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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

'The Ones Who Got Away' #1 by Roni Loren

From the BLURB:

Liv's words cut off as Finn got closer. The man approaching was nothing like the boy she'd known. The bulky football muscles had streamlined into a harder, leaner package and the look in his deep green eyes held no trace of boyish innocence.

It's been twelve years since tragedy struck the senior class of Long Acre High School. Only a few students survived that fateful night—a group the media dubbed The Ones Who Got Away.

Liv Arias thought she'd never return to Long Acre—until a documentary brings her and the other survivors back home. Suddenly her old flame, Finn Dorsey, is closer than ever, and their attraction is still white-hot. When a searing kiss reignites their passion, Liv realizes this rough-around-the-edges cop might be exactly what she needs...

‘The Ones Who Got Away’ is the first book in a new contemporary romance series by US author Roni Loren.

The basis of this new series is a group of high school classmates who were the survivors of a shooting. When the book begins, they’re all coming home for the first time to participate in a documentary about the tragedy – with the purpose of raising funds for a charity. We meet a group of female classmates who were not friends before the shooting occurred, but who banded together in its aftermath and even made a pact to live lives that would honor the deceased.

One of the women is Liv Arias, who has a story of heartbreak within the wider tragedy. She was the poor girl from the wrong side of town, secretly dating rich and charismatic Finn Dorsey – at the time of the shooting they were locked in a closet together, and locking lips … until shots were heard, and Finn left Liv alone to go and find his “real” date, and in doing so led the shooter right to Liv’s hiding place. She was spared, but she hasn’t seen Finn since he skipped town after graduation until now.

I really liked the set-up of this series. Under a different author, it could have been a gauche and clumsy premise – but Roni Loren hits subtle notes of grief and trauma. I think part of the success is that she doesn’t give us flashbacks to the high school shooting itself, but focuses entirely on the grown adults who are still dealing with the consequences of the horror, even twelve years after the fact.

I will say that Finn’s background is slightly outlandish. When he attends the reunion, he’s coming off the back of an FBI undercover stint that saw him assume a new identity for two years. There’s a whole thing about how he joined the FBI to somehow seek retribution against the gun-runners who sold the weapons to the teen offenders of his high school’s shooting. Yeah. It’s a lot. And never really works in the plot. Loren could have more plausibly just had him in law-enforcement, or military etc. as a way to combat his fear of victimhood and had an equally convincing background – instead it’s that, coupled with a white-knight savior complex and it’s a character development she works hard to seem plausible, but never really does.

More importantly – his and Liv’s romance is HOT and on-point. Part of me was actually hoping to get flashbacks to their teen-selves, because that young and fraught romance sounded delicious. But I am really glad that we only get them in the here and now, because Roni Loren layers their tensions so beautifully … and I don’t think it would have worked if we’d just met them with teen-angst and socio-economic divide. It’s better to meet them with that history from their teen years, plus the tragedy, plus time. It dials them up to about 1000 and makes their romance that much more delicate and white-hot.

Like I said – the one drawback was Finn’s OTT back-story in the FBI. But overall this was a solid set-up to a contemporary series, and I’m already looking forward to book 2 – coming out in June.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fence #1 and #2 by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

From the BLURB:

Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Cox is an outsider to the competitive fencing world. Filled with raw talent but lacking proper training, he signs up for a competition that puts him head-to-head with fencing prodigy Seiji Katayama...and on the road to the elite all-boys school Kings Row. A chance at a real team and a place to belong awaits him—if he can make the cut!

‘Fence’ is a new young adult comic series from Boom! Box, written by C.S. Pacat and illustrated by Johanna the Mad. It launched in November and only two issues have been released so far – but it is going to be a once-a-month schedule, with the first Volume of issues 1-5 due for July 2018 release.

First of all – Boom! Box (or, Boom Studios) is hella smart. They are the publisher behind what feels like a new wave of comic books – ones that are more diverse, inclusive and directly aimed at a young generation who weren’t previously swayed by the offerings of Marvel and DC. Boom is responsible for such groundbreaking and popular series as Giant Days, Goldie Vance, Misfit City and perhaps most popular of all among certain fandom’s  - Lumberjanes.

Boom are also part of a new era in comic books fusing with fiction writers like never before, and especially those who have appeal to younger (teen, mostly) readers – such as Rainbow Rowell partnering with First Second Books for a graphic novel called Pumpkinheads, to be illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks and releasing in 2019.

Boom inviting C.S. Pacat to create her own YA comic book was a bold, and smart move. Given that Pacat didn’t launch her career (into the stratosphere!) with a YA series, rather her debut ‘Captive Prince’ trilogy was LGBT fantasy romance (some would say erotica, at times) that found a huge teen fanbase because it started life as an online serial of original fiction that went viral, before being acquired by traditional publisher Penguin Random House. In any case – Pacat’s series became huge, particularly in the ways it highlighted and proved young people’s craving for more LGBT stories across all genres.

Giving her the reigns to develop her own comic series at the height of this popularity is pure genius – and it pays off (tenfold) in ‘Fence’. Set at the prestigious Kings Row boarding school and following a group of boys trying to come together as an elite fencing team to take out the top-ranked competitors. The series is focused on rivals, teammates and roommates Nicholas Cox and Seiji Katayama.

Two issues in and this world already feels so full and vibrant (a testament to this is how it’s already impressively sparked Tumblr imaginations). There’s a huge focus on rivalries and love affairs, skeletons in the closet and backstabbing afoot. The series has echoes of 2001 film ‘Lost and Delirious’ for me, maybe with a little ‘One Tree Hill’ and a feel of something like ‘Kids on the Slope’ or ‘From Up on Poppy Hill‘ thrown in. But honestly, ‘Fence’ is so wholly original it’s hard to quite put your finger on all that it evokes. Except to say it’s building a wonderfully full cast of characters, based in a small student community and with so much room for drama and emotional action – I’m already salivating at the possibilities!

Illustrations by Johanna the Mad make me crave this being turned into an animated-series, even though it would work equally well as live-action drama there’s just something about the art that sumptuously fits the whole unique story.

If you haven’t already, do start collecting all the ‘Fence’ issues and jump on this series bandwagon – I guarantee that even these two issues will fuel your imagination for what’s to come, and if that’s the case you can easily tap into an already very full and vibrant fandom that’s emerged in the wake of its decadent genius.


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