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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,775
26. Cybils Finalist Review: HIDDEN: A CHILD'S STORY OF THE HOLOCAUST

Summary: Told through the eyes of a grandmother recalling her childhood during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this story takes the wrenching events of the Holocaust and shows how important it is to remember our history and set it free so that the... Read the rest of this post

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27. Review of the Day: Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
By Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez
TOON Graphics (and imprint of RAW, Jr.)
$16.95
ISBN: 978-1935179818
Ages 8-12
On shelves April 14, 2015

While I’m aware that public transport was invented to meet the very real needs of urban commuters, when you’re the parent of a city child you can be forgiven for taking an entirely different view of things. Simply put: subways were created for the sole purpose of amusing children. How else to explain the fun maps, bright colors, and awe-inspiring bits of machinery? We already knew that kids loved trains. Now put those trains underground. That’s just awesomeness redoubled. Here in New York City a certain level of excitement about subway trains is almost required of our kids. Yet when it comes to books about the subway system, it’s often disappointing. Either it’s too young, too old, or like Count on the Subway by Paul DuBois Jacobs it gives the subway lines the wrong colors. Sure Subway by Christoph Niemann is the gold standard, but what can you offer older metro fans? Lost in NYC by Nadja Spiegelman hits that sweet spot for the 6-10 year old crowd. Visually stunning (to say nothing of its accuracy) with abundant factual information wriggled into every available crevice, you don’t have to be a New Yorker to enjoy this book (though, boy, does it sure help).

When you have a father that moves your family all over the country, it can be easy to disconnect from the places you briefly live. So when Pablo enters Mr. Bartle’s class on the first day of his new school, he rebuffs cheery Alicia’s attempts at friendship. On this particular day the class is taking a field trip to the Empire State Building. Pablo learns about the subway system that will take the class there alongside everyone else, but when he and Alicia are inspecting a map on the subway he’s briefly confused and takes her with him onto the express 2 train and not the local 1. Now separated from their class, the two kids start to fight and next thing you know they have to find their way back to their classmates entirely on their own. Backmatter and a Bibliography of other subway resources appear at the end.

I’m an adult so after reading this story several times you know whom I feel most sorry for? The teacher, Mr. Bartle. Here the man is, taking his class on a routine subway trip, and along the way he loses two of them at the very first stop. A common New Yorker nightmare is the idea that you might lose your child on the subway. Yet in Spiegelman and Sánchez’s hands it’s a nightmare turned into an adventure. It’s the same reason From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler continues to be read. For children, the thought of being independent in a city as vast as NYC is as enticing as it is horrific. Spiegelman does give Pablo a native guide for the first part of his journey, but pretty soon they two are separated and he has to make his way on his own to his group. This is by no means an interactive book, but I had to withhold a scream when Pablo jumped the 7 train at 42nd Street. He’s lucky he asked for traveling advice as early as he did, else he would have ended up in far distant Queens relatively quickly.

Spiegelman’s writing holds up for the most part. It’s a slim story, clocking in at a mere 52 pages which is only slightly more than your average picture book. Some of that is rounded out with the backmatter too. Filled with history and brimming with photographs, engravings, and other stunning images, Spiegelman outdoes herself with the information found there. For certain subway buffs, the info included (with sections like “Why Are There No H, I, K, O, P, T, U, V, W, X, or Y Trains?”) will be particularly pleasing. However, when we look at the story in this book by itself, it does come to a rather abrupt halt. Pablo spends the greater part of the story declaring that he doesn’t need friends. He parts from Alicia on angry terms, yet when the two are reunited they act like the best buddies in the world. I wasn’t quite sure where the switchover on this relationship occurred. Otherwise, everything seems pretty certain and consistent.

Not all subway books are created equal. I remember years ago encountering a NY subway picture book where a normally elevated stop was pictured in the book as underground. Certainly the cover of this book gave me hope. It seemed to be acknowledging from the get-go that the 1 and 2 trains both stop at 96th, 72nd, and 42nd Street (we will ignore the peculiar inclusion of a “33” since we can assume artist Sergio Garcia Sánchez meant 34th Street). As it happens, Mr. Sánchez is a resident not of one of the five boroughs but of Spain. You wouldn’t know it. The New York found within these pages feels so real and so contemporary that I have difficulty understanding that I’m not going to run into the man on the street when I leave for work tomorrow morning. Artists could learn a thing or two from his attention to detail. From the color of the painted columns to the diversity of the city streets, this is indeed the New York I know and love.

The design of Lost in NYC is also a delight to the eyes. Good graphic novels for children are rare beasties. Half the time you’re left wondering if the editors or artists ever took the time to look outside the standard panel format. If Mr. Sánchez feels inclined to use panels in this book, you can bet it’s a strategic decision. The very first page is almost entirely open, only settling into panels when the kids are approaching the rigid format of a school setting. As the teacher, Mr. Bartle, begins to introduce subway history, we see the characters on a massive topographic map. It’s a visual approximation of the cut-and-cover technique used to create subways in a city chock full of hardened bedrock. Once the kids go underground the panels shift to full two-page spreads, and lots of individual vertical panels like the cars on a subway train. When called upon to render the city blocks in such a way where you can see the characters all converge on the Empire State Building from different directions, the artist either shrinks the buildings and blows up the characters, or he overlaps a subway map onto a street map and you can see the kids meet up that way. Then there are the perspective shifts. The view up into the Empire State Building, a wall or two cut away so that you can get a visual sense of some of the seventy-three elevators in the building, is dizzying. I can say with certainty that even if a child were incapable of reading English (or Spanish, since this book is being simultaneously translated) they would still be able to be moved and stirred by this story.

He’s also filled the book with inside jokes. I was so pleased that I took time to read the “Behind the Scenes: Sergio and the Cop” section at the back of the book. In it, Sergio describes a time he visited NYC and was photographing all the details at the 96th Street subway stop when a cop started paying a little too much attention to him. As a result, if you look in the book you can find Sergio and the cop on “virtually every spread.” Once you see it, it cannot be unseen. It also creates a kind of touching secondary story as the two go from antagonists to, finally, taking a selfie together.

Accuracy in illustration, even (or should I say especially?) in fictional stories, is imperative. You have to make the reader inhabit the setting presented, and the best way to accomplish this is through rigorous research and skill. Mr. Sánchez has both and by pairing with Nadja Spiegelman he may well earn himself an Honorary New Yorker decree. Though filled to its gills with accurate Manhattan details, you don’t have to live anywhere in the five boroughs to recognize the fear that comes with having to navigate an unfamiliar public transit system. Particularly if you’re just a kid. An adventure tale wrapped around a nonfiction core of subways subways subways. What’s not to love?

On shelves April 14th.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: Kirkus

Interview: Comic Book Resources spoke with Nadja Spiegelman and she reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the book.

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28. Ancillary Sword

I loved Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie so much I was a little worried that I might be disappointed by Ancillary Sword. I began reading, holding back just a little, expecting disappointment and not wanting to invest too much but before I knew it I was in deep and happy as a clam. When I turned the last page I didn’t want it to be done. More please! There will be more. In October Ancillary Mercy will be published. I fear that will be the conclusion to the story and I will be bereft.

Ancillary Sword picks up right where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq, who is an ancillary and used to be a ship called Justice of Toren, has been given the command of Mercy of Kalr. She was given the command by the Lord of the Radch herself. Mercy of Kalr no longer has an ancillary crew, though the previous ship’s captain required all her crew to behave as if they were ancillaries. An ancillary is basically a human who has been implanted with all kinds of equipment and forced to become part of the ship’s AI. The ancillaries are soldiers but also the eyes and ears and mobile bodies controlled by the ship.

Breq in the singular is rather lonely. She could become an ancillary of Mercy of Kalr but she would then no longer be Breq. Because Breq used to be an ancillary she can communicate with Mercy of Kalr in a very different way than a human captain would be able to. All of the humans on the ships have implants that gives the ship access to their eyes and ears as well as their body’s functioning (heart rate, blood pressure, etc). The job of the ship AI is to take care of her humans. Because Breq is an ancillary, the ship can actually show her what the crew is doing through their eyes and ears. It is a small comfort to the lonely Breq.

Mercy of Kalr is sent to guard Athoek Station. On this station is the sister of the lieutenant Breq loved when she was Justice of Toren. So there is an interesting plotline there. We also have Lieutenant Tisarwat who is brand new and only seventeen, assigned to the ship by the Lord of the Radch. But Breq figures out pretty fast the Tisarwat is actually an ancillary of the Lord of the Radch and the ancillary bits are not working out so well in that body. There is also another ship, Sword of Atagaris which does still have ancillaries. The Radch empire is falling apart and there is a question about whose side Sword of Atagaris and her captain is on.

Toss into all this the continuing questions of identity that began in the first book. But add in another question — what is justice and what does it mean?

‘What is justice Citizen? […] We speak of it as though it is a simple thing, a matter of acting properly, as though it’s nothing more than an afternoon tea and the question only of who takes the last pastry. So simple. Assign guilt to the guilty.

Of course it is never simple and perfect justice can never be truly dispensed.

The writing is great. The pacing excellent. Since Breq can see and hear through the eyes of her crew (they have no idea she can do this) the perspective is constantly changing but is never confusing. It works really well for keeping all the balls in the air and all of the plotlines moving ahead together at the same time, there is no “meanwhile back at the ranch” kind of thing. Leckie does a good job of giving depth to even minor characters. And it’s just an all around great romping story. Ancillary Justice won a Hugo and a Nebula. Ancillary Sword is currently up for a Nebula. I can hardly wait for Ancillary Mercy!


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch Series

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29. Review: ALL-NEW HAWKEYE…Ready…Aim…Run

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1

All-New Hawkeye (2015-) 001-000

 

Storytellers: Jeff Lemire, Ramon Perez

Colors: Ian Herring, Ramon Perez

Letters: Joe Sabino

Publisher: Marvel

 

 

Jeff Lemire’s works have been very hit or miss for me. Sweet Tooth is a book that I still adore. His work on Green Arrow was solid, but his Constantine issues felt rushed or cut short. When Marvel announced that he would launch a new volume of Hawkeye with artist Ramon Perez, it definitely got me curious about All-New Hawkeye #1.

My immediate thought after finishing the opening chapter is that there isn’t much to go on in the first issue. The story recalls events from Clint Barton and his brother Barney’s childhood as on-the-run orphans. These events are interwoven with Clint and Kate Bishop currently invading a hidden Hydra fortress in search of the evil organization’s latest ultimate weapon. While the opening chapter definitely doesn’t lack substance, it does however leave a lot to the imagination as far as where the story is going in this arc.

There are two groups of people this book is for; fans of Lemire/Perez, and fans of anyone ever using the Hawkeye name. Just like the previous volume, while the book is called Hawkeye, it could have just as easily been called Hawkeyes, and that should tell you the value readers get in the book. If for some reason you missed the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye, don’t worry Lemire’s story is quite fresh and welcoming to new readers. Because of the book’s subtlety and elegance, All-New Hawkeye might put off those who expect mega Avengers scale battles in their comics, but those readers most likely never got on board with Fraction’s run either. Also, don’t worry that the last issue of Fraction’s run hasn’t come out yet, this one stands on its own.

Ultimately, All-New Hawkeye #1 is just flat out fun to read. The flashbacks of Clint and Barney growing up are gorgeous. Ramon Perez’s watercolors present an interesting dichotomy when compared to Ian Herring’s more traditional color work in the book, but both are solid and don’t stray far from what made Hawkeye one of Marvel’s most unique titles. Jeff Lemire is no stranger to writing archers, and it looks as though he’s going to infuse needed depth into Clint Barton’s upbringings, while taking anyone who has carried the name Hawkeye along for the ride. For an opening issue, the book could have used a little more setup. Based on the stellar watercolor work and witty banter between Clint and Kate; we liked All-New Hawkeye, but it still has a little bit to prove before we love it.

If you pick up one Jeff Lemire book this week, make it Descender from Image Comics. Should you find yourself with an extra $4 then give All-New Hawkeye a shot.


Tell us what you thought of Hawkeye here or @bouncingsoul217 

As always with Marvel, first come first served.

Marvel.com/Redeem

code: TMA7S7Y6PUVS

 

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30. Review: Big Con Job is a dark, meta, fandomy heist: and I can’t look away

BIGCONWritten by: Jimmy Palmiotti and Matt Brady

Art by: Dominike “Domo” Stanton

Colors by: Paul Little

Letters by: Jim Campbell

Publisher: Boom Studios

I came into Big Con Job #1 cold: Amanda Conner’s lively cover art shows a bunch of aging space-opera stars at a convention table. Their larger than life TV personas are depicted on banners that stretch high behind their real life counterparts; looming over the actual people behind the clearly much younger characters. The images overwhelm and diminish them. It’s a great piece of art because on first glance it has a self-aware, lighthearted look to it. After reading the issue, however, that cover takes on a much darker tone.

Palmiotti and Brady have created a group of characters instantly familiar to fans of comic books, science fiction and fantasy in general: aging TV stars wearily working the convention circuit to earn their daily bread. There’s the buxom, Princess Leia-like love interest to the pulpy, Captain Kirk-ish Buck Blaster in the aptly-named series ‘Treck Wars’. The pair look out into a sparse audience that has turned on them: asking accusatory, confrontational questions and demanding answers from the actors (Blaze Storm and Danny Dean) who obviously had very little input on their character’s development.

There’s nothing lighthearted about the look Big Con Job’s writing team provide into the hardscrabble lives of the increasingly obsolete actors. They can’t pay their rent and are getting evicted; they’re getting stiffed on promised appearance fees and drooled over by the invasive fans they must cater to. In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, Poach Brewster, the man behind the show’s Spock-esque scientist, breaks up with his younger partner. She’s a beautiful actress on the rise, and he knows his melancholia is holding her back. As he clutches her pillow to his face the next morning, I actually turned my face away from the panels. I keenly felt the anguish of these characters. I’m sure the recent loss of Leonard Nimoy added poignancy to Brewster’s story; thank goodness Nimoy had a rich artistic life post Star Trek.

Some intensely heartbreaking scenes are still to come. A warning: if you struggle with depression, or are just having a rough day, you might want to read this issue when the clouds disappear. But you should read it. I was shocked by the unexpected depth, not just of the plot but also of Dominike Stanton’s art. It seemed to subtlety change from page to page, morphing so the characters and settings matched the tone of the story. In the convention scenes, where the actors put on their best imitations of happiness and nostalgia, the art becomes rounder, and more stylized. When Dean and Brewster try to drink away their pain, the images seem to stretch slightly, giving them a more strung-out look.

It all lays the groundwork for a strange heist scheme, which name-checks the San Diego Comic Convention just before the book ends. Most heist narratives waste little time in defining the “why” of the robbery or con-job; it’s enough to know that money is at stake, or perhaps a loosely-sketched blackmail scenario. Not so in Big Con Job. The why is painful, understandable and relatable. Comic readers may not be washed up actors well-past their 15 minutes of fame, but they have loved the characters portrayed by those people. Have traveled with them in their hearts and minds to distant lands and planets; but will they follow them past the adventure scenes and epic battles through the dismal struggles of the real-world people behind the fame?  To see what likely-illegal schemes that desperation and tragedy can push a person to consider? For my part, I’m ready to watch this group break bad: I can’t look away.

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31. Kim Gordon & Pam Munoz Ryan Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Home CoverWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending March 01, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #5 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon: “Gordon takes us back to the lost New York of the 1980s and ’90s that gave rise to Sonic Youth, and the Alternative revolution in popular music. The band helped build a vocabulary of music—paving the way for Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins and many other acts. But at its core, Girl in a Band examines the route from girl to woman in uncharted territory, music, art career, what partnership means—and what happens when that identity dissolves.” (February 2015)

(Debuted at #10 in Children’s Illustrated) Home by Carson Ellis: “Home might be a house in the country, an apartment in the city, or even a shoe. Home may be on the road or the sea, in the realm of myth, or in the artist’s own studio.” (February 2015)

(Debuted at #14 in Early & Middle Grade Readers) Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: “Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny.” (February 2015)

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32. Book Bloggers

How to approach book bloggers to review your book.

http://writersinthestormblog.com/2014/11/4-tips-for-working-with-book-bloggers/

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33. Stay, Clute

Stay cover

Strange Horizons has now posted my review of John Clute's latest collection of materials, Stay. A taste:
Even a mere glance through Stay, John Clute’s latest collection of book reviews, short stories, and lexicon entries, (or through any of Clute's books, really) will convince you that you are in the presence of genius.

But a genius of what type? The type that can turn a million candy wrappers into a surprisingly convincing small-scale replica of a rocket ship, or the type that zips to the heart of a zeitgeist faster than the rest of us? Is this genius a fox, a hedgehog, an anorak? Does it sing in seemingly effortless perfect pitch, or is its singing, like that of a dog, remarkable simply for being at all?

The desire to taxonomize is inevitable after reading even a few pages of Clute. He is a wild literary Linnaeus: obsessively compulsed to categorize. As someone generally uninterested in taxonomy, I have struggled to learn to read Clute appreciatively. I used to want to shoot his clay pigeonholes, to mock his neologistic frenzies, to clothe the emperor. But then I realized I was enjoying his work too much to do so. Clute’s imperative to categorize is contagious. I’d passed through the portal and made my way into Cluteland.
This review marks ten years of my writing for Strange Horizons — I began as a columnist in February 2005 with a rather odd piece titled "Walls". I stopped as a columnist after writing fifty, since I felt like I'd done what I could do with the form for that audience, but I've continued occasionally to write reviews.

I don't do a lot with genre speculative fiction these days, since other things have taken me elsewhere, but it's nice to be back now and again at a publication that feels so much like home. I owe thanks to lots of people there, especially former editor-in-chief Susan Groppi, who first asked me to write for the magazine, current editor-in-chief (and the first, if I remember correctly, reviews editor) Niall Harrison, recent past reviews editor Abigail Nussbaum, new reviews senior editor Maureen Kincaid Speller, and book reviews editor Aishwarya Subramanian, who not only let me keep some of my bad puns and jokes, but even liked some of them! Strange Horizons remains a unique, wonderful place out there in the wide world of the web, and it has always been an honor to be associated with it.

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34. Review of Won Ton and Chopstick

wardlaw_won ton and chopstickWon Ton and Chopstick:
A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku

by Lee Wardlaw; illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Primary   Holt   40 pp.
3/15   978-0-8050-9987-4   $17.99   g

In this sequel to Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku (rev. 3/11), the cautious kitty has another reason to be worried: an adorable new puppy. Won Ton is not happy when he catches his first glimpse: “Ears perk. Fur prickles. / Belly low, I creep…peek…FREEZE! / My eyes full of Doom.” He scoffs at the ideas the people suggest for names, and ferociously warns the new pup: “Trespassers bitten.” Yelchin’s graphite and gouache illustrations depict with sensitivity and humor the sleek gray cat’s initial fear and horror alongside the roly-poly brown puppy. Pastel backgrounds cleverly incorporating shadow and light allow the funny poses and expressions of the pair to shine. Each haiku is complete in itself, capturing the essence of cat with images such as the banished and lonesome Won Ton “Q-curled tight,” and together the poems create a whole tale of displacement and eventual mutual understanding. At the end, both cat and puppy snuggle in bed with the boy, meeting nose-to-nose as friends.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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35. Short Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue


The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterScholastic, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to The Raven Boys (Book 1) and The Dream Thieves (Book 2).

This continues the story of the search in Virginia for a missing Welsh king. The searchers are prep school students Richard Gansey III (the driving force behind the search), his friends Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny, and local girl Blue Sargent.

By the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I'm not going to lie: it's complicated. There are a mess of characters, plus the search, plus the issues that the characters are dealing with in the present. Gansey is driven by his search; Ronan discovered dangerous family secrets, including his own ability to pull things out of dreams into the real world; Adam is a scholarship student with the drive for more and a serious, well earned chip on his shoulder. Noah has his own issues.

And Blue: Blue is from a family of psychics, without any real power herself, and with a curse upon her: her kiss will kill her true love. And since she's falling hard for Gansey, and since one of her aunts foresaw Gansey's death, it's, well, messy. Like life. Now take life and add in magic and history, myth and legend.

Readers know that I like when teen books have interesting adult characters: well, this has them and then some. The enigmatic Mr. Gray -- I mean, how often is a hired killer so sympathetic and likable? (And yes, I keep picturing him as Norman Reedus). Blue's mother has disappeared, but this allows other adults to move center. And Mr. Gray's boss also enters into the picture. It's not just magic and myth that is a danger.

The only frustration with Blue Lily, Lily Blue is there is still one more book in the series. So while the adventure moves forward, and questions are answered, there's still so much more to find out


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

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36. Review of The Walls Around Us

suma_walls around usstar2 The Walls Around Us
by Nova Ren Suma
High School   Algonquin   321 pp.
3/15   978-1-61620-372-6   $17.95   g
e-book ed. 978-1-61620-486-0   $17.95

Orianna Speerling — the so-called “Bloody Ballerina” — is just fifteen when she is convicted of murdering two rival dancers. A month after her sentence begins, all forty-two girls interned at the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center are dead — victims of an unexplained mass killing. Ori’s story is gradually revealed through the eyes of two unreliable narrators. Violet is Ori’s affluent best friend, a fellow dancer who knows more about Ori’s crime than she’ll ever admit — especially if the truth might jeopardize her future at Juilliard. Amber is an inmate at Aurora Hills who pushes the library cart from cell to cell — quietly waiting out a long sentence and keeping secrets of her own, such as having visions of girls she’s never met. In lyrical, authoritative prose, Suma weaves the disparate lives of these three girls into a single, spellbinding narrative that explores guilt, privilege, and complicity with fearless acuity. Amber’s voice is particularly affecting — she narrates from an eerily omniscient first-person plural perspective that speaks powerfully to the dehumanizing realities of teen imprisonment. The twisting, ghostly tale of Ori’s life, death, and redemption is unsettling and entirely engrossing.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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37. 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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38. 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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39. 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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40. 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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41. 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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42. 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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43. 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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44. 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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45. 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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46. 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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47. 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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48. 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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49. 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.

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50. 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.)


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

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