Mini-Review: Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez (2017)

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Lorena Alvarez’s Artwork Positively Shines!

five out of five stars

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

Atoms are the smallest building blocks of matter. We are not able to see them with the naked eye … but everything that surrounds up is made of atoms. The stars … our bodies … the entire universe. They combine in millions of ways to create all the things we see and touch … and all the things we haven’t seen yet.

— 4.5 stars —

Every night when she closes her eyes, shiny little bubbles (stars? bursts of light and energy and joy?) appear over Sandy’s bed. When she catches them, she’s transported to another place: one filled with vibrant colors; giant, wide-eyed creatures; and funky plants of every shade and hue. In the morning, she fills her room with drawings of these other worlds (occasionally neglecting her homework to do so. Oops!)

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One day Sandy meets a mysterious new girl in the schoolyard: tale, pale to the point of translucence, with light purple hair. (Surely the nuns would have something to say about that?) Morfie is at first a welcome distraction; whereas the other kids think Sandy’s kind of weird, Morfie fawns over her artwork. But things take a sinister turn when Morfie begins to visit Sandy at inopportune times, and a nefarious, razor-toothed demon-child haunts Sandy’s dream-world.

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This sounds maybe a little scarier than it actually is. While Lorena Alvarez’s illustrations do pack a bit of a bite, they’re also lovely and whimsical and full of color and life. The target audience for Nightlights is ages nine and up, but adults are sure to be won over by the artwork. Some of the pages are suitable for framing, okay.

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As for the moral of the story, I’m not entirely sure I got it. In Morfie, I think there’s a message about following your passion because you love it, and not for the praise and awards and external feedback you hope to get from others. Staying true to yourself, because yours is the opinion that counts. It’s also important to strike a balance between work and play, responsibilities and extracurricular activities, science and the arts. And if you know why things are, it only makes them more wondrous.

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I also love the diversity here: from the students to the parents to the nuns/teachers, there are girls and women of all skin tones, shapes, and sizes. Lorena Alvarez was born in Bogotá, and the story definitely feels like it could be set in Columbia.

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

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Yes! See my review for more.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

Mini-Review: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Ben Clanton (2016)

Monday, December 12th, 2016

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Come for the narwhals, stay for the under-the-sea waffle parties.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

Good thing that waffle is a kung fu master!

Every time I pick up Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, I picture Season Eight Leslie Knope reading it to her triplets before bed.

I mean, there are waffles! With a strawberry sidekick! Fighting robots! And they also know how to party!

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I’m 99.9998% certain that Narwhal the narwhal is Leslie Knope’s daemon in an alternate universe. (That pinprick of doubt? Stems from the shocking lack of waffle toppings. Like, where’s the whipped cream? The chocolate sauce? The gorram sprinkles?!)

So, like, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of a graphic novel for kids. As it turns out, it feels a lot like a picture book, but with panels like a comic book. It’s definitely meant for younger readers, but that’s okay! Adults can still enjoy it too. It’s silly and weird, but also hecka cute and kind of a fun distraction. And don’t we all deserve a little escapism after the dumpster fire that has been 2016?

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The book’s comprised of five short stories that follow a narwhal named Narwhal who’s found himself in strange waters. He befriends a perplexed little jellyfish; forms his own pod, with the help of shark, blowfish, and octopus; shares his favorite book (don’t get the pages wet!); throws a super-awesome party; and celebrates all things waffle-related.

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In summary:

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(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 Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Revised and Updated), Mike Madrid (2016)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Wonder Woman for President

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through Edelweiss and a finished copy through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

After The Supergirls came out, something interesting happened. I got emails from readers who had no idea that there had been female superheroes in the 1960s, much less in the 1940s.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I’m rather new to the world of comic books, having only gotten into them in the past five years or so. With the exception of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman, I’ve mostly avoided the long-running superhero titles; the sheer volume is just overwhelming! Like, where to start?

(Incidentally, The Supergirls has convinced me to avoid anything not published in this millennium – again with the exception of Wonder Woman, or at least Wonder Woman as written by William Moulton Marston. The early stuff is almost comically sexist and not worth my time. Well, except for the occasionally bizarro plotline, like when Supergirl falls for her horse Comet. Tina Belcher would approve.)

Instead I mostly gravitate toward more recently created series (Saga, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Monstress) and those based on stories I know and love from other mediums (Firefly/Serenity, Orphan Black, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephen King’s The Stand and The Dark Tower; I’m damn near jumping out of my skin waiting for Octavia Butler’s Kindred!). My knowledge of most superheroes and villains stems primarily from the big and little screen adaptations; Fox’s animated X-Men series is a childhood favorite.

That said, from my neophyte perspective, The Supergirls seems thorough, meticulously researched, and well-thought out. Madrid’s writing is fun and engaging, though The Supergirls is best digested in small bites: the scope of the topic can be overwhelming at times.

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Book Review: The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Volume 1, Stéphane Melchior-Durand (2015)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Not really feeling the artwork…

four out of five stars

Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a huge (HUGE!) fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Not the World’s Biggest Fan, because that honor obviously goes to Laurie Frost (author of The Elements of His Dark Materials, an exhaustive, 560-page HDM reference book endorsed by the man himself). But big enough that I own more than a dozen non-fiction titles about the franchise, including a quiz book, and have been planning a HDM-themed menu for the Vegan Month of Food (google it!) for years. (The pressure! I want everyone to love the series as much as I do, you know?) In times of grief, I turn to certain passages from The Subtle Knife for comfort. I know I tend to throw around the word “favorite” in book reviews, but His Dark Materials is my all-time favorite book. (And yes, I count the omnibus as a single entity.) So, pretty big.

When I saw that the series would receive the graphic novel treatment, I was predictably psyched. I instantly pre-ordered a copy – but by the time it arrived, months later, life had gotten pretty chaotic. I had barely enough time to flip through it before I was forced to relinquish it to ye ole TBR pile. What I saw was not encouraging: the artwork put me off right away. Having already been burned once by the film adaptation, excitement gave way to dread.

But you know what? Now that I’ve read it, I’m actually pleasantly surprised. Granted, I’m still less than thrilled with the illustrations. Everything is hard lines and sharp angles. Lyra in particular is scrappy, and not in a good way; her hair seems to have fought a losing battle with a weed whacker, and in some panels the twelve-year-old girl looks more like a thirty-year-old smoker. (Hard living, man.)

To be fair, though, the daemons are as lovely as the humans are unattractive. The golden monkey, in particular, is just as I imagined him: gorgeous and fierce and full of hate and evil. Likewise, the cover art is simply stunning. I wish the inside was even just half as colorful and vibrant.

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Mini-Review: Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting, Brian Gordon (2016)

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Naps are objectively the best tho.

three out of five stars

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

Are you a mom or a dad? How wonderful and annoying for you!
Do you know someone who will soon have a baby? How exciting and terrifying for them!
Are your friends parents, too? Of course they are, those poor sons of bitches…

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then FOWL LANGUAGE is for you.
If you answered no, then congratulations, and feel free to sleep in this weekend!

Even though I’m childfree by choice, I picked up a copy of Fowl Language because a) who doesn’t love humorous web comics and b) I have adopted seven dogs over the years and caring for dogs can’t be completely different, right? Like, I’m pretty sure there’s got to be some overlap between asshole kids and asshole dogs.

Exhibit A: the only time my dogs let me sleep in is if the sky’s overcast and their bladders are close to empty. Otherwise I’m up with the sun, or at 2AM for a potty break. Sometimes, with the fosters, I even have to walk them out in the snow wearing nothing but slippers and a hoodie. They just can’t seem to pick the right spot unless I’m there to bear witness. Fun times. (And cats? It’s 4AM, or whenever they’re feeling insufficiently entertained. Shoot me now.)

Exhibits B through I: these comic strips, to which this dog person was totally able to relate.

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(Replace “covered in stickers” with “covered in dog hair” and this could be me.)

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Book Review: Adulthood is a Myth: A "Sarah’s Scribbles" Collection, Sarah Andersen (2016)

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Not Just for Millennials!

five out of five stars

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

Are you a special snowflake? Do you love networking to advance your career? Have you never wasted a fresh new day surfing the internet? Ugh. This book is not for you. Please go away.

This book is for the rest of us. These comics document the wasting of entire beautiful weekends on the internet, the unbearable agony of holding hands on the street with a gorgeous guy, dreaming all day of getting home and back into pajamas, and wondering when, exactly, this adulthood thing begins. In other words, the horrors and awkwardness of young modern life.

I’m 37 years old (emphasis on old) and am still waiting for the day when it feels like I’ve crossed over into adulthood. My lack of human kids doesn’t help, but you’d think my dog kids (both rescue and foster) would help get me at least halfway there. But I prefer sweatpants to jeans (skirts and slacks, what?), never carry a purse (though will stoop to a tote bag if absolutely necessary, like when begging fistfuls of free sample meds from the dermatologist), and wear sports bras exclusively (but only if I must). Last summer our water got shut off for a day because I didn’t realize that the city, in its infinite wisdom (i.e. laziness), had ceased its direct deposit payment plan and now requires all bills to be paid by cash or check. I have a bachelor’s degree that’s probably too old to mean anything anymore, and am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up with my life.

In short, Sarah Andersen might be a Millennial, but I can still relate to much of what’s in Adulthood is a Myth.

Like, any one of these could be an illustration in my (definitely not best-selling) autobiography.

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Mini-Review: Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller et al. (2015)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

two out of five stars

“Nux and Immortan Joe” – 3.5/5 stars

“Furiosa” – 1/5 stars

“Max Part I” – 3.5/5 stars

“Max Part II” – 4/5 stars

“War Rig” – 3/5 stars

Unsurprisingly, Furiosa’s storyline mostly soured my view of this collection of Max Mad: Fury Road prequel comic books. (The rest are readable enough, though largely underwhelming.) Feminist critics have already picked “Furiosa” apart, panel by panel, so instead of rehashing what’s already been said, I’ll just redirect you here, here, and here. For starters.

I especially loathed the artists’ portrayal of Furiosa, who they transform into a) a pro-lifer who compares Angharad’s attempt to abort her rape baby to Immortan Joe’s reign of terror and b) a rape apologist who berates the “wives” for not showing the proper amount of respect and gratitude toward their abuser. Granted, Furiosa’s behavior might be due in part to past trauma; for instance, her tirade against the wives could be Furiosa’s way of minimizing her own abuse. (It’s revealed that she too was once one of Joe’s breeders; because no woman can be a hero without first being victimized in the most brutal and inhumane ways.)

If this is the case, the whole storyline could have been handled better, with more nuance and compassion. That’s a pretty big if, though, especially given the creators’ odious responses to criticism and their general lack of awareness overall.

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Mini-Review: Poorly Drawn Lines: Good Ideas and Amazing Stories, Reza Farazmand (2015)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Party or Daiya

four out of five stars

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

If you use the internets, chances are you’ve encountered a Poorly Drawn Lines strip at some point in your travels. Creator Reza Farazmand has a generous fair use policy (non-commercial attribution; also, they’re kind of genius, so there’s that), and they really seem to get around. Which is good: though I count myself a fan, I often forget to keep up in the absence of an email newsletter. I know, how quaint! So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I learned of Farazmand’s new book on NetGalley!

Filled with a mix of old and new material, Poorly Drawn Lines highlights the same irreverent humor and uncanny insight that the web strip is known for. Here you’ll find plot twists old and new: douchey owls, birds who are totally judging you, smack-talking robots, cheese goals you should adopt like yesterday, mountains that want to be human, various apocalypse scenarios – and yes, Ernesto the bear from space.

In with the new stuff are a smattering of essays which are enjoyable enough, but not nearly as rad as the comics. Since they have the same weird, off-beat vibe as the strips, sometimes the essays feel just a step or two removed from explaining a joke. (Excessive elaboration, no want!) I could easily envision them more artfully done up as three- to nine-panel strips.

I read this on a Kindle and was surprised to find that the comics actually look okay: small, yet readable enough. Naturally the art is much more impressive on my laptop and iPad, but options are good.

Try it if you like: Calvin & Hobbes; Hyperbole and a Half; animals behaving badly.

(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: Plumdog, Emma Chichester Clark (2015)

Friday, September 25th, 2015

It’s a Dog’s Life

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

I know she means well but if I wasn’t on a lead – I would pretend I didn’t know her.

Emma Chichester Clark is an illustrator, as well as the author of the Blue Kangaroo children’s series. She resides in London, along with her husband Rupert, and Plum, their whoosell (whippet + Jack Russell terrier + poodle) furkid. This is not Plum’s first brush with fame; she has been sharing her wry observations and flaunting her social engagements on the Plumdog blog since 2012. With a little help from Clark, of course: Plum may run the show, but she relies on her mom the artist to supply the illustrations. There’s only so much you can do sans opposable thumbs, dontchaknow.

If Plumdog is any indication, I can almost guarantee that this adorable little dog is having more fun than you. Plumdog chronicles one year in the life of Plum: trips to Paris and Scotland; romps in the river with her canine friends Rocket, Esther, and Liffey; birthday parties and Christmas celebrations; errands to her mom’s publisher; working the room at book signings; brunches and tea parties; visits to the pet store and spa; and lots and lots of walks. There’s also some sad stuff, too, like the death of Plum’s human grandmother, and a cautionary tale of a dog who got into the holiday chocolate and died. And, oh yeah, the indignities of being peed on by a rival dog, and having the vet stick things up your bum. (*shudder*)

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Bob’s Burgers, Chad Brewster (2015)

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

“It’s alive! The Butt is alive!”

four out of five stars

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

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 where necessary.

My husband introduced me to Bob’s Burgers right before the start of Season 5, and I promptly binge-watched it on Netflix in all of a week.

There’s just so much to love: The burger puns, of course. (SO MANY BURGER PUNS. I may or may not do a Bob’s Burgers theme one of these VeganMoFos.) The butts. (SO MANY BUTTS.) In Tina, a complex, fully realized teenage girl who’s neither denigrated not mocked for her love of horses, fan fic, boy bands, and (wait for it) butts. (Think of how The Family Guy treats Meg, and then imagine the complete opposite.) The evil, scheming genius that is Louise (voiced by a wonderfully screechy Kristen Schaal). Gene and his burger suit. Linda and her penchant for wine.

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll love the comic book; if you’re not a fan, you might get a kick out of the weird humor anyway, and then go DVR Bob’s Burgers for good measure. (Sunday nights at 7:30 Eastern, yo!) Not only are the comics considered canon, but there’s quite a bit of crossover and continuity between the two (exhibit A: Boo-Boo from Boyz 4 Now).

This collection (and I hope there are more!) includes Issues 1-5, each of which has the following features:
* Tina’s Erotic Friend Fiction
* Burger of the Day Ideas
* Louise’s Unsolved Mysteries and Curious Curiosities
* Letters from Linda
* Gene Belcher Presents

The humor perfectly mirrors that of the show; it’s easy to picture any one of these stories turned into a full-length episode (or, in the case of Bob and Linda’s smaller contributions, featured as a gag). Just as with the show, I have a pretty strong preference for Tina’s Erotic Friend Fic (Battleship Galac-tina, I would watch the crap out of you), Louise’s Unsolved Mysteries (“Louise’s Legacy,” you give me feelings), and Bob’s Burger of the Day Ideas (book-inspired burgers for the win!).

The collection also includes a number of issue covers and pin-up art, all of which are hella fun – colorful, visually striking, and just generally in keeping with the aesthetic of the show. All it’s missing is Gayle and a new installation of her animal butt art.

(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: Last of the Sandwalkers, Jay Hosler (2015)

Friday, April 10th, 2015

A Heroine Like No Other!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

I find myself thinking about this hue-mon all of the time. I wonder if it ever thought about us?

Was there room in here for thoughts about beetles?

Did it ever wonder how some glow?

Or spray liquid fire?

Or dance on water?

Or drink fog?

Maybe someday, if a hue-mon reads this journal, it will help them appreciate all of the amazing little aliens living underfoot.

Lucy may “just” be a junior faculty member at Colepolis University – and a beetle, to boot – but she’s about to change the way her people view the world. Reluctantly granted funding by the scientific ministry, Lucy’s leading a team of five scientist-explorers out into the great unknown – the vast desert that lies beyond the oasis where their coconut tree grows. Colepolis is home, and all its beetle citizens know of the world – all its elite ruling class allows them to know – is contained within its borders. That is, until Lucy breaks with years of tradition and superstition, and insists on proving that the world is more complex and wonderful than they can possibly imagine.

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Book Review: Wonder Woman, Vol. 1: Blood (The New 52), Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang (2013)

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Nice Starting Point for New Fans

four out of five stars

Up until The New 52, my experience with Wonder Woman had been limited to the live-action television show starring the incomparable Lynda Carter. While the reruns made a fan out of me (I still have my Wonder Woman underoos! Both sets! The tank makes a pretty rad dog costume, fyi.), I was never that much into comic books as a kid. As an adult, I’ve been trying to expand my tastes, but so far I’ve mostly been drawn to original series (Pretty Deadly, Sex Criminals, Saga) – or titles based on stories I’m already familiar with from other mediums (the Whedonverse; Stephen King; Django Unchained). I’ve steered clear of old-school superhero stories not for lack of interest, but because the sheer volume of content is so intimidating – it’s hard to know where to dive in. That is, until Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman reboot.

Praised as the Wonder Woman series for people with no more than a general knowledge about WW’s origins, history, or various story arcs (“It’s an intriguing concept and easy to grasp. The reader doesn’t need to know that much about Wonder Woman because she is, well, Wonder Woman.”), Blood is an excellent starting point for new and would-be fans.

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Book Review: Pretty Deadly, Volume 1: The Shrike, Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Ríos (2014)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Yee-hee haw (sung to the tune of “Oh Death”)

five out of five stars

Life ain’t ours to keep, girl. We get to hold some for a little bit, but then we got to pass it on.

What happens when Death gets his heart broken? The world goes to rot, of course. Say what you will about the guy (or gal); Death keeps the cycle of life spinning ’round and ’round. He is a gift, not a curse – for “it’s the dying that makes the living matter.”

And when Death stops doing his job – stops tending the Garden that is the soul of the world – well, it’s time for retirement. But what if the old bugger doesn’t want to go quietly? That’s the story at the heart of Pretty Deadly, Volume 1: The Shrike. And man, is it a doozy.

My love for this comic book? I can’t even begin to count the ways. The artwork is breathtaking; the colors, rich and moody and evocative; the story, enthralling and epic in scope. While it takes a little while for the puzzle pieces to come together (it happens midway through Issue #4), once the plot clarifies, it is legend.

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Book Review: Anya’s Ghost, Vera Brosgol (2011)

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Single White Lady

four out of five stars

What begins as somewhat typical tale of teenage angst morphs into something much darker when high schooler Annushka Borzakovskaya – Anya for short – takes a tumble into a long-abandoned well while cutting though the park on her way home from Hamilton School. There she finds the bones of one Emily Reilly, a young woman who was murdered ninety years ago, her body never found. Attached to the bones: Emily’s ghost, which follows Anya home upon her rescue. Anya accidentally swept up Emily’s pinky, along with her food and other belongings, you see. Or did she?

At first, Anya’s rather rude to the hapless, mousy Emily; a ghost could seriously damage her already lackluster reputation. But when Emily proves a helpful ally – helping Anya cheat on her bio test; scoping out the contents of her crush’s backpack; giving her a bitchin’ makeover and a boost of confidence to match – Anya happily embraces her new BFF, leaving the former title-holder Siobhan in the dust.

Before long, Emily’s interest in Anya’s life veers into Single White Female territory; and after a little digging, Anya discovers the shocking, sinister truth about Emily’s death.

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Stacking the Shelves: Christmas 2014 ed.!

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

My Christmas book haul.

I’m way too lazy to do a weekly Stacking the Shelves post; usually I save ’em for a special occasion (see: library books sales). I think Christmas counts, yes?

Since I have almost no room with which to store more books, I make an effort to buy ebooks over “real” books whenever I get the chance – the only exceptions being cookbooks and comic books, because those both look better in person, imho. So this year my x-mas list was dominated by comic books, book-wise anyway.

(Funny story: my mom is forever rolling her eyes at the plethora of reading materials on my wishlist; “Don’t you want anything other than books?” This year I made a real effort to include non-book items, like clothing, artwork, and household decorations. With two exceptions, she sent me all books. Oh well, at least I have some non-book ideas to carry over to my birthday!)

I was able to round out both my The Dark Tower and Saga collections (yay!). Most of these are Christmas gifts, though a few are pre-orders that happened to arrive around the holidays, with a few gifts to myself (purchased with Amazon’s special 25% code) sprinkled throughout.

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Top to bottom:

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Book Review: The Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks & Caanan White (2014)

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Blogging for Books.)

In 1917 we left our home to make the world “safe for democracy.” Even though democracy wasn’t exactly “safe” back home.

We went by many names. The 15th. The 369th. And before going “over there,” we called ourselves “The Black Rattlers.” Our French allies called us “The Men of Bronze.”

And our enemies called us “The Harlem Hellfighters.”

Recruited in Harlem, trained in Camp Whitman, New York (and, disastrously, Spartanburg, South Carolina), and eventually deployed to the Western Front in France, the 369th Infantry Regiment – otherwise known as The Harlem Hellfighters – changed the course of history, even as its own government engineered its failure.

The 369th spent 191 days in combat – more than any other American unit, black or white. None of their men were captured by the enemy, nor did they lose any ground; in fact, they were the first men to reach the Rhine River. The 369th volunteered to stay behind in the front trenches for an expected German bombing the day after Bastille Day, 1918, even though it meant almost certain death. One of their soldiers single-handedly fended off German raiders with only a rifle and a bolo knife; for this, Henry Lincoln Johnson earned the nickname “Black Death” – and was the first American to receive the French Croix de Guerre (the Cross of War). In 2003, the US awarded Johnson the Distinguished Service Cross; his supporters are still lobbying for the Medal of Honor.

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Book Review: The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, Joe Hill & Charles P. Wilson III (2014)

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Christmas in August!

five out of five stars

NOS4A2 was one of my favorite new releases last year; I devoured it in a matter of days and then promptly added all of Joe Hill’s titles to my wishlist. (Too late for Christmas, but that’s the way the gingerbread crumbles.) So you can only imagine how excited I was when I heard that Hill was resurrecting the twisted innerscape of Charles Manx III in graphic novel format. I pre-ordered The Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland as soon as it became available on Amazon, and have spent the last six months eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The Wraith is everything I wanted and more. It collects issues 1-6 of Welcome to Christmasland in a lovely (wait, did I say lovely? I meant nightmarish!) hardcover book, supplemented with oodles and oodles of extra artwork. The storyline briefly explores Charlie Manx’s childhood in the Wild West (we’re talking late 1800s here); after being violently assaulted and raped by one of his mother’s johns, Charles taps into the mysterious and unexpected power of his Fleet Fantom sled to exact his revenge.

Fast-forward to 1988, when a trio of escaped cons – including Dewey Hansom, a sleazy, child-raping music agent who also just so happens to be Manx’s current accomplice – calls on Manx for help. Manx promises to make them disappear so that the authorities will never find them; naturally, he loads them into the Wraith and takes them to Christmasland to meet his kids (and by “meet” I mean at the end of a very long sword). But Chess Llewellyn has an ace up his sleeve: balloons filled with delirium-101, sent to him by his dead son Adam, whose untimely death Chess was about to serve seven years for avenging.

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Book Review: Umbral, Book One: Out of the Shadows, Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten (2014)

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Disappointing

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Tasked by her boss, the Master of the Thieves Guild, with stealing a priceless artifact from the palace trophy room, Rascal unwittingly witnesses the murder of King Petor and Queen Innaline during the robbery. Worse still, her co-conspirator is none other than Prince Arthir, who soon joins his parents in the grave. Only, the rest of the world doesn’t yet know that the royal family is dead – because their killers, creatures from a hell dimension known collectively as the Umbral, are shape-shifters who have assumed the visages of the King, Queen, and Prince, as well as other key players in Strakhelm. Their goal? World domination. It’s up to young Rascal to keep the Occulus safe and out of Umbral hands.

Based on the book’s tag line – “Orphaned at birth. Raised by smugglers. Taken in by thieves. Running for her life.” – I had some crazy high hopes for Umbral, Book One: Out of the Shadows. A spunky young heroine! Doing crimes and taking names! In a multiverse! And pirates!

Alas, it was not to be. While the story idea is promising, Umbral never quite lives up to its potential. Between the shape shifting and the constant travel between dimensions (Rascal is somehow able to slip in and out of the Umbral), the story can sometimes get confusing – a problem not helped by the artwork, which is oftentimes sloppy and fails to clearly illustrate the many plot twists. For example, a few of the characters (e.g. Dalone and Master Gearge) look so much alike that at first glance they’re often hard to tell apart. And the hell and regular dimensions? So similar that they’re nearly indistinguishable. One just seems to be a different version of the present reality; the only way you can tell one from the other is through the narration, which isn’t always helpful, either.

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Book Review: Saga, Volume 1, Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (2012)

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Fragile Things

four out of five stars

“Ideas are fragile things. Most don’t live long outside of the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming. That’s why people create with someone else.”

Marko and Alana are two young soldiers fighting on opposite sides of an ancient and never-ending galactic war. No one remembers why the citizens of Landfall – the largest planet in its galaxy – and Wreath – its only satellite moon – don’t get along. All anyone knows is that the two rocks are mortal enemies, and they must choose sides. (You’re either with us, or you’re against us.) Since the planet and its moon can’t obliterate one without destroying the other, the conflict has long since been outsourced, until it engulfed every world in the galaxy. There’s no escaping it.

A soldier with the Wreath contingent, Marko surrendered to Coalition Forces on the planet of Cleave and swore off violence altogether. Once imprisoned, Alana was assigned to guard him. Instead, they fell in love and ran away together. Three months later, and with their pursuers hot on their trail, baby Hazel is born. All these lovers want to do is raise their young family in peace; but with Prince Robot IV and mercenary “The Will” on their trail, it’s likely that their subversive idea will be snuffed out before it’s able to take root and blossom.

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Book Review: Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (2014)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Witty, Subversive, Wickedly Funny – A New Favorite!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Time-stopping sex in public places. Revenge workplace masturbation. A kickass librarian with a can-do attitude, a love of learning, and a magical clitoris. A Robin Hood-style crime spree to save the books. Halloween candy as far as the eye can see. What more can you ask for in a comic book? (Vegan finger food at the fundraiser would have been nice, but. I guess there’s nothing saying it wasn’t vegan, right?)

When I spotted a giveaway for Sex Criminals, Volume 1: One Weird Trick on Goodreads, I figured it could go one of two ways: Either the series would turn out to be a smart and insightful look at human sexuality and all that it entails – or a weak and juvenile excuse to bring the pornification of comic books full circle. And, you know, ogle women’s disembodied parts. I decided to give it a try, because what did I have to lose except for an hour of my time?

I’m so glad that I did, because Sex Criminals? It be bangin’.

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