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Links to the reviews I posted during the recent LJ outage. I am not reposting, but anonymous and open ID commenting are open over there (though I would appreciate some kind of name signed to anonymous comments so as to be able to maintain continuity of conversation).

Day 325: Trilogy, H.D.. Poetry, unfairly overlooked lesbian author.

Day 326: Paying For It, Chester Brown. Graphic novel. Interesting but highly problematic memoir about prostitution from the perspective of a customer.

Day 327: Faerie Winter, Janni Lee Simner. Good YA fantasy by a friend of mine.

Day 328: The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares. Unfairly obscure Argentinian science fiction indirectly responsible for the movie Last Year at Marienbad.

Day 329: Earth X, Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. Graphic novel. Dark Marvel Comics AU with a very interesting take on Captain America.

Day 330: Dragonbreath: No Such Thing As Ghosts, Ursula Vernon. Fifth in Vernon's fun series of illustrated kids' books; not a strong entry.

And the two since made it through crossposting.
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Review of the book I read Monday, July 25th, yay almost being caught up. My goal is to be caught up before I have to go to Otakon this weekend and fall drastically behind again.

Well, this latest installment of Ursula Vernon's semi-graphic-novel Dragonbreath series is at least better than the immediately previous, Lair of the Bat Monster, which just didn't have any spark to it. This one suffers from being set in a very confined space, and from not having very much of the truly spectacular weirdness which is Vernon at her best. In fact, the story beats of this one are all pretty much predictable as soon as you know what genre she's working in, and I was moderately annoyed by that.

Anyway, Danny Dragonbreath and his friends go trick-or-treating. One of his friends is his usual sidekick, Wendell, and the other is Christiana, who is such a confirmed skeptic that she doesn't even believe that Danny is a dragon instead of some kind of big lizard or something. They get tricked by the school bully into going into a house that's supposed to be haunted, and hey, what do you know, it is.

The best things about this are the running jokes about Wendell's and Christiana's parents, who are devoutly bent on being Educational At All Times and have consequently made their children dress for Halloween as a hydrogen atom and a salmonella bacterium. Also, Ursula Vernon draws a reasonably creepy evil clown. But most of this is the party of friends wandering through the house and being scared, and it just kind of gets old after a while. Where by after a while I mean pretty quickly.

Still, as I said, it's better than the last one, so maybe this series is looking up again. The next one is apparently set at a summer camp. That has potential.
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The third of Ursula Vernon's illustrated-novel Dragonbreath series, which I have been reading out of order, and by far my favorite to date.

Danny Dragonbreath and his iguana friend Wendell are having a perfectly ordinary school lunch, or are attempting to, when Wendell's hotdog bites him. They take this in stride-- it is, after all, only fair-- until Wendell starts growing hair all over his body and becoming eerily hypnotized by the moon.

At which point the problem becomes what to do about hotdog-induced lycanthropy. Horror movies and folklore just don't cover this specific issue.

From there we get a fast-paced romp which is a loving homage to the classic werewolf movie and various other forms of horror, a story sufficiently silly that I cannot figure out how it could possibly scare anybody, and a never-ending source of great one-liners. (When Danny and Wendell are sneaking out of a house late at night, and Wendell is very carefully hiding behind bushes and creeping from tree to tree, Danny points out that there aren't any adults nearby, and they haven't seen any ninjas in this neighborhood for months, so get over it. This moment is so perfectly Ursula Vernon that it summarizes something for me, as does the bit in which calling the number on the package that the hotdogs came in actually produces useful information, even though there is no handy source of holy water mixed with mustard when they hear that that could be helpful.)

In short, this is even more deranged than the one with the ninja frogs, and it's silly and sweet and will make you smile. I am sad that the fourth one, with the bat monster, was so message-driven and hammerfisted, because the third is a good example of what this series can be when Vernon is doing her best with it. Hopefully it will get this good again; I know she's got like six more planned.
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Ursula Vernon is an artist I am very fond of, for both her work with line and texture and her sense of humor. Her webcomic Digger, now finished and therefore available in its entirety, is one of my favorite comics; there was a period when it was one of I think three comics I was reading in English. If you haven't already, you should read Digger, which is hilarious, occasionally touching, and surprisingly pretty.

For a while she's also been doing these cute little kids' books about dragons. There are four out now (this is the fourth) and an unguessable number upcoming.

Honestly, I do not think the Dragonbreath series is Vernon's best work. They have an interesting format, kind of halfway between illustrated novel and comic book-- some pages slide in and out of being free-form panels-- but she's limited to black, white, and one color per book, and the art doesn't quite have the quirky glow she can get when she's really free to play. They are, however, enough fun that every so often I remember that there's probably a new one out and go look for it. I have read one, two, and four now, but not three, and this is not a series that suffers from not being perfectly sequential.

In this installment, Danny Dragonbreath (who is a gradeschool-age dragon) and his perpetually terrified friend Wendell (who is I think some kind of lizard) rescue an injured bat from a swimming pool intake, and naturally have to take it to Danny's cousin who works at the bat conservancy... hundreds of miles away in southern Mexico. That's not the problem. (Wendell to Danny's mother: "How are we taking the city bus to Mexico?" Danny's mother: "We have a very good bus system.")

The problem is, as one might expect, the giant bat monster/Mayan deity whose presence in the area could be a serious publicity coup for the conservancy, if only it weren't running off with Danny when the bat conservancy notices it. (Wendell to Danny's cousin: "We have to get him back! No one's going to sit with me in the cafeteria!" Danny's cousin, wearily: "Wendell, if we don't get him back, I will, personally, sit with you in the cafeteria.")

There are many good things about this book. It's cute, it has snappy dialogue, and of course Danny the dragon's cousin is, matter-of-factly (to the point where the book mentions but does not explain it) a genuine Feathered Serpent. However, it's-- okay, that? That is a giant hitting-you-over-the-head-with-an-ecological-message hammer that makes up most of this book, that is. BAT CONSERVANCY = GOOD, yes, we know that, I agree, now TELL A STORY. And the plotline isn't as, well, batshit as a couple of the previous installments-- I mean, the one with the ninja frogs, there was serious originality going on there, ninety percent of that book was unrelated to plot elements ever seen by mere mortals before. The plot here feels pretty thin, and there's only one thread, and there isn't much going on in the way of character development, not there is that much in these anyway, but.

I hope these eventually grow into being Vernon at her best, but this is not an improvement over the earlier two I've read. Still, if you like nifty brushwork pictures of bats, you will enjoy this. I will continue to read these occasionally when I remember they exist-- and to hope that she goes on and does something else as good as Digger at some point.


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