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An appealing anthropomorphic dog story commenting on and celebrating artistic pursuits.

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An Italian greyhound travels to Brooklyn to search for his artist father, then returns to Venice and looks into his family’s creative roots in Merwin’s fantasy tale.

Piccolo Fortunato, born “at the turn of this century,” is from a family of dogs who helped humans build Venice in the fifth century and “developed dexterity far beyond any breed.” His adventure-loving greyhound father, Alfonso, was a sculptor who taught him how “to carve the wood, chisel the stone and with a small blue flame of my torch to cut and weld the steel.” Alfonso went off to the United States two years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. Piccolo tells his mother, Isabella, that he’s undertaking a search for his dad; on the ship to America, he meets famous Brooklyn-based human sculptor Guy Gizárd, who makes Piccolo his intern. Luckily, a human worker eventually reunites Piccolo with Alfonso, who was once a Gizárd intern himself. Father and son return to Venice to discover that Isabella has new pups and a new protector. Alfonso, Piccolo notes, is “almost twelve. But he’s had hard times, and the last two have been like ten”; after the art that he created finally gets shipped back from America, a tragedy occurs. Later, Piccolo has a renewed passion for art and life following supernatural communion with a canine ancestor and 18th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Tiepolo. The copyright page of this book notes this tale is based on the 2014 novella Piccolo, an Intern’s Tale, credited to two authors: Merwin and “Piccolo Fortunato.” Merwin tells this story with a clear sense of whimsy, as canine characters wear porkpie hats, enjoyably lap up wine, listen to and sing Frank Sinatra tunes, and yearn for romance. Along the way, the author also effectively skewers the modern-day art world—particularly its use of interns. Ultimately, however, this book is most effective as a joyful appreciation of Venice and great art, with depictions of the masterworks of Tiepolo and Tintoretto sprinkled among illustrator Arrigoni’s lovely, occasional grayscale images.

An appealing anthropomorphic dog story commenting on and celebrating artistic pursuits.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 9780578884097

Page Count: 227

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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