Saturday, November 22, 2014

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 2

Lilith Dark and the Beastie TreeLilith Dark is one of the toughest and most adorable monster slayers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. She reminds me of Calvin with a stuffed dinosaur for her Hobbes.  Together they act out elaborate and gruesome fantasies and sometimes they are depicted as Lilith sees them and sometimes the artwork shows that the dinosaur is really stuffed after all.  But thanks to the longer format these fantasies can be much more elaborate and follow a full adventure cycle.  Nothing is what it seems in this world where a cute kitten turns into a monster and a hideous creature ends up being a friend (Spoon, pictured at the left on the cover is actually my favorite character in the comic.)  Lilith of course proves her courage while the babysitter proves clueless and a stinger at the end leaves the truth of the events up in the air in classic fantasy adventure fashion.  While some elements are reminiscent of other stories the comic as a whole stands out.  A treat for those of all ages with a macabre sensibility. Lilith Dark and the Beastie Tree by Charles Dowd: buy it or check it out today!


Second chances: true stories of living with Addison's diseaseI bought this book when someone close to me was diagnosed with Addison's Disease.  I had some basic knowledge of Addison's because our family dog growing up had it but I was still shocked, saddened, and scared when I heard.  As a librarian naturally my first instinct was to research and read everything I could about it.  It was easy enough to find medical facts but I wanted to know what to expect from the future--what living with Addison's looks like after the initial crisis passes.  This book accomplished just that.  Reading the first-hand accounts of 16 very different people not only provided practical advice but helped give me perspective and imagine what the future may now look like.  Hearing from people who had lived with Addison's for decades and found ways to keep doing the things they loved was a great comfort and even reading about the struggles turned them into something concrete that could be planned for and overcome instead of an unnamed lurking fear.  The quality of the writing style varies greatly from chapter to chapter but every story shared something that I found helpful.  I wouldn't recommend this based on literary merit to a casual reader looking for a memoir collection but for those who want to learn more about life with Addison's this is a valuable resource and I'm deeply thankful to Carol McKay for putting it together.  Second Chances: True stories of living with Addison's Disease edited by Carol McKay: buy it

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)I had a few problems with this book.  First of all Cas's cockiness did not win me over.  He acts like a jerk but he believes his actions are completely justified.  Secondly a big deal is made about how Anna is a super powerful ghost and yet she still cowers behind Cas when baddies show up.  Apparently even a practically omnipotent supernatural woman needs a mortal man to protect her when things get scary.  The mortal female love interest at one point complains to her male companion that everyone has some sort of power to fight the ghosts except her and is comforted not by being reassured that she can fight too but by being told she's "the voice of reason." Cas is sometimes compared to Buffy and unsurprisingly he has a low opinion of the iconic, powerful woman and takes it as an insult even when it's meant as a compliment.  Even his mother who is a witch mostly just contributes by washing the special knife and cooking and mixing herbs. It is entirely possible that I am overthinking things but things like this just kept pulling me out of the narrative and prevented me from enjoying it.  Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: buy it or check it out today!

MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy, #3)"There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too." I was glad I read the third installment of this trilogy so soon after I read the second.  It wrapped things up nicely while bringing up even more interesting questions to ponder.  The theme of storytelling is strong in this installment as the characters are constantly retelling the stories of what they've been through to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and help the survivors learn who they are and where they came from.  Sprinkled throughout the social commentary, various literary styles, and thought-provoking scenes are bursts of humor like the made-up band names: "Luminescent Corpses" and "The Bipolar Albino Hookworms"  if one of these doesn't become a real band name I will be sorely disappointed!  But there's nothing disappointing about this book.  If you haven't read the series start with Oryx and Crake.  MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: buy it or check it out today!

The Forbidden Library (The Forbidden Library, #1)I found several aspects of this book problematic.  For one thing even for a magical world the internal logic is sketchy at best.  There's one creature for example that is described both in writing and pictures as being like hard tennis balls with long, hard beaks.  They can bounce and roll easily but I'm not sure how--it seems like such long beaks would get in the way.   In this world power is acquired by killing other creatures that then become your minions.  One of said minions points out Alice's hypocrisy in saying that she doesn't want to be mean to her own saying "They’re already your slaves, how much crueler do you need to be" Alice comforts herself by thinking "It wasn’t like slavery, though. Not really. The swarmers didn’t even exist when she didn’t call on them, so it wasn’t like they were waiting around and getting bored. It’s more like...having a dog. One of those clever dogs that can herd sheep and do tricks when you whistle" which misses the point entirely.  This issue is then dropped and Alice continues to use her minions and place them in danger because it's too inconvenient to do otherwise.  Hopefully this will be addressed further in future books but slavery isn't an issue I'd casually mention then drop after coming up with a lame justification.  On top of that the book isn't particularly original or well-written.  There's plenty of stories where books turn out to contain actual magic and the themes of power corrupting and resourceful orphan girls have been well trod.  Even the names are unimaginative from Alice getting lost in the wonderland of the library to the villains Mr. Black and Mr. Wurms.  Having so many of the characters be soulless servants bound to the will of their masters doesn't exactly lend itself to rounded character portraits either.   The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cruel Beauty Review

Cruel Beauty

Book talk:  Before Nyx was born her father made a deal with the ruler of their cursed kingdom.  He has many names such as the Gentle Lord or the Sweet Faced Calamity, but despite his handsome face he is centuries old and rules the kingdom through terror and tricks.  Only the desperate or the foolish bargain with him because it always ends in tragedy.  Nyx knows this all too well.  The price of her father's deal was that one day Nyx would marry the Gentle Lord.  While Nyx's sister grew up coddled and loved Nyx was raised as a weapon crafted to destroy the Gentle Lord when her wedding day finally came.  So Nyx steeled her heart to her purpose and prepared to marry a monster.  But when she finally comes to live in his enchanted castle killing him proves harder than she expected and the Gentle Lord is not the monster she anticipated.

Rocks my socks:  I love a good Beauty and the Beast story and have long been a fan of Greek Mythology so I was glad to see them combined in such a creative way.  The tension between the Gentle Lord and Nyx is palpable and their banter all I could hope for.  Speaking of the Gentle Lord is it just me or is he basically Benedict Cumberbatch? ("Sharp nose and high cheekbones framed with tousled, ink-black hair and stamped all over with the arrogant softness of a man just out of boyhood who had never been defied.")  The twists of the enchanted castle and the plot provide an interesting puzzle to solve while the characters struggle to overcome their pasts and see the world complexly.

Rocks in my socks:  
Sometimes I wanted to shake Nyx by the shoulders and say "We know!  Move on already!"  Her life growing up was legitimately messed up but after a while I grew tired of hearing about it and the constant mention of the word 'monster' and how she's bound to a monster or married to a monster or eating breakfast with a monster grated on my nerves.

Every book its reader:  
I'd give this to fans of fantasy, romance, greek mythology, and fairy tales retold.  Fans of Beauty and the Beast will particularly enjoy the dynamic between Ignifex and Nyx.

Extras:


The author has a website  and the publisher has made a trailer for the book:


Bonus Quotes:
"No honest people ever bargained with the Kindly Ones...Only the foolish. The proud. The ones who believed they deserved the world at no price."

"I had been the bride of the Gentle Lord for half a day already, and there had been strikingly little torment."

"They avenge the wronged, when it suits them. Strike bargains with the desperate, when it suits them. They love to mock. To leave answers at the edges, where anyone could see them but nobody does. To tell the truth when it is too late to save anyone. And they are always fair."

Source: ebook from public library

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wandering Son Review

Wandering Son: Volume One

Book talk:  When shy Shuichi meets the outgoing Yoshino both their lives change.  Yoshino's mom is always buying dresses that she doesn't want while Shuichi secretly longs to try his sister's clothes on.  Then Yoshino gives Shuichi one of her unwanted dresses and it starts them both on a journey to self discovery.  This sweet slice-of-life comic follows their ups and downs at school and home as they learn to embrace their identities and find the strength to share them with the world.

Rocks my socks:  First and foremost this is a great school story following two fifth graders as they navigate the emotionally fraught waters of puberty.  Their relationships with friends and family are shown with great humor, realism, and empathy.  Additionally it tells a story that doesn't get much attention in the media--what it is like to be a transgender youth.  This is particularly remarkable because it isn't a special episode of a show that has one narrative arc and is finished or something happening in the background to a minor character.  Both the main characters are transgender and the comics go on for many volumes portraying many different types of stories and allowing a more natural pace instead of one artificially simplified and condensed to fit a short story line.  This quiet but powerful comic touched my heart and its characters will stay with me.

Rocks in my socks:  Several of the characters look similar and distinguishing between them can get a bit confusing.  It got much easier with each volume though as the personalities become more clear and I got to know them better.

Every book its reader:  I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet slice-of-life school comic.

Source: school library

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako: buy it or check it out today!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brief Reviews Fall 2014 part 1

The StorytellerFans of The Storyteller tv series or anyone who enjoys folklore and comics will like this collection of new, old stories.  Each story tells a classic tale with the distinct style of Jim Henson's Storyteller and his faithful dog.  The style of writing and artwork varies from one story to the next but they are all of good quality.  I especially enjoyed the extra artwork with quotes from the original series.  My favorite part of the collection was the final story based on an unproduced Storyteller script.  It's a delightfully disturbing Russian folktale about a witch baby.  Another highlight was the gorgeous artwork in the Puss in Boots adaptation.   Jim Henson's The Storyteller edited by Nate Cosby: buy it or check it out today!

Jane, the Fox, and MeI enjoyed this evocative Canadian comic about a lonely girl who finds solace in Jane Eyre.  Helene struggles to survive school while being teased by her former friends.  Then her class goes to nature camp which holds even more horrors in store.  There she meets a fox and befriends another girl relegated to the fringes.  Most of the story is told in shades of brown and black except for the scenes from Jane Eyre.  The art is simple but expressive. The most detail is to be found in the portrayal of nature in the backgrounds.  The end isn't of the Hollywood variety but it is happy in a quiet and realistic way which makes it all the more moving.  Jane, the Fox, & Me by Fanny Britt & Isabelle Arsenault: buy it or check it out today!

The Reason for DragonsThis comic builds tension by walking the line between fantasy and reality leaving the reader guessing if the characters have really seen fantastic creatures, if they're delusional, or both.  Northrop has a lot of fun playing with the conventions of Renaissance fairs and it shows up in creative touches like the faux brochure at the front of the book.  The artwork is gorgeous and the color palette does a great job creating atmosphere. The Don-Quixote like knight provides plenty of humorous breaks.  There's some fun short stories at the end by guest writers and authors.  It's a nice quick read for fans of fantasy, humor, and ren faires.  The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely: buy it or check it out today!


Boxers & Saints Boxed SetThis work of historical fiction examines the Boxer Rebellion from two perspectives.  Not only does it do an excellent job of educating readers about an event that usually gets very little attention in American history classes but it does a fine job entertaining them as well.  The characters are rounded and intriguing, the pacing quick, poignant moments are balanced with humorous ones and some scenes are evocative of super heroes in a way that is sure to draw many readers in.  Whether you're looking to educate yourself or for engaging entertainment this two-part series is an excellent choice!  Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang: buy it or check it out today!




Cleopatra in Space #1: Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, #1)The premise for this comic is absolutely absurd but its execution is so darned delightful that I do not care.  A young Cleopatra sick of studying plays hooky with a friend and ends up accidentally time travelling to the future.  She was apparently expected by some sort of shadow government made up of talking cats.  Cleopatra quickly acclimates to her new life in outer space and starts getting in the kind of harmless hijinks you'd expect from any outer space school story.  Of course it turns out that she's a crack shot and withstands unreasonable tests of her ability with grace while insisting that she's not the savior everyone thinks she is fated to be.  The plot is standard but its juxtaposition with such a unique setting made it enjoyable.  The charming artwork and sassy cat sidekick might have played a big part in why I liked it so much. A quick, light adventure story for anyone who ever wondered what famous historical figures would look with a ray gun.   Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Economix review

Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures

Book talk:  Wars, riots, revolutions--they can all be explained by economics.  In this entertaining comic Michael Goodwin will take you on a tour of history from the beginnings of capitalism to the modern day and explain the economic causes of every major event from the American Revolution to the Great Depression.  Along the way he pulls out the wittiest lines, goriest details, and most amusing anecdotes.

Rocks my socks:  
Economics was never my favorite subject but I absolutely loved this graphic novel!  By describing various economic theories chronologically and placing them in historical context the importance of the topics is clear and the information much easier to remember.  Michael Goodwin also has an excellent sense of humor.  Some of the details seemed too insane to be true (like the part about the Dutch Prime Minister being eaten--but I doubled checked and found that not only is it true but there's a famous painting of it that I immediately regretted finding.)  It seems that economics is stranger than fiction.

Rocks in my socks:  nothing

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for an entertaining nonfiction comic or anyone seeking to understand the economy better.  I'd say it's fine for 7th grade and up.

Extras:

There's a whole website for the book at http://economixcomix.com/

Source: school library

Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work) in Words and Pictures by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thief Lord review

The Thief Lord

Book talk: Is there somewhere you've always wanted to go?  For Prosper and Bo, that place is Venice.  Their mother always told them stories of this magical city and after they become orphans and are forced to run away from their cruel aunt it's where they decide to hide.  But life as a runaway is not as glamorous as they thought.  Things are looking pretty grim until they meet Hornet, another runaway who introduces them to The Thief Lord and takes them to live in the abandoned cinema she calls home.  Life still isn't easy, but at least they have a roof over their head.  Their problems only get worse though as their aunt and uncle hire a private detective to track them down and The Thief Lord takes on a dangerous job.

Rocks my socks:  As with any heist story the plot is tense as the young thieves plan their strategy and avoid getting caught.  The lure of the magical carousel that can turn adults into children and vice versa is potent.  The real attraction of this novel though is the characters.  From the private eye with the mustache collection to the self-styled thief lord himself the book is full of memorable individuals. This isn't your typical thief with a heart of gold story though and as identities are revealed and characters become more complex the plot takes multiple twists and turns.

Rocks in my socks:  I wasn't entirely happy with the ending and as delightful as the magical age-changing carousel is, it isn't introduced until fairly late in the novel.  It seemed a bit odd tacking this in at the end of a book that was otherwise realistic.  I wish more of the fantastic elements were introduced earlier on and woven throughout the narrative.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to 3rd to 5th graders looking for an adventure story with a hint of magic.  Especially for anyone with an interest in Venice.

Extras:

The author has a website that is too fancy for me to have the patience to navigate it but you can explore it to find unknown wonders if you so wish: http://www.corneliafunke.com/

There's a page for the novel on the Cornelia Funke wiki:  http://corneliafunke.wikia.com/wiki/The_Thief_Lord

The book was made into a movie, the trailer can be seen here:





Source: Oxfam Books in Aberdeen, Scotland

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Brief Reviews Summer 2014 part 2

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3) Another excellent installment to the Gentleman Bastard series! The story is split between time spent together as an acting troupe in the past and political intrigue among the Bondsmages in the present.  It was full of all the sneaky tricks, witty banter, and child-inappropriate humor that I've come to expect of the series. On a related note I saw Scott Lynch at the Nine Worlds convention in London this summer and he was just as hilarious in real life as he is in his stories.  He represented wizards on a panel pitting them against representatives for dragons, vampires, and werewolves.  He didn't have the winning or the most well-researched argument but he certainly had the most entertaining one! The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: buy it or check it out today!

Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter, #2)The sequel to The Madman's Daughter is full of the same delicious tension, dark science, and deadly threat as the first.  The Island of Doctor Moreau was covered pretty completely by the first one but this one manages to pick up the same characters and add a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde twist. The next one will apparently incorporate bits of Frankenstein and I hope it comes out soon because this one ended on a complete cliff hanger!  The love triangle is once again played for everything it's worth but as long as you're willing to go along with it, it's a fun ride.  Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd: buy it or check it out today!



Golden Girl (The American Fairy, #2)Bad Luck Girl (The American Fairy, #3)

I loved Dust Girl and the second and third books in this series did not disappoint.  Golden Girls follows our intrepid heroes as they navigate the dangerous ground of Hollywood and the temper of a Shirley Temple-esque child star while Bad Luck Girl explores Chicago and the delightful Halfers--creatures that result from magic mixing with everyday objects like paper.  These personified objects further the exploration of what it means to belong and how those that don't fit neatly in one box are treated by society.  The historical details are just as fascinating as the fantastic ones and while there are competent adults fighting alongside them, the teens remain in the spotlight as they make tough decisions and decide what is right for themselves instead of just accepting what they've been told.  Golden Girl & Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel: buy it or check it out today!

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam Trilogy, #2)I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a sequel to Oryx and Crake, even if it had been so long since I read it that this book lost me several times along the way.  This post-apocalyptic dystopian novel follows two characters who are left alive after a plague wipes out most of humanity.  Both were at one point members of the same cult lead by Adam One.  One is living in the ruins of the spa she used to run while the other is locked in the night club she used to work at.  The narrative is lyrical, the vision of the future terrifying yet prescient and the societal issues presented relevant and complex as you'd expect from an Atwood novel.  The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: buy it or check it out today!


The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family ThriveThis was my school's summer read for teachers and parents.  The book was surprisingly practical and concrete in its suggestions and re-stated everything multiple ways to show how these principles could be explained to children and applied to your own life as an adult.  There were plenty of mini-comics and illustrations so it was a very fast read. There were some things in there that I will definitely apply to my own life and how I interact with my students but this book is mainly aimed at parents.  They even have an appendix that you can refer to over time that shows how the concepts apply at different ages as your child grows up.  You get a lot of useful insight and techniques for a small time investment.  I'd definitely recommend this to any parents out there.  The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson: buy it or check it out today!

Paper TownsThe main thing I kept thinking while reading this book was that it felt very John Greeny.  From the themes it explores to the traits of the characters to the patterns of speech.  I can see how this might annoy some people and why they might think that the teens and the way they speak is unrealistic.  But the thing is I really believe that this is how John Green talked as a teenager.  It reminds me of a friend of mine used to mock Gilmore Girls for its unrealistic dialogue until my mom came to visit and he saw us talking to each other.  Which is to say that the average teen does not talk or act like the characters in Paper Towns but that doesn't mean that it's unrealistic.  Paper Towns by John Green: buy it or check it out today!