird chased by a pair as their brethren eye the horse, appearing scared. Mercifully, the equine is successful in his endeavor and mixes the gathered materials to form his home’s walls, using an old log to produce a sturdy door, the text indicating he received some stings from the bees. The next illustration depicts Jack erecting his residence while bees appear miffed from stealing their honey, the bluebird appearing to aid him while another unidentified avian looks on.

Jack ultimately enters his new residence to fulfill his reading hobby, and unsurprisingly, the donkey arrives to taunt him, although his hooves fail to rend the sturdy door, and demands ingress that the horse naturally denies. The subsequent piece of art depicts Jack inside his residence reading, along with the nameless bluebird, while the bully appears miffed from the injury inflicted by his failure to knock down the door, a bee and a rabbit looking on. Thus, the donkey attempts to destroy the abode, failing in his endeavor, the next artwork showing him exhausted by his attempts while the mentioned rabbit points and laughs.

The unsuccessful bully attempts to enter Jack’s residence via defenestration, but gets stuck halfway and implores the horse for mercy that he quickly receives, promising that he’ll cease his bullying, receiving several beestings during his struggle, the following illustration showing the insects’ assaults while Jack and the bluebird triumphantly look on at the stuck donkey. Then the horse kicks the bully out of the window, the next art showing him about to do so, and the piece afterward showing Jack and his avian companion looking at the slumped and injured donkey, whom he recruits to aid in his search for his brothers.

Lax is the first one he finds, the accompanying illustration showing him nursing his wounds from the thorns of his former home. Max is next, the following piece depicting Jack and the bully tugging him out of the sticks of his own failed abode, Lax looking on nervously. Afterward, Jack invites his brothers and the donkey under the condition that the former help around the house and not fulfill their television-watching and videogaming hobbies too frequently, to which they agree, the next artwork depicting the equines and their new friend the donkey all happy.

The story concludes with the donkey and the two younger horses helping Jack clean his house and prepare dinner, the final illustration of the main text depicting Max playing a guitar, Jack holding a book, the donkey playing a piano, and Lax dancing. A smaller illustration appears after the mention of the author’s other works and shows an orange and gray horse reading. In the end, the tale is a nice twist on that of the three little pigs, given its successful substitute of other animalian species, with plenty of humorous illustrations and the rare popular culture reference, being highly recommended for younger audiences.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Aoléon The Martian Girl Part Three - The Hollow Moon


The cover art of the third installment features Gilbert riding upon a hoverboard with the backdrop of the beautiful Martian city to which Aoléon brought him far away from a Nebraska farm. The previous book in this series ended after a psi-ball match, with Aoléon, Gilbert, and others celebrating the match at a pizza place. Chapter Nine of the franchise, book number three continuing its chapter numbering from prior books instead of standardly resetting it like most written sequels, opens at Luminon’s Palace in the Martian Megalopolis, itself located in Olympus Mons, the massive Martian volcano.


The ninth chapter of the Aoléon pantheon opens with a bit of backstory about how the Martian city’s ruling leaders came to power, with Aoléon and Gilbert paying it a little visit, alongside which comes more description on the city’s structure. Both sneak into the palace, with the first illustration within the book depicting Aoléon front and center in a spacesuit, with Gilbert behind, also in a spacesuit, the two within a tunnel lined by greenish patterns. Within the passageway, both encounter the palace’s self-defense system, the following artwork showing Gilbert trapped within a plasmic aura, although Aoléon seems to be continuing her ascent.

Gilbert eventually is free from the shocking device, the two continuing through the tunnel into the palace ventilation system, eventually getting a glimpse while in hiding of the Luminon, an especially-tall alien that the book’s third illustration nicely depicts against the backdrop of the city. After the Luminon interrogates an insurgent, the book describes a half-alien half-machine being that the following piece of art illustrates, along with another unusually-tall Martian yet another artwork displays, with shining skin and armor, Sisyphus being  his name. He, the Luminon, and the machine/alien hybrid, named Cerberus, proceed to discuss how to take care of the forthcoming rebellion, another piece of art depicting the three characters conversing with a beautiful view of the Martian cityscape.

Part of the Luminon and his cronies’ plan involves taking control of Terra, better known as Earth’s, milk supply, the next illustration depicting a close-up of the Martian leader’s angry face and the top part of his armor. The chapter ends with Aoléon and Gilbert phase-jumping away from the palace.


The tenth chapter of the series opens with Aoléon and Gilbert visiting the Galactworks facility that produces Mars’ galactmilk supply, produced by bovars, the Martian equivalent of Earth’s cows, although the section’s first illustration depicts the two on a plaza with Saturn-shaped structures in the air not to mention a hexagon-patterned wall and other aliens in the background. Aoléon and Gilbert task themselves to defend the facility from sabotage, the next piece of art showing a maintenance bot hovering above the bovars, white animals with turquoise patterns across their bodies, the beasts grazing upon grass-laden platforms, a greenish light coming from the mentioned mechanism.

Aoléon and Gilbert pursue a saboteur through the facility with the help of an alien named Zoot, the next artwork depicting the being holding onto one of the legs of the vandal. The two get further help from other nameless aliens, the next illustration depicting them queued within the gorgeous galact plant. Aoléon’s father Deimos, working in the factory, rushes to help the two, the following art depicting Aoléon and Gilbert running from the maintenance bot that in the picture is expelling a greenish light. The chapter ends with Aoléon and Gilbert going to Martian school the next day, the former yearning to take her pilot’s exam.

Hollow Moon

Chapter Eleven opens at the Martian Space Academy, with the time coming for Aoléon’s pilot examination, part of which the section’s first illustration depicts of a view of the test vessel in Martian orbit with the sun and several smaller vessels in the backdrop. Complications, however, arise during the test, with Draconian warriors taking Aoléon and Gilbert to Martian moon of Phobos, the second artwork depicting a hangar within the moon containing several floating cylindrical vessels with smaller ships across them. Following this is a description of the Draconians, along with an illustration of some of them accompanying Aoléon and Gilbert, the two then within bluish stasis fields.

The second subsection of the chapter occurs immediately after the first within the Phobos Moon, the Draconians transporting the two prisoners to a coliseum where they face off against a giant monster depicted in the subsection’s first illustration, the beast having many arms, hands, and eyes. After their encounter with the creature, known as the Sukr’ath, Draconian guards take them to an interrogation by the head dragon, Caput Draconis, of the lunar facility, an illustration depicting his horned head and body and purplish skin, this being also known as the Ciakar wondering why Aoléon and Gilbert were in the facility’s vicinity.

During his interrogation, the Ciakar clutches Gilbert by his next, another illustration depicting this while Aoléon helplessly looks on, with some backstory revealed afterward about the Draco and the human race. The following artwork depicts Gilbert and Aoléon’s eventual savior, clad in dark armor with laser claws, the art a paragraph later revealing who is beneath the suit alongside the text, and the action moving in a third subsection to the rescuer’s saucer, the chapter ending with a return to Aoléon’s home.

Gilbert Skyboards

Chapter Twelve opens at Luminon’s palace, where he discusses with his cronies a forthcoming invasion of Earth. The primary subsection terminates with an illustration depicting Aoléon and Gilbert atop a hoverboard with the shining Martian city as a backdrop, the action in the second subsection taking readers to the Martian Space Academy, whence they go to the city’s commercial district. Afterward is the subsection’s first art depicting the primary protagonists atop a yellow, blue-striped hoverboard with a crowd distantly below them, the two meeting the pioneer of hoverboards on Mars, Mu-Eri.

Gilbert ultimately receives a hoverboard of his own, depicted as red with blue oval stripes in the next piece of art, and he proves to be a natural according to the text. The illustration immediately afterward shows the two flying closer to one of the city’s plazas, the civilians seeming not to care about their presence. The two ultimately find themselves in pursuit by the paladins, the next illustration depicting one of them firing upon the two with a pair of plasma beams high in the city. A paragraph later comes the next art where Aoléon has a plasmic sphere conjured within her right hand while still on her hoverboard.

The visual scene that follows depicts one of the paladins forced off his vehicle by Aoléon’s conjured energy sphere, the graphic afterward showing Gilbert making a getaway as those paladins still aboard their vehicle attempt to fire upon him. The third entry ends with Aoléon returning home with Gilbert and receiving a bit of a shock, after which they vanish en route to their next mission.


After the main text is a glossary describing the various terms used throughout the novella, perfect for younger readers that don’t quite grasp some of the more advanced vernacular. Then comes the author’s special thanks to many individuals and groups. Ultimately, the third book is very enjoyable like its predecessors, with the artwork in particular definitely enhancing the reader’s experience regardless of their age group, alongside good descriptive text and dialogue, the indicators before each chapter’s section of the action’s current location very much helping the book, which doesn’t really leave much room for improvement, and is highly recommended.