Book Review: Atar Gull (Long Courrier) by Fabien Nury & Brüno (2016)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Revenge is a dish best served cold. Like, glacially so.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racist violence, including rape.)

Based on a novel of the same name, penned by the French writer Eugène Sue and published in 1831, Atar Gull is a story of revenge – of the “dish best served cold” variety. Taken prisoner by Taroo, chief of the Great Namaquas, Atar Gull finds himself on a slave ship bound for the West Indies. During the voyage, the Catherine is attacked and ultimately boarded by a band of ruthless pirates, led by Captain Brulart. A ruse, a sacrifice, and a ship chase later, Atar Gull is one of the few surviving captives when the vessel finally docks in Jamaica. Here, he’s sold to plantation owner Tom Will; part of a lot of “Negroes and Negresses” to serve as a dowry for his daughter Jenny.

While all these horrors are certainly just cause for what comes later (or some of it, anyway), the breaking point comes when Atar Gull learns the fate of his father, the chief of the Little Namaquas before him. If the previous pages didn’t completely dispel with the myth of the “benevolent slaveowner” (an oxymoron if ever there was one), then certainly this calculating and heartless scheme will do the trick.

Gazing upon his father’s lifeless face, Atar Gull hatches a plan of revenge that’s slow to unravel, yet destroys everything in its path.

Usually I love revenge stories that center members of oppressed groups as anti-/heroes, but my feelings were a little more conflicted here. It’s hard to root for Atar Gull without restraint, since so many innocents suffer under his wrath: Will’s human captives and nonhuman chattel chief among them. Consequently, Atar Gull’s revenge felt a little empty and … unsatisfying. The final panels, though? Chilling AF.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Spectacle, Vol. 1 by Megan Rose Gedris (2018)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Engaging premise and setting, but a deeply unsatisfying ending.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for ableist language directed at the circus “freaks”.)

Twin sisters Anna and Kat are performers in the Samson Brothers Circus: Anna tells fortunes, while Kat is a knife-thrower. Whereas Kat’s talents are all too real, Anna is a fraud. Well, kind of: while Anna tells the rubes what they want to hear, she can predict the future and decipher the past with the help of her self-made conjecture engine. It’s kind of slow and not very flashy, so – like Anna – it mostly stays in the background.

When the circus’s train is stalled out in the middle of the desert, Kat turns up dead, stabbed in the back with her own knives. Not wanting to alarm the other performs, circus owner Jebediah Tetanus (how’s that for an evocative name?) tasks Anna with solving the murder in secret. But things go from bad to worse when a series of tragedies beset the circus, including Tetanus’s own arrest at the hands of the corrupt deputy sheriff. Not to mention Kat’s lingering spirit, which flits in and out of Anna’s body to hide from pursuing demons.

So I really wanted to love Spectacle – and some of the elements here are great – but there’s a lot going on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that very little is resolved by the end of chapter five. Usually I expect that a TPB has a self-contained story arc, but Book One of Spectacle feels more like the first two-thirds of a story. The ending – in which one of the roustabouts suddenly sprouts a rhino horn – is deeply unsatisfying, to say the least.

The art wasn’t initially my favorite – so many blockheads! – but it grew on me pretty quickly. I enjoyed the setting, which is some time in the mid (?) 1800s (?). This makes for some great old timey humor, such as when the circus doc diagnoses Anna with hysteria and prescribes coffee. With a side of heroin.

The story features a cast of pretty fascinating women characters, from Flora the would-be fat lady/current snake charmer to Lucy Chen, a clown who did it all for love. I really hope that my suspicions about the source of the weirdness between Anna and the bearded lady pan out; a cute F/F romance makes every story better, okay. I wish that we’d seen more of Eve and Lynn, the conjoined twins; there’s a lot of ableist yet era-appropriate language thrown their way, and I want desperately for the story challenges this as the plot unfolds. The collision between science and the supernatural also holds some promise going forward.

P.S. WHAT GIVES WITH THE PICKLES!?!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life by Beth Evans (2018)

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Needs more illustrations!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for mental health issues, including self-harm.)

I hadn’t heard of Instagram artist Beth Evans before picking up a copy of her new book, I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales from My So-Called Adult Life – but now I’m seriously considering creating an Instagram account, just so I can follow her.

In the vein of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles series by Sarah Andersen, Evans pokes fun at what it means to be an “adult” in the modern era. Unlike Brosh and Andersen, Evans’s book is heavy on text and light on illustrations. Equal parts self-help and humorous confessional, with a few illustrations peppered throughout to drive certain points home, Evans explores the travails and (occasional) triumphs of everyday existence, from her struggles with anxiety, depression, and self-harm, to the weird world of casual dating and the challenges of self-love and body positivity. Somehow Evans manages to stay positive even through the tears. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh while crying. There’s a lot of relatable stuff in here.

That said, I thought the illustrations were by far the book’s strongest point, and there just aren’t enough of them! The anecdotes were amusing enough; the advice, solid of not ground-breaking – but art is truly where Evans shines. Can we get an honest-to-goodness graphic novel or comic book please?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: The Ghost, The Owl by Franco and Sara Richard (2018)

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Buy it for the artwork.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

One night, the ghost of a young girl appears in a swamp; only the animals are able to see – and communicate with – her. While the residents of the swamp have a strict policy against interfering in the affairs of humans, an owl named Aldus breaks with tradition and attempts to help the ghost girl find out who she is, where she comes from, and – most importantly – why her soul continues to hang around. As it turns out, the girl’s fate is entwined with the owl’s own, as their journey takes them to a whimsical little cottage where both spent their youths.

The story in The Ghost, The Owl is pretty simple; bare-bones, even. It’s enough to keep the action moving forward, but not much else. For example, I really wanted to learn more about Jessica, and the angry and entitled man pursuing her. This subplot feels like the outline of a fairy tale – the beautiful, kind young maiden and the evil, boorish lord/prince/king/baron – calling out for more depth and complexity.

But the artwork? To say that it’s breathtaking feels grossly inadequate. The style, the colors, the lines and angles – it’s simply enchanting. The owls in particular call to mind the Great Owl from The Secret of NIMH – a childhood favorite – and the dark tone and assorted swamp creatures are evocative of The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth. The fire scenes – with red licks of flame and black swirls of smoke – are especially beautiful. Many of the pages struck me speechless, and the eyes of the owl and the crow – burnt amber and fiery red – will haunt me.

Honestly, this is one of the most gorgeous books I’ve ever picked up.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition by Julia Kaye (2018)

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Lovely and heartfelt.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC through NetGalley. Trigger warning for transphobia.)

Growing up, artist Julia Kaye didn’t know she was trans. While she felt a certain, low-level sense of discomfort with her own body, it wasn’t until she was twenty-four – when she stumbled upon a website where users documented their transitions – that she identified the source of her gender dysphoria. And it would take another two years before she was comfortable enough to come out to her friends and family and begin her transition. A near-daily diary in graphic novel format, Super Late Bloomer documents the first six months of her transition, from May through October of 2016.

Super Late Bloomer very much feels like the fabulously queer cousin of a Sarah’s Scribbles collection. The visual style is similar (princess eyes and puddle of flesh = pure joy!), yet still its own; and Kaye’s social awkwardness and anxiety feels familiar to me, even if the source is something that I can only try to understand. Kaye documents the tiny triumphs and devastations that marked her path along the way.

The bad: misgendering; being outed by well-meaning but clueless family members; post-laser stubble; friends who suddenly make themselves scarce.

The good: being complimented by other women; finding a dress that fits; accepting parents; looking in the mirror and seeing your true self stare back.

At turns funny, sarcastic, and bittersweet, Super Late Bloomer is essential reading for humans in this word.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Manfried the Man by Caitlin Major & Kelly Bastow (2018)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Better in small doses, maybe? (Check out the tumblr.)

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads.)

We’re trying to get volunteers to take part in the annual man count so we can keep track of all the stray men in the neighborhood.

If he’s only been missing a day he’s probably just holed up somewhere nearby. Men like to find small spaces and hide out.

Not all men though. Some men like the open space.

No not all men, obviously.

Steve Catson is kind of a fuck up. His apartment is a shithole, he hates his job at a call center, and he doesn’t have m/any real friends. He’s at that age when his peers are growing up, marrying, and having kittens of their own – but Steve is chronically single, socially awkward, and quite possibly depressed. The only bright spot in Steve’s life is his pet man, a chubby little ginger number not-so-creatively named Manfried. So when Manfried goes missing – thanks to Steve’s own carelessness, no less – Steve is beside himself with grief, panic, and self-loathing. Yet in his search for his beloved man, Steve might find even more than he could have hoped for.

I really dug the absurdist vibe of Manfried the Man, but I think the idea would have been better served by a series of self-contained strips as opposed to a singular narrative. I love those “if humans acted like dogs/cats” videos that occasionally make the rounds, and Manfried is very much in this vein. However, I didn’t find the storyline terribly interesting, and Steve is just plain irritating. I empathized with him initially – I too struggle with anxiety and depression, and sometimes feel like I’m just not doing right by my furry friends – but by story’s end I wanted to throttle the guy. Blaming your man’s escape on someone else, pffft. If I’d done that I’d be begging random strangers for a tongue lashing to feed the guilt.

Anyway, Manfried has its cute moments (#NotAllMen ftw; naked little men running around with their naked little twigs and berries), but overall I found it kind of meh. I do wish the whole “cones of shame for men” thing would catch on, though.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Puerto Rico Strong edited by Hazel Newlevant, Desiree Rodriguez & Marco Lopez (2018)

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Wonderful idea, so-so execution.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley/Edelweiss.)

Spurred by the Drumpf administration’s shameful response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, not to mention the misinformed and callous attitudes of so many mainland American citizens, writers, editors, and artists came together to create a comics anthology to support disaster relief on the island. The proceeds from Puerto Rico Strong will benefit UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program to Support Puerto Rico – and the many #ownvoices contributions will hopefully combat the dangerous and often racist beliefs about PR and those who call the island home.

I wanted to love this collection more than I did. It’s a great idea to support an admirable cause, and I love that so many of the artists are of Puerto Rican descent. Yet, as is the case with many anthologies, the comics are uneven, both in terms of the storytelling as well as the artwork. I have no desire to single anyone out, but some of the art is simply terrible; in one particular strip, the humans resemble lumpy potatoes with misshapen biceps the size of their equally misshapen heads. Many of the comics feel short; too short to cover any given topic in anything but the most shallow and perfunctory way. More often than not I came away from a piece feeling as though there was so much more to be said.

I feel like I learned quite a bit from Puerto Rico Strong, yet considering my starting point this isn’t a huge compliment. Like many white readers (probably), I don’t remember learning much, if anything, about Puerto Rico in my high school American History class. (For shame!)

My favorite comics were those that explored Puerto Rican history, from coercive sterilization (“La Operación” and “The Puerto Rican Birth Control Trials,” both by Ally Schwed), to the institution of the Jones Act of 1917 and the racist military drafting policies that soon followed (“Macondo, Puerto Rico” by Javier Morillo and Dan Méndez Moore), and the history and religion of the Taíno Indians (the island’s native Arawak inhabitants). There’s also some pretty neat sci-fi that imagines the place Puerto Rico might occupy in humanity’s future, fifty or more years down the road (see, e.g. “Pasitos Grandes,” by Tristan J. Tarwater and Cynthia Santos).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Box of Bones #1 by Ayize Jama-Everett & John Jennings (2018)

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Off to a promising start!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racism, misogyny, and violence, including rape.)

I very rarely read single issues of comic books, let alone review them, for one simple fact: I just don’t have the patience to wait for the next issue in the series! Much like TV shows, I’d rather wait until the entire series has come out and then binge them all at once. But when the fledgling issue of Box of Bones popped up on NetGalley, I just couldn’t resist.

Luckily, the story in this first issue is somewhat self-contained. While we’re introduced to the concept of the main plot, most of the action takes place in the form of a flashback.

UC Berkeley student Lindsay Ford’s research into the appearance of “spectral creatures” at key moments in Black American (North and South) history has landed her in front of the faculty, arguing for the viability of her project. When asked if there’s a personal reason behind her academic interests, Lindsay remembers a story told to her by her grandfather. As teenagers, Jim and his friend Gauge were brutally attacked – beaten nearly unconscious and, in Gauge’s case, raped – by a gang of racist white classmates. Gauge turns to her mother’s “New Orleans voodoo” – in the form of a box of bones to which the practitioner must sacrifice her soul – to unleash her revenge.

While I do enjoy a good rape revenge story – because, let’s be honest, the world of fiction is pretty much the only time abusive men are held accountable for their actions – rape is also overused as a plot device. Gauge’s violation takes place off-screen, but it still comes like a punch to the gut, especially since it looks for a hot second like she might escape. Revenge comes quickly and is satisfying as heck. So I guess my feelings are mixed on this one.

Otherwise the story is engaging enough; a solid start to what looks like a promising series. Overall I enjoyed the artwork; though the monster has an over-the-top, gonzo feel to it, I quickly found myself digging the style.

I especially like how it changes and morphs with each “victim.” (Scare quotes because some of those peeps totally had it coming.)

3.5 stars.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon & Cat Farris (2018)

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MRRRHHNH. (That’s Bear for “Coming in for a hug.”)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did.

I mean, I don’t know what I expected, other than it seemed like a cute idea that could very well fail spectacularly. At the end of the day, I picked it up because I really, really wanted to use this video in a review.

Nora stumbles into a 500-pound American black bear while camping with one of her many d-bag boyfriends. When Bear is later driven from his forest home by wildfires, he finds Nora thanks to a discarded issue of Bust. (Nice touch! Eff off, Ben!) Against all odds, these crazy kids fall in love and make a go of it. But will Bear’s looming hibernation rip them apart, if society doesn’t break their spirits first?

My Boyfriend Is a Bear is weird and adorable and just straight-up delightful. I know I’m supposed to read it as an allegory about overcoming differences both large and small in relationships, but you know what? It’s also a cuddly AF romance story about a lady and a bear. Says the girl who claims as her soulmate a snaggle-toothed, marshmallow-bellied rat terrier (now nearly five years dead, and whom she thinks of on the daily) and once referred to her first-adopted dog as “her other boyfriend ™.” Dogs > people. Probably bears > people, too. All nonhuman animals > people, who are we kidding.

As much as My Boyfriend Is a Bear had me laughing – and it was like whoah – it also has its fair share of sad moments, especially as Bear’s hibernation approaches. That last act was filled with snot-flinging ugly crying. But the end? Pure magic.

This is one that’s earned a permanent place on my nightstand, right on top of Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections. Along with Nicole Georges’s Fetch, it’s a book I’ll turn to every now and then, when I need a good, hysterical cry.

Basically My Boyfriend Is a Bear is the best thing ever. Or at least since the proud tradition of bears wearing tees without pants.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Firebug by Johnnie Christmas (2018)

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Three stars for the amazing artwork.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

The artwork in Firebug is as lovely as the story is confusing.

Like, I’m not sure I have a good enough handle on the plot to offer even the briefest of summaries. There are so many warring factions that it’s hard to know who we’re supposed to root for most of the time.

At first, it seems clear-cut: the Cult of the Goddess is holding a Goddess captive and crushing the rebels who dare to challenge their (unjustly seized) religious authority. But wait, no: the High Priestess keeps the temperamental Goddess sedated so that her histrionics won’t trigger a volcanic eruption, killing us all.

And the forest spirits are bad, a gauntlet for our heroes to cross on the way to Azar. But no really, they’re the city’s protectors, from none other than Keegan, the new Goddess, and our story’s protagonist.

Throw in the Volcano Goddess’s sister, the Goddess of Water, and I am positively flummoxed. I really wanted to root for her, if only because her fish body is in the “so ugly it’s cute” territory.

Chalk this one up to good idea/poor execution. Three stars for the art, because it truly is stunning. I also loved the “Gospel According to Amina” vignettes, which evoked memories of Octavia Butler’s Parables duology.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: War Mother by Fred Van Lente, Stephen Segovia, & Tomás Giorello (2018)

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Works well as a standalone story.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

It’s the 41st century, and humanity – at least that which remains on earth – has evolved into something different: cyborgs, trogs, scavs, and urbanites. Deep within the unforgiving jungle, small enclaves of survivors exist, eking out a precarious living. The citizens of the Grove are among the luckiest. A former research facility, the Grove is a sentient settlement that’s largely self-sufficient. Controlled by the chieftain/consciousness Sylvan, the Grove manufactures most of what its citizens need: food, clothing, tech. Ana – the tribe’s War Mother – scavenges the rest.

In accordance with the Grove’s maxim – “Bring back nothing living” – Ana was bred to be barren, her body a hostile host to all potential biological invaders, from bacteria to fetuses. This rule served the Grove well – that is, until the day Ana returned with a young orphan boy she rescued from trogs. The resulting conflict ended in Sylvan’s death. Without its mind, the Grove began to wither and die.

When a millennia-old signal from a refuge called the Montana reaches the Grove, Ana sets out to see whether it’s habitable. With her AI gun Flaco at her side, the War Mother just might lead her people to safety – or ruin.

I didn’t realize it when I downloaded this title, but War Mother is an offshoot of another series, 4001 A.D. Luckily, it works well as a standalone story. Van Lente does a good job of laying out the plot for us noobs. It’s a compelling enough story, and the artwork complements the gritty, post-apocalyptic feel nicely. I love the scenes with Ana and Flaco, which is no surprise, because AI rights is an interest of mine.

On the downside, I thought the subplot with Ana and her husband Ignacio was a distraction at best, and a cliché at worst (women who can’t/don’t have children aren’t real women and so it’s only natural for their husbands to cheat on them. Add in the fact that she’s a badass warrior woman, i.e. not suitably feminine, and … vomit. I’m with Max, Ignacio is by no means a worthy “mate” for her.)

Also the descriptions of the future tech often sounded totally made up, like words that are supposed to sound all scientific and impressive but don’t really say much of anything. For all I know, though, they’re a callback to more detailed explanations in 4001 A.D. and I’m being a total idgit right now.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Sci-Fu by Yehudi Mercado (2018)

Friday, March 30th, 2018

’80s Nostalgia Like Whoah

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Thirteen-year-old Wax wants to be the best DJ in the world – but little does he know that the very fate of “Planet Brooklyn” will rely on his skills. It’s 1980-something, and young Wax is recording a song for his crush, the aptly named Pirate Polly, when he inadvertently answers an intergalactic challenge. Wax, his crew, his entire block – all are transported to a planet called Discopia, where Wax must best a giant robot named Choo Choo and his crew, the Five Deadly Dangers, in order to save everyone he loves.

There’s so much to love here, I don’t even know where to start. Sci-Fu is such a fun mashup of all things ’80s: Wax’s training montages with mentor Kabuki Snowman are like the bizarro sci-fi version of The Karate Kid, and the style left me yearning for a Fresh Prince marathon. Between Teddy Backspin (read: Ruxpin) and the Transformer-esque Choo Choo, there are a fair number of elements that could feel like rip-offs, at least in lesser-skilled hands. But Mercado walks the line between homage and pinching with ease. If you lived through the ’80s, you’re all but guaranteed to be in on the joke.

Oh, and there’s an ’80s hip-hop playlist at the end! How cool is that?

And the cast! Wax is adorable and sweet in that way that makes you want to bake him a batch of cookies and pinch his little chipmunk cheeks. His little sister D is like the animated version of Diane from Black(ish), which is to say that she’s as smart as she is diabolical, and you most definitely want to keep her happy and on your side. Pirate Polly is rad AF, and I kind of love that Mercado never bothers to explain the eye patch and nickname (which came first? Is the patch functional or decorative? Is she a distant relation of One-eyed Willie maybe?) The Ultimate Showdown with the Boom Box of Doom is one of my favorite scenes, for obvious reasons.

I also adored Uncle Rashaad, who owns an ice cream truck and speaks in ice cream flavored expletives. The back story for why Wax and D are living with him is pretty great too. I really hope we meet the ‘rents in a later installment of the series. There’s some serious superhero potential there too.

Sci-Fu is definitely on the bizarre side, but if you can embrace the weirdness, you will have a good time.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Herding Cats (Sarah’s Scribbles #3) by Sarah Andersen (2018)

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Amazing, as always.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Sarah Andersen is my favorite, and Herding Cats – the third in her Sarah’s Scribbles series – does not disappoint. Her trademark adorable line drawings, self-deprecating humor, and wry wit are all present and accounted for. While Sarah’s observations run the gamut, from popular trends to personal apocalypses, Herding Cats is all about the three As: anxiety, animals, and art. Err, make that four: can’t forget about adulting, filed under “things that are impossible and threaten to break me on the daily.” (I feel you, girl. I’ve cried three times and counting, just today.)

The last section includes advice to aspiring artists, punctuated by pithy comic strips for the rest of us. I was not bored.

Some of the comics I remembered from her twitter feed, but many were new, or at least new-to-me. Nearly are all instant classics. But since I can’t very well post the entire book, here are the top five.

In sum: Buy this book. Buy it meow.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir & Steenz (2018)

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Sometimes you root for the ghost.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Celeste Walden has fallen on hard times. She’s struggled with anxiety and depression for most of her life, and a recent breakdown cost Cel her dream job as a librarian. So when she lands a position as live-in, night shift archivist at the mysterious Logan Museum, it seems too good to be true. And it is: before long, Cel begins to lose time and wake up in strange places. She pulls away from her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, and her already-strained relationship with her mother continues to fray. She dreams of a sad, hurt girl who roams the museum’s grounds.

Cel fears she’s losing her mind again – that is, until she sees the face of the sad girl, staring back at her from one of the photographs in the museum’s collections. Celine is real, and her ghost is stuck in the museum, calling out to Cel for help. But why? And can Cel convince her co-workers, librarian Holly and curator Abayomi “Aba” Abiola, that Celine is real?

There’s so much to love here. Archival Quality is a great mashup of supernatural ghost story, historical fiction, and semi-autobiographical memoir. There’s intrigue, villainy, self-introspection, greed, and a haunting set in a spooky museum that used to be a terrifying asylum. As a former psych student who also has anxiety and depression, I found the mental health aspect both engaging and compassionately done. The history of psychiatry – steeped in racism, misogyny, and ableism – is equally parts fascinating and horrifying, and makes compelling fodder for a ghost story. The setting of a museum/library is pretty great too, and is sure to tickle the fancy of all the bookworms out there. (C’mon, who doesn’t dream of roaming a library after dark?)

Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the cast, which is fun and interesting and diverse as heck – but in a way that feels natural and organic. I fell in love with Holly – fabulous wardrobe and bitchin’ purple-and-blue hair – from panel one, and her girlfriend Gina has an ace up her sleeve too. Aba is an enigmatic and ultimately sympathetic character. The only person I didn’t much care for is Kyle (good riddance!), who clearly cares for Cel but comes off as a bit of a nag (for lack of a better word).

Cel, though: Cel is awesome. I see a bit of myself in her struggle, and found hope in her ending. She’s just one cool broad.

Read it if you like: books and libraries; ghosts; revenge; research; museums of oddities; nefarious white guys getting their due.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Pierce Brown’s Red Rising: Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, & Eli Powell (2018)

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Satisfying, though not as grand a story as I expected.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Fitchner au Barca is a goblin among Gold Gods. In a world that places a premium on physical perfection, he is short, scrappy, and ugly. But he’s also a survivor, one who makes it through the Passage even though he was sent there as a sacrificial lamb. He weathers the Institute by swallowing his pride and aligning himself with the leader of a rival house. But his loyalty goes unrewarded: rather than serve by his friend Arturius’s side, Fitchner is forced to sell his contract after graduation. He’s sent to a terraforming colony on Triton, where he falls in love with a lowly Red named Bryn. The rest, as they say, is history.

Based on the Red Rising trilogy, Sons of Ares gives us a little glimpse of proctor/terrorist/freedom fighter Fitchner’s backstory: his time at the Institute, his relationship with Bryn, the birth of Sevro, and the injustice that would prove the seed of the rebel group Sons of Ares.

The story itself is interesting; while there isn’t much new here, it does at least flesh out Fitchner’s past for us. That said, and especially considering Brown’s intro, I half-expected the roots of the Sons of Ares to go deeper, for the tale of the rebellion to be a little grander and far-reaching. Fitcher might have been the match that lit the spark, but I’d love to know more about the many men and women who provided the kindling and accelerant leading up to Bryn’s murder. Certainly he couldn’t have done this all on his own? It takes a village … over many generations.

It feels more like Fitchner’s memoir than a people’s history of the uprising, if that makes any sense.

Sons of Ares is constructed as a standalone story, but most likely fans of the series will enjoy it most: newbies might find it difficult to get fully invested in the characters, given the sheer scope of Brown’s universe and the comparably short length of the comic.

3 stars for non-fans, 4 for Howlers.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings (Kim Reaper #1-4) by Sarah Graley (2018)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Freaping adorable!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Becka is totally crushing on the goth girl at school, black-clad, purple-haired Kim. What Becka doesn’t know – that is, until she inadvertently follows Kim through a portal and interrupts a cat reaping* – is that Kim wields a scythe and is the only human reaper in employ down in hell. Can their budding romance survive Kim’s super-intense, yet just part-time job? How about a buff cat guy high on energy drinks? One of the girls’ death-dates? A zombie apocalypse? Yes, this all transpires in a mere 114 pages, and it is as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

Kim Reaper is, in a word, freaping adorable. Okay, that’s two, but Kim would excuse me. Becka and Kim make a cute as heck couple, and the bizarre obstacles that inexplicably pop up in their path will just have you rooting for them all the more. I mean, two cute girls? One of them a reaper? Crushing on each other, kicking ass, reaping souls? What’s not to love?!?

Also, some of the over-the-top emotional panels are reminiscent of the Sarah’s Scribbles series, which only ups its cool quotient imho.

The only odd thing is that the writing feels a little young – like tweeny – even though the girls – err, women – are in university. It has the vibe of a middle grade story with a YA/New Adult cast.

* Bonus points for imparting a sort of personhood to nonhuman animals, even though it probably wasn’t meant as a political statement or anything.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Black Comix Returns by John Jennings and Damian Duffy (2018)

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Meet your new TBR list!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

New to the world of comic books? Want to diversify your reading list? Looking for some STUNNING art by African-American creators? You’ve come to the right place: Black Comix Returns is collection of illustrations, comic strips, and essays by black artists.

Tbh, when I cracked this open, I was expecting to find an anthology of sorts, maybe a sampling of stories from up-and-and coming graphic novelists. This is almost as good, though: while we only get the briefest glimpse into the imaginations of each of the ninety-three artists featured in these here pages, nearly every two-page spread will leave you wanting more. Many of the illustrations are simply breathtaking, and the series descriptions had me adding titles to my Amazon wishlist like it was going out of style. The cover, easily one of the most jaw-dropping I’ve ever seen, is just a taste of the visual delights you can expect to find inside.

Additionally, the essays interspersed throughout give an added layer of context, exploring what it’s like to be an artist – and fan – in an overwhelmingly white (male) industry. Black Comix Returns isn’t necessarily the sort of book you read cover-to-cover, but do yourself a favor and make sure you hit all the essays.

I read Black Comix Returns as a pdf, but I’m sure it makes one helluva coffee table book. According to its Goodreads listing, the first title – Black Comix, which has since gone out of print – is somewhat of a collector’s item on ebay. The $29.99 list price of Black Comix Returns seems like a steal in comparison.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Bingo Love by Tee Franklin & Jenn St-Onge (2018)

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Pretty much the perfect Valentine’s Day read!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I receive a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Hazel and Mari met at a church bingo game in 1963. The girls became fast friends and, four years later, their friendship blossomed into something more. Before they’d had a chance to exchange even a handful of kisses, though, their secret was discovered, and the girls were forcibly separated by their families. Mari was sent to live down South, and both girls were forced to marry men chosen for them by their relatives.

Forty-eight years, eight children, and many grandchildren later, another chance meeting reunites the star-crossed lovers, giving each of them a second shot at happiness.

Bingo Love is such an achingly sweet and beautiful story, and I kind of love that its major imprint release is on Valentine’s Day. It made me laugh and cry – sometimes at the same time – and I’m not ashamed to say that the ending had me ugly crying onto my cat. The conclusion loops back into the beginning in a way that’s pure magic. (I actually had an a-hah! lightbulb moment when I realized what Franklin had done.)

The art is fantastically gorgeous, too: the colors, the outfits, the different styles of the times. Hazel and Mari are both fabulous AF: Hazel, with her oversized Iris Apfel glasses; Mari, with that bitchin’, DGAF white streak in her hair. This book oozes style, and it’s only fitting that Hazel takes the fashion world by storm for her second act.

Really my only complaint is that the dialogue sometimes feels stilted; unnatural, even … but don’t let this stop you from falling in love with the world Franklin and St-Onge built here. Bingo Love is a story that’s positively brimming with heart. Not to mention compassion and diversity. More, please.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Pestilence, Volume 1 by Frank Tieri and Oleg Okunev (2018)

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

I’d almost rather have a zombie chew my nose off than read this again.

one out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and misogyny. This review contains spoilers.)

DNF at 75%.

The year is 1347, and the Black Death is sweeping through Eurasia. Sent to dispatch a rogue crusader in a distant kingdom, a regimen of the Church’s army known as the Fiat Lux is summoned to the Vatican to rescue the Pope. Instead they are unwittingly drawn into a vast conspiracy involving zombies, religious dogma, and Jesus and Lucifer.

On the surface, Pestilence is a pretty cool idea: what if the Black Plague was actually a zombie outbreak? The plot line is surprisingly boring, though, and I only really cared about one character, who’s killed off just as he becomes interesting.

Worse still is the dialogue. If I had a dollar for every time “cocksucker” or “cunt” makes an appearance, I could buy an entire case of Daiya cheese. (At the 5% case discount, yes, but still: that shit is expensive!) I don’t have a problem with swearing, but here it’s pathetically overdone, as if it was written by a couple of ten-year-old boys who just discovered the f-word. There’s also some pretty gratuitous female nudity [side eye], as well as a full-page pillage-and-rape panel that’s both wholly unnecessary and obnoxiously insensitive [lighting this book on fire].

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery (New Edition) by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece (2017)

Friday, February 9th, 2018

“Assimilation as Revolution.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racist violence, including depictions of lynchings.)

Zane Pinchback is a real-life superhero. But instead of a cape and leotard, he wears a suit and carries a hot comb and notebook. A light-skinned black man, Zane is an investigative journalist whose alter ego “Incognegro” pens a regular column at the New Holland Herald. Able to pass as white, Zane bears witness to crimes against African-Americans, including the wave of lynchings that swept the south after the Civil War.

Tired of toiling away in obscurity, Zane is ready to retire Incognegro for good. That is, until his editor assigns him a case that he cannot walk away from. A white woman – a prostitute with gang connections – was found dead and dismembered in Tupelo, Mississippi. A sheriff’s deputy has gone missing. And an angry mob is ready to pin it all on her boyfriend/partner, Alfonso – a man Zane knows well. It’s up to Incognegro to figure out who really killed Michaela Mathers … before another innocent man’s life is violently ended.

Loosely inspired by the life of Walter Francis White, who worked for the NAACP as an investigator and went on to lead the organization for 24 years,Incognegro is a must read. The artwork is brilliant; the murder mystery, compelling; and the historical fiction aspect of the book, both educational and heartrending. I found the blend of fact and fiction quite masterful; the whodunit plot line distracts a little from the horrors of racist violence, making those scenes a little easier to process. (“Distract” doesn’t quite feel like the right word – since the different threads of the story are so intimately linked – but it’s the best I can do.)

Though Incognegro is primarily about racism – the social construction of race; white supremacist groups then and now; racist violence at the turn of the century, and how that informs contemporary culture – Mat Johnson also explores gender and sexism. I’ll admit, when Zane patronizingly admonishes his friend Mildred that “darling, this is not really a discussion for a lady,” I bristled. Visibly, I’m sure. While certainly appropriate for the age, I was rather annoyed that Johnson let this sexism stand unchallenged. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to see it called out explicitly in the discussion guide. Better still is the murder mystery’s big reveal, which includes one of my favorite plot twists of all time.

And the closing panels? Pure perfection.

Originally published in 2008, this 10th anniversary edition includes a forward from the author, as well as reading group/discussion guide and sketchbook. Following the book’s re-release is a prequel titled Renaissance. If it’s half as good as the original, I need it like yesterday. I can only hope that this is the start of a regular series.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)