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1. Jo Nesbø & Roger Priddy Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Jo NesboWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending April 12, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #8 in Hardcover Nonfiction) The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower: “These dedicated professionals maintain the six-floor mansion’s 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators, and eight staircases, and prepare everything from hors d’oeuvres for intimate gatherings to meals served at elaborate state dinners. Over the course of the day, they gather in the lower level’s basement kitchen to share stories, trade secrets, forge lifelong friendships, and sometimes even fall in love.” (April 2015)

(Debuted at #10 Hardcover Fiction) Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø: “This is the story of Olav: an extremely talented \"fixer\" for one of Oslo’s most powerful crime bosses. But Olav is also an unusually complicated fixer.” (April 2015)

(Debuted at #12 in Children’s Illustrated) Pete the Cat’s Groovy Guide to Life by James Dean and Kimberly Dean: “Pete’s glass-half-full outlook on life shines through as he adds his fun take on well-known classics attributed to luminaries from Albert Einstein to Confucius to Abraham Lincoln to Shakespeare and more!” (April 2015)

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2. (Review) Bloodshot Reborn #1: White Skin, Red Eyes, and some New Friends

bloodshot-reborn-1

Writer: Jeff Lemire

Artist: Mico Suayan

Colorist: David Baron

Letters: David Lanphear


Bloodshot has had difficulty finding his identity at Valiant since the relaunch of the company back in 2012. The title has switched writers a few times already along with art teams and general focus. The Valiant, a recent event series from the publisher changed the dynamic of the lead hero, directly affecting the events inside of Valiant’s newest relaunch, Bloodshot Reborn #1.

Identity is the major theme of this issue. How does a robot discover his (or it’s) own humanity? The opening page depicted by Mico Suayan immediately tackles the theme and takes the idea to task. The rest of the opening sequence preps readers for a quick retrospective, a wise decision for new readers jumping into the character. The issue goes onto validate Bloodshot’s important role in the Valiant Universe within Unity and The Valiant.

The book begins in Colorado and gives the comic a new tone. Does this new incarnation of the hero have a chance in avoiding the violence as he travels down to do some handiwork at a motel?

It’s Bloodshot…so the answer should be a given. With the protagonists’ life in such a deep dark pit evoked from recent events, it might be hard for new fans to find a reason to empathetically devote their interest into the character. Bloodshot isn’t the man that he used to be, but this new identity doesn’t seem to suit the hero either. Thankfully, unexpected whimsy is hiding within this comic that may change your mind on the story being told.

Suayan’s art evokes pain and suffering within the different characters via hyper-detailed linework. The style works particularly well for Bloodshot, serving as as a bleak militaristic drama. Suayan’s approach to the mundane is played up as a dichotomy between the differences of the stories being told within the book. The artist drapes much of this story in thick shadow to illustrate the gritty narrative depicted in the tale. A major art surprise is hidden in the first installment that will be sure to delight readers familiar with the past work of Jeff Lemire.

About halfway into the narrative of this first issue, the scenery changes based on one pivotal scene that alters the nature of this entire book. In order to get fans truly interested into the narrative of Bloodshot himself, something radical had to be introduced into the first chapter. To spoil the hook would be a crime, but it’s safe to say that this first tale really does offer the unexpected to readers in the form of a brand new character that will hopefully drive Bloodshot Reborn for the foreseeable future. This book can be defined by that welcomed piece of whimsy hinted at in this first issue — it pushes this story from boring Punisher analogue into…something else.

It’s clear that Lemire and Suayan are crafting a story with this character that can be defined as subversive, but this first issue still plays it’s cards close to the chest. The tone of this series is splintering off into numerous different places, to the point where this first installment may actually serve the comics world better as a prologue rather than an actual first issue. While recommending this tale to the already established Bloodshot fandom seems like a given, to see whether this story could reach an audience with much broader scope could be possible. If the promise of something that can bend genre in a completely different direction doesn’t drive you to pick up Bloodshot Reborn #1, you should still make sure to keep your opinion informed by following the press coverage. Valiant seems closer than ever to reimagining the concept for one of their greatest and most beloved superheroes towards sheer delight with the power of Jeff Lemire, Mico Suayan, and some clever ideas.

1 Comments on (Review) Bloodshot Reborn #1: White Skin, Red Eyes, and some New Friends, last added: 4/17/2015
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3. Review of the Day: Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

Beastly Verse
By Joohee Yoon
Enchanted Lion Books
$18.95
ISBN: 978-1-59270-166-7
Ages 3 and up
On shelves now

Poetry. What’s the point? I say this as a woman who simultaneously gets poetry and doesn’t get it. I get that it’s important, of course. I only need to watch my three-year-old daughter come up with an ever increasing and creative series of bouncy rhymes to understand their use. But what I don’t get is Poetry with a capital “P”. I have come to accept this as a failing on my own part. And to be fair, there are works of poetry that I like. They just all seem to be for the milk teeth set. With that in mind I was particularly pleased to see Beastly Verse, illustrated by Joohee Yoon. Full of fabulous classic poems and art that manages to combined a distinctive color palette with eye-popping art, Yoon’s creates a world that takes the madcap energy of Dr. Seuss and combines it with the classic printmaking techniques of a fine artist. The end result keeps child readers on the edge of their seats with adults peering over their shoulders, hungry for more.

As I mentioned, the resident three-year-old is much enamored of poetry. This is good because it makes her an apt test subject for my own curiosity. I should mention that my goal in life is to NOT become the blogger who uses her children to determine the value of one book or another. That said, the temptation to plumb their little minds can sometimes prove irresistible. Now Beastly Verse is not specifically aimed at the preschooler set. With poems like William Blake’s “The Tiger” and “Humming-Bird” by D.H. Lawrence, the verse can at times exceed a young child’s grasp. That said, none of the poems collected here are very long, and the art is so entrancing that the normal fidgets just tend to fade away as you turn the pages. My daughter did find that some of the more frightening images, say of the carnivorous hummingbird or the spangled pandemonium, were enough to put her off. Fortunately, each scary image is hidden beneath a clever gatefold. If the reader does not want to see the face of a tiger tiger burning bright, they needn’t open the fold at all. Not only is it a beautiful technique, it makes the book appropriate for all ages. Clever.

One might not associate Yoon’s particular brand of yellows reds, oranges, greens, and blues with evocative prints. Yet time and again I was struck by the entrancing beauty of the pages. Yoon’s traditional printmaking techniques can bring to life the hot steam that rises even in the coolest shade of a tiger’s jungle. Another page and Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” lingers below the surface of the water, his innards heaving with “little fishes”. Yoon saves the best for last, though, with a poem I’d not come across before. “Dream Song” by Walter de la Mare is set in the gleam of “Sunlight, moonlight / Twilight, starlight” when the sun is just a sliver of a white hot crescent on the horizon. All the forest is lit by the orange and red rays, and out of a tree pokes the head of a single owl. The hypnotic verses speaking of “wild waste places far away” mix with the image, conjuring up the moment moviemakers call “magic hour”.

Mind you, there is always a nightmarish mirror image to each seemingly sweet picture. The eyeless caterpillar all maw and teeth is turned, on the next page, into a beautiful but equally unnerving butterfly. Only Yoon, as far as I’m concerned, could have brought us the horrific implications of “The Humming-Bird” and its existence “Before anything had a soul.” Even the last seemingly innocuous image of Captain Jonathan cooking himself an egg takes on a dire cast when you realize it’s that of a pelican (of the poem “The Pelican” by Robert Desnos) he’s about to devour.

This is by no means the first collection of animal poetry to grace our shelves. It was only two or three years ago that J. Patrick Lewis helped to collect the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. Many of the poems found in this book can be found in that one as well. However, while that book seemed to be going for sheer girth, Yoon’s selections here are carefully positioned. I was interested in the layout in particular. You begin with the aforementioned Carroll poem (which seems appropriate since a manic smiling cat graces the title page) and then transition into a nursery rhyme, a bit of typical Ogden Nash flippery (only three lines long), and then Blake’s best-known poem. Variety of length keeps the poems eclectic and interesting to read. They keep you guessing as well. You never quite know what kind of poem will come next.

Having read the deliciously multicultural Over the Hills and Far Away, collected by Elizabeth Hammill, it is difficult to pick up a collected work of poetry without hankering for a similar experience. Aside from artist Joohee Yoon’s own name and the fact that Robert Desnos was Jewish, there is very little in this collection that isn’t white and American/European. The reasons for this may have something to do with permissions. Every poem in this book, with the exception of a few, is in the public domain. None were commissioned for the book specifically. Mind you, it would have been possible for the book to follow Hammill’s lead and locate international public domain animal poems of one sort or another written specifically for children. It is therefore up to the reading public to ascertain if the book stands stronger as a collection of similar types of poetry or if it would have benefited from a bit of variety here and there.

In the end, it’s a beautiful piece. Children’s rooms are no strangers to beautiful art in their poetry collections, but Yoon’s distinctive style is hard to compare to anyone. The only poet/illustrator with the same energy that comes to mind (and that writes for kids) would have to be Calef Brown. And as debuts go, this is a stunner. A truly inventive and original collection that deepens with every additional read. Kids like it. Adults like it. It could have benefited from some diversity, absolutely. Overall, however, there are few things like it on our shelves. An inspiration.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: A Year of Reading

Professional Reviews:

Misc: Years ago, it was Jules at Seven Impossible Things who alerted the children’s book world to Ms. Yoon’s presence.  Here is the post.

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5 Comments on Review of the Day: Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon, last added: 4/16/2015
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4. Review: the Netflix and Marvel team up push Daredevil “Into the Ring”

Daredevil-Netflix-Motion-PosterFull disclosure: I was hotly anticipating the premiere of the Marvel and Netflix team up on the Daredevil television series. Daredevil is a huge part of my comics origin story: I cut my teeth on the Guardian Devil story arc penned by Kevin Smith and expertly drawn by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. I fell hard for the Man Without Fear and soon discovered Frank Miller’s Elektra Saga arc, realized my childhood heroes of TMNT had written themselves into the Daredevil origin story and that was it: comics officially had my heart.

It’s a nice move to open on Matt’s origin and play it for all it’s horror and sadness. Little boy does the right thing, saves a man’s life by pushing him from a speeding truck and pays for it with his vision. The POV shot of young Matt’s vision slipping away while focusing on the face of his father was chilling and effective. Actor John Patrick Hayden strikes the right tone on “Battlin'” Jack Murdock, trying to do the best thing for his son while constantly aware of his own limitations.

Some of the early action was a tad stilted, in the way of pilot episodes since time immemorial. The human trafficking scene leaned heavily towards cliche and away from actual menace, but was saved by the beautiful fight choreography. Kudos to the fight coordination/stunt double team for their thoughtful work in representing both Daredevil’s radar and boxing background in his fighting style.

The heart of any Daredevil story, or most of them at any rate, is the relationship between Matt Murdock and his law partner and best friend Foggy Nelson. Both Charlie Cox and Elden Henson are well cast: they not only look their parts, but revel in the well-worn patter between the two old friends. An early scene in which the two shop for an office to open their law practice hits all the right notes in script and characterization. We’re meant to believe the events of The Avengers film have left Hell’s Kitchen in ruins, and therefore rents are cheap during reconstruction. This seems more of a stretch than supersonic hearing to me, after all there is a bit of real-life Daredevil in the work of Daniel Kish, but we go with it.

The entire tone of the series evokes the noir sensibilities of the Frank Miller work I was drawn to years ago, and we have veteran director Phil Abraham and showrunner Steven DeKnight to thank for it. While pitching Hell’s Kitchen as noir in present day New York again strains credulity, it’s just right for Marvel 616 and I was happy to see it. And let’s talk about Deborah Ann Woll as the beloved Karen Page. Woll brings goofiness and charm to her performance that’s just right for Karen, and her chemistry with both Cox and Henson is electric.

We get a sneak peak at the crime syndicate that will ultimately become Daredevil’s nemesis. I’m breathless with anticipation for the reveal of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk aka the Kingpin. We’re only teased in the pilot by his voice commanding henchman Wesley via speakerphone Charlie’s Angel’s style.

There’s a great team of talent behind the scenes of Daredevil: Buffy and Angel veteran writers Drew Goddard and Doug Petrie loom large, and DeKnight’s work on the Starz series Spartacus is some of my favorite television of the last ten years. Pulling in directors like Abraham and Doctor Who vet Eros Lyn bodes well for the tone of the series going forward.

The final scenes wordlessly convey what Matt Murdock is up against as the crime fighting alter ego Daredevil: as Matt pummels the bag in his father’s old gym we see baddies literally laying plans to build their empire in DD’s beloved Hell’s Kitchen juxtaposed with further kidnappings and dirty deeds. The final image of Matt on the roof of his building, listening to the pain of his city before pulling his black mask over his eyes got my fangirl heart beating loud enough for Daredevil to hear it all the way from the Kitchen.

2 Comments on Review: the Netflix and Marvel team up push Daredevil “Into the Ring”, last added: 4/11/2015
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5. Friday Feature: Perfect For You Review Quotes Video




Yes, I'm sharing my own book today. Well, actually I'm sharing readers' thoughts of my book. Check out this video where I share some of my favorite lines from reviews of Perfect For You.


Do you have a favorite review quote of one of your books? Feel free to share it in the comments.

Want your YA, NA, or MG book featured on my blog? Contact me here and we'll set it up.

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6. Back from the Brink: Seth Kushner’s Secret Sauce

kushner001I’m not the kind of critic that likes to wax poetic about the production of a piece of art.  I believe that, although an artist’s life always influences their creations, a work should be judged on its own merits.  However, occasionally, as is the case with Seth Kushner’s comic anthology Secret Sauce, exceptions must be made.

As he elucidates at the start of the work, Kushner spent much of 2014 in and out of the hospital being treated for Leukemia.  He was told that he only had weeks to live.  Then weeks went by.  A few more.  Yet again, a few more.  Time passed, and Kushner still lived.  By the end of the year, Kushner had done what doctors had said would be impossible— he defeated his leukemia.  And then he made Secret Sauce.

Secret Sauce is structured as a set of five short stories, two of which are illustrated and three of which are produced as photocomics.  All feature Kushner’s writing, but each story has its own set of artistic collaborators who lend a different flavor to Kushner’s words. Going in, I was worried that Secret Sauce would be a set of ruminations on mortality— the frailty of life and the relentless passage of time.  Happily, I was proven wrong.  Secret Sauce is not an exploration of death, but is instead a celebration of life.

In Secret Sauce‘s first short story, “The Brooklynite in ‘A Man of His Word,'” Kushner immediately establishes an upbeat and energetic tone that persists through the stories that follow it.  Shamus Beyale provides great art for this short.  The backgrounds are rendered with care, and his characters are expressive and drawn with clearly defined lines.  Colorist Frank Reynoso uses a palette of upbeat pastels with some bright primary colors for accents, which further book’s energetic feel.kushner002

Kusher’s script never takes itself too seriously, and there are some great laughs as comic-artist-by-day-superhero-by-night Jeffries aka The Brooklynite takes on a disgruntled hipster-meets-MMA-fighter named Billy Burg.  It’s a testament to the team’s collective effort that they manage to successfully create a comic that feels full and fun in only four pages.  It’s fast and leaves the reader breathless and waiting for more.

kushner003

Sci-Fi short “”Youtopia” does something similar, with a heavy dose of well-directed action composed by artist Charles Stewart and a beautiful color scheme and world design inspired by Tron.  These two works have nothing in common in terms of plot, and instead find connection through the energy that Kushner imbues into his script and that his collaborators put into their art.

However, where Secret Sauce really shines is in its photocomics, particularly “Heyday.” In it, Kushner tells the story of a young girl whose grandfather used to be a superhero known as The Insomniac.  Kushner and co-director Dean Haspiel do some great work in this short, bringing a fun and heartwarming story to life with an artistic technique that is not commonly explored in comics, and is occasionally even maligned.  I myself often think about what would make a photocomic resonate with readers, and there’s a lot that can be learned from “Heyday.”  Its greatest success comes from the use of color in each photographic panel.  kushner004Characters are highlighted by wearing outfits with bright shades of blue, and the scenery of the living room that the story takes place in is pushed into the background through a unified use of oranges and browns.  It’s a simple, but incredibly effective technique, and really helps the story feel less like a vaguely connected series of images and more like a well-composed comic.  That’s not to say that “Heyday” is completely successful— the digitally produced sound effects and speech bubbles clash with the photographs, and Kushner and Haspiel’s use of stroke in one panel feels too synthetic when placed up against a photograph of a person rather than an illustration of one. Ultimately, however, the risks the two creators take in this photocomic are worth the slight missteps, as they demonstrate that comics still have plenty of room to grow and that Kushner has unique ideas on how to direct that growth (the ending to the story is also pretty ingenious and got a well earned laugh out of me).

It feels disingenuous to rate or score Secret Sauce on a scale.  Kushner doesn’t try to shove a message down anyone’s throat.  He’s not in it to prove something.  He’s in it because he loves comics, and it shows.  Secret Sauce is a revelry that is playfully self-indulgent with its references to Brooklyn culture and superhero tropes.  It’s a deeply personal work that is simultaneously universal in its themes.   It’s a book that plays with form and theme in ways that are not commonly explored.  In short, Secret Sauce is not a treatise— it’s a party.

Secret Sauce debuts at NYC’s MoCCA Fest 2015, which takes place this weekend, April 11th-12th.

1 Comments on Back from the Brink: Seth Kushner’s Secret Sauce, last added: 4/10/2015
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7. In Tandem: PINNED, by Sharon G. Flake

Happy Thursday and welcome back to In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both Tanita and I give our opinions, back and forth, conversation-like. Come join our book talk! Today we're discussing Pinned, by Sharon G. Flake. Pinned is a... Read the rest of this post

0 Comments on In Tandem: PINNED, by Sharon G. Flake as of 4/9/2015 12:40:00 PM
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8. Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail
By Ursula Vernon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Group)
ISBN: 978-0803741294
Ages 8-11
On shelves April 21st

These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.

To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.

Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.

Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.

Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.

Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.

And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:

- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”

- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”

- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”

Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let’s face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.

On shelves April 21st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Views From the Tesseract

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

 

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3 Comments on Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon, last added: 4/12/2015
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9. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

After several months of waiting, my turn for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? finally came round. It was worth the wait.

You may already know what it is about. Chast’s parents were aging and she tried several times to talk to them about what they would want to do if something happened. Of course no one likes to think or talk about these sorts of things and trying to talk to your parents about it, especially when they don’t want to talk about it, is no easy thing. So Chast’s attempts went nowhere. And her parents continued to age and everything was fine until it wasn’t.

In their early 90s and becoming more frail, unable to keep the apartment clean and relying on a friendly neighbor to pick up things from the grocery store for them, it was only a matter of time before something happened. The call came at midnight. Chast’s mom had fallen while trying to stand on a ladder to change a light bulb. The fall had actually happened a few days before and she refused to go to the doctor. Nothing a little bed rest couldn’t fix. Until she couldn’t get out of bed. While Chast’s mom spent a few days at the hospital she had her father stay with her and her family. It was then she noticed her dad’s mental acuity was nowhere near what she thought it was. Her mom had been taking care of him and covering up just how bad he had gotten.

Thankfully, her mom was not seriously injured. But it was the beginning of the long decline. After more incidents Chast managed to convince her parents that they needed to move into assisted living. It was a nice facility where they had their own apartment and Chast, her husband and kids were nearby and could visit them frequently. Still, the parents did not go willingly.

The memoir is well told with humor and compassion. The art is cartoon-y but expressive. Chast’s story is the story of so many others that it is no surprise really why the book is so popular. I have family members who have had to take care of their aging parents. I have friends who are in the midst of taking care of theirs. It is not easy and our society doesn’t help make it any easier. Care facilities cost astronomical sums of money. Chast’s parents had scrimped and saved their entire lives and it only took a couple of years before they had nearly run through all their savings. Is that what we work all our lives to save for? Not retirement, but to pay for decent end-of-life care? And what happens when the money runs out? What happens if you have no one like Chast to look out for your best interests when you are not able to? It’s a scary prospect.

Growing old sucks. But the thing is, I don’t believe it has to. I don’t know how to change society and culture so that the golden years truly are golden right up to the last breath. But it is definitely something that needs to change.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Memoir/Biography, Reviews Tagged: Roz Chast

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10. Review: Bringing Together The Four Points #1

The Four Points #1

TheFourPoints-01_vol1-AspenStory: Scott Lobdell

Art: Jordan Gunderson

Inks: John Ercek, Mark Roslan

Colors: Valentina Pinto

Letters: Josh Reed

Publisher: Aspen Comics

 

 

Despite the criticisms of delayed books and hyper-sensualized characters; for more than a decade, for better or worse, Aspen Comics has let their books speak for themselves. They, along with companies like Boom! and Image, bring new characters for the part of the market that doesn’t want the same old pliable superhero comics. Their newest debut, The Four Points, builds on the notion of a shared universe inside the publisher.

Issue one introduces three captivating female characters. Gia Sorentino, the institutionally committed daughter of billionaire philanthropists. Her Earth element powers put her in tune with everything that normal people can’t hear. Ivana Ghoul, a near invulnerable Russian wind rider with some deeply rooted trust issues. Then there’s Ara, a woman who uses her command over fire to pass herself off as a goddess on an island in the south pacific. Gia must bring these volatile elements together to defend the planet from the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Our heroines will have their ranks completed after being joined by a character very familiar to anyone that’s read the publisher’s flagship titles.

Writer Scott Lobdell introduces a hot concept to Aspen with Four Points. While it certainly isn’t revolutionary to bring a group of superpowered females together to fight evil; here, it’s solid. The opening chapter is all about the gravity of the situation and the unstableness of the elements he’s trying to bring together. Four Points #1 speeds through a lot of exposition and teases the potential chilling evil and blockbuster action we’ll see in the series. It moves so fast and drops the audience on a cliffhanger in a way that’s reminiscent of the writer’s X-Men work.

Jordan Gunderson’s art is a bit of a mixed bag of fine simple visual comic storytelling and large scale spread. The designs of the characters have that necessary majestic fantasy touch the publisher is known for, but you’ll see a few disproportional figures that jar you a bit. He did some excellent work on EA: Assassins, so I can’t wait to see what he does with bigger action scenes in this title, especially if he has the lead time he needs.

Four Points is a bit of a surprise. As a reader, Lobdell’s work has always been strange to me. He’s a writer that’s either into what he’s doing or he’s not, and it’s very easy for the audience to pick up on which Scott you’re getting. This new book feels like something he’s put a lot of energy into and even the slow opening is enough to invest your precious comic time. Four Points is an idea that’s right place at the right time for Aspen, which hopefully builds on everything in these pages.


Find out what Dave’s four points are on twitter, three of which are pizza toppings, or complain with him about the cringe worthy moments of looking at a computer screen when you type in an incorrect password.

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11. Shiny

The Spring issue of Shiny New Books is up!

I was so lucky to have the chance to read and review not one, but two, Oxford Classic reissues of Virginia Woolf books.

There is the delightful and marvelously rich Orlando:

I first read Orlando by Virginia Woolf many years ago. Fresh in love with Woolf’s writing and having just learned about her romance with Vita Sackville-West, I read the book as one long love story. But to read Orlando purely as a love letter from Virginia to Vita is to miss all the truly strange and wonderful things the book does. Because the book is also mock historical fiction and a satire on biography, not to mention an examination of identity and gender as well as a criticism of literary criticism. The book turns out to be charming, rich, and complex.

Having just published To the Lighthouse, Woolf wanted to write something lighter to please the public, something of which a reader could understand every word. But this is Woolf we are talking about and she sent me to the dictionary a number of times. Orgulous? Drugget? Obfusc? Woolf made that last one up!

Then I got to read The Waves for the first time. I was pretty nervous about that one and as you can tell, the introduction didn’t help matters. However, I should not have worried because it turned out to be a most amazing book:

Oxford World Classics has produced a terrific reissue of Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves. There are helpful endnotes, biographical information, a selected bibliography and an introduction. But don’t read the introduction first. This is not because the introduction spoils anything, The Waves has no plot to spoil. Nor is it a badly written introduction, in fact it is quite good.

Don’t read the introduction first because it will color the way you read the novel. It will scare you by telling you how difficult The Waves is. It will tell you the book is Woolf’s most anti-colonial novel and you will spend far too much energy looking for clues for this. It will explain characters to you before you even meet them, which will cause you, when you do meet them, to have preconceived opinions. It will try to pin down into reality much of what Woolf works so hard to leave open and ambiguous. Read the introduction, but read it afterwards, after you have been tossed and tumbled about by The Waves and finally washed up on the shore bruised, glassy-eyed and gasping for breath.

Pop over via the links for the full reviews and while you are there, be sure and check out all the other articles and reviews. And be prepared to add to your TBR pile!


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Virginia Woolf Tagged: Shiny New Books

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12. Sara Gruen & Sandra Boynton Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

At the Water's EdgeWe’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending April 5, 2015–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #5 in Hardcover Fiction) At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen: “After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind. ” (March 2015)

(Debuted at #8 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris: “Mary Norris has spent more than three decades in The New Yorker‘s copy department, maintaining its celebrated high standards. Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer, and finely sharpened pencils to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.” (April 2015)

(Debuted at #15 in Children’s Illustrated) The Bunny Rabbit Show! by Sandra Boynton: “You’ve got front-row seats to the cutest revue in town—hop on down to The Bunny Rabbit Show! The latest addition to Sandra Boynton’s phenomenal bestselling Boynton on Board series, this book stars a cast of high-kicking bunnies performing in perfect unison to a lively song all about…them.” (September 2014)

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13. Review of The Penderwicks in Spring

birdsall_penderwicks in springThe Penderwicks in Spring
by Jeanne Birdsall
Intermediate   Knopf   339 pp.
3/15   978-0-375-87077-4   $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-97077-1   $19.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-307-97459-4   $10.99

In this fourth Penderwicks book, time has passed and the family landscape has changed. Mr. Penderwick has married the lovely Iantha; Rosalind is away at college; and Skye is fending off best friend Jeffrey’s romantic advances. (Aspiring author Jane, however, is as dreamy as ever.) And Batty, the impish little girl with butterfly wings, is now ten and the “senior member of the younger Penderwick siblings” — stepbrother Ben (seven) and half-sister Lydia (two). The story mostly belongs to Batty: already an accomplished pianist, she’s discovered a talent for singing. To raise money for (secret) voice lessons, she starts a neighborhood odd-jobs business. She’s employed as a dog walker, which sadly reminds her of her dear departed Hound. There’s a lot of melancholy (and some melodrama) in this book, with poor Batty suffering benign neglect from favorite-sister Rosalind (temporarily boy-crazy, and an insufferable boy at that) and bearing the brunt of some particularly hurtful words from Skye. On the plus side, Ben and Lydia, in their cheering-up efforts, emerge as formidable Penderwicks; across-the-street neighbor Nick (on leave from the army, older brother of Rosalind’s true love Tommy) provides no-nonsense advice; best friend Keiko remains true blue; and lovelorn Jeffrey finally snaps out of it enough to resume his role as Batty’s musical mentore. And at her climactic Grand Eleventh Birthday Concert, Batty rewardingly finds her voice.

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

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14. Deadlands: Dead Man’s Hand Vol. #1 a Game Comic with Horror Fan Appeal

by Pam Auditore

Deadlands TPB Cover

Deadlands: Dead Man’s Hand vol. 1

I’ve never played Deadlands.  I know nothing about it.  I’m not into role playing or most video games.  I once played Grand Theft Auto. But it  doesn’t count, ‘cuz I never played for points, only for evil.  Running your car over everyone in sight, while shooting randomly, hardly makes a  game player.

Still, I know  people who developed their fondness for comics by following their favorite game character to their local comics retailer, to be dismissive of comics based on games.

So I come at this review purely as a comic book fan.  Moreover, as a pleasantly surprised horror-comic fan, without any practical knowledge of the game on which these stories are based.

 

 

1) “The Devil’s Six Gun”            2) “Massacre at Red Wing”
Writer: David Gallaher                   Writers:Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Steve Ellis                               Artist: Lee Moder
Colorist: Steve Ellis                           Colorist: Michael Atiyeh
Letter: Troy Peteri                             Letterer: Troy Peteri
Editor: Ron Marz                               Editor: Ron Marz




3) “Death was Silent”                4) “Black Water”
Editor/Writer: Ron Marz                Writer: Jeff Mariotte
Artist: Bart Sears                              Artist: Book Turner
Colorist:Michael Atiyeh                 Colorist: C.Edward Sellner

Letterer: Troy Peteri                       Letterer:Troy Peteri

Editor: Ron Marz                              Editor: Ron Marz


5) “What a Man’s Gotta Do”  6) “Vengance”
Writer: Matthew Cutter                  Writer: Shane Lacy Hensley
Artist: Ulises Roman                       Artist: Sean Lee
Colorist: Doug Spencer                   Inker: Mike Munshaw
Letterer: Jacob Bascle                    Colorist/Editor: C. Edward Sellner
Editor: C. Edward Sellner             Letterer: Jacob Bascle




Publisher: IDW

 

Deadlands: Deadman’s Hand Vol. 1 is  a collection of  short stories based on Pinnacle Entertainment’s flagship Role-playing board game: Deadlands. For whose characters, IDW rounded up some of the best talents in the Horror and Western genres to flesh out.   The game is what Pinnacle calls a “Weirdest” Western, written by Shane Lacy Hensley, merging fictional Western settings with familiar character types and situations, would be cliché, if not mittigated by  the elements of  Steam Punk, Magic, and Science Fiction, and mostly served up within the context of the horror genre.

There is plenty of action, gun play and violence.  Delivering enough emotional hooks, and dread, to be horror, without a needless gore-fest.  (I have no problem with gore, but not for it’s own sake.)  In a few stories, I couldn’t help but notice  the mechanics of the game poking through and interrupting  the narrative.   Aliens, inexplicably, appear for our hero to fight, taking her out of her personal quest; characters enter a maze for no compelling reason; and sudden scene jumps feels like characters are being hurried along to the next play window.

Still, there are stories which move so smoothly, as to feel original, achieved through exceptional storytelling  and art. Ron Marz’s and Bart Sears’s “Death was Silent” and David Gallaher’s and Steve Ellis’s Faustian character study in: “The Devil’s Six Gun.”

My fav being “Death was Silent.” Delivering unexpected plot twists and making me want to read Marz’s  script just so I could see were he ends and Bart Sears begins.  Sears’s panels are worthy of study for young comic artists  to see how layout creates pacing, mood, and builds tension.  His choice of panels are as impressive as the art work within.

Meanwhile, the always dependable Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray deliver the most butt kicking tale of the collection for the character Clementine. Who is a really, really, really white half Native American lady searching for her birth mother, along with her German Shepherd.  She nobly rescues a Western town fighting creatures who look like they invaded from Play-Doh Land.

I’m sure fans of the Deadlands Game can will enjoy seeing some of their characters and narratives fleshed out.  As, I’m sure, there is much I’m not getting, since, I’m a non-player.

But standing on it’s own as  western/horror comic collection.  Deadlands: Dead Man’s Hand vol. 1, ain’t  half bad–partners.

Available now in stores and on Amazon.

 

1 Comments on Deadlands: Dead Man’s Hand Vol. #1 a Game Comic with Horror Fan Appeal, last added: 4/7/2015
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15. Behind Every Great Man

I’m over at a site called Bitter Empire today with a review of a new nonfiction book:

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller, offers a collection of short biographies, usually six to ten pages, of the wives of famous men. From Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny von Westphalen (aristocratic wife of Karl Marx) to Eva Gabrielsson (common-law wife of Stieg Larsson), from artists and scientists to dictators and activists, Wagman-Gellar investigated women who were both married to historically significant men and seemed to have “dwelled in the shadows.” With her investigations she aimed to pay tribute to the women who influenced their famous husbands. Many of the women profiled were equal partners in the events that brought their husbands’ fame only to find themselves left on the sidelines of history.

Also, it is the final day of my long, four-day weekend. Sigh. It is cold and rainy outside and bookish folk know what that means: perfect reading weather. So please excuse me while I go curl up with a few good books.


Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

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16. Review: Convergence #0 is The Start of Something Big

Convergence #0

Convergence (2015) 000-000

 

Story: Jeff King, Dan Jurgens

Art: Ethan Van Sciver

Colors: Marcelo Maiolo

Letters: Travis Lanham

Publisher: DC Comics

 

 

Event comics are like vending machnies, sometimes you get nothing. That’s been true of more recent years stuff like AXIS, INFINITY, and Image United. The other side of that lost quarter are those books that make you glad these series exist. You’ll get a Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinity Gauntlet, or House of M where the event delivers a promise that was hyped just right. On rare occasions, comic fans can be pleasantly surprised by something going in we believe to be overhyped. That right there is the beauty of DC Comics latest event Convergence.

This zero issue gives readers an idea of what Convergence is about without really putting the gears in motion too much. Television producer Jeff King pairs with veteran comics writer Dan Jurgens to pen a prologue that answers questions you might have after reading Superman: Doomed a few months ago. Convergence #0 answers the mystery of what happened during Superman’s disappearance in the Doomed event. Readers will get a Brainiac unlike any you’ve seen before and all the Brainiacs you’ve seen before. In a way, that’s what Convergence is, everything old is new and everything new is grandiose. King and Jurgens are playing off a lot of nostalgia connected to the heart of a DC fan while trying to incorporate this new ultra Brainiac to the DCU. Seeing all the moments Superman died across all those universes is like an Easter egg hunt. Issue zero is where we get a road map of the event through New 52 Superman’s journey among the plane of domed cities. This tale is a good set up in driving home the point of what the Convergence spine series will be about and how it could potentially matter post Convergence.

Whether you love his work or not, Ethan Van Sciver was the perfect choice for Convergence. His hyper realistic style works to subtlety unify the different versions of characters we’ll see. It’s like threading popcorn through a string, each kernel will look different but ultimately you know they’re on the same line. There so many great illustrators in comics, but so few can handle the necessary scope event books need. Ethan is an artist who knows how to dial it to 11 when he needs to. Looking at these pages, the sheer level of details hidden in the panels will blow your mind. Particularly with the Daily Planets. Marcelo Maiolo’s colors are a loving compliment to all the gorgeous line work. The story has so much visual shifting that it could have been detrimental to the book, but the color work brings it all together smoothly.

Convergence (2015) 000-015

Being someone who suffers from event fatigue, Convergence #0 was a pleasant surprise. It’s the history of DCU used brilliantly as a story device and it’s one of the most visually impressive looking event books since the original Crisis. But we can’t whole heartedly recommend it without a bit of warning. The biggest reason being a zero issue should never cost $4.99. Usually these been the least expensive issues of events, sometimes even FCBD issues. This one has 28 pages of story and a 10 page guide explaining each of the universes we’ll see during the event. It’s an addition which could have easily been published online, or as a free marketing pamphlet for stores to giveaway, instead of adding to the page count. Even if this isn’t solely the reason for the price point, it certainly couldn’t have hurt their wallets to eliminate it from the printing. If you are a reader that’s been on board from the day Convergence was announced, you won’t be disappointed when you pick up the book. As for the rest of us, if you don’t mind the price point, Convergence is good… really good.

 


Dave and all his multiverse counter parts can be seen every morning grabbing a donut and coffee on the way to the office because we all got together and killed the one version who didn’t like that stuff, or on twitter @bouncingsoul217

 

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17. Review of Please Excuse This Poem

lauer_please excuse this poemPlease Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation
edited by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Lynn Melnick
High School   Viking   289 pp.
3/15   978-0-670-01479-8   $16.99   g

“Most poets begin writing poetry in secret.” Poet Carolyn Forché opens her introduction to this anthology of contemporary American poetry with a shout-out to young or burgeoning poets who likely do just that — an audience that won’t be disappointed with the volume’s one hundred poems, which meander through topics and styles and, for the most part, unabashedly ignore conventions of form. The best of these poets pack punches with raw handling of timely issues, such as Terrance Hayes with “Talk” (“…like a nigger is what my white friend, M, / asked me, the two of us alone and shirtless / in the locker room…M, where ever you are, / I’d just like to say I heard it, but let it go / because I was afraid to lose our friendship / or afraid we’d lose the game — which we did anyway”) and Patricia Lockwood with her uncomfortably humorous “Rape Joke,” one of the most powerful of the bunch (“Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke”). What will appeal to teens (and new adults) the most about this anthology, and what holds it all together, however loosely, is its gritty, unapologetic sensibility, and the feeling that many of these poems were perhaps, at one point, secrets. A lengthy “about the poets” section provides biographical details and answers to such prompts as “your idea of misery.”

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

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18. Review of the Day: Red by Michael Hall

Red: A Crayon’s Story
By Michael Hall
Greenwillow (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0062252074
Ages 3-6
On shelves now

Almost since their very conception children’s books were meant to teach and inform on the one hand, and to inform one’s moral fiber on the other. Why who can forget that catchy little 1730 ditty from The Childe’s Guide that read, “The idle Fool / Is whipt at School”? It’s got a beat and you can dance to it! And as the centuries have passed children’s books continue to teach and instruct. Peter Rabbit takes an illicit nosh and loses his fancy duds. Pinocchio stretches the truth a little and ends up with a prominent proboscis. Even parents who are sure to fill their shelves with the subversive naughtiness of Max, David, and Eloise are still inclined to indulge in a bit of subterfuge bibliotherapy when their little darling starts biting / hitting / swearing at the neighbors. Instruction, however, is a terribly difficult thing to do in a children’s book. It takes skill and a gentle hand. When Sophie Gets Angry . . . Really Really Angry works because the point of the book is couched in beautiful, lively, eye-popping art, and a story that shows rather than tells. But for every Sophie there are a hundred didactic tracts that some poor child somewhere is being forced to swallow dry. What a relief then to run across Red: A Crayon’s Story. It’s making a point, no doubt about it. But that point is made with a gentle hand and an interesting story, giving the reader the not unpleasant sensation that even if they didn’t get the point of the tale on a first reading, something about the book has seeped deep into their very core. Clever and wry, Hall dips a toe into moral waters and comes out swimming. Sublime.

“He was red. But he wasn’t very good at it.” When a blue crayon in a wrapper labeled “Red” finds himself failing over and over again, everyone around him has an opinion on the matter. Maybe he needs to mix with the other kids more (only, when he does his orange turns out to be green instead). Maybe he just needs more practice. Maybe his wrapper’s not tight enough. Maybe it’s TOO tight. Maybe he’s got to press harder or be sharper. It really isn’t until a new crayon asks him to paint a blue sea that he comes to the shocking realization. In spite of what his wrapper might say, he isn’t red at all. He’s blue! And once that’s clear, everything else falls into place.

A school librarian friend of mine discussed this book with some school age children not too long ago. According to her, their conversation got into some interesting territory. Amongst themselves they questioned why the crayon got the reaction that he did. One kid said it was the fault of the factory that had labeled him. Another kid countered that no, it was the fault of the other crayons for not accepting him from the start. And then one kid wondered why the crayon needed a label in the first place. Now I don’t want to go about pointing out the obvious here but basically these kids figured out the whole book and rendered this review, for all intents and purposes, moot. They got the book. They understand the book. They should be the ones presenting the book.

Because you see when I first encountered this story I applied my very very adult (and very very limited) interpretation to it. A first read and I was convinced that it was a transgender coming-of-age narrative except with, y’know, waxy drawing materials. And I’m not saying that isn’t a legitimate way to read the book, but it’s also a very limited reading. I mean, let’s face it. If Mr. Hall had meant to book to be JUST about transgender kids, wouldn’t it have been a blue crayon in a pink wrapper? No, Hall’s story is applicable to a wide range of people who find themselves incorrectly “labeled”. The ones who are told that they’re just not trying hard enough, even when it’s clear that the usual rules don’t apply. We’ve all known someone like that in our lives before. Sometimes they’re lucky in the way that Red here is lucky and they meet someone who helps to show them the way. Sometimes they help themselves. And sometimes there is no help and the story takes a much sadder turn. I think of those kids, and then I read the ending of “Red” again. It doesn’t help their situation much, but it makes me feel better.

This isn’t my first time at the Michael Hall rodeo, by the way. I liked My Heart Is Like a Zoo, enjoyed Perfect Square, took to Cat Tale, and noted It’s an Orange Aardvark It’s funny, but in a way, these all felt like a prelude to Red. As with those books, Hall pays his customary attention to color and shape. Like Perfect Square he even mucks with our understood definitions. But while those books were all pleasing to the eye, Red makes a sudden lunge for hearts and minds as well. That it succeeds is certainly worth noting.

Now when I was a kid, I ascribed to inanimate objects a peculiar level of anthropomorphizing. A solo game of war turned a deck of cards into a high stakes emotional journey worthy of a telenovela. And crayons? Crayons had their own lives as well. There were a lot of betrayals and broken hearts in my little yellow box. Hall eschews this level of crayon obsession, but in his art I noticed that he spends a great deal of time understanding what a crayon’s existence might entail if they were allowed families and full lives. I loved watching how the points on the crayons would dull or how some crayons were used entirely on a slant, due to the way they colored. I liked how the shorter you are, the older you are (a concept that basically turned my 3-year-old’s world upside down when she tried to comprehend it). I liked how everything that happens to Red stays with him throughout the book. If his wrapper is cut or he’s taped together, that snip and tape stay with him to the end. The result is that by the time he’s figured out his place in the world (and shouldn’t we all be so lucky) he bears the physical cuts and scars that show he’s had a long, hard journey getting to self-acceptance. No mean feat for a book that primarily utilizes just crayon drawings and cut paper, digitally combined.

Not everyone thinks, as I do, that Mr. Hall’s effort is successful. I’ve encountered at least one librarian who told me straight out that she found the book “preachy”. I can see why she’d say that. I mean, it does wear its message on its sleeve. Yet for all that it has a purpose I can’t call it purposeful. What Hall has done so well here is to take a universal story and tell it with objects that almost every reader approaching this book will already be familiar with. These crayons don’t have faces or arms or mouths. They look like the crayons you encounter all the time, yet they live lives that may be both familiar and unfamiliar to readers. And in telling a very simple fish-out-of-water story, it actually manages to make kids think about what the story is actually trying to say. It makes readers work for its point. This isn’t bibliotherapy. It’s bibliodecoding. And when they figure out what’s going on, they get just as much out of it as you might hope. A rare, wonderful title that truly has its child audience in mind. Respectful.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: Kirkus

Other Reviews: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast st Kirkus

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19. Review of In Mary’s Garden

kugler_in mary's gardenIn Mary’s Garden
by Tina Kügler and Carson Kügler; illus. by the authors
Primary   Houghton   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-544-27220-0   $16.99

As a girl, Mary “was happiest when her hands were busy making, building, creating things.” As she grew up and traveled around the world, those early interests developed into a love for art. She returns to the Wisconsin lake house she’d helped her father build and begins a lifelong art project there, gathering found items from the beach, assembling scraps, building frames, mixing concrete, and erecting a menagerie of larger-than-life sculptures inspired by her travels. The authors embellish their picture-book biography of artist Mary Nohl (1914–2001) with touches of whimsy — her dogs Sassafras and Basil assist beyond the bounds of ordinary canine capacity, for example — reflecting their subject’s own outsized imagination. The illustrations — digital collages of scratchy, affectionate paintings on an assortment of papers — mirror this sense of wonder; careful readers will see a variety of friendly creatures swirling amid the clouds and hiding in tree trunks. An afterword, including two photographs and source notes, offers a more detailed account of Kohl’s life and work, notes about her detractors (“Some people didn’t understand Mary’s unusual creations, and called her a witch”), and a hope for her legacy to endure.

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

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20. Review: Past Aways Needs A Wilson

Past Aways #1

26716

 

Story: Matt Kindt

Art: Scott Kolins

Colors: Bill Crabtree

Letters: Rob Leigh

Publisher: Dark Horse

 

 

As a fan of the comics medium, it’s a privilege to go into a comic book shop or Comixology and try all the new #1’s. Comics are where ideas are born that translate into tomorrow’s film and television. There’s nothing like them, and lately a lot of science fiction books have debuted; some good, some not so good. Past Aways is Dark Horse Comics latest contribution to the genre.

Written by Matt Kindt, Past Aways is the story of a group of time travelers tasked with recording the events of history. They’re stranded in the 21st century and the strain has splintered the group. Right from the gate, Kindt puts their defects out there for us to see. Detached, distant, suicidal, and conceit are the words that only begin to scratch the surface of these characters. Instead of being united under the goal of returning to their own time, they can barley stand each other. Like any team an event needs to happen to bring them together and issue one sees the beginnings of such a moment. I won’t spoil that for you because it would give away too much.

Scott Kolins brings his energetic art style to these pages. The characters and designs of the futuristic equipment feel kinetic. Even the layouts feel unique, from the effects tying together the panels or the footnotes explaining what we’re seeing, everything has distinct purpose. Where he’s separating himself from his previous work is in how much risqué he’s adding. Naked bodies and acid sh**ting dinosaurs are just some of the weird things you’ll get in Past Aways.

Ultimately, Past Aways is interesting but it throws out so many questions with no answers. Yes, the opening chapter of a book should do that, but it should also give you a reason to want answers. The reasons to care about the characters are missing. It could be due to having everyone crammed into the issue. None of the characters feel like they have any breathing room. A new idea is always welcome but it needs to present the hook right away and it’s just missing from these pages. I’m a fan of Matt Kindt and Scott Kolins, but it feels like the introduction of this story could have used a bit more fleshing out.

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21. Review: Gotham Academy #6, The Kids of the Black Hole

Gotham Academy #6

Gotham Academy 006-000Story: Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher

Art: Karl Kerschl, Mingue Helen Chen 

Color: Msassyk, Serge Lapointe

Letters: Steve Wands

Publisher: DC Comics

 

 

 

As much as we love reading about the adventures of the world’s greatest detective, you have to figure Gotham city is probably a pretty messed up place to grow up. Walking down the street could get you turned inside out by Joker gas or someone in a skintight cat outfit could shred you to pieces. Even adolescents in this world have it rough. This is mostly due to Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher. They put kids in buildings with Arkham inmates, fire hazards, and sinister looking headmasters. All these obstacles put forth for our enjoyment in Gotham Academy #6.

The issue wraps the first story arc and sheds a little more light on Olive Sliverlock’s forgotten past. What issue six finally does is make good use of a Batman appearance. It’s powerful, and not just because of the fight with Killer Croc. This chapter of Gotham Academy puts Olive on a collision course with the caped crusader. Neither character is shown to be on the right side of the argument, which makes this matter poignant to the series and a mystery we’re sure to want answers about. Cloonan and Fletcher write the usual whimsy and angst sprinkled voice that cast of characters has become known for in the series. It’s just that now the team has managed to raise the stakes for all of them.

In addition to the usual fantastic Disney animated style art of Karl Kerschl, issue six brings Mingue H. Chen on board for some key flashback sequences and an epilogue that leaves us wishing DC would just skip Convergence altogether. Her style is noticeably more painted than that of Kerschl but it never jitters the reader. The two artists blend pages smoothly and that’s the best you can ask for when sharing illustration duties on a single story.

Gotham Academy is one of the best new ideas DC has published in awhile. If you’ve been on the fence about trying this series, go do it. Issue six, as a standalone, has major hook and you’ll definitely be enticed enough to pick up the pieces you’ve missed. One usually has to read a Vertigo published book to find this much depth in a comic.

Now that the kids are united it’ll be even more fun to see how they’ll be divided.

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22. Review of the Day: Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli
Viking (an imprint of Penguin Group USA)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-670-01652-5
Ages 8-11
On shelves now

I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine the other day when the panelists began discussing the difference between heist films and con man films.  A heist film is one where the entire movie is a build-up to a great and fabulous heist.  Ocean’s 11 and that sort of thing.  In the children’s book world this would be The Great Greene Heist.  A con man film is different.  There you have a single individual, and not necessarily a heroic one either.  Catch Me If You Can is a con man film.  And on the children’s book side?  Honestly, we don’t have a lot of them.  Maybe Pickle by Kim Baker but that’s a stretch.  It really wasn’t until I laid eyes on Greg Pizzoli’s Tricky Vic that I could appreciate what I had been missing all these years.  Told with a relaxed easygoing style, Pizzoli takes one of the world’s most notorious individuals in the con game, and refuses to humanize him.  Here we see a character that was larger than life.  Makes sense that he’d try to sell a structure that was in many ways his equal.

In 1890 he was born Robert Miller, but that didn’t last.  Names came and went and by the time he was an adult, Miller was a professional gambler turned con artist.  His preferred method of payment was gambling on transatlantic ocean liners but then along came WWI and Miller, now calling himself Count Victor Lustig, needed a new occupation.  Through a little low level trickery he got the blessing of Al Capone and then set about bilking the easy rich.  But his greatest feat, and the one that would put him down in the history books, was his successful con of “selling” the Eiffel Tower to prospective buyers.  Though in time he was eventually caught and jailed (in Alcatraz, no less), Vic’s odd life shines a spotlight on those individuals willing to get ahead on our own greed and misplaced hope.  Backmatter includes an Author’s Note, Glossary, Selected Sources, and a note on the art.

Every great picture book biography finds something about an individual that is interesting to child readers.  In The Boy Who Loved Math it was Paul Erdos’s sheer enthusiasm and childlike goofiness.  In The Noisy Paintbox it was Kandinsky’s ability to translate sound to sight and back again.  And in Tricky Vic it’s shamelessness.  Kids don’t often encounter, in any form, adults that unapologetically do wrong.  Vic ultimately pays for his crimes, and in many ways that’s the only way you can get away with what Pizzoli is doing here.  You see, the trouble with con man storylines is that they’re just too much fun.  You can’t help but root for Vic when he pulls the old Romanian Money Box scheme or when he cons the great Al Capone himself.  Really one of the few objections I’ve heard lobbed against the book is a question as to whether or not kids will have any interest in an obscure two-bit criminal.  But like all great nonfiction authors for kids, Pizzoli knows that children’s biographies do not begin and end with Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln.  Sometimes kids appreciate far more the biographies of the people who didn’t go about with halos hovering around their ears.  There’s room on our shelves for the baddies.

Now when Greg Pizzoli debuted with his picture book The Watermelon Seed two years ago, there was nothing to indicate to me that he had any inclination to go the nonfiction route.  “The Watermelon Seed” utilizes a three-color print job and distinctly retro aesthetic.  That aesthetic remains intact in Tricky Vic but Pizzoli but the technique has been cranked up to eleven.  In “A Note About the Art in This Book” at the back, Pizzoli says that the illustrations seen here were “created using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop.” The end result is a book that straddles the line between those picture books actually concocted in the 1930s and a distinctly contemporary creation.

Dig a little deeper and Pizzoli’s illustration choices go beyond mere novelty.  The choice to render Vic’s head as a thumbprint has so many different uses.  With a mere change in tone or color, Pizzoli can render his personality and character different from one page to the next.  This chameleon of a man couldn’t ask for better representation.  But much of the success of the book lies in how it tackles the question of Vic as a bad person.  Pizzoli’s choice to make Vic expressionless throughout the book is key to this.  Because kids aren’t exactly reading about a role model, it’s important that Vic never look like he’s having too much fun.  Remove his mouth and eyes and voila!  An instant blank slate on which to project your storyline.  Let the facts speak for themselves.

And speaking of facts, in no time in our nation’s history have picture book biographies for children fallen under as much scrutiny as they do today.  Time was the D’Aulaires could write varying fictional accounts of everyone from Pocahontas to Abraham Lincoln and win Caldecotts for their efforts.  These days, the debate rages around how much an author is allowed to do and the crux of that debate centers on made up dialogue.  I am firmly of the opinion that made up dialogue is unnecessary in a children’s book biography.  However, when handled creatively, there are exceptions to every rule.  And “Tricky Vic” is, if nothing else, vastly creative.  If you read the book the actual text is all factual.  There is some mucking about with the timeline of one of the major events in Vic’s life, but Pizzoli comes clean about that in his Author’s Note in the back, and I give a lot of credit to folks who fess up plainly.  Getting back to the text, look a little closer and you’ll see that there is some made up dialogue but Pizzoli keeps it at a minimum and gives it its own separate space.  Little speech balloons between the characters will occasionally crop up at the bottom of the pages.  The feeling is that these are interstitial fictional bits that simply support the rest of the text.  A reader doesn’t walk away from them thinking that they’re strict representations of the past.  They are, instead, a little colorful complement to the text to give it a lighter bouncier feel.

I recently conducted a Salon in my library on children’s nonfiction picture book illustration and historical accuracy.  During the course of the talk we discussed Vincent Kirsch’s work on Gingerbread for Liberty and the times when a bouncier, more light-hearted feel to the illustrations best fit the text.  In Tricky Vic Pizzoli isn’t going for a meticulous reconstruction of past events in his art.  He’s going for something with a historical feel, but with fun built in as well.  The design elements are what really step things up a notch.  I also loved the factual sidebars that complemented the text but never dominate.  As kids read they encounter sections talking about Prohibition, The Tower’s Critics (the folks who hated it from the get-go, that is), the Hotel de Crillon, Counterfeiting, and Alcatraz.  The end result is as dynamic as it is informative.

I wonder vaguely if this book will receive any challenges from concerned parents living in the mistaken belief that Pizzoli has penned a How To manual for little budding criminals.  As I mentioned before, the line between celebrating your biographical picture book subject and simply reporting on their life is thin.  The beauty of Tricky Vic, I think, is that his life is just as wild and weird as any fictional character.  There is value in showing kids the fools of the past.  I don’t think anyone will walk away from this thinking Vic had it all figured out, but I do think a fair number of them might want to follow-up on Pizzoli’s Selected Sources for a little independent reading of their own.  And if this book encourages just one kid to rethink their attitude towards nonfiction, then this title has earned its place in the world.  The gorgeous art and great writing are just gravy.  For one.  For all.  Un-forgettable.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: 100 Scope Notes

Professional Reviews: The New York Times

Interviews: Greg Pizzoli discusses his technique at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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23. Thursday Review: THE WALLS AROUND US by Nova Ren Suma

Summary: Happy book birthday—two days ago—to Nova Ren Suma's latest YA offering, The Walls Around Us! This title shares a lot with Imaginary Girls, most noticeably the atmosphere of strangeness and the slow unfolding of past and present events;... Read the rest of this post

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24. ‘Home’ Review Roundup

What the critics are saying about the cutesy alien invasion offering from DreamWorks.

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25. Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman

In Alyssa Brugman's thoughtful novel Alex As Well, the teenaged title character often feels like two people - one female, one male - trapped in the same body.

There's nothing like feeling uncomfortable in your own body. For Alex, the struggle is constant. Alex was born intersex, having physical characteristics of both genders. Doctors could not identify Alex as male or female. Alex's parents selected a gender-neutral name for their baby and were made to monitor their child's behavior and report back to doctors, who decided Alex's tendency to be more aggressive than passive indicated the child was more masculine than feminine - and so Alex was raised as a boy.

Now Alex is in high school, and she has found the strength within to tell her parents that she would rather identify as a girl. Her father splits; her mother falls apart. Alex stands her ground and starts making decisions for herself. She leaves her all-boys school and enrolls in a new school as a girl. She finds new friends, including a girl she gets a crush on and a boy who gets a crush on her. Though she enjoys their friendship, she cannot bring herself to tell them - or anyone at her new school - the truth about her condition, and fears the day that someone or something will reveal it.

The novel is told from Alex's first-person point of view, which occasionally has her talking to her masculine self, her inner twin, who often taunts her and points out the physical differences between her - them - and her peers. Posts from Alex's mother's blog, placed between chapters every now and then, shed light on her struggle to raise her child, revealing facts about Alex's condition and upbringing and the mom's attempts to assist and accept her. The blog posts help make the mother seem a little less harsh, a little less hysterical, and a little more human than she would be had the blog not been included.

To date, I've read four Alyssa Brugman novels - Finding Grace, Walking Naked, Being Bindy, and Alex As Well - and I've enjoyed them all. Brugman creates protagonists driven by personal matters who have yet to realize something about themselves. Her realistic storylines draw in readers and her frank storytelling takes them straight to the heart of the matter.

Looking for more intersex representation in the media? The MTV series Faking It features an intersex character named Lauren. Learn more in Emily Quinn's letter and her video with Bailey De Young (Lauren), which shares some facts about the condition, including this: Being born intersex is almost as common as being born a natural redhead.

This review was cross-posted at GuysLitWire.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Tough Issues for Teens Booklist
Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman

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