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Battle Bunny is a transformative work picture book for kids where one story - a fairly bland, cliche story called Birthday Bunny - is overwritten and over-illustrated to transform it into a story about a meglomaniac rabbit and his evil plan.  It is super adorable and really clever.  Kids like it - as Susan Sto Helit observed, kids are generally big fans of stories of wholesale destruction even if adults would rather pretend they weren't.  I love the interplay between the two stories, especially with how the illustrations are changed - just a few pen strokes turns a happy face scary, for example, and the extension of the trunks of the trees of the woods outside the picture window with saw marks instead of leafy tops challenges your idea of what isn't shown.  You can also download the original Birthday Bunny story online and transform it your own way which is a great activity for teaching kids about transformative works, imagination and creativity, and the empowerment of telling your own story.
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Time for another entry under the Reviewing Canon tag, but for this one, I really have to use the term Canon loosely because this was so clearly a Criminal Minds fanfic - the serial numbers were rather transparently filed off (and there are other clear influences too - sometimes it's like a game of spot the fandom).

Title: Shadow Unit series
Authors: Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Amanda Downum, Stephen Shipman
Summary: Shadow Unit is a science fictional story about a group of unrealistically sexy FBI agents struggling to protect humanity from the worst monsters imaginable. Except some of our heroes may be on the road to becoming monsters themselves.... 
"The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit hunts humanity's worst nightmares. But there are nightmares humanity doesn't dream are real.

The BAU sends those cases down the hall. There, Stephen Reyes and his team pursue criminals transformed by a mysterious force: the anomaly.

Welcome to Shadow Unit.

The Shadow Unit series was created by award-winning authors Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear."


I gave this one a try on a rec from the keeper of another rec list who was pretty excited about it, but frankly, having tried it for 3.5 "episodes" in the first book, I'm honestly not sure why.  Or why it has 4 stars on Good Reads.  Does it get loads better?  Am I supposed to stick it out for however long and by book 14 (keeping in mind that book 1 alone is 751 pages long) it will be fantastic? 

Where I'm at with this one now... It might have made my recs list just barely if the serial numbers hadn't been filed off at all because, for a Criminal Minds fic, it would have been a creative AU (as an original concept, my standard for creativity is a lot higher because you don't have to write it to earn every break from canon) but the quality of the writing so far has been mediocre - spelling and grammar is fine and formatting is correct, but the storytelling craft just isn't there.  I'm just not seeing the allure here.  Unless someone tells me it's going to turn amazing right around the corner, I doubt I'll stick with it.

Sorry to it's award-winning authors and all Shadow Unit superfans, but I really have to give this one just 2 out of 10.  Ouch.

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I happened across a TED Talk by Sarah Kay yesterday and I was an instant fan so I have to share.  She also has a TEDx here and her own website is  I love the rhythm and lyrical voice.  I love the imagery and the advice.  Her work is imaginative and evocative and also the sort of work that inspires those qualities in others.  I also really like hearing her talk about getting into poetry in the first of the links - firstly because she's a joy to listen to whether she's performing a poem or telling a story or explaining how she teaches reluctant teenagers, but secondly (and perhaps more importantly) because the way that she tells us the story is kind of magical.  I mean, it's not like "the moment it all began" can ever really be called mundane, but the situation she described could have been, if she'd told it another way.  But she didn't - she told it as her own Call to Adventure, for her own real life story.  I think there's a lesson in life and a lesson in story telling in that for all of us.  Even if you're not normally a poetry fan, give her a chance because she's just amazing.
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I finally finished A Madness of Angels (I also finished Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground during my week-long hiatus).  Here's what I thought of the first book of the Matthew Swift series...

This is easily among the most creative, imaginative, and evocative stories I’ve ever read.  I would go so far as to say it’s something every fantasy fan should read.  It uses typical urban fantasy magic but with a fantastic sense of wonder to it throughout the whole book. 

However, it’s not the best crafted story.  It wasn’t until more than 270 pages in that I finally got enough of a sense of the main character/narrator to care what happened to him.  I never, not in 600+ pages, ever learned to follow what he was thinking – because we just never know.  He’ll be well into doing something, some big plot-advancing plan, and the reader still has no clue what it is that he’s doing beyond the step-by-step of it.  Is he going to Dover to find the next target?  To get ingredients for a spell?  To do a spell?  He’s already there and snooping through Customs offices and we still don’t know what he’s doing.  To say nothing of why he’s doing it – there’s never any indication of what he’s thinking even as he acts on some unexplained plan he’s had.  And this is a 1st person POV book!  We should know these things because the person telling the story clearly must. 

But there’s more to this problem than that.  Without that understanding, the book is left without a sense of direction.  The POV character seems to know what he’s doing but we as readers are just meandering along beside him, dragged this way and that as he does things we can’t anticipate or follow or even really understand.  And that means there’s no pull to the story, no drive to see the plot play out, no sense of urgency over whether the characters succeed or fail.  The only thing keeping the reader turning the pages is the amazing sense of wonder to the world and its magic. 

So it’s a very good thing that this author does manage to keep inspiring a sense of awe and wonder at this world.  It’s a beautiful world and system of magic.  I have no doubt it will inspire some fantastic fanfiction written by people who know how to craft a plot.  I'd give the novel as a whole about a 4.5 out of 10, but the world is easily a 9.5 out of 10.

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Well, I'm done Midnight Riot now.  I'd rate this book 7 out of 10.

The Pros:
1) The magic system is really interesting.  I love it, actually.  In some ways, its typical Urban Fantasy (magic is or is affected by the echoes of life laid down in patterns in the landscape) and in some ways, its creative and evocative (especially the forma and the descriptions of how magic is done).
2) It's setting and culture are vividly represented - which I love in a book.  This canon is replete with references to pop culture and contemporary technology familiar to the Harry Potter generation as well as British culture, the city of London, and general Britspeak.  It makes the setting really come alive.
3) It's got a good genre plot (urban fantasy).  This includes good backstory with Nightingale too.  I don't want to give too much away.

The Cons:
1) It requires a very high familiarity with British language and culture.  You'd have to know a lot more slang, references, and background knowledge about Britain and London than Harry Potter, Discworld, Doctor Who, and Sherlock all rolled together.  Seriously, you have to be a genuine Brit or ardent Anglophile to not have to stumble bewildered through the many, many, many passing references, pop culture allusions, and vague descriptions to Britain.  I am a serious Anglophile who genuinely loves stories that bring the setting to life... but this is something else.  Ode to Britain... fine, but it's taken to a point where it detracts from the story because...
2) ... this story really, really needed to focus its description instead on everything that you can't just see from the window of a London taxi.  In Urban Fantasy, real is boring.  We know about it already.  Give me the magic!  I think this story was trying to straddle the line between hard-boiled detective novel and enchanting urban fantasy and even though I love both genres, I feel like this one went too far into hard-boiled territory to also be as captivating as urban fantasy needs to be.
3) It often describes conversations rather than showing them.  That's a big pet peeve of mine.  If you're going to tell me that the MC asked a question and the other person answered it by saying no one knows, why not just have two lines of dialogue instead of two sentences of description.

Note: I've now read 2, 3, and 4 in the series too and am happy to report that all of the cons I listed above are better in subsequent stories.  For the series as a whole, I'd give an 8.5 out of 10.


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