What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(tagged with 'Reviews')

Recent Comments

JacketFlap Sponsors

Spread the word about books.
Put this Widget on your blog!
  • Powered by JacketFlap.com

Are you a book Publisher?
Learn about Widgets now!

Advertise on JacketFlap

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,745
26. 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
Display Comments Add a Comment
27. 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.

0 Comments on Advance Review: Frankenstein Underground Expands The Hellboy UNiverse Once Again as of 2/17/2015 10:41:00 PM
Add a Comment
28. 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

0 Comments on Cybils 2014 Review: EL DEAFO by Cece Bell as of 2/16/2015 11:35:00 AM
Add a Comment
29. 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.

 

1 Comments on Review: Princeless: The Pirate Princess #1 packs a punch, last added: 2/15/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
30. 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)

Add a Comment
31. 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.

 

0 Comments on Review: Did Spider-Verse End Amazing? as of 2/11/2015 10:59:00 PM
Add a Comment
32. Review of Welcome to the Family

hoffman_welcome to familyWelcome to the Family
by Mary Hoffman; illus. by Ros Asquith
Primary   Frances Lincoln   28 pp.
12/14   978-1-84780-592-8   $17.99

This chatty, informative book covers all the bases — and then some — in its survey of how families are made. Friendly cartoon illustrations highlight various permutations, from families formed by birth and adoption to foster and blended families. Same-sex and single parents are represented in the art and text; mixed-race families are depicted in the illustrations. After a very brief and age-appropriate explanation of reproduction (“You need two cells to make a baby — one from a man and one from a woman”), the discussion touches on in vitro fertilization and — somewhat misleadingly — sperm donation (“when there are two mommies”) and surrogacy (“when there are two daddies”). This catalog-like approach means some information is given short shrift, which may be confusing. The tone throughout is light and straightforward, though Hoffman acknowledges that things don’t always “go smoothly” in families. A little teddy bear appears on most spreads, adding its own commentary (“Two moms. I never had one”) or clarifying information. The final page offers this discussion starter: “How did you come into YOUR family?” Nine kids (and one teddy) chime in with speech-bubble answers: “I’ve got two daddies”; “My foster dad was adopted”; “Me and my brothers ALL started in a glass dish.” With more detail than Parr’s The Family Book if less depth than Harris and Emberley’s It’s NOT the Stork! (rev. 9/06), this is a useful and accessible treatment.

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

Share

The post Review of Welcome to the Family appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Welcome to the Family as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
33. Review: Divinity #1 adds meta-textual richness to the Valiant Universe

Divinity-A

By Harper Harris

Valiant Entertainment has been gradually earning a loyal fanbase since their return in 2012, but in the last several months their line has skyrocketed to the top of the list of publishers to watch. This is largely due to the inclusion of some fantastic talents that have joined up in the Valiant Next initiative, including Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, Jen Van MeterPaolo Rivera, and more. Kindt in particular has really carved out his own section in the Valiant Universe, writing The ValiantUnityRai, and now, with Trevor Hairsine on pencils, Divinity, an original book that brings a new character to this fast-growing superhero universe.

The basic concept is pretty interesting: a Soviet cosmonaut is sent on a 30-year mission during the Cold War to the farthest reaches of our galaxy, only to mysteriously return in modern day with god-like powers. This allows for some potentially violent politicking between the communist god and the American military (and perhaps some of Valiant’s other heroes), not to mention the obvious culture clash inherent in the man returning to earth after several decades archetype. However intriguing this all might be, it isn’t wholly unfamiliar; what really makes this issue stand out, though, is the careful and complex style in which it is written.

Kindt takes the approach of utilizing a great metaphor to both describe and tell the story: the idea that time is like a book, with pages that can be flipped between at will. There are obvious ties to the famous Watchmaker chapter of Watchmen, but it is used quite well in its own right here. It allows the narration to skip around, introducing both Abram Adams (the cosmonaut/god) and David Camp, who might be our POV in the modern era. This overarching metaphor works brilliantly as a storytelling device and adds meta-textual richness to the actual comic book readers will hold in their hands.

It’s worth noting, too, that while the issue primarily lays the foundation of the story rather than focusing on its characters, the pieces that build up Abram Adams are unique and allow for some subtlety that could really pay off down the line. I particularly like the fact that Adams is a person of color in an otherwise Caucasian group of scientists, students, and soldiers in Soviet Russia. This is obviously a conscious choice, especially interesting as we see the contrast between the racial riots in America on TV while Adams’ comrades recommend him for the most important mission in their country’s history without a second thought as to his race.

The art by Hairsine, who has pencilled many issues of a variety of Valiant books, is mostly serviceable, but shines in small bursts. The talking heads pages where we see a bit of Adams’ education are nothing special, but the more action packed segments–those with rockets taking off and of a wince-worthy rock climbing accident–pack a surprising gut punch. As we get a glimpse of the oddly beautiful powers of Adams returned to Earth at the end of the issue, I’ll be interested to see how Kindt and Hairsine design future uses of this god’s unique and terrible power set.

Divinity doesn’t pack the excitement of The Valiant, but what it lacks in epic superheroics it makes up for with fantastic writing. It’s hard to tell whether the distinct style will continue with the book or whether it was just a great way to introduce the story, but either way Divinity is one to watch in an increasingly exciting line from Valiant Entertainment.

0 Comments on Review: Divinity #1 adds meta-textual richness to the Valiant Universe as of 2/11/2015 1:07:00 PM
Add a Comment
34. Review of the Day – Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
By Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0805097153
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

I worked in close proximity to the real Winnie-the-Pooh for five years. From 2006 to 2011 he was a daily delight. To clarify, I was working alongside the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys owned by the real Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne in New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room. We had Piglet, Tigger, Kanga (no Roo), Eeyore, and Winnie himself. Though ironically I never read his books as a child, in my time as a children’s librarian working in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street I became well versed in his story. Winnie was purchased at Harrods for Christopher Robin who eventually named him “Winnie” after some bear he’d seen in a zoo. If pressed to conjure up facts about that zoo bear I might have been able to tell you that its name was Winnipeg, but that was about as far as my knowledge on the matter went. Sometimes it takes a children’s book to learn about a children’s book character. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh relates the true history of a man and his bear. Illustrated with aplomb by Jonathan D. Voss, the book’s charm is the true measure by which you can assess how well it lives up to its namesake. Accuracy and adorableness in one small, furry package.

There are many things Harry Colebourn could have purchased as his troop passed through the small train station, but what did he end up with? A baby bear. A baby black bear, if you want to be precise about it. Good natured and orphaned, Harry promptly names her “Winnie” after his company’s hometown “Winnipeg” and she becomes the darling of his troop. When WWI calls his company across the wide ocean, Winnie comes along. But killing fields are no place for a baby bear so it’s to the London Zoo that Winnie goes. Once there, Harry promises her that when the war is done he’ll take her back to Winnipeg. It’s a promise he doesn’t keep. Upon his return Harry sees that Winnie is not only happy but a star of the zoo. She’s so gentle that children everywhere come to see her. Even a boy by the name of Christopher Robin . . . Copious photographs of the real Winnie and Harry grace the front endpapers while Christopher Robin graces the back. There is an additional Author’s Note on Harry, Winnie, and black bears as well as a Bibliography of sources.

As I began reading the book I wondered if the story of Winnie would be akin to other military animal tales out there. Would Winnie aid the Allies much in the same way as Voytek in Poland or was she more of a mascot like Stubby? Neither, as it happens. Though Winnie did make it onto a boat headed for France, her keeper was smart enough to recognize that while some bears would thrive in a war zone (see: Voytek), Winnie was not one of them. Really she was just a baby and after seeing her playing and cuddling with Harry the thought of her existing in a place where bullets would fly is terrifying. This is a sweet wartime tale, perfect for reading to younger children who take things on face value and aren’t aware of what WWI really entailed.

The art of Jonathan D. Voss caught me by surprise. With just a half glance at the cover I initially though the illustrator was Amy June Bates (who illustrated the somewhat similar Christian, the Hugging Lion back in 2010). An understandable mistake but once I actually went so far as to, oh I dunno LOOK at the book, I could see that Voss has a crisper line as well as a sure and steady grasp on the material. This being the first picture book that he has illustrated, he does a good job of making some really iconic images. The view on the cover of Harry hugging Winnie to his chest, as one might cuddle an infant, is downright heartwarming. Likewise the image of Winnie asleep under Harry’s cot as his long arm drapes down, his wrist bending in sleep, works. And if the four shots of Harry playing with Winnie were a YouTube video they’d get more hits than any other cute animal video to date. There is the occasional misstep, I’m afraid. A boy riding Winnie later in the book bears the slack-jawed look of a very small grown man and not a little boy. Indeed Voss appears to be most comfortable when Winnie is his focus. There’s not a single image where that bear doesn’t feel 100% authentic. One suspects the artist spent a great deal of time studying baby black bears and how they move. He also does a decent job of rendering the stuffed Pooh accurately. The arms are admittedly a bit long but the stance and nose are on target.

One objection I’ve heard to the story is that there isn’t enough Christopher Robin / real Winnie-the-Pooh info included in this story. I can see where this critic is coming from but I respectfully disagree. To my mind, Winnie’s story is fascinating in and of itself regardless of what famous literary character she ended up inspiring on some level. Hers is a story of tragedy turned to great good luck. Few orphaned bears in the WWI era would have found such a caring owner, let alone one that let them travel to Europe. Her life was notable at the time and makes for no less an interesting story today.

For my part, the book gets into tricky territory when we view the quoted dialog. Now Ms. Walker is a known entity. She does this stuff for a living. Wins big nonfiction awards like the Sibert for Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and the like. So when we get to a section where Harry is quoted saying “I’ll feed her condensed milk. She can stay with me in camp. Winnipeg can be our mascot,” then we have to naturally assume that the quote comes from one of the listed sources Walker provides at the back of the book. The quotes are not sourced but since Harry’s diary is one of those aforementioned sources, there’s a strong likelihood that the quotes come from there. I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt in this matter, since faux dialog is the bane of the modern nonfiction picture book.

Read this book and few will wonder that after seeing Winnie in person, Christopher Robin wanted a bear of his very own. Indeed, the vast majority of children who are read Winnie may think to themselves (or say out loud) at some point, “When do I get my own?” Sorry, kids. If it’s any consolation you can see the Winnie-the-Pooh toys in the main New York Public Library location anytime the building is open. Maybe it won’t be the same as getting to ride a sweet bear in the zoo, but it’s still a part of this story on some level. Cute, not saccharine, and pleasing to boot, this is one story-behind-the-story kids will definitely appreciate. Lovers of Pooh welcome but not required.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Interviews: Julie Danielson interviews Sally M. Walker about the book over at BookPage.

Misc: For more interior illustrated spreads, go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Video: Forgot a movie was made out of this story as well, didn’t you?  You’re forgiven.  It came out in 2004 and was made for TV after all.  That said, it had some big name cast members.  Michael Fassbender starred.  Stephen Fry shows up.  David Suchet. And someone put the whole thing up on YouTube so if you’ve an hour and a half to kill . . .

Share

1 Comments on Review of the Day – Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, last added: 2/13/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
35. The Art of Stillness

In 2011 essayist and travel writer Pico Iyer wrote a piece for the New York Times on The Joy of Quiet. From that piece has come a wonderful TED talk in 2013 about Where is Home? in which Iyer asserts that it is stillness that gives movement meaning. This has been followed by a slim book in 2014, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere.

The book is a meditation of sorts on the adventure that is being still and staying in one place. But talking about stillness, Iyer says is “really a way of talking about clarity and sanity and the joys that endure.” Iyer spends many pages talking about Leonard Cohen who spends a good amount of his time in a monastery in the mountains of southern California practicing the art of stillness. He talks about other people he has met, like the woman who sat next to him on a twelve-hour flight. She did nothing but sit quietly the whole time, no reading or looking at magazines, no doing the sorts of things you do on an airplane in order to endure the time you are on it. She just sat, quietly alert. It turns out she was on her way to vacation in Hawaii and she used this time as a way to disconnect from her overly busy life so when she touched down on the island she’d be fully present and relaxed.

But you don’t have to go to a monastery or take a vacation to a faraway place in order to get away from it all. Staying put, going Nowhere, is an adventure all on its own because you never know what you might find. There are all kinds of things waiting to be discovered. Iyer quotes Henry David Thoreau:

It matters not where or how far you travel — the farther commonly the worse — but how much alive you are.

Going Nowhere and sitting still is a journey but it is an inward journey. We hurry around trying to find happiness outside ourselves when, if we would only sit still, we’d find that happiness lies within. Cohen told Iyer that sitting still is “a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

Iyer is well aware that sitting still is very hard:

Nowhere can be scary, even if it’s a destination you’ve chosen; there’s nowhere to hide there.

And he acknowledges,

It takes courage, of course, to step out of the fray, as it takes courage to do anything that is necessary, whether tending to a loved one on her deathbed or turning away from that sugarcoated doughnut. And with billions of our neighbors in crying need, with so much in every life that has to be done, it can sound selfish to take a break or go off to a quiet place. But as soon as you do sit still, you find that it actually brings you closer to others, in both understanding and sympathy.

Just like the paradox of exercise giving you more energy, taking time to sit still and be quiet and going Nowhere, gives you more time and energy to share with others.

The Art of Stillness is a beautifully written, gentle, simple book. Yet, as with Thich Nhat Hanh, the simple is not easy. If it were so easy to sit still we’d all be doing it and we’d all be much better off for it. But instead we fill every minute of the day and complain about still not having enough time. It is as though we are afraid of stopping, afraid of what might happen if we took five minutes, ten minutes to sit still and quiet. I very much liked that Iyer makes it into a great adventure. It puts a different perspective on going Nowhere. Because really, in going Nowhere we really are going Somewhere. Do we dare take that journey?


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Pico Iyer

Add a Comment
36. Review of I Was Here

forman_i was hereI Was Here
by Gayle Forman
High School    Viking    272 pp.
1/15    978-0-451-47147-5    $18.99    g

Meg Garcia is brilliant and passionate — a standout in her dead-end Washington State hometown and a constant in best friend Cody’s unstable life. But just months after escaping to college on a prestigious scholarship, Meg checks into a motel and drinks a bottle of industrial cleaner. Cody is blindsided and guilt-ridden; when she finds an encrypted document on Meg’s laptop containing explicit suicide instructions, Cody slips down an investigative rabbit-hole that leads her deep into Meg’s hidden personal life. Cody reaches out to Meg’s college friends, and most agree that Meg was troubled. But when scouring Meg’s remaining digital footprint turns up correspondence with a disturbing pro-suicide web forum, Cody pursues this lead with reckless desperation. Capable and tough, Cody is a relentless but self-destructive detective bent on untangling a grim and dangerous mystery that offers no possible redeeming solution. A volatile but tenderly drawn romance with Meg’s tormented musician ex–love interest offers moments of tentative hopefulness for Cody, but her struggle with grief and complicity is intense and affecting up until an emotional gut-punch of a conclusion. Once this compelling case is closed, what remains is a haunting, elegiac tale about enduring and understanding loss.

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

Share

The post Review of I Was Here appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of I Was Here as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
37. Texts from Jane Eyre

What’s there to say about Mallory Ortberg’s Texts from Jane Eyre except what fun! When I first began seeing the book around the interwebs I thought, pfft, how stupid, this is as bad as turning Pride and Prejudice into a story about zombies. But I was wrong. This my friends is a delightful book of humor. Who cares that Circe and Odysseus didn’t have phones? If they did I’m sure they would have texted each other something like this:

where did the pigs come from Circe

i don’t know
a pig farm
a pig mommy and a pig daddy who loved each other very much and gave each other a special handshake

CIRCE

oh my god okay fine
they’re your crew, you got me
I turned all of your friends into pigs

why did you turn my friends into pigs

I don’t know
maybe the real question is
why are your friends
so turn-into-pigsable

Ortberg is great at capturing the absurdity, oddness, or quirk of story or character, or even real life authors. Like the spoof of John Donne and his poem The Flea:

it means we’re basically married
it has my blood and your blood in it
so
you’ve technically already had sex with me
and you might as well do it again

I don’t
wait
but there could be a lot of other blood in there too

well we might have to have sex with all those people too

Or Henry David Thoreau texting Ralph Waldo Emerson:

o you know whos my family ralph

who

these squirrels
these squirrels and this chipmunk and that crow there

the crow on the chimney?

NO
not that one
god i hate that one
hes not my family
hes a fucking asshole

There are also paranoid texts from J. Alfred Prufrock and texts from the Lorax cracked me up. There were a few I had a hard time relating too since I never read any of the Sweet Valley High books, the Baby-sitters Club or the American Girls. I did laugh at the texts between Nancy Drew and her boyfriend Ned though.

Texts from Jane Eyre is a quick, light book sure to make you laugh more than a few times. I can promise that if you are reading it with someone else in the room you will want to read some of the texts aloud to that person in order to share the fun. And if you enjoy Ortberg’s humor, you can catch it nearly daily at The Toast.


Filed under: Books, Humor, Reviews Tagged: Mallory Ortberg

Add a Comment
38. Review: The Best Laid Big Man Plans

Big Man Plans #1

BIG_MAN_PLANS-01

 

Story: Eric Powell and Tim Wiesch

Art: Eric Powell

Publisher: Image Comics

 

 

 

 

Every so often comics get away from their high soaring superhero mythos to tell stories that kick you to the ground and shove your face in the mud. Big Man Plans, from Image Comics, is one of those books. It’s an unrelenting dropkick to the groin that puts a mirror to those a**hole parts of humanity we wish didn’t exist, and it does so in the best way possible.

Big Man Plans is the story of a little person who suffers through a lifetime of ridicule, abuse, and abandonment. When he finally snaps, it’s the world that has to pay for it. Though you’ll never learn the main character’s name, you will not only see but also feel the anguish of the traumatic events his childhood is laced with. Eric Powell and Tim Wiesch tell the tale of a person who’s had their humanity hollowed out and replaced with a bottomless pit of violence, sex, and alcohol.

Despite the massacre unleashed by this little man; you can’t help but find yourself on his side, almost from page one. Wiesch and Powell might have crafted a character with a small stature but he has a huge presence. You’ll even see a little too much of that presence at one point. By the end of the book you’ll have a set up for a revenge story the likes of Kill Bill.

Powell brings his A+ game to the book’s art. He embraces the gritty ugliness needed to make this story work. Even when the book goes into heavy exposition he manages to keep the story visually interesting with an attention to detail few artists today possess. The tunnel flashback is probably going to be one of my favorite sequences of 2015. He’s like a tiny Punisher! Much like Powell’s work on The Goon, the book just flows in a way most books this bleak and dark could not.

Powell and Wiesch figuratively took “Walk” by Pantera and turned it into fire breathing dragon of a comic. Sometimes we all need a song that makes you want to break stuff and Big Man Plans is that anthem. This is a book that deserves a place on your pull list. Big Man Plans is a near perfect comic book gut-check. It’s good while at the same time making you feel bad and once in awhile we could all use that in our lives.

After all, in the age of twitter and message board comments; don’t we all have an inner angry little man?


 

Follow me on twitter @bouncingsoul217 where the skies are blue and hatred is my gatorade. 

0 Comments on Review: The Best Laid Big Man Plans as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
39. Review of Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheepCount with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep!
by Lucy Cousins; illus. by the author
Preschool   Candlewick   32 pp.
2/15   978-0-7636-7643-8   $15.99   g

Maisy helps Mommy Hen track down her ten little chicks in time for bed. Starting at the stable, they make their way around the farm (“Are there any chicks in the trailer? Or in the tractor? Are there any chicks in the apple tree?”), picking up the little ones as they go. The last chick proves somewhat elusive (spoiler alert: it’s not behind the flour sack, in the wheelbarrow, behind the beehive, or in the watering can), but by book’s end, everyone is accounted for, and the chickens all snuggle into their coop for some zzzs. It’s the simplest of concept books, but well executed. Large pages, friendly illustrations, old friends (Cyril, Charlie, Eddie, etc.), lots of white space, engaging flaps, cute hiding places, clearly labeled numerals, and a very simple story line — but there is one — all play very nicely together.

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

Share

The post Review of Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! appeared first on The Horn Book.

0 Comments on Review of Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
40. Love Letter to the Earth

Recently I accidentally discovered a newish book by Thich Nhat Hahn, he of The Miracle of Mindfulness that I enjoyed so much. This book is called Love Letter to the Earth. It is a slim volume filled with compassion and the wisdom of mindfulness. It begins:

At this very moment, the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet. But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth. Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth. We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies. The water in our flesh, our bones, and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth. The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.

We are the Earth and the Earth is us. When we harm the Earth, we harm ourselves. When we harm ourselves, we harm the Earth. A simple, yet profound idea that the world has forgotten about because if we remembered we would not be arguing about climate change and oil pipelines and fracking and emissions and pesticides that kill bees and butterflies. If we remembered we wouldn’t be eating artificial sweeteners or synthetic vitamins, wouldn’t be driving everywhere, wouldn’t be consuming more than we need and tossing our excess into landfills.

Earth and Moon from 6 million miles away via NASA

Earth and Moon from 6 million miles away via NASA

Thich Nhat Hahn asks us to remember. Stop, look around, pay attention. That piece of toast you are shoving in your mouth as you hurry out the door to work in the morning, that piece of toast is a miracle made of stardust and sunshine and Earth. And we are made of the same stuff. Once we see how we are connected to all things we can see the effects of our choices, our actions. We can see how we always have a choice to cause or alleviate suffering.

Hahn’s approach to healing the Earth is to first heal ourselves. I admit I scoffed. That’s not going to help, something needs to be done and it needs to be done now, sitting still will get us nowhere. But then I had to laugh because he knew I was going to think that:

We tend to think we have to do something to heal the Earth. But sitting with mindfulness and concentration is doing something.

And what sitting with mindfulness is doing is allowing you to be yourself, to relax, to stop striving, to be present, to be happy within yourself. And when that happens we begin to heal. We stop needing to consume, stop buying things we don’t need. We start being loving and compassionate to all things and realize our interconnectedness. Heal ourselves, heal the Earth. A simple thing that is so very hard.

No one could ever call Thich Nhat Hahn a prose stylist. His words are plain and unadorned. His sentences tend to be short. He repeats himself a lot. It is at times like I was reading a children’s book, “See Jane run. Run Jane, run.” He says the same thing over and over but in a slightly different way. I suppose it is necessary, the repetition, for children and beginners in mindfulness. We can sometimes be rather thick headed.

Love Letter to the Earth is a quiet, uplifting sort of book infused with the gentle spirit of its author. At the end there are ten letters intended to be used as meditations. Here is part of one I especially like from letter number three, “Walking Tenderly on Mother Earth”:

Dear Mother, you wish that we live with more awareness and gratitude, and we can do this by generating the energies of mindfulness, peace, stability, and compassion in our daily lives. Therefore I make the promise today to return your love and fulfill this wish by investing every step I take on you with love and tenderness. I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.

The Earth doesn’t need us, but without the Earth, we have nothing.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

Add a Comment
41. Does Morrison Spin his Astral Projections towards Redundancy in Nameless #1? (Review)

Namless-01-ff75dWith a conscious effort to stray away from superheroes, author Grant Morrison is taking even more chances than usual in the comics world. Even Multiversity, his only DC Comics project at the moment is bending the traditional superhero narrative into the world of psychadelics. Annihilator from the Legendary Comics imprint is a great example of taking chances, spinning the expectations of critics, and defying genre. In the same vein as Annihilator, The Filth, and 2012’s Happy! mini-series comes a comic entitled Nameless. A few outlets have drawn some comparisons between Annihilator and Nameless in that they are similar stories with different tones and ideas melded by each artist. The script for Nameless in particular seems tailored for Author Chris Burnham’s special brand of lunacy.

With an immoral character being introduced to a world he never knew existed, could this comic be carrying too many ideas echoed in Morrison’s other comics work?

Any tale by the author is nearly impossible to summarize in one paragraph, but this one involves an action story heavily influenced by the writer’s previous works with a certain sinister corporation (more on that later.) There is an explanation into strange and obtrusive words belonging to alien species littered throughout the issue. The rest of the plot gets even more funky, that’s where Image’s solicitation text is going to come in handy:

An astronomer kills his family, then himself, leaving a cryptic warning.
A Veiled Lady hunts her victims through human nightmares.
An occult hustler known only as ‘Nameless’ is recruited by a consortium of billionaire futurists for a desperate mission.
And the malevolent asteroid Xibalba spins closer on a collision course with Earth.
But nothing is what it seems—a terrifying inhuman experiment is about to begin.
Abandon all hope and experience ultimate horror in NAMELESS.




Whew, did you catch all of the in the first issue?

In many ways, the organization in this comic is a mirror reflecting Spyral, created by Morrison on his Batman tenure at DC Comics with Burnham. Visual cues and themes from that story are present here. It’s hard to deny that this issue isn’t fun and will likely turn into something unique provided the creative continue to work on the story. Still, it’s hard not to get a slight feeling of repetition from Morrison and company after work like The Invisibles and Annihilator reflect similar shades of this premise.

Burnham’s art in this comic can be described here as visceral. Fans will buy into the plight of everything that’s happening in this frenetic comic. At times it’s hard to understand exactly where this story is going, and what’s actually on the page. Also, the way that these pages are laid out in this issue is stirring. One page in particular shows Burnham’s maturation as an artist, as he’s taking some risks with layouts in this issue that are more than commendable. The fact that we can buy into the everyman perception of this hero, while intense dark sci-fi is going on in the background is a testament to the quality of the craft. Nathan Fairbairn is an important piece of the equation, and a rising talent that makes it easier for readers to pick out the mind-melding ideas of Nameless.

topper

Not everything needs to be absolutely understood in a Grant Morrison comic, but enough information has to be absorbed for fans to be interested in where the story is going next.  It’s interesting to see what the team can do without the constraints of DC Comics, yet still there’s not quite enough for fans to sink their teeth into to force them to run out to comic shops and grab the next issue. There’s something special in regards to getting a tale from the famed writer that is more action packed yet still contains his immense ration of ideas to page.  The author’s style may be more versatile than we could have ever thought.

While Nameless is an interesting beast, it’s not something that can quite rise above the immense amount of content from Image comics. However, this comic still contains an immense amount of great ideas worth celebrating. Fans hesitant about this story should keep an eye on what the critics say, as it could be just a few feet away from tipping into greatness.

1 Comments on Does Morrison Spin his Astral Projections towards Redundancy in Nameless #1? (Review), last added: 2/8/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
42. Fish in a Tree, a Review.

fish cover

Note: the design of this cover cannot be ignored; it is fantastic and iconic. Congrats to the designers at Penguin. The spot gloss varnish on the matte background is a great touch.

 

Lynda Mullaly Hunt has crafted a beautiful story about being “that kid”, the one for whom the expectations are low, and who retreats into her own world to keep the real one at a distance. Ally sees in pictures. Words are nearly impossible to decipher; so she doesn’t try. With the help of a great teacher, who begins to crack her code, Ally starts opening up to the idea that maybe there’s more to herself than she realized. It’s a powerful realization, and one that so many kids will relate to.

Through the course of the story, Ally finds and connects with other kids who accept her and see beyond the attempts at distancing herself from the. Ally’s allies, Albert and Keisha, feel very real to me. Their bond of friendship helps Ally realize that she has much to offer, and it bolsters the trio against the sideways glances and smack talk of some of the other kids, like Shay.

The author has effectively put into words that claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to HAVE to stay one step ahead of being figured out and labeled as dumb. That crushing feeling- that need to stay under the radar, or even be deemed problematic, instead of the world finding out the truth, feels so real here.

Mr. Daniels is the teacher who sees beyond the front Ally has put up. He knows something is up with this girl, and refuses to let her go under the radar. We discover that Ally is actually dyslexic, and that it is a workable condition. The more Ally understands this, the more empowered she is. And her friends help her through it all.

Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Mr. Daniels in their lives. A good teacher can literally be a turning point in a struggling student’s life. I know I had a few teachers like that- the ones who saw the person before the grade. They are the real unsung heroes in the ever-changing and difficult school landscape, and this story shines a light on them.

“Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.”

So true. This story is a good reminder for folks of all ages, really, to look beyond the surface and see the potential in every person.

 

1 Comments on Fish in a Tree, a Review., last added: 2/7/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
43. Gayle Forman & Laura Ingalls Wilder Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

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

(Debuted at #6 in Children’s Interest) I Was Here by Gayle Forman: “When her best friend, Meg, drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her.” (January 2015)

(Debuted at #7 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder: “The Pa of Pioneer Girl is still a selfless provider, Ma is a skilled homemaker, Mary a prim playmate, and Laura a good-hearted tomboy. Their stories may have been tidied up on the path between nonfiction and fiction, but their characters remain reassuringly intact.” (December 2014)

(Debuted at #8 in Hardcover Fiction) Private Vegas by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro: “Las Vegas is a city of contradictions: seedy and glamorous, secretive and wild, Vegas attracts people of all kinds–especially those with a secret to hide, or a life to leave behind. It’s the perfect location for Lester Olsen’s lucrative business. He gets to treat gorgeous, young women to five-star restaurants, splashy shows, and limo rides–and then he teaches them how to kill.” (January 2015)

Add a Comment
44. Review: Cluster #1 War is Hell on Celebrities

By Davey Nieves

CLUSTER #1

BOOM_Cluster_001_A_Main

 

Story: Ed Brisson

Art: Damian Couceiro

Color: Michael Garland

Publisher: Boom! Studios

 

 

 

Given the rash of criminal activity celebrities get away with dominating headlines today, Cluster feels like a timely commentary on current events. Ed Brisson’s story follows the semi-celebrity daughter of a politician, Samara Simmons. We pick up Samara’s story in the middle of her hitting rock bottom as she’s arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence after the accident she causes kills someone close to her. While someone like her in the real world might get away with simple community service; in Brisson’s dystopian future any crime that involves weapons or the death of another person is an automatic life sentence in prison. In a world where laws are absolute, appeals take the form of a 15 year military service suicide mission.

Prisoners who sign up for the program are taken to Midlothian, a habitable planet the government has gone to war over against an alien race known as the Pagurani. Just when the circumstances couldn’t get any bleaker, prisoners are equipped with a “punch” in their chest. When sent on missions, the device must be checked into the prison within 24hrs or the prisoner will excruciatingly die from internal organ liquification. By the end of the first issue all hell breaks loos on Samara’s first mission and she along with a group of prisoners find themselves in a race against time to keep their insides from turning to strawberry Quik.

The opening chapter of Cluster is a bit predictable but solid all around. Brisson lays a lot of exposition down in these pages but manages to keep it from crossing into boredom. We still don’t see the reasons to root for Samara, but the premise is interesting enough to warrant a return for issue two. Hopefully as the series goes on and the supporting cast become more fleshed out Samara’s redemption story will add more layers to the character.

Damian Couceiro’s art continues to evolve from his previous work on Full Moon Fever and Murder Book. His sequentials are on point and the hard boiled action scenes are superb. Where his work could be ramped up is in the character designs themselves. A story like Cluster is a world that’s being designed and an artist should take big chances when illustrating on that type of scale, which is an issue for the creative marriage of writer and artist to tackle.

Cluster is an intriguing premise that strives to combine the hopelessness of a prison movie with the action drama of survival story. Issue one doesn’t execute to it’s full potential but succeeds enough to see if they can work out the kinks in the next chapter.

 

0 Comments on Review: Cluster #1 War is Hell on Celebrities as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
45. Review: Once Upon A Hard Time Is A Good Time For The Goon

By Davey Nieves

The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time #1 

unnamed

 

Story & Art : Eric Powell

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

 

 

 

If there’s a textbook that exist on making comics, then Eric Powell probably wrote about half of it. The five time Eisner Award winner consistently crafts quality stories with every book he produces. His latest, The Goon: Once Upon A Hard Time is yet another example of how great a work of art comic books can be.

After the events of Occasion of Revenge, the witch coven that demolished Goon’s life is closer to their goal of total control of the unnamed town. Powell shows how a character like The Goon can only be bent but never truly broken. The series opening picks up in the middle of his vengeful rampage against the Magpies who played him for a fool and shattered his world. It wouldn’t be a Goon story if it wasn’t coming at him from all sides as he’ll also have to deal with an angry Don Rigatti who’s seeking payback of his own for Rory’s death in the perevious series. For anyone looking for the humor of the older stories, there’s none to be found here. This story is an unrelenting tale of a man pushed too far.

Books like this are rare. Once Upon A Hard Time uses emotion to justify its sheer gorgeous brutatlity. There’s anger, grief, and fervor bursting from the panels drawn by Eric Powell. Each nuance shows just how much the characters have become part of him. There’s only a handful of panels where Goon isn’t holding a bottle or a weapon, or a bottle to use as a weapon. After all these years of creating Goon stories, Powell doesn’t relent on any of the most minuscule details when it comes to character.

The previous Occasion of Revenge story marked a turning point for the character in more ways than one. Powell’s inking experiments on his own work refined his detailed touch and added more power to the emotions already expressed on the page. All this helped the shock value of seeing those bright colors on the final pages. Once upon a Hard Time continues the affair with color splash but Powell’s evolution in rendering emotion is what sets it apart. Every ghoul, monster, and human like face expresses feeling in a way that few horror books can. You’ll see just how far he takes it in the panels with spider.

Perhaps the most unique thing about Dark Horse’s 50th issue of The Goon is how new reader friendly it is. That’s odd because it really isn’t suppose to be. If you’re already a fan of The Goon you won’t be able to understand the direction of this issue unless you’ve read Occasion of Revenge. Those that have never read Goon, who can accept the premise at face value will find themselves in such a violent and gorgeous world that can’t help but go back and read them all.


Goon or Goonies Dave rants about it on twitter @bouncingsoul217

 

0 Comments on Review: Once Upon A Hard Time Is A Good Time For The Goon as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
46. Blog Tour: ARES: BRINGER OF WAR (Olympians #7) by George O'Connor

click to embiggen.Summary: Ares is the seventh book in O'Connor's very successful Olympians series of graphic novels. In fact, I was amazed to see that we've already gotten to book 7, because that means I've missed quite a few in the middle. For... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on Blog Tour: ARES: BRINGER OF WAR (Olympians #7) by George O'Connor as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
47. Review: Getting Hit By Stray Bullets Has Never Felt This Good

STRAY BULLETS : SUNSHINE AND ROSES #1

StrayBulletsSAR01_Review

 

 

Story & Art: David Lapham

Publisher: Image Comics/El Capitan

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret that Stray Bullets is one of the best comics being published today, possibly ever. David Lapham’s latest Sunshine and Roses remedies the missing gratuitous violence of Killers at the cost of diverting from that arc’s engaging plot. However, this is the most brutal and meaty the Stray Bullets series has been in awhile, and that speaks volumes for what you’ll find in these pages.

Linear storytelling has never been Lapham’s aim for the series. It’s allowed him to take chances and experiment with the world he’s created. David Lapham has done some traumatic breaking of characters, jumped time periods on a whim, and killed his cast in ways that haven’t even been invented yet. Stray Bullets Sunshine and Roses #1 follows the story of Kretchmeyer, a suave would be gangster trying to get in the game. He begins a romance with a feisty east coast woman named Beth. Unknowingly, the secrets of their lives begin to intertwine and unravel in a crime/love story that hasn’t been told this well since True Romance.

Black and white comics might not be for everyone but if they’re done right you hardly notice the lack of color. Laphan does it right. His art has a way of simplifying the complexity of the narrative down to raw emotion. It’s a treat to ride this tense roller coaster of lust and violence because each page is more striking than the one before it.

If you’ve never read Stray Bullets, the beauty of the series is its never closed nature. Almost every issue is a self contained story. Whether you start with the original number one or this latest Sunshine and Roses arc you’ll never feel as though you’re in a story that’s already years in unfolding. For long time Stray Bullets fans… rejoice! It’s back and it’s just as good as ever!


 

Dave currently playing :Grimm Fandango, currently eating: cereal, currently complaining about: fat free milk @bouncingsoul217

0 Comments on Review: Getting Hit By Stray Bullets Has Never Felt This Good as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
48. Review: crime makes a strange exit to Eden in Postal #1

 

postalcoverWritten by: Bryan Hill, Matt Hawkins

Art by: Isaac Goodhart

Colorist and Editor: Betsy Gonia

Letterer: Troy Peteri

Publisher: Top Cow

Strange small towns commanded by dogmatic despots have long been a staple of post-apocalyptic fare like The Walking Dead. So when Postal #1 opens on a church sermon delivered by a preacher waving a gun at a man who is bound at the foot of the altar, it seems a familiar scenario. Perhaps this is what the comic wants us to think, lulling us into a false sense of narrative security to contrast with it’s intriguing final pages.

The sermon is cut short by a turn of the page and text that reads: 24 hours earlier. We are in the town of Eden, Wyoming and at it’s post office we meet Mark: a mail carrier who takes his job very seriously, with ritualistic attention to detail. He leads us through his day, which apparently includes transcribing letters that are damaged at his mother’s behest, calling it “policy.” Somehow I don’t think the USPS would agree. In this case, Mark transcribes a damaged letter that implicates a shady Eden resident in a drug operation. Wanting to “help” the man, Mark ends up stumbling right into the middle of his meth lab.

As the issue unfolds we meet a host of characters that border on cliches: A tall, “injun” man who speaks in an accent straight out of a John Ford western; the beautiful, sad, yet caring waitress who Mark yearns for; a cantankerous chef who only speaks French. Those cliche’s grind to a halt when we meet Mayor Shiffron, who also happens to be Mark’s mother. The Mayor lays out some of the rules of Eden to an overly muscled white-power newcomer and they aren’t exactly what you’d expect. This piqued my interest. The Mayors tense, cold relationship with her son was also a surprise. By the time I reached the books’ ending which recalls the strange, small town of Twin Peaks, I found myself wondering what the next issue would bring.

Postal #1 offers well-rendered characters, different in their build, height and affect which are colored nicely. The gray and pastel palate gives the effect of isolating the town, making it feel as if it exists outside of the world we know. The end of the book includes a dossier on the important characters we’ve met so far and provides some further clarity while also expanding the mystery of Eden. If Postal #2 avoids the pitfall of piling too many mysteries on top of each other, it could prove to be a solid new series.

0 Comments on Review: crime makes a strange exit to Eden in Postal #1 as of 1/1/1900
Add a Comment
49. Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service, your Millar is showing

kingsman-the-secret-service

Adapted from the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, the longer titled Kingsman: The Secret Service sees Matthew Vaughn taking on another Millar property, having previously adapted Kick-Ass to some acclaim (before the Jeff Wadlow-directed sequel squashed any and all of that franchise’s goodwill). Whereas the latter film was a subversive take on super-heroes, with Kingsman, Vaughn sets his sights squarely on the spy genre, or more specifically, the Roger Moore-era James Bond films and all of the gadgets, paper-thin female characters, and British patriotism that are hallmarks of that iteration of 007.

For about 2/3rds of its running time, I enjoyed myself. And then the film takes a turn that left me outright hating it. It was a strange experience and left me wondering how I could put it into words.

But let’s get the key details out of the way:

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a troubled chap, living with his mother and her thug boyfriend, and finding himself in constant dire straits both with other street toughs and the law. After a particularly damaging incident with the authorities, it seems like Eggsy has reached the end of the line – until he’s saved from imprisonment by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a gentleman spy. Harry once mentored Eggsy’s now-departed father within an organization of spies, and as with all guilt-debts of this type, Eggsy is intended to replace his father. It’s typical hero’s journey stuff, but Vaughn handles much of this with panache. The film reveals a rich organization, where its members are all named after Knights of the Round-table including Hart’s Galahad, Merlin (Mark Strong, the Q of the group), and their leader Arthur (Michael Caine, another casting coup if you love The Italian Job as much as I do).

Eggsy is forced to compete with a number of other young proteges for the role of “Lancelot.” It’s here where the film shines. We get a number of exciting training sequences and tests for the prospects, and it’s all wrapped together with a fairly knowing wink. This is the point where Kingsman knows exactly what kind of film it is, relishing the old cliches that are inherent within its genre while still declaring itself not that kind of movie. Even the villains are right in line with that formula. Samuel L. Jackson‘s Evan Valentine, a tech mogul that gags at the site of blood (and who has a masterplan that’s about as ridiculous as something out of Moonraker) is workable enough, though the riff on Spike Lee is less funny than Vaughn and co. thinks it is. His having a hench-woman that’s straight out of the Jaws/Oddjob playbook is a good, if obvious, touch.

I also cannot express enough what Firth bring to the proceedings. For my money, he’s one of the best actors in Hollywood and the level of gravitas and authoritative manner that he excels at is right at home in Kingsman. In this kind of film, you need an actor that can exude that debonair quality, especially given how forgettable Egerton is in the lead.

Yet for all the things Kingsman does enjoyably well from its outset, I found myself leaving the theater with a bad taste in my mouth. There’s a point when the film turns from a fun, action-based satire into all out carnage and, from there, it never really lets up. Once that moment comes, and the film shifts its focus to just one character, everything falls apart. It’s here where all of the Millar-isms come into full force, and I was reminded more of the side of Millar’s work that highlights an over-indulgent attitude regarding sex and violence. In one of the film’s worst moments, there’s a scene where we’re forced to endure the mass slaughter of innocents (despite being a group of admittedly awful people), and I was unsure what I was supposed to be feeling. It was clear the film had the same problem, playing to both anguish and glee at the same time.

And the less said about the final pre-credits scene, the better. To be frank, the gender politics of the film are a bit of a mess. Sophie Cookson‘s Roxy really had no reason to exist at all other than to play on the potential of romance with Eggsy and/or her own capability as a rival, though neither really play into the plot in any significant fashion. Like I spoke to above, there’s a point to which this is another cliche of a well-worn genre, but this would have been a great place to transcend that source if Vaughn and Jane Goldman‘s script was anywhere near as clever as it pretends to be.

Kingsman, is at its heart, a film focusing on men celebrating the concept of being “gentlemen.” This is all well and good, except Vaughn and his team defy those very lessons in the final turn, where the overall treatise seems to be more: “A gentleman is all well and good, but it’s better to be a sleaze”. Metaphorically you could even say “they shot their own dog”. If you see the movie, you’ll get what I mean.

Or not. You’d be better off saving your money.

 

2 Comments on Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service, your Millar is showing, last added: 2/8/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment
50. Review of the Day: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life
By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Dial Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 9780803740815
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

As a child I was what one might call a selective reader. Selective in that I studiously avoided any and all works of fiction that might conceivably be considered “depressing”. Bridge to Terabithia? I’ll have none please. Island of the Blue Dolphins? Pass. Jacob Have I Loved? Not in this lifetime. Lord only knows what caused a book to be labeled “depressing” in my eyes before I’d even read it. I think I went by covers alone. Books picturing kids staring out into the vast nothingness of the universe were of little use to me. Happily I got over this phase and eventually was able to go back to those books I had avoided to better see what I had missed. Still, that 10-year-old self is always with me and I confer with her when I’m reading new releases. So when I read The War That Saved My Life I had to explain to her, at length, that in spite of the premise, cover (again with the kids staring out into nothingness), and time period this isn’t the bleak stretch of depressingness it might appear to be. Enormously satisfying and fun to read, Bradley takes a work of historical fiction and gives the whole premise of WWII evacuees a kick in the pants.

Ada is ten and as far as she can tell she’s never been outdoors. Never felt the sun on her face. Never seen grass. Born with a twisted foot her mother considers her an abomination and her own personal shame. So when the chance comes for Ada to join her fellow child evacuees, including her little brother Jamie, out of the city during WWII she leaps at the chance. Escaping to the English countryside, the two are foisted upon a woman named Susan who declares herself to be “not nice” from the start. Under her care the siblings grow and change. Ada discovers Susan’s pony and is determined from the get-go to ride it. And as the war progresses and things grow dire, she finds that the most dangerous thing isn’t the bombs or the war itself. It’s hope. And it’s got her number.

I may have mentioned it before, but the word that kept coming to mind as I read this book was “satisfying”. There’s something enormously rewarding about this title. I think a lot of the credit rests on the very premise. When a deserving kid receives deserving gifts, it releases all kinds of pleasant endorphins in the brain of he reader. It feels like justice, multiple times over. We’re sympathetic to Ava from the start, but I don’t know that I started to really like her until she had to grapple with the enormity of Susan’s sharp-edged kindness. As an author, Bradley has the unenviable job of making a character like Ada realistic, suffering real post-traumatic stress in the midst of a war, and then in time realistically stronger. This isn’t merely a story where the main character has to learn and grow and change. She has this enormous task of making Ava strong in every possible way after a lifetime of systematic, often horrific, abuse. And she has to do so realistically. No deus ex machina. No sudden conversion out of the blue. That she pulls it off is astounding. Honestly it made me want to reread the book several times over, if only to figure out how she managed to display Ada’s anger and shock in the face of kindness with such aplomb. For me, it was the little lines that conveyed it best. Sentences like the one Ada says after the first birthday she has ever celebrated: “I had so much. I felt so sad.” It’s not a flashy thing to say. Just true.

You can see the appeal of writing characters like Ada and Jamie. Kids who have so little experience with the wider world that they don’t know a church from a bank or vice versa. The danger with having a character ignorant in this way is that they’ll only serve to annoy the reader. Or, perhaps worse, their inability to comprehend simple everyday objects and ideas will strike readers as funny or something to be mocked. Here, Bradley has some advantages over other books that might utilize this technique. For one thing, by placing this book in the past Ada is able to explain to child readers historical facts without stating facts that would be obvious to her or resorting to long bouts of exposition. By the same token, child readers can also pity Ada for not understanding stuff that they already do (banks, church, etc.).

Ms. Bradley has written on her blog that, “I don’t write in dialect, for several reasons, but I try to write dialogue in a way that suggests dialect.” American born (Indiana, to be specific) she has set her novel in historical England (Kent) where any number of accents might be on display. She could have peppered the book with words that tried to replicate the sounds of Ada’s London accent or Susan’s Oxford educated one. Instead, Ms. Bradley is cleverer than that. As she says, she merely suggests dialect. One of the characters, a Mr. Grimes, says things like “Aye” and ends his sentences with words like “like”. But it doesn’t feel forced or fake. Just mere hints of an accent that would allow a reader to pick it up or ignore it, however they preferred.

Basically what we have here is Anne of Green Gables without quite so much whimsy. And in spite of the presence of a pony, this is not a cutesy pie book. Instead, it’s a story about a girl who fights like a demon against hope. She fights it with tooth and claw and nail and just about any weapon she can find. If her life has taught her anything it’s that hope can destroy you faster than abuse. In this light Susan’s kindness is a danger unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. Ms. Bradley does a stellar job of bringing to life this struggle in Ada and in inflaming a similar struggle in the hearts of her young readers. You root for Ada. You want her to be happy. Yet, at the same time, you don’t want your heart to be broken any more than Ada does. Do you hope for her future then? You do. Because this is a children’s book and hope, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is the name of the game. Ms. Bradley understands that and in The War That Saved My Life she manages to concoct a real delight out of a story that in less capable hands would have been a painful read. This book I would hand to my depression-averse younger self. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s one-of-a-kind.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover: I may poke fun at the fact that this cover looks so much like the “serious” ones I avoided like the plague in my youth, but I should point out that it’s doing something that almost no other similar children’s books dare.  Inevitably if a book is about a kid with a physical ailment of some sort, that ailment will not make the cover.  Much as publishers avoid putting overweight kids on book jackets, so too do they avoid physical disabilities.  Here, however, the artist has shown Ada’s foot, albeit in a simplified manner.  It’s not particularly noticeable but it’s there.  I’ll take what I can get.

Professional Reviews:

Misc: The author stops by Matthew Winner’s fabulous Let’s Get Busy podcast to chat.

Video: And finally, see Ms. Brubaker Bradley talk about the book herself.

Share

3 Comments on Review of the Day: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, last added: 2/6/2015
Display Comments Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts