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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,679
26. Review: Fables: The Wolf Among Us stars a well-realized wolf in Sheriff’s clothing

by Edie Nugent

fables1cover 300x230 Review: Fables: The Wolf Among Us stars a well realized wolf in Sheriffs clothing Writers: Dave Justus, Matthew Sturges

Artists: Steve Sadowski, Shawn McManus, Travis Moore

Colorist: Lee Loughridge

Letterer: Sal Sipriano

Cover Artist: Chrissie Zullo

Editor: Rowena Yow

Publisher: Vertigo

It seems fitting that Fables: The Wolf Among Us is Vertigo’s “first ever digital-first series” according to the publisher’s website. If you can parse that distinction, meaning Vertigo has never before released a comic series in digital format prior to it’s print debut, it makes a strange sort of sense that they chose this particular series to hold the title of first-ever first digital. Fables: The Wolf Among Us #1 is a comic series based on the popular Telltale video game series of the same name, which was itself based on the 14-time Eisner award winning series from creator Bill Willingham. While the digital version of Fables: The Wolf Among Us launched in early December 2o14 and is set to release “chapter 6″ of the ongoing story today, print-format fans get a good opportunity to catch up to digital readers with Fables: The Wolf Among Us #1 as it collects the first three chapters of the digital story in this first print issue.

The comic runs very close to the story, dialogue and plot of the Telltale game while also providing additional back story and details for a more in-depth story than the game provides. Having played the first installment of the game and now read this series, I found the first three chapters to be an enjoyable read. It was a solid decision to enlist Matthew Sturges in translating the video game story to comic form, his previous work on the Fables comic series that birthed the game that served as template for the comic (is your head spinning yet?) comes through in the additional material added to chapter 1. Sturges is aided by newcomer Dave Justus in the writing department and their collaboration is seamless: all the writing seems of a piece.

The decision to set the series as a prequel to the events in the original run of Fables was a good one: it is an easily understood entry point for new readers while also rewarding faithful fans of the aforementioned comic series, which began in 2002. The concept is simple: the fairy tale characters we all know have been chased out of their Homeland by a malevolent force. They’ve escaped to our world, setting up a new home in colonial America which later becomes New York City. Some are of means and can purchase glamours to hide their non-human appearance when applicable, others cannot.

We get to see Bigby Wolf (the second “b” stands for bad) as the newly minted Sheriff of Fabletown, as he responds to a domestic violence call from Mr. Toad (Wind in the Willows fans might be a bit shocked by his language) who reports a disruption in his upstairs neighbor’s apartment. Bigby is understandably not eager to take the call, as Toad’s upstairs neighbor is The Woodsman and their last confrontation of fairy tale legend didn’t end well for Bigby . The Woodsman proves he is still the brute with an ax he was back in the Homeland, beating up a mysterious woman called  Faith who has resorted to prostitution to make ends meet in our mundane world. Bigby’s efforts to subdue him, however, only serve to escalate the violence.

Faith proves to be pretty lethal herself, dispatching the Woodsman handily just as he gains the advantage in his fight with Bigby. Faith is unruffled by the proceedings, taking her injuries and unpaid work for the Woodsman in stride. Bigby takes pity on her situation, and gives her what little money he has on him to help cover the debt. He also arranges to meet up with her later to get a statement detailing her abuse after she has returned to her boss with Bigby’s cash. Of course, any character that essentially says “I’ll be right back” is in narrative danger. Charmingly, when Bigby returns to his apartment to decompress, we run into another of the Sheriff’s former enemies: one of the three little pigs is crashed out on Bigby’s couch. This pig, known as Colin, demands whiskey and chain smokes while chastising the Sheriff for his lone-wolf habits. Also featured are some of Bigby’s earliest interactions with Snow White and Beauty (who is hiding from her Beast for unknown reasons).

The art across all the issues is different enough to showcase the style of the three artists: Steve Sadowski (chapter. 1), Shawn McManus (Chapter. 2), and Travis Moore (Chapter. 3), but also cohesive enough to provide a nice continuity of design. The series will hopefully go on to introduce more of the iconic Fables characters, while also making good on the answer to the compelling mystery set out in these first three chapters of the series.

 

1 Comments on Review: Fables: The Wolf Among Us stars a well-realized wolf in Sheriff’s clothing, last added: 1/16/2015
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27. Book Bloggers

How do you work with book bloggers to get them interested in reviewing your book? 

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

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28. Nighty Night! app review

nighty night cover As Fox and Sheep‘s bedtime app Nighty Night! (2012) opens, the screen pans across a view of a little town. One by one the lights in houses’ windows go out, but the farmhouse’s lights still blaze. Tap them to explore inside and around the house, along the way discovering friendly animals: a duck, a hen and her chicks, a sheep, a dog, a pig, a cow, and a pond with three fish. (Sets of three additional animals — pony, cat, and rabbit or goat, spider, and stork — are available as unobtrusive in-app purchases from the main menu.)

Tap the animals for a few brief animations, then turn out the lights by tapping subtly highlighted switches to help the animals get ready for bed. Each animal stretches or yawns and settles down as the narrator (Alistair Findlay) bids it good night.

Nighty Night sheep

“Good night, dear sheep.”

The mixed-media collage illustrations and animations (both created by animator Heidi Wittlinger) are warm, cozy, and sprinkled with a few delightful surprises, e.g., the duck beds down in the bathtub, the three fish glow in the dark.

During this process, you can revisit the animals to see them sleeping (strangely mesmerizing) or to wake them. Once all of the lights are off and the animals are gently snoring, the narrator realizes, “Wait a minute! Someone is still awake!” and prompts you, the user, to head off to bed as well.

Turn the narration on or off, choose from twelve language options, or select autoplay mode from the main menu. There’s also an extra-soothing “snow” option. The low-key British-accented narration, instrumental lullaby soundtrack, and reassuring pattern make for a sweet bedtime experience.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 7.0 or later), $2.99, and Android devices, $3.99. Recommended for preschool users. Companion app Nighty Night Circus was released in November 2014.

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29. Katherine Applegate, Rory Vaden, & Tim Johnston Debut On the Indie Bestseller List

Ivan CoverWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending January 11, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #5 in Children’s Interest) The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate & illustrated by Patricia Castelao: “Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and a #1 New York Times bestseller, this stirring and unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself.” (January 2012)

(Debuted at #13 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time by Rory Vaden: “Millions are overworked, organizationally challenged, or have a motivation issue that’s holding them back. Vaden presents a simple yet powerful paradigm that will set readers free to do their best work—on time and without stress and anxiety.” (January 2015)

(Debuted at #14 in Hardcover Fiction) Descent by Tim Johnston: “For eighteen-year-old Caitlin, the mountains loom as the ultimate test of her runner’s heart, while her parents hope that so much beauty, so much grandeur, will somehow repair a damaged marriage. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic, as suddenly this family find themselves living the kind of nightmare they’ve only read about in headlines or seen on TV.” (January 2015)

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30. Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis Animated Goes Deep

By Davey Nieves

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS

justice league throne of atlantis blu ray cover 95 236x300 Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis Animated Goes Deep

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the animated film follow up to last year’s Justice League: War that introduced the New 52 to DC Animation. The last few movies have been a roller coaster of quality. Flashpoint Paradox was excellent while War and Assault on Arkham suffered from execution problems. While the film has a few standout moments Justice League: TOA doesn’t quite parallel the emotional strength of its Geoff Johns Aquaman source material.

Directed by Ethan Spaulding, the film blends two of Johns early New 52 Aquaman arcs as the audience is presented the origin of Arthur Curry. Then we shift to the mysteries of the deep and totalitarianism of Orm (Ocean Master) as he attempts to wage war on the surface world. Also dealing with the fallout from the War film are the members of the Justice League. We have to continue to see them come together as a team because apparently Darkseid’s invasion just wasn’t enough of a reason to form on a regular basis. The team crosses paths with Atlantis and the brooding enigma that is Aquaman when weapons of mass destruction are stolen from an underwater military submarine. Along the way to recovering the missiles, the league must find Arthur Curry to avoid an all out war between Atlantis and the surface world.

Where ToA stumbles isn’t so much in the execution but in the little things that you can’t ignore. Not following the books is understandable. Building the DC Animated into its own universe is a great way to create a unique identity for the brand. Plus, I’ve always been of the mindset: why make something where the intended audience already knows what’s going to happen next. That being said, ToA has an overall compacted feeling. It rushes through so much of its material causing it to feel diluted and unnecessary. The Superman/Wonder Woman relationship, Cyborg’s coming to terms with being more machine than man; it all could have been better played with or at the very least given more screen time.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.40.14 PM 300x168 Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis Animated Goes DeepJason O’Mara, Christopher Gorham, Shemar Moore and Sean Astin return as Batman, The Flash, Cyborg and Shazam. Joining them are Jerry O’Connell, Rosario Dawson, and Sumalee Montano as Superman, Wonder Woman and Mera. Voice acting performances feel a bit unbalanced due to what seems like bad writing. Nathan Fillion has always been a great Hal Jordan but here the performance is so short that he never really gets a moment. Which is true of almost the entire cast and a big problem for having Justice League on the box art. Rosario Dawson’s voicing of Wonder Woman was superb and the film could have used more of it. Most of the weight was carried by Matt Lanter voicing Aquaman whom on his own turned in an adequate performance. Though that isn’t what you want out of a Ferrari or the title character of your movie.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.38.57 PM 300x168 Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis Animated Goes Deep

Justice League has some things that did land on target. The animation is as crisp as any of the better-animated movies like Under the Red Hood and Flashpoint. Where animation excels even beyond film is in the action and this movie has some great scenes like the tidal wave and VR submarine reenactment. One thing that the film did well more so than most recent DC Animated movies is the acting drawn into the characters. Eye movements, twitches, and the fluidity of there movement in battle all surpass previous entries. Visually, everything just clicks on this movie. The credits scene also raises some questions because I’m curious to hear what it leads to since the next films are based on Court of Owls, and an original story by Bruce Timm called Justice League: Gods and Monsters. Both of which are set for 2015 releases.

Ultimately Justice League Throne of Atlantis probably suffers more from its scheduling than anything else. So many of its moving parts feel rushed and uncoordinated that it doesn’t serve the tremendous material it came from. My advice, rent it or watch it once on your favorite digital platform.

Justice League Throne of Atlantis is available now on Digital HD and on Blu-Ray and DVD January 27, 2015.


If you’ve got a hankering to rate DC Animated films follow Davey on twitter.

 

13 Comments on Review: Justice League Throne of Atlantis Animated Goes Deep, last added: 1/17/2015
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31. Review: It Looks Like Mortal Kombat, It Walks Like Mortal Kombat, But…

By Davey Nieves

MORTAL KOMBAT X #1

STK661307 193x300 Review: It Looks Like Mortal Kombat, It Walks Like Mortal Kombat, But...

 

Story: Shawn Kittlesen

Art: Dexter Soy, Veronica Gandini

Letters: Saida Temofonte

Cover: Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair

Publisher: DC Comics

There used to be a time where people gathered at laundry mats, donut shops, and yes arcades in order to pop quarters into a fighting game. At least that’s how long I’ve been playing them for. One thing that’s remained true about them all these years is you don’t really play them expecting a nuanced story. Especially when it comes to the heavy-handed Kung-Fu clichés that drive Mortal Kombat’s –to the death– fights. Don’t get the wrong idea, like many of you I enjoyed ripping out people’s spines with Sub-Zero or watching Liu Kang uppercut his opponent’s head clean off. MK has always delivered an enjoyable level of cheesy bombastic action that’s good for a laugh. With developer Netherrealm Studios set to release the highly anticipated next chapter of the game later this year, DC Comics is continuing to capitalize on Warner Bros acquisition of the property with a prequel comic book series. Releasing first digitally, Mortal Kombat X will bridge the gap between the game released in 2011 and its follow up (also titled MKX) this year.

Written by Shawn Kittelsen, the book opens with a blind swordsman named Kenshi on the run with his son from members of a mercenary clan known as the Red Dragon. These events set up for one of the franchise’s most popular characters to intervene and begin the road of training for Kenshi’s son. The story (at least the first arc) follows a similar blueprint to Kill Bill or the Van Damme classic Bloodsport; just with none of the emotional hooks either film had. It caters to die hard fans of the Mortal Kombat franchise but at the cost of alienating new readers. From the moment you take in the first few pages; the readers are dropped in a story that feels like it’s years along in unfolding. Which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the execution had been on point. While the action is as brutal as a Mortal Kombat story should be, there’s hardly any tension on the pages. It should be easy to play on familiar rivalries in this universe and set up the stakes, but by the end of the first chapter it’s all just absent.

Mortal Kombat X 2015 001 010 300x230 Review: It Looks Like Mortal Kombat, It Walks Like Mortal Kombat, But...

One of the few things the book does land well is the art. Drawn by Dexter Soy, the action is as gory and barbaric as one would expect. The artist even draws x-ray panels of bones shattering just as in the video game. It helps to familiarize the material to its source but such connections are too rare within this first chapter. Another fix for the series going forward would be to play with the camera angles a bit more. The game is known for capturing extreme violence through lenses you wouldn’t have thought to use. Mortal Kombat X the comic could play with the same identity.

In order to understand, or even pick up, this comic you have to be already vested in the mythology behind it. Even doing so, there’s nothing going on here to rekindle your interest in it. Going forward the book can’t parallel the game’s mindless appetite for blood. Hopefully the creative team quickly realizes that the series can’t be gory because it has to be, but instead earn its moments like any of quality narrative. Wait for the series to become readable by letting it work out the kinks and jump on later.


Follow Davey on Twitter to talk comics, cats, and punk rock as he repost his instagram feed and makes the occasional complaint between naps. 

 

0 Comments on Review: It Looks Like Mortal Kombat, It Walks Like Mortal Kombat, But… as of 1/14/2015 11:16:00 PM
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32. Review: Red Sonja and Conan Together Again For The First Time

By Davey Nieves

CONAN RED SONJA #1

25317 195x300 Review: Red Sonja and Conan Together Again For The First Time

 

Story: Gail Simone, Jim Zub

Art: Dan Panosian, Dave Stewart

Lettering: Comicraft

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics & Dynamite

There’s an entire generation of readers who weren’t even born the last time Conan The Barbarian and Red Sonja teamed up for battle in comics or film. Both characters have had a bit of a renaissance as of late with such great books as People of the Black Circle and Dynamite’s own Red Sonja ongoing series. Was it time for the barbarian and the warrior to meet again? Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite think so, and they’ve certainly assembled the best team to do it as they deliver a subtle yet prolific opening to their new 4-part mini series.

What you’ll notice from the outset of the issue is a risk the writing team of superstars Gail Simone (Batgirl, Secret Six) and Jim Zub (Samurai Jack) take by not just immediately dropping Red Sonja and Conan into mega-fight scenes. The opening of this series is really a heist story as the two are unknowingly both hired by an insidious figure known as Manus –Drath to steal a valuable treasure from the royals of Koth. Our conquerors get a bit more than they bargained for as they’re set up to be the only standing between us and Bloodroot covered dead Earth. By the time you reach the first issue’s end the twist feels a little predictable but doesn’t diminish the enjoyment.

conanrs1p2 200x300 Review: Red Sonja and Conan Together Again For The First Time

Fans who expect a certain level of savagery from characters whose battle skills are almost mythological won’t be disappointed. As with any team-up, readers will get all the slashing and hard-hitting melee you’d expect. Including a fight between the characters that can best be described as sensual. It’s just that the violence feels like a character reward for the story more than just being shoehorned in. More books could do well in following Simone and Zub’s lead in this manner.

A pair of high caliber writers need an artist who can bring the primal nature of these characters out in a way makes them feel anything but simple. Joining Simone and Zub is the urban barbarian himself Dan Panosian (X-Men, Thor). Upon first glance there’s such a unique neanderthal surface to his work in these pages. As you keep reading you’ll notice all the emotion underneath the savagery. Eyes, expression, and body gesture all click together as accents in his panel work. Colorist, Dave Stewart’s work is just as vital in the book. The warm pallet he uses makes the pop stand out in the battle scenes it needs to and unifies the flow of art with story making it one of the smoothest reads of the week if not the year.

This book is awesome! Simone, Zub, and Panosaian put peanut butter and jelly together then served it alongside a big juicy porterhouse steak. Fans of both characters will find plenty to enjoy in this limited series. A big plus for both publishers and retailers is just how inviting the book is for new readers. You need not know anything about the lore of either character or Arnold Schwarzenegger to understand what’s going on here. Conan/ Red Sonja #1 kicks the series off with the right balance of intrigue and good ol’ beat ‘em up action.


Follow Davey on Twitter to talk comics, cats, and punk rock as he repost his instagram feed and makes the occasional complaint between naps. 

1 Comments on Review: Red Sonja and Conan Together Again For The First Time, last added: 1/16/2015
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33. Review of Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom

lowery_turning 15 on the road to freedomTurning 15 on the Road to Freedom:
My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March

by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; illus. by PJ Loughran
Middle School, High School   Dial   128 pp.
1/15   978-0-8037-4123-2   $19.99   g

Lowery offers a revealing look at a childhood spent in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a teenager, the Selma, Alabama, native was there to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak out for black voting rights; she was tear-gassed and beaten on “Bloody Sunday” (as Lowery writes, in perhaps the understatement of the century, “It was not a good day to be around white people”); and she was among the three hundred people who marched from Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery in 1965. Lowery’s voice is consistently engaging (“After that first time [in jail], I wasn’t so afraid, because I was with my buddies and we knew we had each other’s back. What we could do with each other’s backs, I don’t know. Those white policemen had billy clubs and guns”) and casual even as she parcels out often-harrowing memories (such as her time spent in the jail’s “sweatbox”: “There was no air…There was no toilet…There was nothing but heat in an iron box”). Period photos are incorporated seamlessly into the book design, and Loughran captures the emotions of the times with boldly colored illustrations. An epilogue of sorts — “Why Voting Rights?” — gives an excellent explanation of the significance of the right to vote for African Americans while making mention of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act. A strong addition to the canon of civil rights books for young people.

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34. Review Round Up

I'm behind in reviews, so I'm doing a few round ups of titles -- better a couple paragraphs than nothing!

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, 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.

The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 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!


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Scholastic. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Iron Trial starts a series set in the modern world, where magic is real -- but hidden. Twelve-year-old Callum's father has done everything possible to keep Callum away from this world. Call is supposed to do everything possible to fail his entrance tests to the Magisterium, a school of magic hidden in the United States. Instead, Call finds himself in the Magisterium, studying magic, and finding out his father hasn't been totally honest with him. Magic isn't the big, dangerous, evil he's been told about.

Most of this book is the "forming" part of an adventure story: Call discovering the truth about magic, that it's not a simple matter of good or evil, and Call forging friendships and allies (and sometimes enemies and frenemies) with his fellow students. He also has to study magic, and it's not all fun and games -- it's also hard work. (And, well, fun. Because magic!)

Part of what Call learns about are some epic battles from over ten years before, including those who fought on the good side and the bad side. (Magic is neither good nor bad, but those who practice it -- they fall on those two sides.) Call is sometimes frustratingly ignorant about magic and his own family's connection to it, but it works for the book -- the reader learns as Call learns.

The ending of the book -- oh, the ending! Personally, I felt as if the story was just truly beginning with the ending, and that the real story will be next year, now that the reader, and Call, has the full knowledge of what is going on. Or do we know as much as we think?



















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

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35. Rat Queens, Sass and Sorcery

And now for something a little different, a graphic story/comic featuring a group of four female mercenaries who are tough, sassy, smart, funny, like to drink and eat and carouse, and know how to handle weaponry and magic. Rat Queens, Volume One: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis Wiebe is a hoot and a half.

There is Betty, a Smidgin thief. I’m not sure what a Smidgin is, but she’s little and cute, great at breaking and entering, and enjoys being tossed at goblins, swords blazing. There is Dee, a former acolyte of N’rygoth, a giant flying squid. Dee is black, has some good magic, a great purple and black outfit and awesome thigh-high boots. Violet is a solidly built redhead with great armor and big attitude. Turns out she is a Dwarf who shaved her beard off and left her family. We aren’t sure why she left her family but I suspect in later stories we might find out. And finally, there is the leader of the group, Hannah, who is a magic user and, I believe, an Elf, but don’t quote me on that. She’s tall and curvy and looks a bit like Betty Page.

The Rat Queens and four other mercenary groups have been banned from the town of Palisade after their last pub brawl unless they all perform assigned services to the city. The Rat Queens are tasked with clearing out a goblin cave. Peaches are assigned to empty a camp of bandits. The Four Daves have to go deal with the restless dead at the cemetery. The Brother Ponies (four big, brawny men with long ponytails) are given the job of getting rid of the ogre. And finally, Obsidian Darkness, who look sort of like goth ninja elves, have to clean the toilets at the military barracks.

The jobs turn out to be a setup. The Rat Queens survive, a bit battered and bruised, but all in one piece. The other groups aren’t all so lucky. Who is behind the setup to have them killed? Will the Rat Queens and the remaining mercenaries from the other groups be able to stop brawling long enough to band together and save the city of Palisade? Will Betty and the cute Fay with the nose ring hook up? Will Dee be able to get her nose out a book and get over her social anxiety long enough to realize she has a few admirers? What’s with all the bluebirds in one of the Four Daves’ beards?

Part of the fun of this book is not just the women kicking ass, but that they are friends and care about each other without having to go shopping for new shoes or weep together over a bucket of ice cream. There are also many moments about accepting other people for who they are, getting past being different and seeing the individual instead of the Zombie or the Dwarf. And it’s just plain silly fun. There is currently only one volume. It looks like volume two will be out in May. Yay!


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy

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36. Advance Review: Star Wars Done Right

Star Wars Vol 2 1 197x300 Advance Review: Star Wars Done Right

Cover by John Cassaday & Laura Martin

 

 

 Written by: Jason Aaron

Art by: John Cassaday

Colors by: Laura Martin

Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos

Cover Art by: John Cassaday & Laura Martin

Published by: Marvel Comics

 

 

 

By Matthew Jent

“I have a very good feeling about this.”

Star Wars returns to Marvel, and nearly every other ancillary, non-movie-adventure of Luke Skywalker & Co. has been wiped out of continuity. Back in December we knew that Star Wars #1 would be, almost certainly, the biggest-selling issue of the year with 1 million copies ordered by comics retailers and other outlets. The first issue hits stores this week, with launch parties, dozens of variant covers, and a major media push. But what about what’s actually on the page?

To put it simply: this feels like Star Wars.

The issue opens with a sequential art version of the familiar logo and opening crawl, picking up after the events of A New Hope. The art from John Cassaday and Laura Martin captures the gritty look and feel of the original trilogy, and perfectly replicates that Solo smirk, Luke’s boyishly optimistic determination, and Leia’s exasperation with a certain smuggler. From the setting to the faces to the clothing, this book looks like Star Wars. It also looks like a really good comic book — there’s a certain Wookiee sniper scene that uses panel layout and zoom-in transitions for a nice effect. This is a visual tale, well told by sequential artists.

The narrative is satisfying, too. This first issue is oversized, with 36 pages of story. Jason Aaron’s dialogue hits the exposition a little too hard in a few scenes, mostly in explaining (and then, a few pages later, explaining again) the rebel plan, but Han talks like Han and Leia talks like Leia. Luke doesn’t talk very much at all, but that feels right too — Cassaday & Martin’s artwork evokes those Mark-Hamill-eyes in a way that tells you this is a Luke Skywalker who’s blown up the Death Star, but has yet to get lost on Hoth. He’s still young, hopeful, and has taken his first steps into a larger world — but he’s largely untested. He’s struggling to live up to the few lessons imparted by Ben Kenobi, still trying to figure out what it means to hear the voice of his old mentor on the wind, and that yearning plays out in his actions more than in his words — just like it should.

The plot moves forward at an assured clip, and it feels fulfilling without being rushed. This story also feels — well, essential. Like this really is the next adventure of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, and not just a filled-in series of events between movies.

Criticisms can be made, but they’re small. While most of the characters sound like themselves, C-3P0 sounds … off. His dialogue sounds almost more like Data than Threepio, like he’s using too many words to communicate. And while it’s wonderful to see Leia on a mission with the Han and Luke, it’s unclear why she is on this particular mission for the rebel alliance, as the only role she plays in-story is to criticize and banter with Han.

But with lots of things Star Wars, I’ll happily take a few inconsistencies if it means having fun in this particular far-away galaxy. “Skywalker Strikes” by Aaron, Cassaday and Martin isn’t just a fun Star Wars story, it’s a well-done comic, and one of the most fulfilling first issue/reboots I’ve read from Marvel in a long time. It’s a promising start to a new era of space fantasy.

3 Comments on Advance Review: Star Wars Done Right, last added: 1/14/2015
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37. Review of the Day: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song
By Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
$17.95
ISBN: 978-1419714801
Ages 10 and up
On shelves May 12, 2015

I was watching the third Hobbit movie the other day (bear with me – I’m going somewhere with this) with no particular pleasure. There are few things in life more painful to a children’s librarian than watching an enjoyable adventure for kids lengthened and turned into adult-centric fare, then sliced up into three sections. Still, it’s always interesting to see how filmmakers wish to adapt material and as I sat there, only moderately stultified, the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” (which, in this film, could be renamed “The Battle of the Thirteen Odd Armies, Give Or Take a Few) comes to a head as the glorious eagles swoop in. “They’re the Americans”, my husband noted. It took a minute for this to register. “What?” “They’re the Americans. Tolkien wrote this book after WWI and the eagles are the Yanks that swoop in to save the day at the very last minute.” I sat there thinking about it. England has always had far closer ties to The Great War than America, it’s true. I remember sitting in school, baffled by the vague version I was fed. American children are taught primarily Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII fare. All other conflicts are of seemingly equal non-importance after those big three. Yet with the 100 year anniversary of the war to end all wars, the English, who had a much larger role to play, are, like Tolkien, still producing innovative, evocative, unbelievable takes that utilize fantasy to help us understand it. And few books do a better job of pinpointing the post traumatic stress syndrome of a post-WWI nation than Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song. They will tell you that it’s a creepy doll book with changelings and fairies and things that go bump in the night. It is all of that. It is also one of the smartest dissections of what happens when a war is done and the survivors are left to put their lives back together. Some do a good job. Some do not.

Eleven-year-old Triss is not well. She knows this, but as with many illnesses she’s having a hard time pinpointing what exactly is wrong. It probably had to do with the fact that she was fished out of the Grimmer, a body of water near the old stone house where her family likes to vacation. Still, that doesn’t explain why her sister is suddenly acting angry and afraid of her. It doesn’t explain why she’s suddenly voracious, devouring plate after plate of food in a kind of half mad frenzy. And it doesn’t explain some of the odder things that have been happening lately either. The dolls that don’t just talk but scream too. The fact that she’s waking up with dead leaves in her hair and bed. And that’s all before her sister is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen, a tailor tries to burn her alive, and she discovers a world within her world where things are topsy turvy and she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Triss isn’t the girl she once was. And time is running out.

From that description you’d be justified in wondering why I spent the better half of the opening paragraph of this review discussing WWI. After all, there is nothing particularly war-like in that summary. It would behoove me to me mention then that all this takes place a year or two after the war. Triss’s older brother died in the conflict, leaving his family to pick up the pieces. Like all parents, his are devastated by their loss. Unlike all parents, they make a terrible choice to keep him from leaving them entirely. It’s the parents’ grief and choices that then become the focal point of the book. The nation is experiencing a period of vast change. New buildings, new music, and new ideas are proliferating. Yet for Triss’s parents, it is vastly important that nothing change. They’re the people that would prefer to live in an intolerable but familiar situation rather than a tolerable unknown. Their love is a toxic thing, harming their children in the most insidious of ways. It takes an outsider to see this and to tell them what they are doing. By the end, it’s entirely possible that they’ll stay stuck until events force them otherwise. Then again, Hardinge leaves you with a glimmer of hope. The nation did heal. People did learn. And while there was another tragic war on the horizon, that was a problem for another day.

So what’s all that have to do with fairies? In a smart twist Hardinge makes a nation bereaved become the perfect breeding ground for fairy (though she never calls them that) immigration. It’s interesting to think long and hard about what it is that Hardinge is saying, precisely, about immigrants in England. Indeed, the book wrestles with the metaphor. These are creatures that have lost their homes thanks to the encroachment of humanity. Are they not entitled to lives of their own? Yet some of them do harm to the residents of the towns. But do all of them? Should we paint them all with the same brush if some of them are harmful? These are serious questions worth asking. Xenophobia comes in the form of the tailor Mr. Grace. His smooth sharp scissors cause Triss to equate him with the Scissor Man from the Struwwelpeter tales of old. Having suffered a personal loss at the hands of the otherworldly immigrants he dedicates himself to a kind of blind intolerance. He’s sympathetic, but only up to a point.

Terms I Dislike: Urban Fairies. I don’t particularly dislike the fairies themselves. Not if they’re done well. I should clarify that the term “urban fairies” is used when discussing books in which fairies reside in urban environments. Gargoyles in the gutters. That sort of thing. And if we’re going to get technical about it then yes, Cuckoo Song is an urban fairy book. The ultimate urban fairy book, really. Called “Besiders” their presence in cities is attributed to the fact that they are creatures that exist only where there is no certainty. In the past the sound of church bells proved painful, maybe fatal. However, in the years following The Great War the certainty of religion began to ebb from the English people. Religion didn’t have the standing it once held in their lives/hearts/minds, and so thanks to this uncertainty the Besiders were able to move into places in the city made just for them. You could have long, interesting book group conversations about the true implications of this vision.

There are two kinds of Frances Hardinge novels in this world. There are the ones that deal in familiar mythologies but give them a distinctive spin. That’s this book. Then there are the books that make up their own mythologies and go into such vastly strange areas that it takes a leap of faith to follow, though it’s worth it every time. That’s books like The Lost Conspiracy or Fly By Night and its sequel. Previously Ms. Hardinge wrote Well Witched which was a lovely fantasy but felt tamed in some strange way. As if she was asked to reign in her love of the fabulous so as to create a more standard work of fantasy. I was worried that Cuckoo Song might fall into this same trap but happily this is not the case. What we see on the page here is marvelously odd while still working within an understood framework. I wouldn’t change a dot on an i or a cross on a t.

Story aside, it is Hardinge’s writing that inevitably hooks the reader. She has a way with language that sounds like no one else. Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of the book: “Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball, and stuffed her skull with it.” Beautiful. Line after line after line jumps out at the reader this way. One of my favorites is when a fellow called The Shrike explains why scissors are the true enemy of the Besiders. “A knife is made with a hundred tasks in mind . . . But scissors are really intended for one job alone – snipping things in two. Dividing by force. Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between. Certainty. We’re in-between folk, so scissors hate us.” If I had half a mind to I’d just spend the rest of this review quoting line after line of this book. For your sake, I’ll restrain myself. Just this once.

When this book was released in England it was published as older children’s fare, albeit with a rather YA cover. Here in the States it is being published as YA fare with a rather creepy cover. Having read it, there really isn’t anything about the book I wouldn’t readily hand to a 10-year-old. Is there blood? Nope. Violence? Not unless you count eating dollies. Anything remarkably creepy? Well, there is a memory of a baby changeling that’s kind of gross, but I don’t think you’re going to see too many people freaking out over it. Sadly I think the decision was made, in spite of its 11-year-old protagonist, because Hardinge is such a mellifluous writer. Perhaps there was a thought to appeal to the Laini Taylor fans out there. Like Taylor she delves in strange otherworlds and writes with a distinctive purr. Unlike Taylor, Hardinge is British to her core. There are things here that you cannot find anywhere else. Her brain is a country of fabulous mini-states and we’ll be lucky if we get to see even half of them in our lifetimes.

There was a time when Frances Hardinge books were imported to America on a regular basis. For whatever reason, that stopped. Now a great wrong has been righted and if there were any justice in this world her Yankee fans would line the ports waiting for her books to arrive, much as they did in the time of Charles Dickens. That she can take an event like WWI and the sheer weight of the grief that followed, then transform it into dark, creepy, delicious, satisfying children’s fare is awe-inspiring. You will find no other author who dares to go so deep. Those of you who have never read a Hardinge book, I envy you. You’re going to be discovering her for the very first time, so I hope you savor every bloody, bleeding word. Taste the sentences on your tongue. Let them melt there. Then pick up your forks and demand more more more. There are other Hardinge books in England we have yet to see stateside. Let our publishers fill our plates. It’s what our children deserve.

On shelves May 15th.

Source: Reviewed from British edition, purchased by self.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

  • Here’s the review from The Book Smugglers that inspired me to read this in the first place.
  • And here’s pretty much a link to every other review of this book . . . um . . . ever.

Spoiler-ific Interviews: The Book Smugglers have Ms. Hardinge talk about her influences.  Remember those goofy television episodes from the 70s and 80s where dopplegangers would cause mischief.  Seems they gave at least one girl viewer nightmares.

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38. The Magicians

With all the excitement that buzzed around the internet over the publication of the final installment in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy I decided that it might be worth giving the books a go. I borrowed the first book, The Magicians from the library and eagerly began to read.

The book had an interesting start, high school senior Quentin Coldwater and his two friends, all three extremely smart and planning on being admitted to top universities, are dressed up to attend interviews for said universities. Quentin and James each have an appointment with the same interviewer but when they arrive at the house in Brooklyn they find the man dead. But something doesn’t add up. They call the police and one of the paramedics hands the pair large envelopes as she leaves. James refuses his, too freaked out by the day’s events. Quentin takes his and so begins the first step of his new life.

Besides being smart, Quentin is also gifted in slight of hand magic tricks and obsessed with Fillory, a series of books he has read over and over again since childhood. Fillory is very much a Chronicles of Narnia sort of series of books. But the children are named Chatwin and instead of Aslan there are two rams, Ember and Umber who oversee Fillory. It all felt very silly to me and I kept wishing every time Fillory was brought up that Aslan would come bounding in and liven things up with a few swipes of his big lion paw.

But I get ahead of myself. In the envelope Quentin receives is in invitation to sit for exams at a wizard school, Brakebills. Quentin passes and instead of attending Harvard or Yale, he is now going to college to learn how to be a real magician. There were some interesting bits but as with Fillory, I couldn’t stop thinking Harry Potter does this better. While Hogwarts is a grade school thing, Brakebills is college. Instead of Quidditch there is Welters. Instead of houses there are specialized areas of study which are their own kind of “house.” Quentin is a “Physical kid.” Physical magic being one of the more difficult areas, the group is very small. With the addition of Quentin and the smart and talented and pretty but introverted Alice, the group numbers seven.

And so we follow Quentin and Alice through their four years at Brakebills which would normally be five but they are so smart and talented they get jumped ahead a year. There are minor adventures and some interesting things that happen but it kind of all drags on a bit.

At this point I was debating whether I should even bother finishing the book. I decided to keep going. I thought there must be some kind of payoff since the series is so popular. And the last third of the book did pick up and get pretty good. I can’t say that it redeemed the first two-thirds of the book, but I ended up feeling okay about it instead of wondering why I had bothered. Besides the story in the first part of the book feeling unoriginal, the writing itself is frequently clunky. It manages to get better by the end, or maybe the plot just got better so I wasn’t paying as much attention to the writing itself?

I am far from loving the book and being excited enough about it to tell everyone I know to read it. However, I liked it enough to be willing to give the next book, The Magician King, a go. I won’t be doing this any time soon, I need to get a little distance from The Magicians in order to make a fresh approach at book two. Perhaps over the summer.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Lev Grossman

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39. Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay has been popping up all over the place it seems these last several months and now I have finished it I understand why. Since I read Laurie Penny’s book just before picking this one up I can’t help but make a few comparisons. Both are essay collections but where Penny focuses on gender and patriarchy, Gay is more wide ranging with essays on competitive Scrabble, teaching, race, gender, books and movies. Penny is pissed off and doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she offends anyone. Gay is more measured, moderate, questioning and even funny. Both women have been raped. Penny almost died from anorexia. Gay struggles with being overweight. Both understand that feminism is a bigger issue than women having equal opportunity to make money. Gay refers to this as feminist essentialism and it is why she calls herself a bad feminist.

Feminist essentialism is what second wave feminism from the seventies got boxed into — humorless, militant, pornography-hating, hairy-legged, no make-up allowed women with unwavering principles and if you waver, you’re not a real feminist and you’re kicked out of the club. Second wave feminists also had a hard time addressing racial issues as well as heteronormativity. All this morphed into the kind of feminism Elizabeth Wurtzel writes about in a 2012 Atlantic article in which “real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.” And later that same year in a Harper’s Bazaar article she added that real feminists also work hard to be beautiful and would never “misrepresent the cause by appearing less than hale and happy.” If that’s what feminism is, no wonder Gay calls herself a bad feminist. I’m bad too!

Gay admits to being a bundle of contradictions. She often finds herself singing along happily to songs that are blatantly misogynist but the tune is so catchy she just can’t help herself. She dates men she knows are not good for her and she has, and probably will again, fake an orgasm because it is easier than taking the time and effort to get what she wants from a man who she is sure she will never have sex with again. She really likes to watch bad reality television.

Feminism is not perfect, she says, but that doesn’t mean it is not worthwhile. We forget that feminism is powered by people and people are flawed and

[f]or whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

Gay’s favorite definition of feminism was offered by an Australian woman named Su in 1996:

feminists are ‘just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.’

Gay has a fantastic essay, “Peculiar Benefits,” about privilege. Most of us who live in western industrialized countries have privilege of one kind or another. I’m white, middle-class, educated, able-bodied, and in a heterosexual relationship that allows me to be married (Minnesota allows same-sex marriage — yay! — but that didn’t happen until 2013). I probably have other privileges I haven’t even thought about. They are nothing to be ashamed of. They are to be recognized and acknowledged for what they are. I know there are people in my city and all over the world who don’t have half the privileges I do. I don’t have to do anything about it, but I try to in my own imperfect way. As Gay says,

You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about. …You could, however, use that privilege for the greater good — try to level the playing field for everyone, to work for social justice, to bring attention to how those without certain privileges are disenfranchised. We’ve seen what the hoarding of privilege has done, and the results are shameful.

I could go on and on about how wonderful this book is. Gay’s writing on rape culture is excellent and her essay on trigger warnings, “The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion,” is a thoughtful discussion on the topic. Her examination of racism, especially in books, film and television, is also fantastic.

I read an interview with Gay recently (sorry, I don’t remember where!) in which she expressed her surprise that Bad Feminist is doing so well. This is her first foray into nonfiction, she considers herself a novelist, and this book was outside her comfort zone. I’m glad she wrote it and I hope there will be others. If you’ve not had a chance to read the book yet and are wondering if you should, yes, definitely give it a go.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Feminism, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Feminism, Roxanne Gay

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40. Review: When Marvel Comics went Underground by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

The Best of Comix Book: When Marvel Went Underground, published by Dark Horse under the imprint of the Kitchen Sink Press from Denis Kitchen and John Lind is now available. It’s a who’s who of some of the top names in comics. The Introduction is written by none other than Stan Lee himself with a foreword by Denis Kitchen.

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The Best of Comix

I had the opportunity to sit down with Denis Kitchen and John Lind in October at New York Comic Con to discuss the latest publishing efforts from Kitchen Sink Press. Denis Kitchen is considered to be the founding publisher of independent and underground comics. He was instrumental in publishing people like R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, Howard Cruse and Trina Robbins to name a few.It’s especially prescient to look at the work that Denis and John are currently publishing in light of recent world events. The Best of Comix Book showcases some of the best of the underground comics that Denis published with Marvel under Stan Lee’s direction. This momentous occasion occurred during the period when Stan agreed to help Denis continue publishing while Denis was going through difficult financial times.

What were the underlying causes of those difficult financial times? Here’s a bit of comic book history to add to your understanding of what it’s all about Alfie?–During 1969-1974 underground comics were mostly distributed through head shops. As obscenity laws enacted by local authorities forced many of the shops to close it caused distribution of underground comics to fall rapidly. Stan Lee offered Denis Kitchen an opportunity to come to Marvel and the amusing letter from Stan to Denis is revealed to us as part of the fun graphics included in the book. The arrangement that developed was for Denis to publish under Marvel as a survival strategy. The word Comix with an x was used to distinguish these comic books from the regular run of Marvel Comics.

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Letter from Stan to Denis.

One of the sticking points for Denis was that his artists receive their art back and as soon as the regular Marvel artists discovered this—well—viva la revolution! They demanded to have theirs back as well. Thus the collaboration did not last long. Comix was discontinued after the 3rd issue but there were two additional issues ready and Denis was able to publish those as well.

John Lind, the editor of The Best of Comix felt that these comics should be available once again to a whole new generation of readers. He edited down to about 80 choices and some of your favorite comics artists are included like Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegelman (with the first appearance of Maus), Howard Cruse and more.

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Kim Deitch comic from The Best of Comics

The Best of Comix is the first of several titles available this fall and I was lucky enough to get a preview during New York Comic Con. A couple of additional titles to keep on your list are Bob Powell’s Complete Cave Girl published in early November. For all you lovers of the genre and for those of you new to these terrific comics of Thun’Da and Cave Girl stories it’s presented in a gorgeous deluxe hardcover collection. Extra goodies include essays by James Vance (Kings in Disguise, one of the most gorgeous graphic novels ever!) and John Wooley (of Fangoria and a super pulpster).

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Cave Girl Cover

Cave Girl was followed in mid-November by Popular Skullture: The Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks and Comics. Edited and designed by Monte Beauchamp it’s a pop culture valentine to the creepiest and oddest of skull designs and the answer to why it’s fun to be scared to death.

To top it off Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book is in print once again. It’s considered a lost classic as it hasn’t been in print for 25 years. So many artists like R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman were inspired by this comic telling and filmmaker Terry Gilliam counts it as one of his favorites as well. It’s a beautiful book and includes an essay by Denis Kitchen with an afterword by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski.

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Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book.

You won’t be surprised to learn that The Best of Comix won two Harvey awards in 2014 for best design and best essay. Denis and John always provide essays in the books they produce of comic art. The believe it is important to place comic art within the context of the history and cultural phenomenon of comics. Their collections are for the serious fan who appreciates graphic literature but the books are also easily available for the non-scholar because they are beautifully designed, edited and presented with some of the most fun and interesting comics from the period. From knowing their work for many years and seeing what they have recently produced I think that’s the best way to describe everything that Denis and John accomplish.

[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]

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41. Book of the Week in The Times!



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42. Review: The 100 Spider War Continues

Too Many Spiders

By David Nieves

ASM2014012 DC11 00001 197x300 Review: The 100 Spider War Continues

Amazing Spider-Man #12

Written by Dan Slott   Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Justin Ponsor 

(NO ASM 12 SPOILERS)

We all know the cliché about too much of a good thing. Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott probably hasn’t heard it, which is far from a bad thing. The latest chapter of the ongoing spider-vent Spider-Verse continues the break neck pace and suprising intrigue using a smorgasbord of Spider-People

 

For the benefit of those without google, Spider-Verse is a war for the survival of the spiders of all realties because a terrifying vampirey family called the Inheritors is hunting around the multiverse devouring the life essence of Spider-People. Amazing Spider-Man #12 picks up right after the father of the Inheritors killed the cosmic Spider-Man in the dimension which had up to that point been a safe zone for the spiders of all realities. So far every Spider-Verse issue has pushed the story in a manner that does make ASM the only series you need to read to enjoy Spider-Verse. However issue twelve doesn’t do as much for readers who have been following all the tie-in books. The audience drops in on Jessica Drew with the Inheritors along with Spider-Man 2099’s autopsy of one of their enemies. In fact the only thread of the web not seen in this issue are the Scarlett Spiders in the clone factory. Once you get to the end of the issue, if you’ve managed to avoid the Internet spoilers, you will be in for a big moment at the end of the ASM 12.

 

Each ASM issue of Spider-Verse has introduced an alternate reality Spidey that’s stood out among others. Though his time was deliberately short, Spider-Banner from ASM #9 remains my favorite thus far. Chapter four has a spectacular run in by Takyua Yamashiro, the Spider-Man of Earth-51778. I hope we can call him Spider-Voltron without being sued.

 

Artist Giuseppe Camuncoli’s work can best be described as busy. For a story where the sheer number of characters on a page borders on gluttonous; very little space feels wasted. Slott works very well with Camuncoli’s art by keeping the dialogue necessary and letting the visual unfold the story. If there is one criticism that could be offered to the overall arc, it’s in the color work. While colorist Justin Ponsor does a solid job; the shifts to different dimensions feel too similar in tone. For a reader on the stand just flipping through the book it would be difficult to understand that these Spiders are in vastly different places.

 

As a stand-alone issue Amazing Spider-Man 12 has to be looked at in two ways. Readers who have been strictly sticking to Amazing Spider-Man have to pick up this issue to keep going on Spider-Verse. You’ve come this far and if this is the lull of the event then it did a horrible job of being boring. However should you be one of the die hard readers who’s kept up with every tie-in; you almost don’t need ASM 12 because much of the meat of the issue is simply keeping readers apprised on what’s going on in the other series. Overall, Spider-Verse as an event is doing the same magic for Spider-Man as a character that Sinestro Corps did for Green Lantern. It continues to prove you don’t need a company wide crossover to make an extravaganza that resonates.

 

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43. Review: Operation SIN returns Agent Carter to the comics

OpSin01cover Review: Operation SIN returns Agent Carter to the comicsBy Matthew Jent

Operation S.I.N. #1

Credits:

Writer: Kathryn Immonen

Artist: Rich Ellis

Colorist: Jordan Byrd

Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

Cover Artist: Michael Komarck

Variant Cover Artists: Gabriel Hardman & Jordan Boyd; Skottie Young

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Genre: Superhero/Spy

 

“Oh God, you meant actual aliens.”

 

Operation: S.I.N. hits shelves today, starring Agent Peggy Carter, just a few hours after the television debut of, oh! Coincidentally, Marvel’s Agent Carter!

I know, it’s easy to be cynical. I don’t know how we wound up with female-led, period-set Marvel Comics television show almost 4 years after the character was introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, but by most accounts it’s a very good show. So let’s just enjoy the corporate synergy that also gives us a female-led, period-set Marvel comic book as well.

Operation: S.I.N. opens with an action piece showcasing Carter’s badassery, fighting off a home invasion in her underwear. Badassery is great! But in contrast, television’s Agent Carter gets her cool moments after we’ve seen her as a human being, talking to her roommate, and, yes, remembering her old friend Steve Rogers. By moving too quickly past what makes a character a character, Operation: S.I.N. paints Agent Carter as a personified series of events. She could be any female agent, and other than the style of the clothing and the use of the Soviet Union, it could be set in any time period.

A lot of reboots and launches are struggling with their first issues these days. The first issue of the Thor relaunch, hyped as the introduction of the new, female Thor, relegated its new hero to the very last page, while the old, male Thor got an extended fight sequence and a turning point to his old plotlines. Basically — the stories in these reboots don’t start until issue two. Operation: S.I.N. doesn’t quite have that problem, as it really gets going halfway through as Agent Carter arrives in the Soviet Union for a mission of mystery. Carter’s contentious relationship with Howard Stark is at the core of both Operation: S.I.N. and Marvel’s Agent Carter, but in the show there’s a charm and a delightful tension between the two. On the comics page, it’s more difficult to get a read on the dynamic between the two. But once every gets to the Soviet Union, the story starts to move. Agent Carter has a Soviet handler/guide who is more than she lets on — hazy, sort-of-flashback panels reveal secrets to the reader that are unknown to Carter, without resorting to exposition-y captions — and the appearance of Woodrow McCord, who was introduced in a pivotal cameo in Original Sin, ties this series, at least tangentially, to that particular Marvel event series.

The art from Rich Ellis and the colors by Jordan Boyd are fun and bright. Ellis’s art (and facial expressions) give the book a kind ofVenture Brothers look, and if there’s ever a Venture comic book, this would be a good go-to art team. The aforementioned Soviet-agent-flashback page is a standout visual sequence, and even the Carter-fights-in-her-underwear scene that kicks off the series comes across as more cheesecake than exploitive. Ellis & Boyd give the book a fun look, and while it would have be easier and more obvious to go with dark colors and a noir look, the palette and style of this first issue make the series look poppy and fun. It’s a good look, and reminiscent of Chris Samnee’s exciting work on Daredevil, at least in appearance if not-quite-yet in style.

(Side note: there’s an honest to goodness Charles Atlas ad in this issue, and when I first saw it I thought, Oh wow, they’re doing period-specific fake ads, how fun! Alas, this is a real ad that continues Atlas’s promise to “make you a new man.” Look out bullies, in a world of preptual reboots — Charles Atlas is back!)

It’s not entirely fair to compare Operation: S.I.N to the televised Marvel’s Agent Carter, but it’s also hard not to. What Agent Carter does well is establish interesting relationships with emotional stakes, and balances them with fun, retro-but-fresh action sequences. Operation S.I.N. has some exciting action, but the relationships are still painted very broadly. This issue shows a lot of potential in its second half, and would have been better served if it had started later and extended past its Soviet Union-set cliffhanger. As it is, Operation S.I.N. #1 is half-realized.

1 Comments on Review: Operation SIN returns Agent Carter to the comics, last added: 1/8/2015
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44. Advance Review: Wolverines #1

Who’s Been Polishing Wolverine

By David Nieves

WOLVS2015001 DC11 197x300 Advance Review: Wolverines #1

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Nick Bradshaw, Allison Borges

Being fans you probably know by now that no one stays dead in comics. Countless characters have come and gone through the revolving door of comic book death. The real payoff for these stories rarely ever happens in the actual demise but instead happens in what comes after. Wolverines is the latest title born out of Charles Soule’s monumental Death of Wolverine series. This book brings a shift in gear to all the post DOW stories so far. Where most of those dealt with the emotional ramifications on various character’s relationships with the ol Canuck, Wolverines starts to deal with the fallout from the event.

WOLVS2015001 int 197x300 Advance Review: Wolverines #1

The book stars Shogun, Skel, Neuro, and Endo; the refugees from a Weapon X program Abraham Cornelius attempted to reopen before Wolverine wrecked the place. Along for the ride are a cabal of Logan’s long time enemies: the reformed Sabretooth, Mystique, Daken, and Lady Death Strike. Rounding out the group is Logan’s clone X-23. It’s action exploration Marvel style as this group of Wolverine-like people are vying for the hero’s corpse left covered in that sweet adamantium metal. It could be an extreme case of taxidermy. It could be they’re looking to take him to a metal recycling plant for the extra cash. It could also be the group looking for the key to their own survival.

One of the few things not clicking in the opening was minor and can easily be remedied in upcoming issues. For a book titled Wolverines, with a full cast of characters boasting claws or knives, there’s in fact very little stabbing going on. Charles Soule is no stranger to great action sequences so one can fully expect the violence level to ramp up later on.

WOLVS2015001 int 2 197x300 Advance Review: Wolverines #1

Soule sets his distinct tone early on in the issue. Which could potentially be terrible for Daken. As with most of the superstar writer’s other runs on various titles; he lets readers know where they’re going almost from the outset and peels back the information selectively. It’s a sure way to leave your reader wanting more. When you see who ends up with the big Wolverine paper weight, you’ll definitely  be intrigued. We all know Logan’s return to the land of the living is inevitable. The challenge for Marvel and Soule is to create stories that make the wait worth it and Wolverines has the ingredients to be the first book in a post DOW era to do that.

Ultimately can I say you should definitely put this on your pull list? Not quite yet, but the opening is worth looking at. It doesn’t have so much to do with the quality of the first issue as much as it does the nature of weekly series themselves. Often times they start out unbalanced and a bit too much of a slow burn through their first act. Soule tries to avoid this troupe by opening with event over exposition and while it helps alieviate the boredom effect some weeklies bring; I still need a couple of issues to decide if being on board for the entire series is worth $3.99 an issue.

Wolverines #1 still has something to prove but it’s earned picking up issue #2.

1 Comments on Advance Review: Wolverines #1, last added: 1/7/2015
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45. One Day Early: An Ant-Man #1 Review — (Hint, If You Like Hawkeye, You Might Like This)

ANTMAN 197x300 One Day Early: An Ant Man #1 Review    (Hint, If You Like Hawkeye, You Might Like This)Ant-Man has the advance buzz as Nick Spencer’s follow-up to his sublime run on Superior Foes of Spider-Man.  That buzz is probably comparing Ant-Man to the wrong book, but this is still something in that general corner of the Marvel universe and worth your time.

Superior Foes was a grand farce.  Pure comedy.  Ant-Man has its humor, but it’s not an outright farce.  It’s the bittersweet tale of a man who’s trying to get his life together and be there for his family, but not having the easiest go of it.

Scott Lang’s life is a little… complicated.  His social skills are lacking.   He has a criminal record.  His ex-wife is pretty frustrated with him and the environment might bring around their daughter.  He’s broke.  He was dead for a while.  Things could be going better.

The motivating force for Lang is an attempt to get his life together so he can be a bigger part of his daughter’s life.  The comedy comes from the chaos that erupts as tries to do this.

The first issue concerns Lang’s quest to get a job as head of security for Tony Stark, suffering through the indignities of a job interview and the lengths he must go to as he attempts to land that position.  To be sure, the quips are there.  So is plenty of the “awkward interactions” school of humor.  But there’s a strong undercurrent of heart to this book.  It’s earnest in a way I wasn’t necessarily expecting and there’s not much absurdism here.

Spencer’s dialogue is as sharp as ever.  Ramon Rosanas does a good job drawing the deadpan aspects of the humor.  (A rarer talent than you might think.)

This book falls a bit closer to Fraction/Aja Hawkeye than it does to Superior Foes, but is still very much in that old Wackerverse vibe with Hawkeye, Superior Foes and perhaps Daredevil.

Without giving away anything, the ending of the book suggests that Ant-Man might be off in his own little corner of the Marvel universe, which would be a very good thing.  This is a book that needs to be a half-step away from the “story of the universe” to be able to look at it through its own lens.

Recommended in general, but very highly recommended if you like things in that Hawkeye <-> Superior Foes continuum.  Marvel seems committed to keeping a corner reserved for this type of title and that’s a good thing.

2 Comments on One Day Early: An Ant-Man #1 Review — (Hint, If You Like Hawkeye, You Might Like This), last added: 1/7/2015
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46. Review of the Day: Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

Wolfie the Bunny
By Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Little, Brown and Co.
$17.00
ISBN: 978-0-316-22614-1
Ages 3-6
On shelves February 17th

Not every child views the imposition of a new sibling as an interloper, but a fair number of them do. They’re just tooling along, enjoying the natural bliss that comes with being the one and only star in their parents’ firmament when BLAMMO! A squalling person of inadequate size is there, hogging the attention. Unsurprisingly a low burn (or, in other cases, epic) rivalry erupts. Plenty of children’s books have addressed this issue, to varying degrees of success. It was then with great joy that I read one of the finest the other day. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman may look, at first glance of the cover, like a lupine variation on that bunny suit worn by Ralphie in A Christmas Story but inside you will instead find a delightful tale of sibling rivalry as well as a cautionary tale of the dangers that come when shopping at a Brooklyn co-op. Issues every child should certainly be made aware of.

If you are a bunny and your parents find that a baby wolf has been left on their stoop, you would be well within your rights to have some qualms. But when Dot’s Mama and Papa first lay eyes on little Wolfie, all tucked tight into his little basket, it’s love at first sight. Not so Dot, who declares with refreshing candor, “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” Her protestations, however, fall on deaf ears. Next thing she knows, Dot has a little, toothy brother. He likes eating carrots for breakfast. He sleeps very well through the night. And he absolutely loves and adores his new big sister to the point where she can’t use the potty or color without Wolfie drooling all over her. Time passes and soon Wolfie’s a great big furry guy eating the family out of house and home. When he and Dot are dispatched to the nearby Carrot Patch Co-Op to pick up some additional grub, she is certain that this will be the moment he makes his predatorial move. However, when the chips are down and Wolfie finds himself in peril, it’s up to his big sister to swoop in and save the day.

In her Author’s Note at the back, Dyckman mentions that much of the inspiration for this book came from her daughter who, as a toddler, would occasionally “transform” into what they called a “Wolf Baby”. Yet in her story it’s Dot who’s the star of the show. For all that the book is called “Wolfie the Bunny”, Dot has the reader’s sympathies from the get go. Then, after you’re Team Dot for a while, Dyckman cleverly gives us a glimpse into Wolfie’s p.o.v. When Dot and her friends run off after they’ve screamed a customary “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP” we see baby Wolfie crying for the first time. It’s from that point on that Wolfie attaches himself to Dot like a saliva-producing shadow. To give the book the right sound when reading it aloud, Dyckman also adds a little gentle repetition into the text. Combating Dot’s war cry of Wolfie’s dining predilections are her father’s proud exclamations whenever Wolfie does pretty much anything at all. If Mama says he’s sleeping then Papa will note, “He’s a good sleeper”. If Dot complains about him drooling Papa says, “He’s a good drooler.” And back go your sympathies to Dot. It’s a delicate balance but Dyckman pulls it off.

And yet, for all that, you still might have difficulty seeing Wolfie as anything but a bloodthirsty bunny eater, were it not for the elegant stylings of artist Zachariah OHora. Having already cut his teeth on making 500-pound gorillas adorable (but not cute) in “No Fits, Nilson”, OHora’s thick acrylics are perfect for “Wolfie” here. He’s toothy, no question, but his eyes sport this wide-eyed innocence that’s hard to resist. Truth be told, you fall for him as thoroughly as Mama and Papa when you see him. All this is set against a limited color palette. Aside from mustard yellow, green, red, and pink, there really aren’t a lot of other colors. The thick black paints are abundant, and the colors are seemingly subdued, yet pop when required to do so.

Now generally speaking I have a problem with picture books where animals subsume their natural instincts. Books like Miss Spider’s Tea Party where the whole point is not to judge someone, even if they’re a spider that should, by all rights, be eating her guests. So I should probably be upset that Wolfie has somehow gone off his natural wolf instincts. Instead, I’m charmed. This is nature vs. nurture at its finest. Sure he’s drooling on Dot, but anyone who has ever witnessed a kid in the throes of teething will understand what that’s like. On the one hand you could argue that it is cruel to dress a wolf in a bunny suit, no matter how kindly the bunnies or sweet the wolf. On the other hand, this is clearly Wolfie’s choice. You get the distinct impression that the bunny suit might even have been his idea. So what does that say about the choices our children make, even when they don’t gel with society’s expectations? No idea. I just like the image of a wolf in a bunny suit. It’s funny.

It is difficult to estimate how many authors and illustrators of children’s literature live in Brooklyn, NY. General wisdom states that the borough contains the highest concentration of folks of that ilk in the country. Certainly every season we see a new crop of books that reference and work in little Brooklyn-based details and elements. The kicker is that the place exerts such a pull that even artists who have moved away can’t help but reference it. Such is the case with Zachariah OHora. As he mentions in his Artist’s Note, though he now lives in Pennsylvania, the setting of his book is his old Park Slope neighborhood. The co-op, his old co-op. And then when you look a little closer you see other Brooklynesque details. Mama and Papa, for example, are so hip it hurts. I mean just check out their collection of vintage cameras (they must have a basement full of Polaroid film). You just know they both are adept on the ukulele, brew their own beer, and go to art house films with the kids every Saturday morning. But I digress.

Who hasn’t looked at their younger brother or sister and thought at one time or another that they bore more in common with animals than people? Wolfie the Bunny isn’t really going to change their minds on that front. Nope. Instead it’s going to just strike them as amazingly funny. With its catchy refrains, stellar pictures, and original storyline, this is one of the more charming picture books out there. A great book. Personal sibling issues not required.

On shelves February 17th.

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Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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47. Ayn Rand reviews “Bambi,” “Willy Wonka,” and more (spoof)

  Click on the image below to read Mallory Ortberg’s adroit piece.

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48. How to Be Both

I finished Ali Smith’s How to Be Both on December 30th, just in time to land it on my top five favorites of 2014 list. If I hadn’t finished it until January I am certain it would be on my 2015 favorites list. It’s that good. I really loved this book which makes it hard to say anything about it because I just want to gush and squee and say things like, wasn’t that part where George and H held hands in George’s room wonderful? And George’s mother. What do you make of her? Smart for sure. Do you think she was really under surveillance? And who is Lisa? And what about del Cossa being a woman? How awesome is that? And all the art stuff? And all the different ways of “being both” the book mulls over. Oh, oh, and what about the minotaur and labyrinth stuff? And all the stuff about looking and being looked at? Seeing and being seen? Which beginning did you get? The one that begins with del Cossa or the one that starts with George? How do you think which beginning you got affects your experience of the book? Do you wish you could erase it from you mind just long enough to read it with the other beginning and then remember so you can compare?

Got all that? No? Let’s go for coffee and spend the afternoon talking about it. What do you say?

If you haven’t read the book you’ll have no idea why I am burbling on with all these questions and a big desire to chat about them. So, for those who haven’t read it, a little about the book with the hope it will be enough to get you to read it so you can come back and chat and toss out questions of your own.

The book is broken up into two sections, each titled “One.” One section begins with sixteen-year-old George (Georgia but everyone calls her George) on New Year’s Eve just a few months after her mother suddenly died. George’s story moves backward and forward. Backward with flashbacks to conversations with her mother and a trip to Italy they took earlier that year to look at some art and a fresco partially painted by Francescho del Cossa. Forward with her little brother, her father who is drowning his grief in alcohol, George’s new girlfriend H who becomes more than just a friend, and sessions with Mrs. Rock, George’s therapist.

Then there is the other section narrated by del Cossa’s ghost who is called back from the dead it seems by George spending so much time looking at one of del Cossa’s few surviving works. Del Cossa follows George around so George’s story progresses into the future beyond the end of George’s section. We also get del Cossa’s story. The painter turns out to be a woman who has been living disguised as first a boy and then a man since she was a young girl so she could learn painting and become a painter. Her time being the 1460’s she would not have made it as a painter unless everyone thought she was a man. Her father is the one who suggests this not long after her mother dies.

These two sections can be read in either order and in fact, half the books printed have George’s story first and half have del Cossa’s story first. Mine had George coming first. This might seem like some kind of gimmick, but there is a point to be made. What is the point? As George’s mother says:

But which came first? her mother says. The chicken or the egg? The picture underneath or the picture on the surface?

The picture below came first George says. Because it was done first.

But the first thing we see, her mother said, and most times the only thing we see, is the one on the surface. So does that mean it comes first after all?

Or, if you prefer, this is how del Cossa expresses it in her section:

how to tell a story, but tell it more than one way at once, and tell another underneath it up-rising through the skin of it

Whatever section you get first affects the way you see and experience the entire book. It’s like what George says about an element of a painting she and H are looking at:

It is both blatant and invisible. It is subtle and at the same time the most unsubtle thing in the world, so unsubtle it’s subtle. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t not see it.

Once you’ve read the book one way, you can’t unread it and read it a different way.

There is also much playfulness with language throughout the book, puns and words with more than one meaning and it made me want to play along.

In spite of the book being serious with a thick vein of grief running through it, Smith manages to create an overall effect of tenderness and resiliency, almost a lightheartedness. A beautiful book I will not soon forget. Please read it and come have coffee with me so we can talk about it.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Ali Smith

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49. Nonfiction Reviews

Two of the finalists for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. Roaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Port Chicago 50 tells a story that I was not familiar with -- actually, many stories I was not familiar with. The Port Chicago 50 are fifty African American sailors accused of mutiny in the aftermath of the Port Chicago disaster. I don't want to go into the details of the disaster or the mutiny accusations or the aftermath -- read the book!

The story of these fifty men is not just about allegations of mutiny and these fifty individuals; it is also bout the segregation of the Navy and other armed forces before and during World War II and the efforts to end it. It's about just what it meant, to have segregated troops, and institutionalized racism both within and without the armed forces. Segregation and racism, and the actions at Port Chicago and by the sailors, cannot be viewed in isolation of each other.

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw. Roaring Brook Press. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

Burcaw's memoir, based on his tumblr of the same name, is a humorous look at his life with spinal muscular atrophy. It's told in short, episodic chapters -- while it's roughly chronological in order, it doesn't have to be read in order or even all at once. This structure is both a weakness and a strength: those wanting an in depth, detailed examination will be disappointed. But, that's looking for this bok to be something it isn't. It is, instead, a funny, hilarious look at life. And that is it's strength: the short chapters means it's easy to read, and also easy to read over an extended period of time. A few chapters here, a few chapters there, is, a think, the best way to approach Laughing at My Nightmare.

While Burcaw's memoir is uniquely about his own experiences, it's also universal. Starting middle school, worrying about making friends, anxious about a first kiss -- Burcaw isn't the first person to worry about these things. Burcaw is funny and blunt: he knows teen readers will wonder "but how does he go to the bathroom?" and so he addresses those questions. And the humor is such that will appeal to a lot of teen readers.






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

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50. Review of Star Stuff

sisson_star stuff star2Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
by Stephanie Roth Sisson; illus. by the author
Primary   Roaring Brook   32 pp.
10/14   978-1-59643-960-3   $17.99

Beginning with the first page, Sisson showcases the magnitude of the universe, visually presenting the Milky Way and our sun’s place in it. Turn the page, and readers move from our sun “in a neighborhood of stars,” to our planet, to one place: Brooklyn, New York. There readers meet young Carl, curious about the world around him. As he grows, that general inquisitiveness settles into a passion and an adult craving to know more about stars and solar systems. “It gave Carl goose bumps to think about what he learned about the stars, planets, and the beginnings of life”; that “the Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.” His repeated, geeky boyhood interjection of “Wowie!” exuberantly captures that continuing wonder and passion. Illustrations with shifting perspectives portray Carl standing on a sidewalk that mimics the Earth’s curvature or lying on the floor surrounded by space creatures from his imagination. A vertical foldout initially depicts Carl studying in a library; as the page opens (and Carl’s knowledge increases), the universe above him expands. Sisson takes her time introducing Sagan, but as he learns more and more and his questions increase in complexity, the pace of the narrative accelerates as readers accompany him on his intellectual journey. An author’s note, clarification and source notes, and a bibliography complete this out-of-this-world picture-book biography.

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

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