November 29, 2009

Short Stories in Graphic Novels

#235. The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang. illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim. 2009. 170 pgs. 15+ - This book of short stories is an adult title with crossover appeal to teens. Yang shows us here that he has a taste for the strange. In these three stories Yang has taken a person's reality and turned it into a fantasy or turned their fantasy into reality, making for stories that end with the infamous twist. I enjoyed all three very much; they were each enjoyable and unusual, as well as making one think about the good or bad consequences of living in a fantasy world and avoiding your own reality. The illustrations are all wonderful. Kim has used different styles for each story to match the theme and mood. The second story has actually been done in the style of an old comic book (one of those "Gold Key" comics from the seventies) complete with fake ads. Very well done book. Recommended. 4.5/5

#236. Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia illustrated by Gris Grimly. adapted. 2009. 136 pgs. 14+ - It's hard to decide a suitable age for this book, as children differ, but at whatever age your child can handle the gruesome artwork, they can handle the book. Presented here are four of Poe's most horrifying works that deal with death and madness: The Tell-Tale Heart, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, The Oblong Box, and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Being a fan of Poe's since I was 11, I have recently become quite fond of reading illustrated versions of his stories and poems and this quite tops the ranks. Omitting "The Oblong Box" for a minute we have three very horrifying, and two downright gruesome tales that Grimly has illustrated with a superb craft for the Gothic gore that brings these tales to shocking life. Back to all four stories now, Grimly's illustrations of people gone mad is simply chilling. While Poe *has* been abridged, it is well worth it to see this presentation of work in such a visual manner. The book is not your typical graphic novel; there are no frames nor word bubbles. What we have instead is fully illustrated pages with blocks of text artistically placed on the page. Though there are also some pages where the text is not blocked, even then it is placed to suit the pictures. Rather than calling this a book, I call it a piece of art and highly recommend it to Poe's fans. It would also make a fantastic introduction to the author's work. This book is a follow up to a previous book of Poe that Grimly illustrated; you can be sure I'll be reading that one soon too. 5/5


November 28, 2009

Graphic Novel Trios Continue

#232. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee. illustrated by Sam Hart & Artur Fujita. 2009. Age 13+. - An absolutely beautiful book! Slick, glossy pages with gorgeous artwork done in various monotones for different settings such as the forest scenes are done in greens, the Nottingham castle scenes in purples and the action/fighting scenes in reddish yellows. This palette certainly brings the mood and tone of the story alive. Tony Lee has set down a wonderful retelling of the Robin Hood legend taking various parts of the lore and weaving them into his own wonderful, serious, cohesive story of Robin Loxley robbing from the rich to both give to the poor and save to pay the King's ransom. He's made sure to keep the famous scenes present such as the joust with Little John on the bridge and the archery contest Robin wins while in disguise, though Lee has added his own twists on each to keep his retelling fresh and new. A wonderful piece of work to be enjoyed by Robin Hood enthusiasts and those new to the legend as well. 4/5

#233. The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan. 2009. Age 10+. - A combination of historical fiction and fantasy/folklore make up this strange tale that takes place during the American Dust Bowl of the 1930s. A family has been suffering for four years now without rain. The eldest daughter has dust pneumonia, the youngest has never seen rain, the father cannot work the farm on his own, the mother realizes they must pull up stakes and move and now 11yo Jack, our hero, has been too young to help around the farm as he grew over the years. He thinks he is a klutz and he has started seeing things; those around him think he has come down with dust dementia. As anyone who regularly reads my reviews knows, I love fantasy but I really did not like the fantasy element in this story. I would have enjoyed it much more as a straight historical fiction. The strange King of Storms Jack meets in the neighbour's barn was just plain weird and made know sense whatsoever. There were also way too many wordless pages for my enjoyment. Finally, while the artwork did suit the time period it didn't impress me, I found it wishy-washy. This book has received rave reviews but I'm going to have to beg to differ as the whole thing left me feeling 'meh'. 2.5/5

#234. Children of the Sea Vol. 1 by Daisuke Igarashi. 2009 English translation. 2007 orig. Japanese. Age 13+. A very intriguing fantastical story of the sea. Two children were raised in the sea by dugongs and now are living partially on land with a guardian who works with Ruko's father at an Aquarium. Ruko has just been kicked off the summer kickball team as she is too rough and she spends her time near the ocean. She meets Umi, one of the sea boys, and begins to find out about his mysterious life. At the same time, scientists are reporting the disappearance of certain common fish life from aquariums around the world. Ruko's father is studying this but one day Ruko sees it happen before her eyes in the aquarium. An extremely unique story that had me captivated from the beginning! The story is very well told, the characters are interesting and real and I am totally intrigued with the plot, which I haven't decided yet whether it is fantasy or science fiction. This is a Japanese book read back to front and the artwork is done realistically. At 316 pgs there is plenty of room to give a good background on the characters and proceeds well into the story up to a cliffhanger ending that makes one eager to read Vol. 2. The book is rated T (ages 16+ for disturbing images). I waited the whole book for this to show itself and near the end there was one image that was 'disturbing', though I'd just say weird. It is of a deformity. Other than that the book is totally clean and I, of a very conservative nature, have no problem recommending the book for 13+. 5/5


A Trio of Cybils Nominees

Joey Fly Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime by Aaron Reynolds. illustrated by Neil Numberman. 2009. Age 8+. - This is a wonderful crime noire in graphic novel format. Taking place in the Bug City all the characters are various insects and arachnids. Joey Fly is a Private Eye (da da daaaa) and Sammy Stingtail (a scorpion) is his sidekick. Written in classic thirties private eye style, "It was a muggy summer day when he walked through my door. Right away, I thought he looked like trouble. I was right.", the book is a pure joy to read. The crime is a fun one to keep kids guessing and following the clues and there is plenty of humour. Most of the art is done in dark blue & white to give that old noire feeling but other colour palettes show up as well to add variety. A lot of fun and definitely a winner! Loved it! 5/5

The Incredible Rockhead by Scott Nickel. illustrated by C.S. Jennings. 2009. Age 8+ - I'm a big fan of Stone Arch Press books but have to say I finally found one that I didn't like. Chip, as geeky as a geek can get, is turned into Rockhead, a supposed superhero. Basically his head turns into a rock and he has a hard time standing up, give him a push and he can smash into things. Anyway, he saves the kids at the zoo from escaped dangerous animals by smashing into them?! I'm as far away from a tree hugger as you can get but even to me piles of dazed animals who have been smashed into isn't my idea of fun or a superhero. Don't bother. 1/5

The Emperor's New Clothes by Stephanie True Peters. illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins. 2009. Age 7+ - I'm a big fan of this fairy tale series by Stone Arch Press. I've already reviewed both Rapunzel and Three Little Pigs and hope to read the rest of them with my son. The story remains quite true to the original excepting that the emperor is in his underwear instead of being naked and there's a fun twist with the ending. The artwork is bright and bold with wonderful eccentric figures. The artist appears to have done the foreground figures on watercolour paper with the backgrounds done in some other method. Not my favourite in this series but still a great fun book. 3.5/5


The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa, translated by Lauren Na
The Story of Life on the Golden Fields Vol. 1

Pages: 319 pgs.
Ages: 16+
First Published: (Apr. 2009 Eng. trans) (2003 orig. Korean)
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

"Golly! Them beetles are matin'."

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: This is the story of two women, one a little and the other her young widowed mother. The story focuses on the little girl and her awakening identity as a woman, and also as a side story is her mother who finds love again for the first time since her husband's death. As the back of my book says "first love and second chances."

Comments: This first book in a trilogy follows the little girl from the age of about six to fourteen. It takes place in a small Korean village in a time period unknown, with the only clue to placing it somewhere in the 20th century being a steam or coal engine train. Now, I'll start off by saying this is not the type of book I would normally read *at all*. I am much too conservative to even want to read a book that has the words "s*xual awakening" on the front flap but doing my job as a Cybils panelist I reluctantly set down to give the book a chance.

I can't quite know how to say just how beautiful a story this was. A little girl's curiosity about her body, the difference between boys and girls, grown-up things she over hears and how she goes straight to her mother with her questions and confusion is a tender love story in itself. The mother/daughter relationship presented here is truly touching and really the backbone of this volume. For those wanting a plot there really isn't any. We are touched by the maternal relationship and watch as each of them separately experiences womanhood. The little girl's experiences of finding our about her body, how it's different than a boys, her first period and her first crush on a boy, who is studying to be a monk, are all respectfully portrayed. The mother, who is young and beautiful, suddenly finds that love for a man can touch her heart again when she falls in love with a traveling artist who keeps returning to visit her. There are a couple of incidents in the book that I could have done without but for the most part the material is presented in a decent way, making for a truly touching story.

I also really enjoyed the artwork. The is the first time I've read Korean manga which is called manhwa. I'm not a huge fan of manga artwork as I hate the horrible fake over expressive faces and how all the men look like girls. But this book was not drawn that way at all, aside from the occasional great big mouth to show extreme emotions all the artwork is very realistic and the detailed background scenery in many frames is lovely. The men aslo look like men. I wonder if this is typical of Korean manhwa or just this particular artist's style.

I've fallen for Ewha, the little girl, and I'll be reading the next book for sure. Though I won't commit any further as I'll have to see if the story remains within my boundaries as she gets older. This book, The Color of Earth, is not going to be for everyone but if the topic interests you and you are comfortable with the subject matter then I hope you find the story as touching as I did. I'll end with a lovely little quote the girl says to herself near the end of the book:

Because I asked something I shouldn't have asked. I heard what I shouldn't have heard. And because I went where I shouldn't have gone, I saw what I shouldn't have seen. How will my young heart cope with all that I've heard and seen?


November 27, 2009

Courtney Crumrin Series

Courtney Cumrin series by Ten Naifeh

Book 1: Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things (2002) - I was sucked into the story right away! Courtney's parents, living well beyond their means, jump at the chance to live rent free at Great Uncle Aloysius's creepy old mansion that happens to be in the rich area of town. Having use of the lower floors but strictly forbidden to enter his upper domain the parents settle in. Courtney can't make friends at school due to her association with the Crumrin house and she hears things in the night. This leads to her snooping around and finding an old book with very strange recipes in it that she starts to experiment with and she meets some very strange creatures both in and out of the house which mostly want to do harm to her or someone. I loved this. Done in black and white it suits the gothic, creepy atmosphere. Courtney is a girl with an attitude but likable all the same. Can't wait to read book two and find out where the story is going to go. 4/5

Book 2: Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics (2003) - Lots and lots of action in this volume with many story arcs and mini plots within the overall main plot of the series. It's been a year now and Courtney is quite the witch under her warlock Uncle Aloysius's tutelage. Courtney meets another grown witch, is invited to a cat meeting, confronts the most horrible hobgoblin then learns of a political plot within the warlock and witches' Coven. Courtney befriends a night thing whose life is in danger, Uncle Aloysius thinks he can handle things but it's left to Courtney in the end to uncover who is behind the horrible plot. So much going on in this book that it is a whirlwind ride, new characters both good and evil. Courtney's character is becoming much clearer. She has a huge attitude but a heart to match for the underdog. This volume gets pretty creepy and scary at times and all things do not end happily. Courtney's parents also no longer play a part of the story at this point as Courtney spends her time between school, with Uncle A., and in the forbidden woods. The book ends with Courtney ready to take on the world and I'm ready to take on the next book! 5/5

Book 3: Courtney Crumrin in the Twilight Kingdom (2004) - We're given one brief page to refresh our memory of the big picture from the last volume then Courtney's ambivalent parents are back in play as they go back to the city to finally sell their old condo. Courtney tries to reconnect with an old friend and finds they've both changed. When she returns she has to spend summer vacation at a summer school for other children of witches/warlocks and she doesn't get along with those kids any better than the ones at school, but when one of them, a show off, turns his little brother into a night thing they come to Courtney for help and off they go to Goblin Town in search of the Orchards of the Twilight King for a reverse spell. But all along Courtney has a stalker on her trail. The excitement level is high in this volume. A whole new cast of characters are put into play with the summer school group and a few people/creatures from previous books make an appearance as well, while Uncle Aloysius stays in the background this volume. The story lines are intricate and detailed, plenty of mini story arcs with a plethora of eccentric characters. I love Courtney's attitude and loyalty and am anxious to read Vol. four. 5/5

Book 4: Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday (2009) - This book is different that the others in that instead of being four small chapters this time, while remaining the same size, the book has been split into two long chapters which could almost be considered short stories. I think this book could be read as a stand alone as none of the content is dependent on the previous material except for the relationship the previous readers will have developed with Courtney by this time. Courtney has gone on a trip with Uncle Aloysius, mentioned at the end of Vol. 3, to Europe. The night things play no part in this volume but instead Courtney and her uncle meet up with traditional creatures of the night. In chapter one they meet up with werewolves and in chapter two it's vampires. All the things I've come to love about Courtney are still present in this volume though Courtney's attitude suffers a bit of a blow as she finally comes to realize that she has always been lonely. Courtney and Uncle A's relationship also finally starts to show signs of warming. The five year lag between books 3 and 4 have me worried about the likelihood of seeing a volume 5 anytime soon. The ending certainly leaves room for one and I'd love to see Courtney come back to learning the full potential of her powers. 4/5


November 25, 2009

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl series: The Graphic Novel adapted by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Conkin. Art by Giovanni and Paolo Lamanna

Book 1: Artemis Fowl - It has been so long since I read the novel that I barely remembered the story before I started to read this. I wasn't impressed with the first Artemis Fowl novel but reading it in graphic novel format seems to have done it a bit of good as I did quite enjoy this version, though I still find the story rather on the mundane side. The end of each chapter finishes with a dossier on a character, event or place which adds a lot of background information in a unique way; I found these entertaining and hope they continue throughout the series. I love the illustrations and seeing the characters coming to life, so to speak. Holly and Butler were done very well but Artemis was not how I envisioned so he had to grow on me through the book. I felt that Artemis was also presented not as mean as he was in the novel. Sure he is shown as self-centred, mean, with no remorse but he's even worse in the novel. My favourite character is Mulch Diggums and I love how he has been brought to the page. A good adaptation of a not so great book that starts off a much better series. 3/5

Book 2: The Arctic Incident - This is when the Artemis storyline really picks up and as I enjoyed the novel I also enjoyed the graphic adaptation. Artemis is learning about caring and friendship, but of course that doesn't stop him being a criminal mastermind. The fairy People need Artemis' help with a goblin uprising and in return he wants their help in rescuing his father, what follows is an action-packed adventure full of close calls, magic and double crossing. The dossiers with extra information used in the first book are present again but much less frequently which was a shame as I really enjoyed those. The illustrations are great and colour schemes used throughout are wonderful at capturing moods and atmospheres. A fun book that really captures the spirit of the novel. Fans are sure to enjoy revisiting the original book with all the visual glamour of a graphic novel. This is as far as I ever got with this series and it has made me want to get back to reading the books and I intend to continue reading the graphics as they come out. 4/5


November 24, 2009

The Photographer: Into War Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Didier Lefevre & Emmanuel Guilbert. illustrated by Frederic Lemercier, introduction and translated by Alexis Siegel

Pages: 267 pgs.
First Published: May, 2009 (English translation) (2003-2006 orig. French)
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

"I say good-bye to everyone."

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee

Summary: Photographer Didier Lefevre was offered to accompany the MSF (the original French version of Doctors Without Borders) on a 3 month mission to Afghanistan in 1986 when the Soviet-Afghan War was raging. The book tells of his journey from Pakistan to the mission site in Afghanistan, his stay and his decision to make the journey back to Pakistan alone which almost cost him his life.

Comments: An incredibly brilliant, powerful work of art! At first I thought this was going to be about current affairs in Afghanistan, so was quite surprised to find the memoir taking place during the Soviet era invasion of Afghanistan. The graphical presentation, the artwork is phenomenal. A very unique combination of cartooning and photographs have been combined together which at first, I admit, put me a bit off kilter but once I got used to the presentation I found myself seeing real life images even when I was looking at an illustration. An odd sensation but extremely well done. The authors/illustrator portray so much on the journey: the beauty of the land, the terror of illegally crossing the border, traveling under cover of night, watching for Soviet planes to drop bombs on them if sighted.

Then at the medical camp there is the large amount of local people coming for help for such things as a humongous cancerous tumour on a toe, a foot that is so rotted the man has pulled it off that morning and asks if they can put it back on for him; then the war wounded come in: a child with half his face blown off, a man with shrapnel in his back, a paralyzed girl with one tiny piece of shrapnel that has severed her spinal cord. The photographs, the text, the illustrations capture the spirit, the agony, the willpower, the drive of the doctors who come to work here in non sterile makeshift tents to treat these people, sometimes just so they can die with dignity.

Didier's journey back is even worse than coming as he has had enough at the end of the three months when he finds that the team is going to be staying an extra week so with some guidance to a nearby town where he will be certain to get a guide he sets off on his to journey back to Pakistan. Didier finds that without the resources and experiences of the "pros" he accompanied on the way out there he is a walking target and with exposure to criminals, crooked cops and the elements he almost loses his life. A magnificent, compelling story that concentrates on human relations and interactions without getting political. The political situation is discussed in the beginnings of the book to set the reader in the situation as it is happening but the focus of the book is people, how they treat each other both good and bad in situations both large and small. Highly recommended!


The Stonekeeper's Curse

The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet, Book Two

Pages: 219 pgs.
Ages: 10+
First Published: Sept, 2009
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

"Let go of me."

Reason for Reading: Next in series. Cybils nominee

Acquired: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Comments: It's been awful long wait since the first book in this series that I had to sit down and think a bit before I dove into this eagerly anticipated sequel. While Book 1 was all dark and foreboding, this second in the, I assume, trilogy gets right into the action. We find out all the answers and reasons for Emily's attachment with the Amulet and what her quest must be whether she wants it or not. Her brother also has an important part to play in saving this world. New friends are met and the enemy is shown in it's full evil wickedness. A compelling, fast-paced, action packed story with plenty of odd creatures, magic and hand-to-hand combat. Also an intriguing story, beautifully illustrated and the author has created a fascinating world. I just hope we don't have to wait another 20 months for Book Three!


November 22, 2009

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon by Jim Ottaviani. illustrated by Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon (no relation)

Pages: 124 pgs.
Ages: 10+
First Published: May, 2009
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

"...New UN headquarters in the Big Apple..."

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: Starting in 1957, this non-fiction book tells the story of the space race between the United States and Russia as they each strove to be the first to make a more impressive advancement in space technology, which started with the Russians being the first to launch a satellite into space and ended with the US being the first to set foot on the moon. The book focuses on the men and women working behind the scenes rather than the astronauts themselves.

Comments: This is a perfect example of how a graphic book can be so much more rewarding than the traditional textual book. Personally, this is not a subject I would ever pick up a regular book about as it is just not something that would normally interest me enough to read about it. But one glance through this book and my attention was immediately caught. The illustration was realistic, facial expressions showed real emotion, the black and white treatment gave both a feel of the past and a "space-y" feel. I wanted to start reading! And what an enjoyable book it is. The book is told in story format switching between the US and Russia. When the move to Russia has been made the reader is aware as the script has changed to include a backwards N denoting the Soviet language. There are plenty of footnotes, each found immediately under the frame in question which is a very user friendly design, much easier than having to look at the bottom of the page or as often happens in non-fiction, hunting around at the back of the book! Throughout the book there are also side panels which show a rocket and report chronologically of every attempt, both Russian and American, and whether it was successful or whether it failed. Included is data such as flight duration and, later on, astronauts aboard.

Finally, down to the story itself. Very well-written, interesting and compelling. I very much enjoyed the reading and now know a lot of information about the space race that I had no idea of before reading the book and probably would never have known had not such a book been presented to me. Kids and teens who are interested in space will be drawn to this book and those who aren't will be drawn to the graphic presentation and all will experience a fascinating read and learn an interesting part of our recent history. Highly recommended!


November 19, 2009

Constance & Edgewhere Chronicles

Two more Cybils nominees I've been reading:

Constance and the Great Escape by Pierre Le Gall. illustrated by Eric Heliot. 2009 (orig. French edition 2007). 32 pgs. Ages 6+. - Constance is a horrid little girl with a huge kitty. Her parents decide to take her to a boarding school for troublesome children and Constance hits upon a plan to get sent back home. The artwork in this book is gorgeous in what I guess is called a Goth style. Other than that though the book has rather a pointless plot: how to be a nasty kid; how to trick grown-ups into thinking you are good. I'm reading it as a Cybils nominee in the graphic novels category and it's simple one panel per page style is more reminiscent of a picture book, but it's appearance is more like an easy reader only the vocabulary is a bit high to classify it as such. Kid's are sure to enjoy the book, but there are so many more better books out there why bother with this one. My rating is based on the artwork 2/5.

The Elsewhere Chronicles Book One: The Shadow Door by Bannister & Nykko, 2009 (orig. Beligian edition 2007). 46 pgs. Ages 8+ - The first in a trilogy, this gorgeously illustrated fantasy introduces how three boys meet Rebecca and end up finding a door to another world through an old movie projector in an empty old house. Being the first book, we meet all the characters, are given enough backstory, some foreshadowing and a cliffhanger ending. Following the format of the traditional graphic novel/comic serial, this is a great book for younger ages to get started on a graphic fantasy series. Four very enjoyable main characters and an intriguing plot has me dying to know what happens next. Fortunately the other two books have also been released in English all at the same time. 3.5/5

November 18, 2009

Mini Reviews for Cybils Nominees

Cybils Award nominees I've been reading.

The 3-2-3 Detective Agency: The Disappearance of Dave Warthog by Fiona Robinson. 2009, 73 pgs, Age 7+ - A delightful mystery story about a group of animals who meet on the 3:23 train to Whiska City where they decide to open up a detective agency together. Upon placing an advertisement in the paper they receive several clients reporting missing persons and finally the mayor shows up to report the entire police force missing. The new detectives are on the case and find all disappearances lead to one place! The characters are delightful from Slingshot the overactive Sloth to Roger the dung beetle with a taste for gourmet cooking. The mystery is a fun one that kids will love and the book is full of humour. The illustration style is bright and detailed. The only issue I may have with the book is that the frames could be a little over busy and crowded and the text is on the small size. This could have been solved by producing a larger format book. Otherwise a very fun, enjoyable book that kids will love and hopefully we will see the 3-2-3 Detective Agency in further adventures to come. 4/5

Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones: Girl Genius Book 8 by Phil & Kaja Foglio. May 2009, 144 pgs, Ages 15+ - This is a tough book to give a fair review since as a Cybils nominee I've had to jump in with book 8. There is a lot going on, a back story I have no idea about, but what I can tell is that this steampunk comic is one I want to start from the beginning and read. The art is bright, humourous, with over dramatic facial expressions and very buxom women. While I had no idea of the whole general plot, even with the quick "The Story So Far" write up at the front of the book, I did grasp the mini plot of this volume in particular and thought it was a splendidly unique world of an heiress trying to reclaim her castle, which is alive, in a world full of living machines and flying airships. I plan on starting with book 1 and will re-read this and probably re-review it when I get to it in it's chronological order. Beautiful artwork and a tempting glimpse into an intriguing series that I most certainly will be reading. 3.5/5

Adventures in Cartooning by James Strum, Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost. Apr. 2009, 109 pgs, 8+ - A delightful book that tells a story of a knight who wants to fight a dragon, so off he goes on his adventure but along the way a Magic Elf accompanies him and teaches him the art of cartooning. Illustrations are drawn in Ed Emberley style and Ed is given a nod for his inspiration at the back where instructions on how to draw the knight, elf and horse are given. Throughout the book cartooning lingo is introduced and the aspects that make up a comic: panels, bubbles, sound effects, etc. All within the confines of a delightful, humourous story. A very unique book which will bring out the cartoonist in any aspiring artist who may feel overwhelmed at getting started. An actual child's example is shown at the back of the book. Highly recommended. 5/5

Cat Burglar Black by Richard Sala. Sep. 2009, 126 pgs, 12+ - What a devilishly divine caper! K. has been raised in an orphanage by a wicked woman who has trained the children to be master thieves and pickpockets when one day she receives a call from a long lost aunt to come live with her at a rundown boarding school. K arrives and meets 3 other girls who seem to come from similar circumstances as her and the teens are encouraged to continue their thievery working for a secret organization. I loved this book! The story is fast-paced, a little over-the-top at times but so much fun it's forgivable. A spooky atmosphere, people who go missing, strange voices in the night and a spunky heroine who isn't about to believe any old line make this a can't put down read. The ending leaves many questions unanswered and while it is a satisfying ending one can't help but think that a sequel is planned. Mystery fans will love this, especially girls. 4.5/5


November 15, 2009

Yokaiden Volume 1

Yokaiden by Nina Matsumoto
Volume 1

Pages: 192 pgs.
Ages: 13+
First Published: Nov. 18, 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

Yokai...A class of creature in Japanese lore, often translated as "monster," "demon," or "spirit."

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: Hamachi loves Yokai (Japanese spirits) and feels that many of them are friendly and that people just misunderstand them. He wants to find out all he can about them and befriend them. A masterless warrior comes to Hamachi's town to pledge himself to the village that in return for lodging and food he will protect the town from Yokai as this town is supposed to be close to the portal of the Yokai Realm. Hamachi is angry beyond belief, when he returns home he finds his grandmother dead, presumably killed and he decides to find and enter the Yokai Realm. There he meets more Yokai on their own turf both friendly and evil.

Comments: I really loved this story! I know nothing about manga so can't base my review on that aspect but I'm assuming this is an American manga. The story is fast-paced, full of monsters both good and evil, some even hilarious. The humour factor throughout the book is high making an even more enjoyable read. I quickly became attached to Hamachi who will occasionally lose his temper and tell anyone off if he feels they are doing the wrong thing no matter how much older, wiser, bigger they are than him. What could be perceived as a cute little kid's story is in fact not, as it has an edge, a violent edge. When violence is called for it is used and some situations are startling, yet amusing. In between the story we are shown glimpses of Hamachi's journal where he draws pictures of the Yokai he meets and he narrates a little information about it. This in itself is interesting and funny. Not to mention an entertaining source of ancient Japanese mythology. The book ends on an exciting note leaving one wanting more. A great beginning to what could prove to be a fantastic series. I've already added volume 2 (due out at the end of Nov.) to my amazon cart!


November 14, 2009

Swallow Me Whole

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

Pages: 216 pgs.
First Published: Sept. 2008
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:


Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Comments: This book is deep and difficult for me to write about as I'm not sure I "got" the whole thing. I'll make an attempt at my impressions. Two siblings both have psychological problems. The girl, Ruth, is the main character and suffers from delusions, paranoia, schizophrenia and OCD while her brother seems to suffer on a lesser degree from delusions. They also have their grandmother living at home with them as she is dying and also delusional. The book follows the girl's descent into madness while those around her stand by and do nothing. She recognizes her mind is different and so does her brother, together they can talk to each other about it. We watch as Ruth starts out trying to make her way through each day until in the end her illnesses smother and bury who she once was.

The book is done is black and white, with a lot of the pages having a black background. Many scenes have word bubbles with writing so tiny or scribbled it is unreadable, these are the background voices that Ruth doesn't hear in her world. The story is intense and yet, there is no real plot. The book tries to capture a feeling in words and pictures. I sort of enjoyed the book. Probably up to the mid-point I was enjoying it but honestly, I didn't see the point of the story. I have mental health issues myself (some of which were mirrored in the book) and the book seemed to just be saying to me, "Look, this is what it feels like to go crazy". Perhaps others will get more out of it. I recommend the book for higher aged teens because of the swearing (which includes the f-word) and a small amount of teenage sex.


November 12, 2009

A Trio of Kid's Graphic Novels

Today's post contains mini reviews of recent kid's graphic novels I've read. The first two are Cybils nominees and the third is one that my son read to me.

Binky The Space Cat by Ashley Spires, 2009, 64 pgs, Ages 7-10, Cybils Nominee. Received a review copy from the publisher. - Binky came to live with his humans as a kitten. He is all grown up and he loves his humans. He has discovered many things about the world with the most important being aliens. Humans call them bugs but cats know better. He decides to leave his space station (house) so he can spend his life saving the universe from aliens but first he must build a rocket. While building his rocket he also spends his time saving his own humans from the aliens but when the rocket is finished he finds he has left something very important behind. This is a truly adorable book! I enjoyed every single frame of it. The story has an amazingly full plot for such a short number of pages. Binky will capture the heart of the intended audience right away. I also hazard a guess that Binky would be enjoyed by cat lovers of any age. The book is very funny, I caught myself giggling out loud more than once. The humour comes out in the illustrations which one wants to linger over as they are full of detail. The author's graphic style of drawing the characters: Binky and the humans (a single mom and her son) are unique and very eye catching. The whole book is done in shades of grey, with faint browns and blues and eye catching pops of red here and there. Gorgeous to look at. A great, fun read that kids are going to love. Recommended! 5/5

Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel, 2009, 159 pgs, Cybils Nominee. Borrowed a copy from the library. - This is a strange book to have ended up in the graphic novels category for the Cybils nominations as I wouldn't really, at first, have considered it a graphic novel. There are no frames or bubbles and the whole story is told by a narrator. However, the book is heavily graphically dependant and without the graphics there are many parts of the story that wouldn't make sense. Hence, I realistically (though grudgingly) can see its place as a graphic novel. I didn't like this book. It's Bad Kitty's birthday. He's so lazy he can't be bothered until he hears there are presents and cake. He has one thing he wants, a $600 super cat scratcher. Each unique guest arrives (the stinky kitty, the pretty kitty, etc.) bringing an appropriate gift but of course no $600 super cat scratcher. It's a lot of pages for a very simplistic plot, but then it's very full of illustrations. Spread through out the book are real life factual spreads about cats which seem to just pop up and while related to the story going on feel like a teacher stepped onto the scene and is giving a little lesson. I won't continue as it's not my practice to only make negative comments. Not recommended. 2/5

Rapunzel retold by Stephanie Peters, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins, 2009, 33 pgs, RL 2.5, my son read aloud to me, received a review copy from Stone Arch Books - Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Just look at the cover illustration! All I can tell you is it just gets better once you open the book. The pages all have a very dark background, the witch is dark, her parents who give her away are drab browns and Rapunzel and the Prince are the only bright features in the artwork until the end. I'd recommend this book alone for the artwork! The story is true to the Bros. Grimm original, written at a low reading level it still manages to tell the story in a detailed manner. I love that this series of books keeps true to the original tales. This is the first time I've read a children's version of Rapunzel where she turns up pregnant at the end, as in the original. Probably not for too young of children as the illustrations are dark and when we see the Prince's eyes which have been pierced by thorns, it is a little gross. Highly recommended! 5/5

November 11, 2009

Katman by Kevin C. Pyle

Katman by Kevin C. Pyle

Pages: 144 pgs.
First Published: Sept. 1, 2009
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Yeah...This is where I live.

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: Kit is an inner-city kid. Everybody around him is someone, they all have labels. Hi brother is 'talented and gifted', his mom is the 'single mom' even his dad is the 'deadbeat dad'. He figures he's not anything. His brother argues with him all the time. He can't help but argue with his mom feeling like she just doesn't get him. Then there's a group of 4 outsider kids who taunt him daily and they can't even figure out what to label him, emo? loser? Kit does have one thing in life that gives him great joy though and that is the stray cats in his neighbourhood. He's befriended them all, given them names, and steals cat food from the local corner store as he pays for one can. The girl from the group of kids who taunt him, Jess, befriends him, she's the artistic one, and after a while she really gets Kit and the whole cat thing and she draws a picture for him, his manga avatar - Katman. When trouble hits the fan, Jess, is there with him to deal with what seems an impossible situation.

Comments: This was a great story. I don't usually go in for teen reality fiction but this story grabbed me right away. Kit is a character that one feels for right away and teens will identify with. The book has a great plot (which I won't give away) that makes the book hard to put down until you've finished. The book is peopled with eccentric characters such as Vinod who belongs to the religion of Jainism, an autistic teen nicknamed Bleep, and the local crazy cat lady. Ultimately, the underlying theme of the book is caring. It sounds kind of corny written down like that but trust me, it's not. The book asks how many people really care these days? Care about something, about someone, about doing something or believing in something? A very powerful story.

I recommend the book for older teens, say 15 and over because of some harsh language. It is not used frequently at all but does appear now and then and the profanity is more of what I would call the hard variety.

My only problem with the book is that every so often after the manga character Katman is introduced we are occasionally shown a 3 or 4 page wordless manga comic about this character. It is a continuing pattern throughout the book and the manga storyline continues. I guess I'm not cool enough because I just didn't understand the meaning of this, at all. I have no idea what the manga story was about. I understand the significance of the creation of Katman to Kit; it is a defining moment for him and Jess. But the wordless manga comic story arc that runs in between the real plot has me baffled. Hence a 4 instead of a 5 rating.

November 10, 2009

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: vol. 6

By John Byrne and Jerry Ordway

Collects Fantastic Four #276-284, Secret Wars II #2, Thing #23.

In these issues Ordway is inking Byrne’s pencils and to me, at least, the change is noticeable. Ordway has a very distinctive style.

In the first two issues a couple of earlier subplots are tied up: Reed, Sue, and Franklin’s stint as a normal family in Connecticut, and Ben’s return. Next, Dr. Doom steals the Baxter Building and the FF head to Microverse.

The whole “normal family” thing was a nice change of pace in between the superheroics and I was almost sorry to see it end. However, it was quite a long running subplot so it just makes sense for Byrne to end it. Also, I was expecting someone to recognize Susan and Franklin because they should be quite famous. The nosy neighbor brought to mind a similar character from the TV-show “Bewitched” and she was quite entertaining.

The second story was Ben coming back from the Beyonder’s planet. He has already decided to dump Alicia and the FF. Yet, when he comes to Alicia’s place and meets the half naked Johnny there, he starts a fight. I guess he thinks that Alicia is his property. I was happy to see She-Hulk stay.

The next issue is pretty much a recap of Doom’s backstory. Of course, when I first read these comics I didn’t know Doom was, so the recap was appreciated. Doom’s young ward Kristoff is made to think that he is Doom and he “starts his career again” by stealing the Baxter Building. Meanwhile Johnny and Alicia are dealing with racial hatred which seems stronger than usual.

Kristoff as Doom floats the BB up to space and blows it up.

Afterwards, the FF have to deal with the fact that their home is gone. Hatred and intolerance is also building up. Meanwhile, Psycho-Man sends a very powerful woman called Malice after the FF. After a pitched battle, Reed manages to trace their enemy to Microverse. So, the FF shrinks themselves and goes after the bad guy.

Kristoff wasn’t really a match for Victor but I guess he wasn’t supposed to be. He was just a way to show us how far reaching and evil Doom’s plans are.

I rather enjoyed Psycho-Man as the villain because his ability to manipulate emotions was used to a very good effect. It seems, though, that he hasn’t been used much outside this adventure.

Malice was an interesting “character”. I liked the aggressive way she used her powers (and lets face it if she had been a male from the start, he would have used the very aggressively from the start) which clearly showed how dangerous she is. I suspect, though, that her fight with the FF was cut some pages short in the Finnish edition.

The Microverse part of this trade is again one of my favorite stories and the first Microverse story I’ve ever read. I loved it how She-Hulk was trying to overcome her fear. I also liked a lot the surreal FF story that Susan experienced under torture.

Still, the stories here aren’t as classic as the Galactus-story in vol. 2 or the aftermath with Tyros in vol. 4.

This marks the milestone where Susan finally becomes the Invisible Woman.

Overall: a decent trade.

Lunch Lady Graphic Novels #1 & #2

202. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (#1) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 96 pgs. May 2009. This elementary graphic novel is the first in a new series that features superhero Lunch Lady who works in the school cafeteria until crime or devious plots against students bring her secret identity out of hiding to fight crime. In this book both The Breakfast Club and Lunch Lady discover a diabolical plot to replace all the nice teachers with nasty cyborg substitute teachers. Honestly, the plot was way out there for me and the villain's reasoning just didn't cut it. What I did like was Lunch Lady's sidekick, Betty, who was the equivalent of Bond's "Q" and worked in the boiler room making high tech devices for her out of kitchen utensils and food. The yellow and black illustrations are average and on the whole I find the book will probably be a pleasant brief diversion for kids but not anything special. 3/5

203. Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians (#2) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. 96 pgs. Jul. 2009. I didn't particularly enjoy book 1 of this series so wasn't expecting much from book 2 but I found Lunch Lady more palatable this time around. Librarians around town have gathered forces and are planning world domination with the first order of business to rid the world of video games. The Breakfast Club and Lunch Lady are quickly onto their scheme and with the help of Betty's nifty gadgets it's time for a showdown. I found this volume to have more humour and the plot made sense, though I couldn't help thinking weren't the librarians the good guys, promoting reading over video games? Anyway, better than the first, got a few chuckles out of me and I think kids will appreciate the plot. Strange, but I find myself wondering why the book is dedicated to my old teenage heart throb Ralph Macchio ... 3.5/5


November 9, 2009

Stitches by David Small

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

W.W.Norton and Company, New York, 2009

Stitches is an extraordinary memoir presented in graphic format. David Small, an award winning children's book author and illustrator, has written and drawn a story that covers his life from babyhood to adolescence.

The graphics are pen and ink and ink wash, beautiful, dark and sad. As with most parents, David's Mother and Father thought they were doing their best. Small illustrates the trauma and pain of childhood is a way that moves from reality to dream to nightmare, without being overly dramatic. David Small's story is intense but well told and his notes at the end reflect back on his parent's lives in a very kind and loving way.

This book is turning up on many "Best Books of the Year" lists and the recognition is well deserved.

November 7, 2009

Babymouse: Dragonslayer

Dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
Babymouse #11

Pages: 93
First Published: Aug. 25, 2009
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

In a distant kingdom ...

Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Comments: Babymouse is daydreaming about being an epic dragonslayer as in fantasy books when she receives an F- on her math test. Her teacher helpfully signs her up for the Mathletes team in exchange for ignoring her abysmal grade. Babymouse and math just do not get along and while her team prepares for the challenge against the current champions, the Owlgorithms, Babymouse just can't stop daydreaming; transplanting herself into Narnia and Middle Earth. Another cute story for Babymouse! This time her klutziness isn't showcased as much as her just plain average student ability-ness is and how easily she is overwhelmed. Babymouse spends her time with a whole new cast of characters on the Mathletes team and the math theme is explored and made fun of from many angles. Whether you love math or hate it, you'll be inspired. One thing that I'm really enjoying in these books is how the narrator talks back to Babymouse. It's funny! I have to say I enjoyed #10 The Musical more than this one though. But now I have an urge to go to the library and scoop up #1 through #9 and furiously catch up with Babymouse!


November 6, 2009

Two GN's for Kids - Greek Mythology & Babymouse

Jason and the Golden Fleece retold by Nel Yomtov, illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval, 63 pgs, 8+, 2009, graphic novel. - I read this aloud to my son; it being a little too hard for him to read himself comfortably and he wanted me to read it to him. Ds is already familiar with the tale of Jason as I had read a lengthy retelling in Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William F. Russell but that book has no illustrations. This graphic adaption was all we hoped it would be! A well-told, detailed retelling written in chapters. Most of the exciting bits of the journey are there and the story keeps well to the original myth with the limited 63 pgs. The illustrations are gorgeous and it is wonderful to see the story brought to life before your eyes in this way. The illustrator's style is a very modern comic book look though Jason is drawn in an almost anime style though his features stay recognizably masculine. I highly recommend this book and others in the myth series, especially to boys who are reluctant readers; with the book being at a 2.4 RL it will appeal right up to early teens. 5/5

Other books in the myths series:
Perseus and Medusa (my review)
The Adventures of Hercules
Theseus and the Minotaur

Babymouse #10: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm and Mathew Holm, 95 pgs, 6+, 2009, graphic novel. - This is a Cybils nominee and, dare I say it, my first Babymouse book. Sure I've seen them lined up at the library, even peeked inside them, but I don't have any daughters and my son freaks if the colour pink gets too close to him so I haven't had an excuse. Now, finally I have a real reason to read Babymouse! This was absolutely wonderful! Babymouse (as I'm sure almost everyone already knows) is an adorable character; she's a bit of a klutz and rather a goof at times but she's got lots of friends and has lots of fun. Well Felicia Furrypaws doesn't like her but then she's a cat. Babymouse gets the part of the understudy to Felicia in the school play and daydreams her way through the book going off into musical interludes that are hilarious. I'm not sure how much kids will get the musical scenes but I couldn't help singing the words as she dreamt up All That Jazz, The Phantom of the Opera, Grease, Pirates of Penzance and Annie though they will recognize The Lion King and American Idol. I'm thoroughly enamoured with Babymouse and kid's have proven they are too. If you haven't read Babymouse yet this is a great one to start with! 4.5/5


November 5, 2009

Fables: Arabian Nights (and Days)

Fables: Book 7

Pages: 143
First Published: 2006
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

Well, we're here.

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

Comments: The main story takes a pivotal turn as the focus shifts to the Fables of the East. Here we meet folklore from the eastern part of the world who are living in Baghdad. Sinbad, is namely the main character introduced and the first 4 issues of this volume contain this story arc. Many of our favourite characters so far make appearances (some very brief) to show what's happening with their respective arcs or to show they haven't been forgotten. Then the final two issues switch to a strange story which has a completely different artist appearance to it and takes place in the Homelands. The story is interesting but appears to have to no real relevance to any story arcs, but hang in there for a surprise ending that will leave you waiting for the characters to turn up again. As a turning point in the series this book takes a bit to get into with all the new happenings, characters and leaving the old plots to fill in the background. But we can see here that while the many story arcs will continue there is now a new direction in the main overall plot. Interesting things are ahead for our friends. And onward I go with the series!!


November 2, 2009

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne: vol. 5

By John Byrne

Collects Fantastic Four #268-275 and Avengers 18, and Thing #19.

This is another batch of classic FF action: Terminus, Reed’s dad in a parallel universe, Jen meets Wyatt, and Johnny’s and Alicia’s relationship starts.

This trade starts right after the previous one. Susan is still in the hospital. Meanwhile Johnny and Jennifer fight a mysterious opponent in the Baxter Building. It turns out to be Doom’s mask which leads to rather disturbing conclusion: either Doom is still alive or someone else is using his equipment.

Soon after, a huge and powerful beam from space cuts into the US soil. People are panicking and the president calls to the FF. It turns out that the beam is writing and in it Terminus declares the Earth as his. Jen and Reed outsmart Terminus while Susan is left to rest. Susan isn’t happy about that at all and is determined that she isn’t going to be shoved aside again. Wyatt wants to see more of the universe and becomes an unofficial member of the FF.

During Reed’s birthday, he confesses to Susan that he has lost some memories. In order to get some of them back, the FF goes to California to the Richards’ family estate. There the servant couple tells Reed that they have seen ghosts and the FF decides to investigate. Soon, they find Reed’s dad’s laboratory which has a working time machine. However, the FF know that you can’t actually travel in time but only into parallel universes. They decide to follow Reed’s dad and perhaps to return him. The FF and Wyatt step through to a very different world which has been ravaged by wars and is now ruled by the Warlord. The dimension has cowboys riding flying, horse shaped metallic steeds and valkyries who ride similar metal dragons.

Then She-Hulk must deal with the photographer from the Naked Truth.

Apparently, there are also a couple of issues of the Thing battling monsters but these weren’t published in Finland.

Terminus is yet another hugely powerful alien who wants to enslave Earth. This time it (while Terminus is clearly sentient, its gender or sex is impossible to know) clearly wasn’t beaten completely so its return (in Avengers, IIRC) wasn’t a surprise.

I really loved the parallel universe. The metallic steeds and the whole post-apocalypse atmosphere. It was one of the first parallel universe –stories I’ve read and it still has that nostalgia -feeling.

IMHO, Jen was far too lenient to the gossip magazine’s editor. That story was a bit too real-life for my taste. In other words, writers should just ignore it or otherwise all super heroines (and heroes, for that matter) should have paparazzies after them.

All in all, a classic collection of adventures although not as good as the previous trades.