February 27, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge

Fairytale meets Western in this humorous, rollicking adventure tale featuring Rapunzel, a pampered only child growing up in a beautiful castle. Her mother, Gothel, is the ruler of the castle - at least, Rapunzel believes she is her mother.

When Rapunzel becomes dissatisfied with her life, yearning to see the world beyond the picture-perfect palace and gardens, beset by disturbing dreams that hint at forgotten people and places, Gothel grows angry. "Ignore the dreams, my dear," she says, "And they'll go away." But Rapunzel can't ignore them. Against Gothel's wishes, she finds a way out of the castle - and what she discovers beyond its walls shakes her world, leaving her horrified, angry and determined to take action.

And so her adventures begin - taking her from a safe, stultifying existence to the rough-and-tumble life of a wild west outlaw. When she teams up with Jack, a young man she meets in her travels, they journey together, experiencing all kinds of hilarious and hair-raising adventures. But Rapunzel knows she must return to face Gothel - yet how can she hope to defeat someone with such amazingly strong magical powers?

This graphic novel was great fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the slapstick humor and the many "inside" fairytale jokes that are a great payoff to fairytale fans. Rapunzel is an excellent, feisty, tough and kind heroine, and the wild west setting was a surprising and effective backdrop for the tale. I will be looking forward to further works by this talented team - and I hope I won't have to wait too long!

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale; illustrated by Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury, 2008)

This review was cross-posted on my blog, Books and Other Thoughts.

February 26, 2009

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things

In this first in a series of graphic novels, young Courtney Crumin moves to the suburbs with her vapid parents to stay with their wealthy elderly uncle, Professor Aloysius Crumrin. His house is a rambling old Victorian mansion, the creepiest house in town that everyone tells all kinds of dark, speculative stories about. Her uncle is a cold, unfriendly man who makes it perfectly clear that he wishes to be left alone.

Courtney's parents are delighted, because they feel the move is a huge improvement to their social status. Courtney, on the other hand, is not at all pleased. She is an outcast at her new school, where not only is she hopeless as far as finding a group to fit in with, but she's immediately set upon by a group of bullies on her way home on the very first day - and when she runs into the woods to escape them, she finds even worse things lurking there. To top things off, she doesn't even feel safe in her new home - there are dark creatures roaming its halls at night. Her parents don't seem to notice them - but her uncle does.

Courtney "borrows" a book about magical creatures that she finds in her uncle's off-limits study, and she begins to use her new-found knowledge to her advantage - although not without risks and ill effects. She is surprised to discover an unlikely ally in her uncle, which is a lucky thing when she finds herself well in over her head. Courtney comes up against all kinds of night things (and unpleasant human day things, too), tricky faeries, obnoxious changelings, inscrutable black cats - even her own dark side. She is not a sweet, nice little girl - she is headstrong and sometimes unkind, but she does try to do the right thing (by her lights, at any rate), and in the end she is an admirable, feisty, strong and thoroughly likable young heroine. She is very much alone in many ways, but she comes to terms with that in a satisfying way that readers are sure to identify with. The excellent artwork fits the dark stories perfectly, adding touches of whimsy and humor to some of the spookier moments and lending wonderful expression to the characters' faces.

I disagree, however, with the publisher's rating of "Y" (ages 7 and up) for this series. This is a dark series, with disturbing and violent events (in the first story, one of her classmates, a fellow bully victim, is devoured by a goblin in the woods, for example), and where older readers would be more likely to see the dark humor in the stories, some younger children might find it an altogether different experience. My library shelves this in the teen section, and I agree with that decision (not that it might not be the perfect fit for some younger readers). I would recommend this for ages twelve and up.

I am looking forward to reading the further adventures of Courtney in the next volume in this engaging graphic novel series.

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, Vol. 1 by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press, 2002)

This review is cross-posted on my blog, Books and Other Thoughts.

Marjane Satrapi: Persepolis

When I signed up for the Graphic Novels Challenge at the beginning of this year, I chose the smallest goal possible: 6 books. I'd not read a graphic novel before and had no idea how long each would take or if I'd even enjoy them. Here it is not even 2 months into the challenge, and I've already completed my 4th. Ranging from the 153 page Persepolis to the 612 page The Absolute Sandman, Vol.1 , none of these books have taken me more than a week. That's not bragging, I suspect it's just the nature of this genre. Add to that the pretty amazing storytelling and I just may be hooked. I must say, though, that I've enjoyed the black and white, artsy-fartsy ones (Persepolis, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and Louis Riel) better than the colour, comic-looking one (The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1). Just two months in, four books down and I'm already turning into a graphic novel snob.

Persepolis is also my third book about 20th century Iran. The first was Betty Mahmoody's Not Without My Daughter and the second was Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran. All memoirs, too. Anyone know any other Iranian books? Perhaps an Iranian challenge is in order. I only wish I could find one told from a male perspective for a change.

Persepolis is probably the funniest of the three Iranian books mentioned above. It's just as graphic (well, more so, I guess), but Satrapi's humour adds a much needed balance. Not only does it provide relief to the reader but reflects the fun times that had to break through all the oppression. When you set out to read books like this you always anticipate being disgusted with mankind ("how can one person do that to another?" etc) but time and time again they make me feel more optimistic than defeated. If the human spirit can be strong enough not only endure such hardships but actually have laughter as well, well that makes me feel all warm and giddy inside.

A favourite scene involves Satrapi being stopped by two women of the "Guardians of the Revolution" for wearing Nike shoes, denim, and a Michael Jackson button. There was a very real risk she'd be arrested and possibly whipped for her appearance. When questioned about the button, Satrapi says it's actually "Malcolm X, the leader of black Muslims in America." The caption at the bottom of the frame says, "Back then, Michael Jackson was still black."

I also enjoyed the artwork, especially the scenes in which she stressed repetition: soldiers, groups of girls covered in veils, protesters and the dead. Virtually cloning the people, Satrapi was able to make many strong statements using one single technique.

The real highlight of the book, however, was the precociousness of child Satrapi. She is such a lovable, smart, and melodramatic little girl that I wonder if the sequel, featuring a teenage Satrapi, will be as appealing.

February 25, 2009

Admin post

Hey everyone, I've been a little behind lately adding new bloggers, but I think I am caught up. If I missed you, email me again and tell me to get my butt in gear! Also, let me know if I forgot to add you on the Participants list or on the Blog Roll.

Now that we are two months into it, is there anything you all would like me to add to the site? I'm so happy that this blog has been so active! We've had so many great reviews.

Fables and Spider-Man

Animal Farm (Fables, Vol.2) by Bill Willingham. Now having read this second book in the series I am officially a fan and can't wait to get my hands on the next volume. This is very different from the first one which had a classic noir feel to it. This time around Animal is indeed an Orwellian reference. The non-human fables and those unable to to take human form live on a large plot of land that has been enchanted with a spell to keep humans away. This is called "The Farm" and a large amount of the population is unhappy with the rather prison like conditions. Though the place is nice enough and not lacking in any way there is still the fact they can't leave. I loved the thematic cross between Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. Lots of new characters were introduced while Snow White and Rose Red remained main characters as from the first volume. In this book we meet the three little pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, giants, a dragon, several animals from The Jungle Book including Baghera and Shere Khan plus many others. 4/5

Unintended Consequences (The Amazing-Spiderman, Vol. 5) by J. Michael Straczynski. This is a great volume with lots of deep issues for Spider-Man to deal with and contemplate. A nuclear test revives 12 mob bosses from the fifties who were killed and buried out in the desert in an old chemical waste hold. The combination of the chemicals being nuked brings together a creature formed of each of the men with an oozing Hulk type of appearances. It's main goal is to kill the man who put the hit on them but it doesn't care who gets hurt along the way. Spider-Man has to deal with the issue of helping people whether they be good or bad. In the last couple of issues Peter Parker is back to teaching and helping a student who especially needs some help with her life. He eventually meets up with Ezekiel again and finds out a bit more about this mysterious man and is posed with a question for contemplation. Sure, he gets the bad guys but what happens to them after they go to prison and should he just be getting the bad guy or should he be doing something to prevent people from becoming bad in the first place? An interesting proposal that makes me anxious to see where the character goes next. 3.5/5

With these two that gives me my Major and I am now working on my Masters. Having lots of fun. I'm obsessed with these graphic novels now!

Sandman:The Wake & Sandman:Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman

I have come to the end of the Endless. Tis a sad moment.

The Wake is the last of the Sandman series and while the others could be read in any order, this one should be read last or it doesn’t really make any sense. Dream has died and now his brothers and sister, Delirium, Destiny, Desire, Death and his friends and lovers come to the Dreaming to attend the wake.
The family speaks about Dream and we reconnect with Bast, Rose, Hob and Matthew the Raven. Dream may be dead, but Dream is alive and well in the Dreaming, the young boy Daniel has become/is the Dream King. As Matthew says, “the King is dead, long live the King”

Sandman: Endless Nights
could be a standalone. It’s a collection of tales about various members of the Endless, sort of a biography. We learn about the lives of Despair, about Delirium when she was Delight, a younger-looking Death as she goes about her business and it ends with Destiny.

Neil Gaiman is my favorite graphic novelist at this point. The Sandman series is a wonderful, complex set of stories that one could read over and over and find something new. I preferred some stories over others and didn’t always like the artists work but overall this is the best series of graphic novels I’ve read yet and I can see going back to them.

February 24, 2009

Review: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith

Ghost Circles is the seventh book in the Bone series by Smith and marks the beginning of the third trilogy. The summary assumes you've read the other books in the series. If you haven't, you may want to skip to my thoughts.

My Summary. One night, as the villagers stand outside Old Man's Cave to watch the hundreds of fires lit by the rat creature's army, they are startled by a distant explosion. The volcano has erupted, releasing the Lord of the Locust, who is now free to lead his army on a rampage through the valley. The villagers are finally attacked with the full force of the enemy.

All seems to be falling apart: The dragons have gone underground. The villagers are inexperienced in war and are greatly outnumbered. Lucius lies alone, lost, and wounded on the battlefield. And the valley looks utterly destroyed.

Gran'ma Ben, Thorn, and the Bones have fought their own bloody battles in their race across dangerous and forbidden territory in a desperate attempt to enter the ancient city, where they hope to find a way to save the valley. But before they can reach safety, Smiley collapses, and there is no sure way to keep him alive.

My Thoughts. This is a dark time for the valley, and hope is dwindling. The realities of the battlefield leave the villagers discouraged and scared, while Fone Bone and Thorn are feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Ghost Circles is the darkest volume yet in the Bone series. The focus is on war and the terrible physical and psychological challenges faced by individuals who must live through such horrors.

The colors of the drawings in this volume are more subdued than in most of the earlier books in the series. At Old Man's Cave, the villagers' faces have taken on the haunted look of experienced soldiers. The small party following Thorn appears weary and sad as the arduous trek takes its toll.

This review was cross-posted on my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic 2008
ISBN-13: 9780439706346
Rating: B+

February 21, 2009

Review: Old Man's Cave by Jeff Smith

Old Man's Cave is the sixth book in the Bone series by Smith and marks the end of the second trilogy. The summary assumes you've read the other books in the series. If you haven't, you may want to skip to my thoughts.

My Summary: As the story begins, Smiley and Fone Bone are lost in the woods trying to make their way back to the valley after having escaped Rock Jaw. Thorn, Phoney, and a small group of villagers are trying to evade a band of rat creatures. The rest of the villagers are holed up in Old Man's Cave under the leadership of Gran'ma Ben.

After they manage to hide from their enemies, Thorn's group is approached by four Veni Yan warriors, who pledge their allegiance to the young woman and beg her to hurry to the cave to aid Gran'ma. Thorn doesn't know what to do: She wants to find Fone, and she doesn't know if she can trust her grandmother. In the middle of the night, she leaves her friends to search for the missing Bones. The others find their way to the cave.

Each side now prepares for battle. The villagers realize they'll be outnumbered by the rat creatures, the Hooded One begins to gather in its allies, and Thorn's dreams intensify. Who can be trusted? Is Gran'ma who she says she is? Why was Lucius talking to the enemy? Will the villagers turn Phoney over for sacrifice? And just who is the Hooded One?

My Thoughts: In Old Man's Cave, we learn some of the deeper legends of the valley people and several mysteries are explained. As we begin to question the motives and loyalties of characters we were once sure of, we also begin to better understand characters we once thought were shallow. Thorn is coming into her own and is no longer under the thumb of her grandmother. Meanwhile, Fone's dreams are beginning to reveal his bigger role in the valley's fate.

This entry in the Bone series is intense. It is not obvious how the various story lines are going to converge. Like many complex fantasy series, Bone encompasses several cultures and groups, each with its own desires; few characters are all good or all bad. Although the many layers of the saga are more sharply defined in this book, we don't yet have a clear sense of how the series will end.

The quality of the artwork is sustained in this volume. And I'm particularly taken with how the events of the story have changed the look of the characters. Some individuals are filled with weariness and sorrow; others stand tall with newfound strength.

This review is cross-posted to my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780439706353
Rating: B+

February 20, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation)

Pages: 144
First Published: Aug. 5, 2008
Genre: graphic novel, fairy tale, children
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: A few reasons actually. I've never read any of Shannon Hale's books but want to someday and this looked like a good way to get introduced to her storytelling. I was at the library one day and saw it, browsed through it and almost took it out but decided I had enough GNs at home already to read. Then the very next day Darla D. posted a review of it on her website, so it felt like kismet and if Darla says it's good I know I can trust her.

First sentence:

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl.

Comments: This Graphic Novel is a retelling of the story of Rapunzel. Not much of the original fairy tale remains in this fabulous retelling of a pampered but lonely little girl who when she learns her Mother is not her real mother but an evil dictator is banished to eventually die in a huge towering tree with a hollowed out room at the top. Rapunzel uses her long hair as rope to eventually escape and meets up with Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) and together they set off to save their world. Rapunzel who was taught rope lassoing as a young girl by one of the guards at her palace now braids her hair and uses them as lasso weapons of destruction. She becomes almost like a superhero in this rollicking read.

I absolutely loved the Western meets Fairy Tale presentation. (reminds me of the Western/Sci-Fi of Firefly) Absolutely truly unique and original story which makes me yearn to read more of Hale's work. The artwork is absolutely flawless. Bright, colourful and detailed making one look into each frame as you read. I really have no complaints about this book at all. Though there was one tiny little thing that bothered me. Rapunzel is a feisty, strong female character which is fine and good and especially enjoyable, but Jack has been relegated to sidekick and his character is squeamish and frightens easily. I don't like it when the female character is made to look strong at the expense of showing a weak male character. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination. But really it just bugged me a tiny bit. Highly recommend this to anyone who loves graphic novels or fairy tale retellings.


February 19, 2009

Wormwood Gentleman Corpse - Ben Templesmith

I’m not sure why but I really enjoyed Wormwood Gentleman Corpse. Wormwood is a little worm that lives/operates a dead body. Wormwood likes to drink beer, and hang out at the clubs, one in particular that has a portal to other dimensions. He has a tin companion, lives in a house with a ghost that is supposed to be solving some cases before he moves on. When he agrees to help solve a series of violent deaths, he meets a creature from elsewhere that is trying to complete a ritual that will open a portal and bring something through that will give it power. Turns out Wormwood knows the brother of this other alien and after apologies and promises to come for dinner, the takeover of Earth is diverted.

The artwork in this was very interesting a combination of drawing and painting, muted colors. There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to this story but I had a lot of fun with it and I’ll be looking for more

The Life & Death of Spiders (The Amazing Spider-Man)

The Life & Death of Spiders by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 4

Pages: unpaginated
First Published: 2003 (contains previously published comics)
Genre: graphic novel, superheroes
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

So let's run a summary of the week's work, shall we?

Comments: Once you get to this point in a series it's hard to summarize without giving away what happened in previous books. To keep it brief, the issue with MJ is resolved in this volume. Spider-man discovers he was followed from the astral plane by a creature out to destroy him and Ezekiel shows up again with lots of information on the early folklore of the Spider-Man.

This was a great volume, probably the best so far, with plenty of villains and appearances by old favourites. The Fantastic Four make a cameo appearance as does Captain America. We also see Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom make appearances. This is a good volume to showcase what Spidey is all about also showing his conflicting emotions with doing what is right over his natural instincts. If you are reading the series this one is great. Can't wait for Vol. 5.


Chester Brown: Louis Riel, A Comic Biography

I'd already read a biography of Louis Riel and I came pretty close to skipping over this one in favour of any other Chester Brown graphic novel. However, it was this book that first drew my attention to Brown and in all honesty, I remembered little from the other biography. So, when I found this one at the local library I grabbed it.

Apparently Brown and Seth (It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken) are friends. I'm not sure then if one's art influenced the other or if they came together out of respect for one another's art because both are very similar: black and white drawings with bold, simple lines. However, there are some differences: Brown seems to use more detailed lines in the background shading, and his characters seem more stylized. At first I thought Brown was using caricature. John A. MacDonald's nose, for instance, is drawn like a half-filled balloon. However, Louis Riel, A Comic Biography isn't remotely funny. I question if satirical drawings would fit. Also some aberrations are too consistent across characters to be merely an exaggerated attribute of one individual. The most common of these include the boxy bodies and over-sized hands. Had such a feature been isolated in one person, I'd guess Brown was merely poking fun. However, everyone was drawn that way and I figure it's just Brown's style. It took more getting used to than Seth's art, but I still enjoyed it.

I also enjoyed Brown's story-telling. Though he admits to misrepresenting facts at times, he is careful to point out inaccuracies in notes at the end. Some of these are done for dramatic effect, but the essence is the same. For example, in the opening scene John A MacDonald is shown in London negotiating with the Hudson's Bay Company. In reality, he had sent along representatives to do the negotiating. Small points like these are just fine with me.

For me, the biggest strength of the book was in Brown's compelling depictions of three characters in particular: Riel, John A. MacDonald, and Gabriel Dumont. Riel, though shown as wise and honourable, sometimes made some bad decisions out of trust or confusion (likely delusions). John A. MacDonald is shown as a calculating liar. And I thought Dumont was perhaps the wisest of all, except for his one mistake: letting Riel talk him out of using guerrilla warfare. Brown's portrayal seems to show Dumont of being more the type of person that the Canadian government tried to make Riel out to be, eventually hanging Riel and giving Dumont amnesty.

It's a phenomenal historical graphic novel, and a biography of Riel that, this time, I won't forget.

February 18, 2009

Katrina's thoughts: Pyongyang by Guy Delise

The French animator is placed in North Korea for a 2 month stint in which he has to check editions of cartoons for French TV. The graphic novel is sold as 'a journey through North Korea' but is actually a single-minded mans view of a small part of North Korea. Now, I'm not saying that North Korea is amazing or politically correct, in fact I know so little about the place that I couldn't make an educated comment on the country, but I can say that Delise is negative about the place from the opening to the end of the book. He never says a single positive thing about the country or the people that he meets, instead he mocks their views, behaviour and culture. Surely if you visit a country you must find something nice to say. Anyone else read this? Have a different opinion?

February 17, 2009

Rogue Angel - Barbara Randall-Kessl

A “Lara Croft tomb raider” type story, Rogue Angel is the story of Annja Creed, an archeaologist, who also has some a connection to a mystical sword of Joan of Arc, that appears when she needs it and disappears when she doesn’t. In this first volume, Annja goes to Virginia City to help a friend looking for a missing manuscript that might show that Mark Twain did not come up with the Huck Finn story all by himself. Others are just as interested that the manuscript does not come to light.

First in the series, the story did not have any depth to it, really a brief introduction leaving many questions unanswered. I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the story, but the strong female character was intriguing so I will try another, though the series appears to be written by different people, so I’m not sure about the consistency of the series.

DMZ: Friendly Fire & DMZ: Hidden War - Brian Wood

DMZ: Friendly Fire (V. 4) & DMZ: Hidden War (v. 5) continue the story of Matty Roth, aspiring photojournalist, and his pursuit to cover the civil war between the US government and the Free State Rebels. Ignoring the threat of the anti-establishment militias, Middle America has gone to war against the US government with Manhattan as the DMZ. Matty ends up in the DMZ, discovering things aren’t always what they seem.

V. 4 Friendly Fire looks at a case of friendly fire, day 204 as it’s called, days in the war. Matty interviews a soldier on trial, and others who were there, trying to discover the truth. What is the “real truth” and is there one? What “justice” would be fair? Is a trial enough, or a guilty verdict? Matty has lots of questions but does he get answers?

v.5 the Hidden War looks at various people in living in the DMZ. Their past before the war and their lives now during the war. We see how the war has changed them, how ordinary people, caught up in bad situation deal with everyday life.

I’ve enjoyed the series, though these two volumes have not been the strongest. The artwork suits the story, gritty, dark colors and Matty being the newbie to the scene doesn’t have anything to prove except that he can do this, he can bring the stories of the war to the world outside the DMZ.

Review: Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen

My Summary. Fall 1152 starts out when Mouse Guards Saxon, Kenzie, and Lieam are sent off to find a grain merchant who was lost in the woods. The three guards find the merchant's overturned cart but cannot tell whether the mouse is missing or dead. If dead? Was he killed by a snake or by some enemy? As the three attempt to solve the mystery, they are startled to find that what they thought were ancient mouse myths may in fact be real.

My Thoughts. The story, which is the first in a series, is based on the idea that medieval mice have a world and technology that parallel the human world. I like fantasy and I like the medieval period, so I'm not quite sure why this book did absolutely nothing for me. I didn't feel any tension during the tense moments, I didn't get a sense of the personalities of the characters, and I didn't really care what happened. Perhaps it was my mood or perhaps I shouldn't have read this graphic novel in the middle of reading Bone.

I must say, however, that the book's illustrations are beautiful. The colors, the animals, and the lettering are simply spectacular. And I absolutely loved looking at the pictures. The page here shows scenes of the mouse town. For more of this incredible art, please see Petersen's website here.

If someone else has read or reviewed Mouse Guard Fall 1152, I will be happy to include a link, especially if you had a more positive experience. My recommendation is to look at the book for the artwork but to not have high hopes for the story.

This is cross-posted to my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Archaia Studios Press
ISBN-13: 9781932386578
Rating: C

February 16, 2009

Serenity: Those Left Behind

Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon
Serenity Vol. 1

Pages: unpaginated
First Published: 2006 (collection of previously published comics)
Genre: graphic novel, science fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

And so I say to you on this fine day, citizens of Constance, that your lives are not defined by that with which you enter this world, but rather with what you leave behind on it.

Comments: Takes place between the end of Firefly but before the movie Serenity. Inara continues her plans to leave. We are shown why Shepard Book left Serenity. Begins with a typical heist that does not go right. And we meet various other characters who create havoc for our friends, Badger and the Men in Blue Gloves. Nothing terribly special but a lot of fun revisiting the wonderful characters. The dialogue was written wonderfully, I could just hear the actor's voices in my head as I read. The artwork is quite good. Inara, Jayne and Kaylee are particularly close to their real live counterparts. Fun! Must read for fans.

February 15, 2009

Catching Up

I'm so behind on posting my reviews here. I've already read 8 books for the challenge, but I only posted about the first. So I thought I'd catch up by telling you about the other 7 briefly and linking to my full reviews.

The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot is a gorgeous book in every sense of the word. It's a story about a girl who survives her father's sexual abuse, and it has the most gorgeous artwork you can imagine. This is my second book by Talbot (the first was Alice in Sunderland, which I also very much recommend), and so far I'm very impressed with his work.

Then I read lots and lots of Fables. Books 7, 8 and 9 and then 10 and 11. Most of you have probably heard of this series, about fairy tale characters living in our world, so I won't go on for long. I'll just say that it keeps getting better and better.

Finally, We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin is a WW2 memoir. The protagonist survived the Holocaust when she was a very young girl by escaping Budapest in disguise along with her mother. The book is also gorgeously illustrated, using black and white pencil drawings for the war scenes and colour for before and after. It's a survival story, but it's of course still very sad at times. I highly recommend it.

February 14, 2009

Review: Rock Jaw by Jeff Smith

Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border is the fifth volume in Smith's Bone series. The review assumes that you've read the first four volumes. If you haven't you, may want to skip to my thoughts.

My Summary: Smiley has befriended a baby rat creature, and he and Fone Bone decide to take it into the mountains to return it to its own kind. Along the way, The Bones meet up with the rat creature couple who have been plaguing Fone since he first stepped foot into the valley.

Just when they think they've gotten the creatures off their trail, the Bones come face to face with Rock Jaw, a giant mountain lion, who wants to know whose side they're on. Fone tries to explain that they are strangers and have no other goal than to return the rat cub, but Rock Jaw tells them "The valley is divided in two . . . Everyone must choose a side." Eventually, the Bones have rat creatures, Rock Jaw, and even the locust after them. And to make matters more complicated, Fone and Smiley find themselves in charge of a number of orphaned baby animals. Fone has to find a way to keep everyone safe.

My Thoughts: In this middle volume of the series, Fone and Smiley meet Rock Jaw, a giant lion who lives in the east. The story takes a philosophical bent, and the lines between good and evil begin to blur. Rock Jaw wonders exactly how those concepts are defined and tells Fone and his friends, "There is no good or evil . . . only nature. And in nature, the only thing that matters is power." Is that true? Even the young animals have their opinions.

The drawings continue to amaze, while the story deepens. The humor is still there, but broader moral questions are moving into the spotlight. The age range for Bone is nine to twelve, but there is plenty to hold the attention of adult readers. As always, the story ends with "To be continued . . ."

Cross-posted on my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780439706360
Rating: A

Katrina's Review: Fun Home by Alison Brecdel

I spotted this in the library, a graphic novel-cum-memoir (two challenges in one!).
Alison's father can be abusive, he struggles to restore their home to Victorian perfection, and he is a closet homosexual (a fact she doesn't learn to she comes out herself). Her mother reveals her fathers secret affairs, including those with young boys and the babysitters in a revealing letter in an attempt to acount for Alison's sexuality.
From this perspective Alison looks back at her childhood and her own developing sexuality, along with her relationship with her father before his death/suicide.

February 13, 2009

JLA: Gods and Monsters

By Jolley, Krach, and Benefiel

This is a pretty standard JLA action with a religious twist. First, various JLA members save some ordinary people’s lives and then the some of people decide to start worshiping the heroes. They set up what seems to me an isolated facility where mostly young people are brought to worship the gods of earth and sky, in other words the JLA. The church is lead by three business men and a new superhuman Sister Glory.

Meanwhile a large, disk shaped machine threatens a city in Switzerland where peace talks are underway. The machine has on it the Green Lantern’s emblem. Green Lantern, who is the only JLA member at first to be on the scene, fights the machine. However, when his power ring’s construct touches the machine, it blows up. Inside were people…

Soon, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash appear to make sense of the whole thing. But they are attacked by more machines which have the emblems of the heroes. The communication connections around the world are disrupted and even J’onn’s telepathy won’t work. Then, a fake Superman makes a speech about how the world leaders have failed to bring peace and so the JLA will be taking over. As long as all humans worship the JLA as the true gods, everyone will live peacefully. The machines are JLA war wheels which are punishing those who refuse to obey. Of course, the world’s governments aren’t going to agree to that.

Gods and monsters is a fun romp although it would have had material for a far long story. This is a short one-shot. I’m rather surprised that the canon DC universe doesn't have hero churches because I can easily see why saved people might want to start worshiping super powered heroes. If not as gods then at least as angels of sorts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the art. It felt much exaggerated and cartoon- like although for once the super-powered women were drawn with actual muscles!

February 12, 2009

Until the Stars Turn Cold by J. Michael Straczynski
The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 3

Pages: unpaginated
First Published: 2003 (collected previously published comic books)
Genre: YA, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Science tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Comments: Things move along and the story lines expand in this volume. The homeless children story arc is finalized when Spidey has to enter the Astral plane to fight The Shade. MJ comes back on the scene and whines and moans about being 2nd place to Spider-Man (Can you tell I don't like Mary Jane?). Aunt May deals with the Spider-Man issue and continues to campaign for his image. And a new story is introduced and wrapped up in the final two sections. Dr. Octopus is kidnapped and a younger bad guy duplicates his apparatus and leaves Doc Oc to die. The end sees Spider-Man and Dr. O fighting the against the same enemy for once.

Lots of action and fighting with villains especially towards the end of the book. Dr. Octopus is one of my favourite Super Villains so I enjoyed seeing him this time around. This issue pretty much finishes up all storylines to this point except that of Peter's relationship with Mary Jane. I love the artwork in this series. The blues and purples fit the mood perfectly. Now on to Volume 4!


February 10, 2009

Review: American Born Chinese

Graphic novelist Gene Yang describes his book American Born Chinese as three stories in one: a realistic portrayal of a Chinese American boy growing up in a predominantly white suburb, a series of stories based on a Chinese Monkey King legend, and "a sit-com starring everybody's favorite racial stereotype, Cousin Chin-Kee." The three stories blend together and play off each other to make one of the funniest and most meaningful graphic novels I've read.

I didn't expect to like the Monkey King sequences as much--generally I go for the realism--but Yang is one of those geniuses when it comes to facial expressions and body language, and the Monkey King himself is, dare I say it? Adorable. The way that story ties into the Chin-Kee story at the end was a total surprise to me. I loved it.

My older son read this as well, and the Monkey King sections were his favorite part. He thought the walking stereotype Chin-Kee was "just weird,"--at 12, he understands stereotyping but hadn't been exposed to this one enough to appreciate its portrayal in the novel. And, as a young white boy, I think a lot of the nuances of Chin-Kee's American cousin Danny's story went over his head as well.

More thoughts, an excerpt, and a fun video on Worducopia

Review: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

This is the fourth volume in Smith's Bone series. The review assumes that you've read the first three volumes. If you haven't you may want to skip to my thoughts.

My Summary: Phoney Bone and Smiley are determined to win the bet they made with Lucius. And Phoney has the added hope of either escaping back to Boneville with the villagers' riches or becoming the head honcho of Barrelhaven. To meet his goals, Phoney is promoting himself as a great dragonslayer who will protect the people of the valley.

Fone Bone, Thorn, and Gran'ma Ben have ventured into the forest, where they meet up with Kingdok, who is the giant leader of the rat creatures. All three of our heroes reveal hidden strengths. Unfortunately, Gan'ma gets lost in the woods, Phoney finds himself face to face with a dragon, and the Lord of the Locust is gearing his army into battle.

My Thoughts: This volume starts a new part of the Bone saga. Humor can still be found, but the horror of the rat creatures and the darkness of the Lord of the Locust begin to move into the forefront. Phoney and Smiley continue to indulge in their antics with little regard to the more pressing problems of the valley's inhabitants, and Fone and Thorn discover what they're made of. This volume is action packed, and I couldn't stop turning the pages. Be warned that the book doesn't end on a conclusion; you'll need rush off to find volume 5.

Cross-posted to my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780439706377
Rating: A-

February 9, 2009

Legends in Exile (Fables Vol. 1)

This is my 7th book for the challenge giving me my Minor in GNs and now headed off to my Major. Nicola

Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham
Fables, Volume 1

Pages: 127
Finished: Feb. 8, 2009
First Published: 2002
Genre: fantasy, graphic novel (not suitable for children)
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: Everybody has either read this series or is reading this series and I couldn't hold out any longer even though I have to ILL each volume. It was Kailana's reviews that pushed me over the edge.

First sentence:

Once upon a time.

Comments: The people of fairy tales have escaped into the mundane world as their lands were ravaged and taken over by the Adversary. Ole King Cole is the mayor of Fabletown and Snow White is second in charge. This volume reads like a classic noir detective as Snow White's sister's apartment is found to be a bloody carnage with Rose Red herself missing. With no body to know whether he is looking at for a murderer or kidnapper Bigby Wolf (the law of Fabletown) sets off to track down Rose Red and solve the case.

The book is peopled with characters from fairy tales such as the above mentioned plus Prince Charming, Pinocchio, one of the Three Little Pigs, Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast and many more. It is so much fun to see these characters depicted in this way, in a very adult manner. The book also ends with a very good short story which explains how the fairytale lands were attacked and especially focuses on how Snow White and Bigby Wolf found their way to Fabletown.

I loved this book! The story told was gripping and I loved the artwork, which imitates the old comic book style of the 70s and earlier. Now I know why everybody is so addicted to these books as I can't imagine not continuing on with Volume #2. There are even a couple of prequels and a spin-off series called Jack of Fables. Highly recommended to any adult who loves fairy tale retellings.

February 8, 2009

The Saga of the Bloody Benders by Rick Geary

The Saga of the Bloody Benders: The Infamous Homicidal Family of Labette County, Kansas by Rick Geary
A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Book 9

Pages: unpaginated
First Published: 2007
Genre: true crime, graphic novel
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

The state of Kansas is born in blood and fury.

Comments: The Benders were a strange family who bought a homestead in the early days of Kansas settlement. There land lay on the main road through the state and they partitioned there home into part grocery store, with their living quarters separated in back by a canvas sheet. Suddenly the near towns start receiving letters from people asking for news of relatives who were headed that way and the townsfolk realize a large number of people have disappeared in the area. When searching the countryside the townsfolk find the Benders home abandoned and it doesn't take long until they start digging and uncovering the bodies.

This is a case I had never heard of and found it quite intriguing. The artwork is what one expects from Rick Geary and this is just as good as others in the series. I must say I'm a bit surprised that Geary chose this case to feature though as it lacks the detail of his other books. Though through no fault of the author's, there just doesn't seem to be much information on the case and much of the information is solely suppositions. It does make me wish we knew more about the Benders.

February 6, 2009

Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luan Yang

Hello everyone, Olga from Get Thee to a Punnery!

Forgive me if this review is short; I made the mistake of reading this and then avoiding the review like it was made of plague until today. Part of the reason is because I’m lazy. Another part is because I sort of lost my drive and zeal for reading and have been overdosing on Dog, the Bounty Hunter.

But I’m back, baby!

So what can I tell you about American Born Chinese? Yang’s graphic novel is actually three stories in one. The first is a mythical folk tale about The Monkey King, who, despite being a powerful god, is laughed at by the other gods. The second tale is of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy who endures the pressures of being a minority in his new school. And finally, the third story follows the life of a white boy named Danny and his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who visits every year to wreck havoc on Danny’s life. Chin-Kee is the ultimate in Chinese stereotype—his dialogue is written phonetically, his clothing is stereotypically Chinese (right down to the conical hat); Yang is almost vicious in his depiction of Chin-Kee—the words of all Chinese stereotypes embody the character.

These three stories appear to run parrallel together, but at the end the characters begin to appear in each other’s stories.

I don’t know much about Chinese-American culture, but I can understand the pressures of wanting to be someone you are not. I think everyone has at some point in their life longed for something different, but it’s not possible to change who you are fundamentally.

Deep down, the story of American Born Chinese is that you should accept your heritage, and love your family and friends, no matter what their culture is. It may take a demi-god Monkey disguised as a Chinese stereotype to knock that into you, but ultimately you can’t run away from who you are.

It’s an old lesson, but it’s told in a unique way with lovely cartoon graphics, and a fun set of stories. I felt like I learned a bit more about what it’s like to be Chinese in America.

A good graphic novel, and I would even recommend it for children. The lesson is easy to grasp and the story moves quickly enough that you can share it with your kids.

Rating: Four stars

February 4, 2009

Neil Gaiman: The Absolute Sandman, Volume 1

I'm only on my 2nd book for the Graphic Novel Challenge and already I'm departing from my original list. It's been much harder to find my first choices at the local library.

I read Gaiman's short story "I Cthulhu" a couple years back and enjoyed it enough to promise exploring him further. It's taken me this long to come round to him again, but when I saw the massive Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 (612 pages, comprised of the first 19 issues of Gaiman's Sandman comics first published in 1989), it refreshed my memory.

My first Graphic Novel Challenge book was Seth's It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and the two books couldn't be more different. Where Seth's art had simplistic lines with white, black and shades of gray, Gaiman, who didn't draw himself, had a team of artists (including Sam Kieth, Michael Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Colleen Doran and others), who drew with lots of hatching, cross-hatching and general scratches for detail and worked in colour. But the differences didn't just exist in art. Whereas Seth's story was realistic, slow-paced, and tame, Gaiman's was surreal, fast-paced, and often pretty horrific. The Sandman (a.k.a. Morpheus, The Lord of Dreams, and a few other names) is supposed to be the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. With a description like that, you'd be correct in assuming he's a little more cerebral than Freddy Krueger.

I definitely prefer Seth's book, but after a while, I also came to enjoy Gaiman's. At the beginning I was enjoying the story but was distracted and unimpressed with the artwork. It reminded me of the style of Tales From The Crypt and seemed too stereotypically comic book (which for some readers might be a good thing.) Plus, I wasn't crazy about the Sandman's look. Resembling the unholy love child of Alice Cooper and the Cure's Robert Smith couldn't possibly be a good thing, but it was made even worse when the artists couldn't decide on a consistent head size. Eventually I either got used to it or Sam Keith's departure (after the first five stories) made the subtle difference. Towards the middle I thought it came together really well. Then, at the end, I thought Gaiman was stretching for story ideas. The Sandman's siblings started to get bigger roles, there was a whole story devoted to cats (apparently a popular issue with the fans), and while I enjoy Shakespeare, and although it's the one Gaiman won a World Fantasy Award for, I really didn't like the 19th Sandman story, "A Midsummer Night's Dream." It seemed silly and felt out of place with the rest of the collection, hardly having anything to do with dreams. I hope those last few stories are not representative of the later volumes because I'd still like to continue on with the series.

(Cross posted at The Book Mine Set.)

February 2, 2009

Review: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

Note: This review assumes you've read volumes 1 and 2 of Smith's Bone series. If you haven't, you may want to jump right to my thoughts, although I don't think I've revealed any true spoilers.

My Summary: After helping Gran'ma Ben repair her house, Lucius, Smiley, and Phoney return to Barrelhaven to check on the tavern, while Gran'ma, Thorn, and Fone stay on the farm. A sudden, heavy thunderstorm overtakes the valley just as Lucius and the Bones see signs of rat creatures in the forest. They have to find a way to outsmart the creatures and make it safely into town. Meanwhile, Gran'ma Ben overhears Thorn and Fone discussing their recent nightmares, and she finally tells them some of the secrets she has been hiding from her granddaughter. Now the three have to make some tough choices. And deep in the forest, the giant king of the rat creatures is seen taking orders from the hooded Lord of Locusts.

My Thoughts: The action really picks up in Eyes of the Storm, and the plot lines begin to solidify. As we learn some of the Thorn's background, we have an increasing sense of danger—not only for the main characters but also for the entire valley. At the end of the book, the Bones and their friends are at a turning point, and we are left wondering where the tale is taking us.

Lest you think that this volume is all seriousness, let me reassure you that Smith has managed to inject his great sense of humor into several scenes. We are treated to a new take on Fone's ongoing obsession with Melville's Moby-Dick, and I love Smiley's reactions to life.

This volume is traditionally considered the end of the first part of the entire Bone saga. And indeed it seems that we have met the major players and that the heart of the story is just about to unfold. I am anticipating future volumes to have many elements of traditional myth tales, as defined by Joseph Campbell. Stay tuned!

Cross-posted to my blog Beth Fish Reads.

Published by Scholastic, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780439706384
Rating: A

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Amazon.com Product Description:

For her 22nd birthday—and her mother's 50th—Lucy Knisley and her mother went to Paris. For more than a month, they toured the City of Lights from their fifth arrondissement flat, exploring museums and cafes, taking photographs, eating pastries and drinking French milk, which Knisley says is sweeter than its American counterpart; she compares it with the influence we take in from our mothers. Knisley's first book is unquestionably a travel journal first and foremost: Lucy-the-writer is so close to Lucy-the-subject that at times the story lacks background and emotional complexity. But as a travel journal French Milk shines. Knisley's photographs from the trip punctuate sketches of her daily adventures and musings about graduating from art school, first love and having an adult relationship with her mother. Best of all are Knisley's portraits of home at the beginning and end of the book, which capture her childhood home and college life lovingly but with clear eyes. Knisley's cartoony drawings are pleasingly clean in one panel and tellingly detailed in the next. A word-of-mouth hit when it first came out in a self-published limited edition, French Milk will remind readers of their own early trips to Europe and of traveling in their 20s.

Warning, this book will make you hungry, it will make you hungry for foods you've never even heard of! A friend told me about comic artist, Lucy Knisley and her blog. I think the post she told me about was a day she had drawn everything she had eaten for dinner the night before at a fancy restaurant. So I wasn't really surprised to see all her food drawings in this book but it still made me want to try all the things she ate, things I had never heard of! I still don't know what some of them are, what are cornichons?

Anyhow, this book is a combination of a travel journal and a 20-something journal of worry and growing up. I loved it! I'm a 20-something so that part was very easy to relate to for me and also I love to travel (not that I have done much lately) so I love to read about trips. To me, there's really no better way to read a travel journal that in the form of comics! Everything is so much easier to visualize! It also doesn't hurt that a lot of photos are included.

This book is seriously a gem, this girl has got good taste! She talks about everything from her day's purchases to weird things about the apartment she and her mom are staying in to the books she is reading. It's great. I wish it was like 4 times longer! Good thing she has another book and a website that she updates often. And her illustration style? It's so cute, she can go from simple drawings to more detailed beautiful images of people (i love the way she draws faces).

It reminded me a bit of Vanessa Davis's book Spaniel Rage, they are both the going ons of a young woman's life, they don't really set out to get a laugh but sometimes do anyways! It's basically their journal. Great stuff, and I want to read much much more!

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Red River (manga)

This is a picture of the cast, just about the entire cast actually

Japanese Title: 天は赤い河のほとり, Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori
Also Known As: Anatolia Story
Manga-ka: Chie Shinohara
Volumes: 28 total (up to volume 24 avail now in English)
Genres: historical, fantasy, romance
English Publisher: Viz
Link: Amazon Listmania List

Synopsis: Red River is about a fifteen-year old Japanese girl named Yuri Suzuki, who is magically transported to Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia. She was summoned by Queen Nakia who means to use Yuri as a human sacrifice. Yuri's blood is the key element needed in placing a curse upon the princes of the land so that they will perish, leaving Nakia's son as the sole heir to the throne. As the story progress, however, Yuri not only repeatedly manages to escape Nakia's scheming, she also becomes revered as a saint and incarnation of the goddess Ishtar and falls in love with crown prince Kail. (from wikipedia)

Review: For myself this is a definite change of pace from the other works I knew Shinohara from originally. I have read many of her shorter works of horror manga, but it wasn't until Anatolia Story that I was introduced to her historical fantasy romances as well.

This is an older manga, dating from the early to mid-90's, and the stylistic changes of the last decade are glaringly obvious. Despite this however Shinohara draws such action in her scenes that the numerous battle sequences (Ishtar is the Goddess of War and as the incarnation of Ishtar Yuri is expected to lead the troops. Also Kail isn't the sit at home type of Prince) come alive.

Unfortunately Yuri spends a good deal of time for the first quarter of the series bemoaning her fate, alternately wanting to be with Kail and not, and in general not getting on with the world she finds herself stuck in. She spends another quarter toppling back and forth between wishing to go home with all her might and wanting to stay with Kail and has spent this third quarter leading into the final quarter finally getting her head on straight.

The story is bogged down by repetition; the same three issues keep coming up: Nakia's treachery and evil, Yuri and Kail's romantic woes and finally the affairs of state. Add to that the fact that its 28 volumes long...you have to have patience. Honestly the parts with fighting go by the quickest and take up a lot of the later volumes and after a while its amusing to see what tricks Nakia will try to pull and how she gets out of being executed.

Shinohara's art is very pretty--fairly typical shoujo style, very pretty girls and very slim bodied guys and she goes all out for the costumes and jewelry. Yuri in particular has several dresses I would die to own. Warning however there is violence and nudity so this is better for an older teen then a younger teen.