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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 4,739
1. A Clockwork Orange

If I had not read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess along with Danielle, I doubt I would have managed to finish it. It’s a book that is generally ranked among the classics and I have been wanting to read it for ages. It wasn’t the Nadsat slang that put me off, I admire Burgess for doing that, a very bold move on his part. I mean, there must have been, and are, so many people put off by a book that reads like this throughout:

Then, brothers, it came. Oh bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.

Burgess created the slang himself using the Russian language as a base. Sometimes the language in the book can be rather poetic. At other times I was a bit baffled and just had to go with it. To Burgess’s credit, I was never lost and unable to figure out what was going on in the story because of the language.

In case you don’t know what the book is about, a quick synopsis. Alex is a teenager and lives in a not too distant future England. Alex is the leader of a gang and he and his “droogs” go out at night to drink and get high and do some “ultra-violence” (burglary, armed robbery, assault, rape and eventually murder). When Alex murders a woman in her home, his gang abandons him. Alex goes to prison and after a couple years he is offered a choice. He can serve out his fourteen-year sentence, or he can undergo a behavior modification treatment called the Ludovico Technique and be released from prison. Alex, not quite understanding what he is agreeing to, opts for the treatment. The results of the process make Alex become sick at even the thought of violence. Unfortunately, the treatment also leaves him unable to enjoy the classical music he so loves.

Once out of prison, Alex finds his parents have rented out his room and he has nowhere to go. His first day out is a harrowing one as he is assaulted by people he had beat up previously and one of his former droogs and a gang rival are police officers now who take Alex outside of town and pretty much beat the crap out of him. Eventually Alex tries to commit suicide. He fails to kill himself but the head injury he gets from it cures him of his “cure.”

There is a controversial final chapter that appears in the British version but not in the US version. In the UK version, the book has a “happy” ending: Alex “grows up” and decides he wants to get married and have a family. The US version ends with Alex being cured from his conditioning and thinking of all the violent fun he’ll be able to have again.

That synopsis did not go as quickly as I had hoped.

The book is broken up into three sections. The first section is unrelentingly violent. This is why I almost put the book down. It really made me feel sick as though I was the one who had gone through the Ludovico Treatment. The next section is Alex in prison and the aversion therapy. The final section is Alex after being released from prison.

I had a few problems with the book besides the violence. Alex is such an unsympathetic character with no remorse for his actions that I had a hard time feeling sorry for him going through the aversion therapy. Burgess clearly wants us to know the therapy is wrong; it takes away a person’s free will. It is also, of course, a slippery slope. First the state puts violent criminals through the therapy and next thing you know, anyone who doesn’t agree with the government is getting the treatment too. If Alex had been a more sympathetic character I would have felt the wrongness of the treatment more than just intellectually. As it was, I found myself pleased about Alex getting a taste of his own medicine, as it were.

The other problem I had is with the “happy” ending. Alex gathers together a new gang and continues in his old ways until suddenly one day, after meeting one of his old droogs who is now happily married, he decides he’d like to get married and have a family. But as he is thinking all this, he is also thinking that his son will probably be violent and his son, and so on and so on and there is nothing that can be done about it. This, to me seems like a boys-will-be-boys kind of thing as well as suggesting that violence is something they just have outgrow. I almost hurt myself grinding my teeth together.

Clockwork Orange is an interesting book and I am glad to have read it, but I can’t say I liked the book or the reading experience.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Anthony Burgess, dystopian fiction

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2. Review of BirdCatDog

BirdCatDogBirdCatDog [Three-Story Books]
by Lee Nordling; illus. by Meritxell Bosch
Primary    Graphic Universe/Lerner    32 pp.
11/14    Library ed.  978-1-4677-4522-2    $25.26
Paper ed.  978-1-4677-4523-9    $6.95
e-book ed.  978-1-4677-4524-6    $25.32

In this innovative wordless picture book told entirely through cartoon panels, three pets escape the ennui of domestication for brief, interconnected adventures in the wild. An introduction explains that readers may read across the six-by-three distribution of rectangular panels for the protagonists’ parallel plot lines — the Tweety-like yellow bird in the blue-saturated top row of panels; the orange tabby in the green-toned middle row; and the bluish-gray guard dog in the yellow-hued bottom row—or read from top to bottom to “get the whole story.” Expressive, accessible art wordlessly follows the pets’ adventures, during which each animal not only interacts (badly) with the other two pets but also comes snout-to-snout (or beak-to-beak) with a wild version of itself: a hawk, a lynx, a wolf. While the consistent panel grid sacrifices the more dynamic layout and pacing afforded by a variety of panel sizes and shapes, this structure (with its protagonist-color-complementing rows) unobtrusively guides readers along. And it’s that much more effective when that structure breaks into a dizzying and hilarious double-page spread of all six creatures in a high-speed chase through the pets’ backyard, a bemused squirrel looking on. Once they have chased off the interlopers, the triumphant pets settle down for well-deserved naps on their well-defended home turf.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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3. Cybils Finalist Review: THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Summary: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II are, by now, well-known to American and African American history. But the regiment known as the Harlem Hellfighters--the Army's 369th infantry unit--were the first American unit to reach the Rhine in the... Read the rest of this post

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4. Short Review: Salt and Storm

Salt & Storm by Kendall KulperLittle, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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5. Helen MacDonald & Laurie R. King Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Dreaming Spies CoverWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending February 22, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #4 in Hardcover Fiction) The Whites by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt): “Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-90s, when Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a 10-year-old boy while stopping an angel-dusted berserker in the street. Branded as a cowboy by his higher-ups, for the next eighteen years Billy endured one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he has somehow survived and become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives charged with responding to all night-time felonies from Wall Street to Harlem.” (February 2015)

(Debuted at #7 in Hardcover Nonfiction) H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald: “When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own.” (March 2015)

(Debuted at #10 in Hardcover Fiction) Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King: “Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. Haruki Sato agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that the young woman is not who she claims to be.” (February 2015)

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6. Review: Thor Annual is Best In The World

Thor Annual #1
Thor (2014-) Annual 001-000

 

 

Story: Jason Aaron, Noelle Stevenson, CM Punk

Art: Timothy Truman, Marguerite Sauvage, Rob Guillory

Letters: Joe Sabino

Publisher: Marvel

 

 

 

Annual edition comics typically have two distinct paths. The books either punctuate a current event in comics or tell a campy story with little to no continuity ramifications. Thor Annual definitely takes the comedy road, but along the way manages to swerve in a poignant moment or two.

The book is a collection of three offbeat stories written by Jason Aaron, Noelle Stevenson, and Marvel newcomer/future cage fighter, CM Punk. No doubt the book is led both linearly and structurally by Aaron’s tale of future all-father Thor in a story that displays a sentimental side of the Asgardian. As he mourns for his long dead Midgard, Thor’s granddaughters create a grand gesture in which the thunderer himself will shape the fabric of the universe. Combined with the solid artwork of Timothy Truman, the story has a ton of emotional impact.

In the book’s second tale, writer Noelle Stevenson and artist Marguerite Sauvage craft a cartoony tale of the new goddess of thunder’s trial to prove her worthiness to the warriors three. Stevenson’s story shows how this new Thor is more than just “Lady Thor”. Her character relies on cunning and female charm to overcome the trials the boys put her through. While I don’t have a lot of exposure to this new Thor, if she’s always this clever and confident then she’s worthy of a place in the new Marvel U. Of course we still have to find out who this Thor really is under the helmet. Sauvage’s art is like something out of a fairy tale storybook. It’s dreamy in how soft it is, but the delivery of her painting is spot on for the action comedy. If I had to point out one minor annoyance, it’s that I would have enjoyed seeing more background in her panels.

Finally, CM Punk and Chew artist Rob Guillory step up to craft a short story about the dangers of drinking Asgardian booze. A young, pre-hammer, Thor is challenged by Mephisto in an attempt to alter history and prevent him from ever gaining possession of Mjolnir. At first it seems odd that a writer who made a career out of living a straight edge drug/alcohol free life would tell a story about heroes getting blackout drunk. However, once you get to that last memorable page the moral makes complete sense. I found myself impressed. The jokes were well timed and the pace flowed smoothly; definitely not his first time telling stories. Rob Guillory’s art style is stellar for animating this short. He extends so much exaggerated nuance to the characters and basically does in ten pages what most artist can’t do in thirty; draw a complete tale. What I’m most impressed by is how the pair got away with a skinheads and punx reference in a mainstream Marvel book.

$4.99 is expensive for a comic book. For some of us, collecting comics can amount to the monthly price of a family phone plan. So I don’t say this lightly, Thor Annual is worth the price of admission. While it might not change the character forever, it gives old-and-new fans a meaningful levity that balances out the monthly epic battles, and sometimes you just need feel good stories.


If words like Wolverine, H2O, and large pizza are in your vocabulary then follow me on twitter @bouncingsoul217. Here’s a free digital Thor Annual for making it this far (1st come 1st served).

IMG_20150225_173102

 

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7. Review: Punk rock and questionable choices are the ties that bind in Curb Stomp #1

curbSWritten by: Ryan Ferrier

Illustrated by: Devaki Neogi

Colors by: Neil Lalonde

Letters by: Colin Bell

Publisher: Boom Studios

The time period of Boom Studio’s limited series Curb Stomp is somewhat tough to pin down. The clothing styles vacillate from the 50s through the 70s, which of course form the template for the hot styles of today. The convenience stores have a modern look, as does the one television set I spotted (there’s nary a cell phone or a computer to be found). At least for now, it doesn’t really matter: Curb Stomp traffics in a genre defined by the pulp novels and exploitation films of those aforementioned eras, so it makes sense that the look of it is something of a review of these periods.

The story itself is also somewhat timeless:  several marginalized neighborhoods surrounding a large city are defined by the gangs that rule them. Newport gang “The Wrath” runs guns and Bayside crew “The Five” runs drugs, leaving the working class people of Old Beach caught between the two. And that’s where the all-woman gang “The Fever” come in. Rather than junk or firearms, The Fever deal justice: with bats, fists and switchblades. “The cops don’t come to Old Beach,”
explains gang-leader Machete Betty,” our justice is D.I.Y.” Rounding out the crew are Violet Volt, Daisy Chain, Derby Girl and Bloody Mary. These ladies are fiercely loyal to each other, as much friends, pillaging each other’s collections for punk rock records, as they are a badass gang of broads who fight dirty.

Though the moniker and set-up are firmly grounded in girl-gang pastiche, the racial make-up of the The Fever is a breath of fresh air. Though not explicitly stated, at least three of the group appear to be non-white: Bloody Mary is asian, Violet Volt is black and Machete Betty just might be latino if the cover art is representative. If it seems odd that I’m so unsure of their ethnicity, you just have to see the comic for yourself: Neil Lalonde has had a field day coloring it. His use of bright and contrasting hues gives the book a pop-punk look, an Andy Warhol sensibility. This really worked for me, especially during a scene in which a crooked city politician makes an alliance with the leaders of The Wrath and Five gangs. There, Lalonde’s use of sickly greens and yellows sets the perfect tone.

Speaking of the art, let’s talk about newcomer Devaki Neogi’s beautiful work on this issue. While we’ve seen some very lovely and modern main-stream comic styles from other Boom titles released this year, Neogi’s art reminded me powerfully of the work of seminal indie comic artists like Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes. The characterizations of the Fever members are sexy, but powerful. These ‘aint your silver-age pin-ups. The clothing and styles the individual Fever members sport seem authentic, if a little showy.

And what of the violence? With a title like Curb Stomp, I worried that it might be handled in an exploitative way — in-step with the exploitation films that lend the book it’s look. Not so. There’s an interesting (if a tad unrealistic) truce amongst the gangs that disallows the use of firearms on each other, leaving skirmishes to be settled with fists and bats rather than drive-by’s. The titular scene forms the spine of the tale: and leaves the perpetrator sick to their stomach. Ferrier plays his plan for the four issue series close to the chest, leaving this first installment to mostly introduce the characters and define the borders of the city and it’s denizens. In our  recent interview with the series creator, Ferrier stated the series would have “real social issues and…a lot more messages in it.”  The loose sketch of the story is interesting, and if the later issues match the intensity of the art it might be a very interesting series.

 

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8. Review: Spider-Gwen #1 Packs a Pun-ch

By: Lindsey Morris


spidergwn

 Spider-Gwen #1 

 Marvel Comics 

 Writer: Jason Latour

 Artist: Robbi Rodriguez

 Colorist: Rico Renzi

 Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

 Cover Artist: Robbi Rodriguez

As one of the latest phenomena in the comics industry, the pressure to put out a compelling first issue was certainly on for writer Jason Latour, artist Robbi Rodriguez, and colorist Rico Renzi. With over 200,000 pre-orders, a huge fan base, and a cosplay opportunity that caught fire on the con circuit, Spider-Gwen #1 was a smashing success long before anyone got their hands on the first copy.

The story follows up on Edge of the Spider-Verse #2 (sort of), which really should be considered the zero issue for this series. There is little recap of those events, which is unfortunate because it immediately puts the ongoing at a bit of an imbalance from a narrative perspective. New readers might find sussing out what’s going on difficult, but it seems fitting that the frantic speed this comic has picked over the past few months be mirrored in its plot – at least initially.

The artwork is definitely what stands out most for the book, with every page bringing something dynamic and bright. Rodriguez puts together panels that are tight, but sketchy, and Renzi uses a great cool palette throughout, punctuated by contrasts that will eventually make your eyeballs hurt. Every page pops with this mix of well-executed madness, and together they make visuals that are pitch-perfect for a comic about a girl bitten by a radioactive spider who also happens to play drums and fight crime.

The overall plot, however, leaves a little something to be desired. It’s a fun romp through the life of Spider-Gwen, don’t get me wrong, but there is an air of superficiality that just can’t be shaken. Constant phone checking, puns even Deadpool would groan at, and a villain without a clear motivation all add up to a plot going seemingly nowhere. This is a first issue, so some slack is merited, but Spider-Gwen would benefit immensely from being grounded in conflicts other than personal drama and directionless villains in the coming months.

Spider-Gwen #1 is an entertaining, if disjointed, introductory issue. Frenetic almost to a fault, the singular artwork and a vivid color palette lend themselves to the punchy writing and teenage antics. A worthwhile read for all comic fans.

1 Comments on Review: Spider-Gwen #1 Packs a Pun-ch, last added: 2/25/2015
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9. Short Review: Blood of My Blood

Blood of My Blood (I Hunt Killers) by Barry LygaLittle, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to I Hunt Killers and Game.

The I Hunt Killers series is the story of  Jasper Dent, son of the infamous serial killer Billy Dent. It asks the question -- is the son condemned to follow in the footsteps of his father? If nature (the son of a killer) and nurture (raised by his father to hunt and kill) conspire to create a path for a child, will the child follow that path? And what is the cost of not doing so?

What I liked best about Blood of My Blood is that it showed the trilogy to not be three connected stories about Jazz solving crimes, using his first-hand knowledge of serial killers (though it is that) but one story, told in three volumes, about Jazz coming to terms with his past and figuring out what his future should be. And, yes -- solving murder mysteries.

Also -- and I almost hate to say it -- twists! That I didn't see coming! And that were so satisfying as a reader! (I hate to say it because sometimes saying a twist means one expects and looks for any twist so it no longer is a surprise twist.)


Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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10. Review of the Day: My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp

My Near-Death Adventures (99% True)
By Alison DeCamp
Crown Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-385-39044-6
Ages 9-12
On shelves now

Children’s historical fiction novels often divide up one of two ways. In the first category you have your important moments in history. In such books our heroes run about and encounter these moments by surprise. Extra points if it happens to be a Great Big Bad Moment in history as well. Then in the second category are the books that have opted to go a more difficult route. They may be well grounded in a time period of the past, but they do not require historical cameos or Great Big Bad Moments to transport their readers. Such books run a very great risk of, quite frankly, becoming dull. Read enough of them and, with the exception of a few, they all run together. Humor often helps me distinguish them from the pack. After all, would Catherine Called Birdy command quite so many hearts and minds if it weren’t also deeply amusing? Still, it’s rare to find fiction set in the past for kids that’s quite that original. It takes a certain kind of devious brain to hit on an all-new take. Enter My Near-Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp. Falling squarely into the second category rather than the first, this 1895 charmer utilizes plenty of visuals along with an unreliable narrator and classic comedic setting. I can say with certainty that your kids will never read a work of lumberjack fiction quite as fast and funny as this ever again.

Well, sir, it looks like Stan’s found himself in a heap of trouble. First off there’s the difficulty with his dead father. The problem? He’s not dead. He’s nowhere around, and now he seems to have divorced Stan’s mama, but dead he is not. Then there’s the fact that it’s the middle of winter yet Stan’s mama and his 95% evil Granny (her percentage fluctuates a lot) are packing him up and they’re all heading up to some godforsaken lumber camp in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that’s good for Stan since he’s been hoping to build up his manly skills so that he can support his mama. Unfortunately his cousin Geri, who seems to revel in torturing him, will be there as well. Can Stan fight off his mother’s multiple suitors, keep his eye on the lumberjack he’s dubbed “Stinky Pete”, and learn to be a man (if Geri doesn’t kill him first) all at once? If anyone can, it’s Stan. Probably.

Humor in historical fiction can come across as a case where the contemporary author is shoehorning his or her own beliefs onto characters from the past. Often when this happens it feels fake. I remember once reading a children’s novel set in the Civil War South where an enterprising young woman, with no outside influences, actually said, “Corsets don’t just restrict the waist. They restrict the mind,” or something equally out of left field. So to what extent are anachronisms a threat in books of this sort? For example, would someone like Stan really have called his cousin “Scary Geri”? For me, I don’t worry as much about the small details. If the language isn’t strictly of the late 19th century variety then who in the Sam Hill cares? (Forgive my language, granny.) It’s the big things (like mind restricting corsets) that catch my eye. With that in mind, I was somewhat relieved when I realized that Stan is a sexist jerk. He quite believably does not look on women’s accomplishments as something to commend (which, in turn, is an interesting way of building up sympathy for his cousin Geri). In other words, he’s of his time.

To bring the funny, DeCamp does two things I’ve not seen done in works of historical fiction before. The first involves a ton of late 19th/early 20th century advertisements. Using the conceit that this is Stan’s scrapbook, each image makes some kind of commentary on what Stan is describing. They’re also hilarious. I cannot help but imagine the countless hours DeCamp spent poring through advertisement after advertisement. One wonders if there were parts of the narrative wholly reliant on the existence of one ad or another. Hard to say.

The second clever and hitherto unknown thing DeCamp does with her storytelling is to make Stan an unreliable narrator with unreliable narration. Which is to say, you’ll be reading his private thoughts on the page when suddenly another character will comment on what clearly should have been kept inside Stan’s brain. The end result is that the reader will lapse into a continual sense of security, safe in the knowledge that what they’re reading isn’t dialogue (after all, there aren’t any quotation marks) and then, exactly like Stan, the reader will be shocked when someone comments on information they shouldn’t know anything about. It really puts you directly into Stan’s shoes and helps to make him more relatable. Which is good since he runs the risk of being considered unsympathetic as a character.

Unreliable as a narrator, potentially unsympathetic as a human being, Stan still wins our love. Why? He’s Kid Falstaff! A coward you root for and love, yet still don’t always approve of. Still, even in the depths of his own delusion, how can you not love the guy? He’s a Yooper Telemachus fending unworthy suitors off of his mama. And even when you’ve taken almost all you can take from the guy, you’ll find him saying something like, “This is the furthest I’ve ever felt from being a man. All I really want to do is cuddle up in bed and have Mama read me a book. Or play with the toy soldiers still lined up on my windowsill in the apartment house. But I can’t. Because that’s not manly, and being manly is the only way I’ll ever understand my father . . .” Poor kid.

A good author, by the way, allows their supporting characters some personal growth as well. It doesn’t all have to come from the protagonist, after all. In this particular case it’s Stan’s mama, a character that could easily have just been some passive, maternal bit of nothingness, who comes into her own. For years she’s been held down pretty effectively by her own mother. Now she has a chance at making a bit of a life for herself, choosing her own mate (or not choosing, as the case may be), and generally having a bit of fun. I know no kid reading this book is going to care, but I appreciated having someone other than Stan learn and grow.

I sit here secure in the knowledge that somewhere, at some time, an enterprising adult (be it teacher, parent, or librarian) will take it upon themselves to actually follow Mrs. Cavanaugh’s recipe for Vinegar Pie. The recipe is right there in black and white in the book, clear as crystal. If you have any goodness in your heart and you are tempted to tread this path, here is a bit of advice: don’t. It’s called Vinegar Pie, for crying out loud! What part of that sounds appetizing? You know what is appetizing? This book. Hilarious and heartbreaking and funny funny funny. You know what you hand a kid that gets the dreaded, “Read one work of historical fiction” assignment in school? You hand them this and then sit back to wait for their inevitable gratitude. They may never say thank you to your face, but you’ll be able to rest safe and secure in the knowledge that they loved this book. Or, at the very least, found it enticing and intriguing. 99-100% fantastic.

On shelves now.

Source:

Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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11. Review of Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

himmelman_tales of bunjitsu bunnystar2Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny
by John Himmelman; illus. by the author
Primary   Holt   128 pp.
10/14   978-0-8050-9970-6   $13.99
e-book ed. 978-0-8050-9972-0   $9.49

Young rabbit Isabel is known as Bunjitsu Bunny for her proficiency in martial arts class. Himmelman’s thirteen short, generously illustrated chapters relate Isabel’s adventures as she demonstrates that “bunjitsu is not just about kicking, hitting, and throwing…It is about finding ways NOT to kick, hit, and throw.” Each droll tale contains a lesson — about avoiding fights (with tough jackrabbits), outsmarting bullies (especially fox pirates), dealing with nightmares (of scary monsters), never giving up (when being “bearjitsu”-ed), and more. Cleverly wrapped in an entertaining package, the zen-type morals are edifying but not preachy and serve to genuinely enrich the stories. Solid brush-like strokes in black give the drawings the clean look of block prints, the only added tint a soft red used mainly to set Isabel apart from her classmates, her flame-colored martial-arts uniform aptly matching her zippy personality.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Foundation has a Woman in It!

Well, I soldiered on to the end of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and around page 135 (of 172) a woman appears! She is the young and beautiful wife of a petty tyrant with big aspirations who married her only because her father has money and power in the Empire. She, of course, is an unhappy woman with a sharp tongue, always pestering her husband with how dumb he is and threats of telling her father. She suggests she will leave her husband and he threatens her with violence:

‘Well, now, I’ll tell you what my lady. Perhaps you would enjoy returning to your native world. Except that, to retain as a souvenir that portion of you with which I am best acquainted, I could have your tongue cut out first. And,’ he rolled his head, calculatingly, to one side, ‘as a final improving touch to your beauty, your ears and the tip of your nose as well.’

But don’t worry, it all comes right when he gives her some fancy jewelry like no other that any woman at the big party will have that night. She immediately shuts up and starts admiring herself in the mirror, then goes away happy.

And very late in the book almost at the end, we are told that war with another planet will be avoided in part because the small, nuclear powered household appliances they have been buying from the Foundation for several years will begin running out of power (the appliances all have tiny individual nuclear power generators like a fancy battery). This other world will not go to war with the Foundation because they won’t be able to get any more of the things they have come to rely on. The women will start complaining when their nuclear knives no longer work, when their stoves begin to fail and when their washers stop doing a good job at cleaning.

Oy.

Foundation is made up of a collection of five short stories that appeared between 1942 and 1944 in Astounding Magazine. They were collected together into a book and published in 1951. This became the first book in the Foundation Trilogy which later expanded with prequels and sequels and is now known as the Foundation Series.

The prose is fairly pedestrian and the plots aren’t all that interesting. Even though the stories deal with a series of crises, there isn’t really any threat of failure because, as we are told over and over, it was all already predicted by Hari Seldon, the great psychohistorian and cruncher of numbers. Where’s the tension when predestination is at play?

One of the more interesting things about the stories is how the Foundation, made up of a bunch of scientists, in order to survive and conquer, has turned science into a religion with priests and rituals and all the trappings. The priests and acolytes are trained in science enough to be able to maintain things like power grids and perform minor “miracles” but not know enough to actually “do” science on their own. They pretty much believe the whole religion scenario. The high ranking muckity-mucks are actual scientists who are in on the scam, constantly working to perpetuate it and to spread the Foundation’s dominance across their little corner of the galaxy through it. Domination by science through the vehicle of religion.

My main amusement while reading the book, however, was the invented slang and swearing. How can things like “son-of-a-spacer” and “I don’t care an electron” not arouse a giggle or at least a smirk? And exclamations like “space knows!” and “by space!” pepper conversations and is intended to sound so futuristic and scientific. It was almost worth it just for that. Almost.

Still, though I found it all a giant dud, I am glad to have read it. At least I know what it is about now even if I don’t understand why it’s so popular and considered a classic. Maybe the other books sort it out better but I have no interest in reading them so I guess my understanding will remain incomplete. I’m okay with that.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Isaac Asimov

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13. Cybils Finalist Review: THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! by Jimmy Gownley

Summary: This book has got a great title. Rest assured the premise lives up to the promise. This was one of my personal favorite titles from this year's excellent crop of Cybils graphic novel finalists. The autobiographical story of how the author... Read the rest of this post

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14. Review of Smick!

cronin_smickSmick!
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Juana Medina
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-670-78578-0   $16.99   g

With minimal text, a clever use of sight words and word families, and a bounty of playfulness, Cronin introduces preschoolers (and early readers) to their new best friend: good-natured, tail-wagging, droopy-eared dog Smick. A game of fetch between dog and offstage narrator (“Stick?”) gives way to the discovery of a new friend when Smick is distracted by a “Cluck!” in the distance. Smick, stick, and the newly introduced chick, who is now comfortably situated on Smick’s head, attempt to resume the game, with mixed results (“Slow, Smick, slow!”). All ends in joyful doggy friendship: “Sidekick… / Sidechick. / Side lick! ick.” Digitally rendered art incorporates photo images of a flower petal (transformed into the chick by the addition of a few added black lines for wings, legs, eyes, and beak) and a wooden stick. However, it mostly consists of simple black lines, stark against the expansive white space, that communicate Smick’s constant motion and boundless energy with economy, verve, and apt detail (i.e., one ear lifted in the direction of a new sound). The handful of words per page play with meaning via order and context à la Gravett’s Apple Pear Orange Bear (rev. 7/07), allowing readers to flesh out the story themselves and encouraging independent reading. “Go, Smick, go!” cheers the narrator, in homage to the classic Eastman easy reader. Readers will cheer along.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. Review: dark deeds, secrets and lies lurk beneath the masks of Secret Identities #1

secretidentitiesStory by: Jay Faerber & Brian Joines

Art by: Ilias Kyriazis

Colors by: Charlie Kirchoff

Letters by: Ed Dukeshire

Publisher: Image Comics

Secret Identities #1 wastes no time in establishing it’s universe. On the opening pages we’re thrown into a two page splash of super heroics familiar to even the casual comic reader. A team of eight archetypal heroes, known as the Front Line, converge in battle over downtown Toronto. They include a beautiful and deadly alien woman, a rock-bodied hulk , and a silver-suited man of super-human speed. A portal has been opened over the Canadian city, spewing wave after wave of nasty hell-creatures crashing over our heroes.

But before you can say excelsior, differences that root the team more in the genre of titles like Planetary and The Authority begin to emerge. The being who opened the portal? A failed televangelist turned satanic messiah. The muscle-bound hero Punchline, who swoops in like Superman to save the bacon of the power-girlish teammate Luminary is a woman: her secret identity is a failed, depressed comedian. And Luminary herself? She doesn’t hide her identity as the willful daughter of the President of the United States; creating a political quagmire by refusing to use her team to expand her father’s presidential powers.

Jay Faerber, a veteran of titles like Teen Titans, Generation X and New Warriors splits writing duties with Brian Joines, who previously worked on Faerber’s Noble Causes and spin-off Dynamo 5. Clearly it’s a fruitful pairing; the story crackles along at breakneck speed, peeling back the heroic images to reveal the strange secret identities beneath. There’s a palpable, intriguing darkness hiding behind the familiar costumes and super-team set-up. Do the heroes really know each other, or even themselves? There’s tension, twists, intrigue: what more could you ask from a debut issue? How about beautiful art from Ilias Kyriazis that manages to be fresh and dynamic, while also honoring the look and feel of the mainstream super hero tropes that form the story engine of Secret Identities. Kyriazis crams a lot of action and detail into his panels, but they never look overstuffed or confused. As the issue draws to a close, the team is ensconced at HQ: the mutilated body of a giant cyborg whose defeat marked the first victory for Front Line. If issue two continues or improves on the formula set out in issue one, Secret Identities could prove a sleeper hit for Image.

 

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16. Review of the Day: Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider

Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred)
By Josh Schneider
Clarion Books (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
ISBN: 978-0544339248
Ages 4-6
On shelves April 7, 2015

When attempting to turn small writhing human beings of very little years into mature, forthright, sterling individuals of singular merit and good humor we run into some challenges. There’s teaching them to eat their dinner (even the vegetables). There’s endowing them with an appreciation of tooth brushing. And then there’s the trickiest one of all: bedtime. That moment every day is when the battle of wills must begin. Now for some kids bedtime is merely a nightly inconvenience. For others, a call to arms. It is where our children pull out all the stops and use every last bit of intelligence and cunning at their disposal in the hopes of avoiding the unavoidable. Many is the picture book that has tried to bring that struggle to life on the page. Most catalog avoidance techniques. That is understandable. Like I say, creativity flows like a gushing torrent when kids are trying to get out of sleepytime. But one, a certain Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred), goes a different route entirely. In this book Fred isn’t just avoiding bedtime. He’s making it nigh well impossible for anyone else to get any shut-eye either. Funny? You don’t know the half of it.

In this book Schneider takes the usual bedtime avoidance metaphors and then proceeds to crank them up to eleven. It’s bedtime. A time when all the animals are getting some well-deserved rest. There are the sheep counting themselves down. There are the monkeys, dreaming of some fine ballet antics. There are the monsters, brushing their teeth before they go down. And then, there is Fred. A Fred, who is not taking any of this lying down. He has a list of things to get done and by golly he’s going to do them. He might be playing loud instruments on the one hand or searching for Bigfoot on the other. Whatever it is he does, he does it loudly and all the animals are having a heckuva time getting some slee . . . wait! What’s this? It looks like Fred is sleeping at last. What a relief! But close the book quietly or he might begin his antics all over again.

So I’m just sitting here waiting for Josh Schneider to do something wrong. Any minute now. Any minute. Surely it’s just a matter of time before he pens a dud, right? Because as of right now in the year 2015 he’s just been hitting it out of the park over and over again. Tales for Very Picky Eaters won itself a Geisel Award. The Meanest Birthday Girl is the best white elephant tale you’ll ever pick up. And Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover has to be the best Frankenstein meets pretty pretty princess fare you’ll run ever run across. So even though the cover of this book made me laugh out loud on sight (the giraffe takes up two floors!!!) I tried to read Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) with an open mind. Schneider was going to have to earn my love with this one. Yeah, he pretty much does that from page one onwards.

Part of this has a lot to do with Schneider’s love of detail. His is not a changeable illustration style. Once again he employs the same thin black lines. The same L’il Orphan Annie’s pupil-less eyes. But here he’s been given a bit more leeway with the art. I don’t know that I ever felt he was holding himself back before, but if this book is any indication then yes. Yes he has. This is a book that rewards the parent called upon to read and reread certain sections multiple times. Some examples: Turn now to the page where the sheep are getting sleepy. Did you notice that there’s a tally on the wall and that next to one of the tally marks they’ve written a sheep’s name with a question mark? Clearly they’re good at keeping track. And did you notice that the animals that move from page to page are actually Fred’s stuffed animals seen at the beginning and end of the book? This only becomes perfectly clear when you get to the end and the woebegotten sheep Fred has fallen asleep upon turns into a stuffed animal with a mere page turn. Then you have to spend an inordinate amount of time flipping back through the book to figure out where each stuffed animal plays into the narrative.

Is it repetitive of me to mention that it’s funny to boot? Let us not downplay the role of humor in a title. If Schneider was truly told by his editor to go all out and do whatever he liked (which, regardless of whether or not that happened, is the overall impression anyway) you could not get a better mixture of child and adult humor. Some books tip too far in one direction or another. This book walks the fine line. So you’ll have monkeys performing ballet on the one hand (note that to accommodate their feet, Schneider has given their shoes a little extra hole for the superfluous thumb toe) and then you’ll have the text of the world’s most boring bedtime book on the other. At one point in the story we are told that a group of children has been bored into snores by the reading of a particularly draining bunny book. We even get a glimpse of the text and to my mind it is worth the price of the book right there. I won’t ruin it for you. Just know that “foreign monies” does in fact rhyme with “bunnies” and that this may be the first time the term “bunny bender” has ever appeared in any kind of a context in a children’s book.

All this is well and good, but let’s examine the really important part: how does the book read aloud? You see I have a three-year-old residing in my home right now and if a book doesn’t pass the readaloud test then this particular kiddo is not going to care two bits about Fred, sleeping or otherwise. Happily, it reads beautifully. I was able to have particular fun with the “but not Fred” part of each sequence. You just drop a long pause in there. Not so long it loses your audience, but long enough to build anticipation. Then you lean towards the kid and say sotto vox, “… but not Fred.” Gets ‘em every time, guaranteed.

Is it a book that will actually put a kid to sleep? Not in the traditional sense. I mean, you want soporific fare you may as well stick to Goodnight Moon. There is, however, the possibility that Fred’s antics will be so wild and wackadoodle that they’ll exhaust your own child by mere association. And, of course, he’ll amuse them deeply. He and his dead tired animal/monster companions. There are books about avoiding going to bed and then there’s Fred. A book with a spring in its step, a song in its heart, and what appears to be Jolt Cola swimming through its veins. Sleepers awake!

On shelves April 7th.

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17. On Immunity

Between the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland a few weeks ago and it recently being entered into my medical records that I am moderately allergic to the tetanus vaccine (fever, body aches, fatigue and injection site pain far above and beyond a mere sore arm), I was primed to On Immunity by Eula Biss. I fully believe in the importance of vaccinations and have a hard time understanding the whole anti-vaccination movement. I mean, small pox no longer exists because of vaccination and polio is nonexistent in the United States and very close to being wiped out in the rest of the world. Yes, there is always a small risk — allergy, severe illness, death — but the risk is so small in comparison to the benefit that it seems more than worth it. Yet, so many are eager to believe that the measles vaccine causes autism (it doesn’t), or that the government and/or pharmaceutical companies are purposely poisoning children (they aren’t), or any other number of strange reasons having to do with government control, conspiracies, science experiments and invasion of privacy.

Biss is pro-vaccination. She is well-educated and her father is a doctor. Yet, when she became a mother even she had qualms about vaccinating her son. It is through this lens that she examines the fears and beliefs of those who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Along the way we get a cultural and scientific history of vaccination.

We fear a good many things these days and if you have children, the fear is intensified because it is your job to keep them safe. What do you do when you hear about all the chemicals in food and BPA in plastics? Or toxins in the air and water? It is hard to enough to protect a child from the threats you can see, how can you keep them safe from the ones you can’t see, and worse, don’t even know about? We hear that a particular vaccine might have mercury in it used as a preservative. We know mercury is poisonous, therefore the vaccine is poisonous too. We blow the tiny risk factors far out of proportion because here is something we can do to protect our children.

The thing is, the human body is already “contaminated.” We are porous creatures and our defenses from outside organisms were breached long ago. We have pieces of virus DNA in our genes. And here is a fascinating bit of information:

The cells that form the outer layer of the placenta for a human fetus bind to each other using a gene that originated, long ago, from a virus. Though many viruses could not reproduce without us, we ourselves could not reproduce without what we have taken from them.

Some might wonder then what the big deal about not vaccinating is if viruses are so important to our very being. Besides being useful in some circumstances, viruses also kill and disable and it is those viruses we vaccinate against.

Those who do not vaccinate rely on the protection of all the people who do. You can only have children who are not vaccinated against measles never get the disease because the child is surrounded by people who have been vaccinated. Biss points out over and over that we think vaccination is an individual choice that has no effects on anyone else, but we are wrong. Because in order for vaccinations to be most effective, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. Immunity to disease is a communal undertaking.

Here I have to admit that in spite of believing whole-heartedly in vaccines, I have never gotten a flu vaccination. My reasoning has always been that I don’t get the flu. And truly, it has been so long since I have had the flu I can’t remember when it was — fifteen years at least. But Bookman dutifully gets a flu shot every year. He has to because he has multiple sclerosis and therefore his immune system is compromised. Now after reading Biss’s argument about vaccination being a communal thing I realize that perhaps one reason I have not gotten the flu is because nearly everyone I know gets a flu shot. In addition, it is possible for me to get the flu and then give it to someone who, for whatever reason, could not be vaccinated and then they could get really sick or possibly die. Because people do die from the flu. Did I ever get a big dose of guilt realizing that. So now next year when the email goes out at the University where I work that free flu shots are being given, I will go an roll up my sleeve.

It was easy to get me to change my mind about flu vaccination, but what about all those people who refuse more important vaccinations for their children? Studies show that forcing science down the throats of anti-vaxxers does no good whatsoever. Biss is unable to offer any suggestions other than insisting on the communal nature of vaccination. It worked for me but it won’t work for all those parents who still believe vaccines cause autism or that the HPV vaccine will make girls more likely to have sex. Clearly for those parents there are many factors that need to be addressed. It is a complex issue and sadly, government is not very good at solving those sorts of things.

On Immunity is a well-written, non-judgmental look at the issues in the vaccination debates. It could not have been more timely if it tried. If you’d like a little insight into the anti-vaccination movement, then I highly recommend this book.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science

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18. Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill

Summary: In a recent NPR interview, Joel Christian Gill said, "These stories are quintessentially American stories. I can't say that enough. It's not that I dislike Black History Month. I just don't think Black History Month is enough." I agree... Read the rest of this post

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19. Review: Did Spider-Verse End Amazing?

Amazing Spider-Man #14

background

 

Story: Dan Slott

Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Oliver Coipel

Color: Justin Ponsor

Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

Publisher: Marvel 

 

Spider-Verse’s final chapter has finally arrived. On the whole, the event proved to be one of Marvel’s better endeavors in recent years. In a lot of ways it did for the Spider portion of the Marvel U what Sinestro Corps War did for Green Lantern. Both revealed an extensive importance of the character to their respective publishers that can sometimes be lost in the shadow of more publicized line-wide events. The premise, build up, and start of the arc were engaging and captivating which makes its ending in Amazing Spider-Man #14 feel a bit flat, but not in the way you might think.

Amazing Spider-Man #14 is all about the final battle between the Spider Totems of multiple realities and the vampire like Inheritors. The spiders converge on Loom World in an attempt to stop the blood ritual before it puts an end to every Spidey that was or will ever be. Writer, Dan Slott doesn’t skimp on the action or one-liners in this finale. You’ll even see a gif making moment with Spider-Gwen that makes the wait for her own series feel that much longer. So much of the prime cuts of the event have centered around the dynamics between this eclectic group — Miles and the Web Warriors, Gwen and Silk, and even Peter and Otto —  yet in the finale it gets over shadowed by the spectacle.

The issue is haunted by the feeling of exclusion. Should you not have read any of the tie-in books, you’ll likely be missing a lot of context for the return of Karn the Inheritor and some of the reasons not all the Spiders you saw in early chapters are nowhere to be found here. While it’s easy to forgive and accept spiders disappearing, the twist of Karn turning on his family should have been handled in the series proper.  Now that the event is over and Spider-Man is firmly on the road to Secret Wars, issue 15 could be the epilogue that gives us the character moments between all of the Spideys that didn’t get enough breathing room here.

Despite its faults, the issue really drives home the nature of what it means to be Spider-Man… Woman… Gwen… Pig, etc. Slott builds the tension to the moment of victory and manages to unite them all under the trait that separates Peter from the rest of the Marvel U, mercy. His solution to ending the conflict is well thought out and very in-tune to the nature of Spider-Man. He’s not a murderer and while that would have been an obvious way to go it’s a bit more satisfying keeping that part of Peter Parker intact.

Another thing the book does well, that others most times fail at, is sharing the art duties in a single story of an issue. Giuseppe Camuncoli is joined by the returning Oliver Coipel. While their styles aren’t remotely similar, the book manages to find an even flow that doesn’t halt or hinder the reader. Final battle chapters of stories are supposed to be visually big and this one does not disappoint one bit on the art front.

Ultimately, Spider-Verse couldn’t avoid the recent Marvel event syndrome of starting strong and finishing on a low. It had all the ingredients to end with more moments than it did, but instead steamrolled through the material and past character developments. The necessary finale gravitas is there, but anyone who isn’t Peter Parker doesn’t get an ending worth all the months of developing these awesome new spiders. If you’ve come this far there’s no reason to skip ASM #14. Those who want to come on board just for the ending, wait for the collected edition and enjoy Spider-Verse the right way.


Follow Dave on twitter where he tells you about the time he walked through a spider web at night and it scared him for life.

 

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20. Dan Santat & Neil Gaiman Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Beekle CoverWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending February 08, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #3 in Hardcover Fiction) Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman: “In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well ‘Black Dog,’ a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.” (February 2015)

(Debuted at #6 in Children’s Illustrated) The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat: “This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle.” (April 2014)

(Debuted at #7 in Children’s Interest) El Deafo by Cece Bell: “Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers!” (September 2014)

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21. Review: Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 packs a punch

Screen shot 2015-02-14 at 5.14.20 PMWriter: Jeremy Whitley

Artists: Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt

Publisher: Action Lab

This installment in the ongoing Princeless series is everything you could want from a title like Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1. A tough and self-assured lead, whose Father trained her from childhood to be a quiet, efficient warrior of the high-seas as opposed to a princess waiting in a tower for rescue. Yet in the latter situation is exactly where Raven Xingtao, the pirate princess, finds herself in the opening pages of the book. Yet it’s two other princesses on a large pink dragon that end up breaking into Raven’s tower. Adrienne is clearly not “wearing her husbands armor” as a Knight loitering beneath the tower discovers to his peril, and Bedelia formidably wields a large Harley-Quinn style mallet. Raven easily falls in with the trio leading to several action packed scenes.

Admittedly, this is was my first brush with the Princeless series, but the story was easy enough to follow. I would have liked to learn just a little bit more about Raven and her brothers before the issue ended, though. We’re fed some tantalizing bits–such as the fact that her brothers put her in the very tower she escaped from, apparently with the blessing of Raven’s Pirate King father. This is quite a reversal from the flashback scene that opened the issue, which found the King grooming a young Raven to follow in her great-grandmother Ming’s fierce, legendary pirate-of-the-Rim-Sea footsteps.

Rosy Higgins Ted Brandt are a lovely art team on this book, giving the story and action the look and feel of an animated series that would have fit right into the Disney’s afternoon programming block. Sadly, in those days princesses did not get to save themselves. Writer Jeremy Whitley seems more than aware of this fact, and the whole package makes Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 incredibly appealing to anyone who wants a little less damsel-in-distress and a little more Kick-Ass in their fairy tales.

 

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22. Cybils 2014 Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell

Summary: Before writing up this post, I honestly didn't realize that El Deafo by Cece Bell had won the 2015 Newbery Award. Well, now it's also won a Cybils Award for 2014, in the Elementary and Middle Grade Graphic Novels category! And I'm thrilled... Read the rest of this post

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23. Advance Review: Frankenstein Underground Expands The Hellboy UNiverse Once Again

art by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart

art by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart

Story by: Mike Mignola
Art by: Ben Stenbeck
Colours by: Dave Stewart
Letters by: Clem Robins

Somewhere, right now, a comment section is beset by the grinning avatar of a nerd on a mission. “Um, actually,” the comment reads, metaphorical lips twisted into a knowing smirk, “This series should be called Frankenstein’s Monster Underground.”

They do this because they must. This is all they have, the poor dears. Let them have it. Let’s talk about a comic about a dude called Frankenstein who fought Hellboy in a lucha match that one time long ago.

The story begins somewhere in the middle with Frankenstein arriving at a temple in Mexico having been shot. As Mignola launches into the meat of the plot, he gives the character context and motivation with a sense of effortlessness. Through out the years, Mignola has done exemplary work taking areas of interest and blending them into a big tapestry, filling out corners of a world along a visible timeline with methodical ease. Clearly, he is trying to make us all look bad and is succeeding at every turn. The story reads clean whether you’ve immersed yourself in the finer points of the Hellboy universe, or if you’re approaching the concept free from back story. Exposition flows into the mechanics of the story without pulling you out of the flow and making you wait for the plot to continue. When the ending arrives, you’re sold on the emotion of the moment from what’s occurred within the confines of the story as printed, which is no small feat.

Art for this tale is provided by Ben Stenbeck – one of Mignola’s collaborators on the Baltimore series of comics – and the ever-vital colours of Dave Stewart. The pair work scenes beautifully with Stenbeck working from the Mignola play book, drenching scenes in shadow with impeccable stage dressing and camera motion. Stewart embellishes this with colour that denotes time and place as the story demands. While Stenbeck sets the stage, Stewart draws out the inky darkness and gives it life.

Clem Robins does an exemplary job of lettering. He’s either doing it by hand, or doing a fantastic job of building variation into digital lettering. Either way, there’s a seamlessness to his craft in this book, which calls upon him to change style for the volume of a voice, or the sound of an action. Working together, the creative team builds pages that flow, breaking wide and drawing in close as the story demands. The craft is undeniable and the read entertains. If the elements sound like they might be your cup of tea, then by all means, give the book a try when it arrives in shops.

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24. Review: Agent Carter explodes with action and sacrifice

AgentCartersnafuAs I was drying my tears following the dramatic conclusion of this week’s episode of Agent Carter, ‘Snafu’, all I could think about was that I wanted more. More Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, whose range and presence eats up every frame of this small-screen show that plays like a big-screen adventure. More of the fabulous, smart dialogue and fantastic supporting cast; more of the beautiful costumes and period lighting — just more! More than just next week’s season finale. If you haven’t been watching Agent Carter yet, in the name of good comic-based television I implore you: read the recaps at ABC.com, binge watch episodes 3-7 and set your DVR to ABC next Tuesday at 9pm/8c.

When we last left Agent Carter she was handcuffed to a desk at SSR, on the receiving end of what was sure to be an impassioned interrogation at the hands of Agent Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). So it was a surprise when ‘Snafu’ opened instead on the show’s second flashback to Russia. While the last flashback showed us a young Dottie (Bridget Regan) snapping necks in 1937, this one takes place in 1943 and concerns the whereabouts of that other Russian mole: Dr. Ivchenko (Ralph Brown). It seems during WWII, Ivchenko was already in full command of the Professor X-like mind control powers he used to push Agent Yauch to commit suicide in last week’s episode. Here he uses them as mental anesthesia on wounded soldier undergoing an amputation.It’s an odd bit of exposition that serves only to define the mechanism of Ivchenko’s powers, which are pretty clearly articulated in later scenes.

Thankfully, the episode quickly plugs us back into the Carter vs. the SSR interrogation scene we’ve all been waiting for and it does not disappoint. Agent Sousa seeks to pin nearly all of the SSR’s unsolved mysteries on Carter’s double-agent machinations: the Raymond/Brannis/Krzeminski murders, theft of the Nitramene bombs and connection to Stark’s weapons cache.

Chief Dooley (Shea Wigham) looks on from behind a one-way mirror with Ivchenko by his side, pulling Dooley’s strings with every twist of his gold hypno-ring. Agent Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) comments on Dooley’s “unorthodox” choice to allow the Doctor to view the proceedings; thank goodness someone is looking on with a critical eye. Sousa, blinded by his heartbreak over Carter’s perceived betrayal, lays into Carter in the most brutal way possible: crediting her defection from SSR to Howard Stark’s ability to “get in deep” with her.

Incredibly, the temperature is turned up still higher on the proceedings as the interrogation drags on. There’s some smart direction in cross-cutting the scenes of Sousa, Thompson and Dooley all taking their turns grilling Carter. It builds the tension so that when Carter unleashes her thus-far concealed opinions on their opinions of her it feels like a revelation. Rather than take umbrage at being seen as a “stray kitten” left at Dooley’s doorstep, a “secretary turned damsel-in-distress” to Thompson or Sousa’s “girl on a pedestal transformed into some daft whore,” Carter remains calm and stands firm. “You’re behaving like children,” she tells them, “what’s worse, what’s far worse, is that this is just shoddy police work!”

And this is the appeal of Agent Carter in a nutshell: using the rampant sexism of the 1940s as a cloak of invisibility for women who serve as double agents on both sides of the emerging Cold War conflict. This being a Captain America spin-off, Agent Carter is clearly the white hat: empowered by the integration of women into the war effort, now struggling to maintain her position. Dottie shows us the other side of the same coin: empowered by integration as a child into a super-spy program, she relishes in her amoral, powerful position post-war.

Jarvis (James D’Arcy) arrives with a half-baked plan to spring Carter from her interrogation with a faked Stark-confession, but only succeeds in throwing suspicion off of Carter long enough to buy them some time to try and figure out Leviathan’s endgame. Ivchenko continues his campaign of brainwashing the Chief. By acting as a mental marriage counselor to Dooley, whose marriage seems to have suffered from to his devotion to SSR, he hopes to gain his trust — and access to Stark’s weapons store. Carter soon realizes the only way out is through, and finally divulges the truth of her double-life to the SSR team. Sousa and Thompson both believe her confession, and that’s enough for Dooley to send the boys off on Dottie’s trail.

What follows is one of the best action sequences to date. Dottie smiles as each SSR Agent underestimates her: hesitating to attack as she disarms or kills them, one after the other. Her prowess leaves even Sousa speechless: as she escapes he watches her execute a controlled fall through the center of a ten-story staircase as effortlessly as if it were a jungle-gym. Meanwhile, Dooley clears the SSR lab of it’s staff with Ivchenko by his side, shopping for Stark technology. Ivchenko makes off with “Item 17″ in just in time for Dottie to appear driving the getaway car. But before they can truly get away, says Ivchenko, they must test item 17 to ensure it “still works.”

Unfortunately, before he left, the bad doctor talked the Chief into strapping on a glowing prototype vest of Stark design. Jarvis, apparently the wikipedia of bad baby technologies, explains it was intended as a heat source for troops in cold conditions. Like nearly all of the Stark bad babies, though, there’s a dangerous flaw: the self-sustaining battery invariably overheats when activated, eventually becoming an explosive device. Warning the team that Ivchenko got inside his head, the vest nears it’s boiling point and Dooley says goodbye to SSR. Wigham, Murray and Atwell play the scene for all it’s worth: wringing every bit of heartbreak from Dooley’s parting lines to both Thompson; “Tell my wife I’m sorry I missed dinner” and Carter: “Promise me you’ll get the son of a bitch that did this!” It’s a nice touch that he leaves the avenging in the hands of Carter, who knows a thing or two about Avengers. Dooley spares Carter a parting: “atta-girl!” before bravely taking a swan-dive through the office windows just in time, exploding in mid-air.

The remaining SSR team mourns the loss of Dooley before discovering that Ivchenko stole item 17 — one of the few bad babies Jarvis can’t identify. Dottie, however, knows exactly what item 17 can do as she wheels it into a movie theater concealed in a baby carriage. A twist of the knob and the device begins to emit gas. She abandons the carriage and locks the theater doors behind her as the gas begins to take effect on the unsuspecting theatergoers. They cough, then get angry and begin to fighting each other like wild animals. They scream and tear at each other, sparing no one and leaving behind a pile of bloody corpses. It seems we finally have our answer to the mystery of Finow! Ernst Mueller (Jack Conley) may have been a creepy Nazi but he wasn’t lying when he claimed the Russian soldiers had “already been torn apart” before he and his soldiers arrived on the scene. Whatever item 17 contains, it made those unlucky Russians and movie patrons tear each other apart.

More favorite moments (there were so many!):

  • I won’t pat myself on the back too hard that my earlier suspicions of the Doctor proved correct; he was so shady I rewound episode 5 to make sure I hadn’t missed him hypnotizing Carter into bringing him back to the US.
  • Funny that the episode opened on Ivchenko playing mental chess with a wounded soldier; wonder how he’d fair against Magneto
  • “Howard Stark has never scrambled my mind or any other part of me!” Oh Peggy, you slay me!
  • Bravo to Bridget Regan, who can even make buying a baby carriage effectively sinister
  • All the switchboard ladies of the SSR telephone center giving a collective “ooh” at Jarvis’ claim to have a signed confession from Stark
  • Hayley Atwell breaking my heart with: “just wanted a second chance at keeping him safe.”
  • The moral of the story is: always look for street parking!

1 Comments on Review: Agent Carter explodes with action and sacrifice, last added: 2/20/2015
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25. Review: THE MULTIVERSITY MASTERMEN #1 “Coming to Germerica”

The Multiversity: Mastermen #1

The Multiversity - Mastermen (2014-) 001-000

 

Story : Grant Morrison

Art: Jim Lee

Inks: Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion

Color: Alex Sinclair

Publisher: DC Comics

 

 

Multiversity has been one elaborate Grant Morrison wet dream. We’ve seen the most abstract of ideas become solid concepts under the writer’s architecture of strange Earths. In Mastermen, he doesn’t just bring us an Earth where Superman’s rocket landed in Nazi Germany; he brings Jim Lee along to make the series best incomplete story yet.

The Earth as we know it is vastly different. On Earth-10 our Clark Kent never existed; instead the baby from Krypton became the right hand of the Furor, a Nazi ultimate weapon known as Overman. Even the Justice League is made up of Axis variants of DC’s mightiest heroes. Though when you read it, Leatherwing doesn’t stray far from the tactics of the Batman we know. Telling the rewritten history of Earth in one issue is a monumental task. One that Morrison takes strategic liberties with and it doesn’t always pay off. In fact without spoiling the story details, the sequence of events goes: rocket landing in Germany, skip ahead 17 years, Overman and the Nazis conquer America, skip ahead 60 years and to the formation of the Freedom Fighters as they begin the liberation of Germerica. Key events in Overman’s upbringing and the war are left out. Though they never feel vital, it certainly would have been an interesting part of the overall story.

Jim Lee brings action packed fury he’s become iconic for. The entire spectacle missing from his WildC.A.T.s collaboration with Morrison is here and it’s just gorgeous. Using four inkers on the book doesn’t turn out to be the hindrance it could have been. You’ll notice differences in the style from page to page, but never so much that it takes you out of the narrative. We’ve seen Jim Lee draw Superman and the rest of the Justice League a ton of times over the last few years, but he manages to make the redesigns in Mastermen feel like it’s Batman #608 all over again.

Mastermen is a sprint through erupting volcanoes in the middle of a gunfight with doves flying everywhere. You’ll never quite catch a break until you’re slammed into the brick wall ending. If the book’s mission was to sell Earth-10 as an interesting world you’d want to know more about then it’s a win. If the aim was to tell a complete story… then it’s missing a few pages. Ultimately it’s Jim Lee and Jim Lee books are like pizza. Even when you had your heart set on something else, pizza never sounds like a bad choice.

Also what’s up with Batman not skipping leg day here:

The Multiversity - Mastermen (2014-) 001-013

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

In the multiverse there’s an Earth where celebrities leak nude photos of you on twitter and we’re all still on dial-up internet because AOL enslaved us with that horrible modem noise.

1 Comments on Review: THE MULTIVERSITY MASTERMEN #1 “Coming to Germerica”, last added: 2/19/2015
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