Book Review: Safely Endangered Comics by Chris McCoy (2019)

Friday, April 19th, 2019

Poor Pluto

four out of five stars

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

UK-based cartoonist Chris McCoy has a weird, absurdist sense of humor, and I am so into it. Whether it’s talking spiders with delusions of grandeur, average Joe narwhals, or planets posting Facebook updates, the strips in Safely Endangered Comics tend toward the bizarre, in the best way possible.

Most of the comics earned at least a chuckle, peppered with a legit guffaw every ten pages are so. I hadn’t heard of McCoy’s webcomic, Safely Endangered, before today, but now it’s on my must-read list.

Naturally, my favorites are any and every panel that features a dog, but there’s plenty of socially awkward, geeky, and downright creepy goodness to choose from.

If enjoy the work of Reza Farazmand, Alex Norris, Jake Thompson, or Jomny Sun, this one’s a sure thing. Fans of Sarah Andersen and Allie Brosh will probably love it too.

(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: Vagrant Queen, Volume 1 by Magdalene Visaggio & Jason Smith (2019)

Friday, April 5th, 2019

A Fun Enough Shoot ‘Em Up Space Opera

three out of five stars

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

Elida Al-feyr’s ancestors were … not very nice people. At the edge of a galaxy (not ours), they developed a mind-control device called the Bezoar of Kings. With it, they brainwashed the people of Arriopa into believing that they were gods, accepting their will without question. By the time Elida was crowned Queen of the Divine Monarchy – at the tender age of ten – the Bel-iors had not relied upon the amulet’s power for generations. Yet this doesn’t quell a popular, violent uprising, in which the monarchy is overthrown and replaced by a republic. Elida and her mother escape certain death, but barely – and the last two remaining members of the royal family are separated within the year.

Fast-forward fifteen years. Elida is in hiding, making a living by scavenging wrecks and reselling her finds. A not-so-chance encounter with an old frenemy named Isaac sends her in search of her mother, said to be imprisoned in the Monastery of Wix. But is Isaac double-crossing her, or triple-crossing someone else? Is the long-lost Bezoar of Kings merely myth, or is it out there, somewhere, just waiting to be found? And if it is, what responsibility does Elida bear for its misuse?

Vagrant Queen is a fun, shoot ’em up space opera. There’s not a whole lot that’s noteworthy or especially memorable about the plot, but it’s a fun enough ride while it lasts. Some elements work better than others; Elida is a badass anti-hero, but Isaac’s bad boy schtick feels played out. That said, his facial hair is a thing of wonder. Ditto: Elida’s ‘do, which almost feels like a throwback to Aeon Flux. Ten-year-old Elida is a compelling character, and I’d love to see more of her in future issues. (And her fro? Even more glorious than her future self’s locks.) For those who like gory, over-the-top violence, Vagrant Queen has it in spades; to wit:

While I love the diversity in this story, it feels a little weird to see a Black family enslave a bunch of white people. Like, is this progress? Just dessert? Post-racial, race-blind storytelling? Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it? Idk what to think.

(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: oh no by Alex Norris (2019)

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

oh yes

four out of five stars

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

Being human – self-aware, cognizant of your own mortality, sentient, capable of feeling pain, sorrow, and embarrassment (etc.) – can really suck sometimes. (Most times.) Luckily there are little moments of joy, like Alex Norris’s webcomic Webcomic Name, featuring the delightfully non-gendered little pink blob of oh nos. Pinky wields the catchphrase “oh no” (and self-referential panels about the running gag) like a … sword? Baseball bat? Pillow over the face? Blanket fort with which to deflect the outside world? I’m not exactly sure, but the result is at once comically entertaining and morbidly depressing.

Norris tackles disappointments both small (stepping on a friend’s shoe; making accidental eye contact on the bus; cooking fails) and large (poor self-esteem; environmental degradation; the powerlessness on the individual in the face of megacorporations; death), all met with the same refrain: oh no. It’s absurd, it’s portentous, it’s relevant and relatable AF – for better or worse. Mostly worse.

Bonus points for the anti-zoo strip. Truer panels have never been scribbled.

(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: Cretaceous by Tadd Galusha (2019)

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

This ain’t The Land Before Time.

four out of five stars

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

The synopsis for Cretaceous describes it as the journey of a young T-Rex to reunite with their family before death can separate them for good. Well, actually, I guess I just assumed that the protagonist was the juvenile dinosaur (I blame the inevitable The Land Before Time flashbacks!), but the summary really doesn’t specify. So that’s on me. Either way, I’d describe Cretaceous as more of a revenge story than anything else.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex family at the heart of this story is a nuclear unit: father, mother, several children. Dad has just returned with a kill when the family is viciously attacked by a group of albertosauruses, leaving just two survivors: one of the babies, and mom, who was on the other side of a waterfall when the massacre took place. Only after she hunts down the dinosaurs who killed her family does mom go in search of junior (hence, revenge story). They reunite, if only briefly; such is life, especially in such a cruel and unforgiving place.

For having absolutely zero dialogue, Cretaceous is a surprisingly moving tale. Also: bloody, gory, and raw. The two dueling themes seem to be the harshness of survival in the animal kingdom, and the unrivaled bond between parents and children. Terror and ruthlessness meets love and martyrdom. It makes for a compelling read, even if relentless deaths are a little hard to take. (CERA!!!!)

(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: Window Horses by Ann Marie Fleming (2017)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Now I have to see the movie!

four out of five stars

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

Window Horses is the graphic novelization of a 2016 animated film of the same name, written by Ann Marie Fleming and starring Sandra Oh (with what I can only assume is a brief cameo by Ellen Page, at least judging from the book). The story’s protagonist is a young biracial woman named Rosie Ming. Born to a Chinese-Canadian mother and an Iranian refugee father, Rosie was left in the care of her maternal grandparents after her father abandoned his family and her mother died in a tragic accident.

Fast food worker by day, Francophile by – who are we kidding, 24/7 – Rosie keeps her poetry a secret. That is, until she’s invited to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran. Having self-published but one book of poetry, Rosie has no idea how the festival’s organizers discovered her. Though she’s nervous to travel to her father’s homeland – she’s never even been outside of Canada, for pete’s sake – and is plagued by imposter syndrome, Rosie knows that this is an opportunity she simply can’t pass up. Little does she know how truly life-changing the trip will be.

Window Horses is a sweet and heartfelt story: about the bonds of family and community, the stupid and even selfish things we sometimes do for love, and the power of words and poetry, with a little bit of a history/civics lesson thrown in, to boot. The art – primarily done by Kevin Langdale, with poems illustrated by a variety of other artists – is stunning. I especially loved how the breadth of different contributors and styles played off the poetry, adding extra depth and nuance.

The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way? Dietmar, or rather Mehrnaz’s insistence that he’s only rude to Rosie because “that is the way some young men are…,” you know, when they like a girl. Boys will be boys and all that nonsense. Blecht.

(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: Book Love by Debbie Tung (2019)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

A love letter to books.

three out of five stars

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

— 3.5 stars —

A bad movie adaptation that taints your memory of a cherished book. That new book smell. Finding a few coins to buy a new book even though the pantry is painfully bare. Turning down social invitations in favor of night spent cuddled up with your favorite book. All-night binge-read marathons that leave you a zombie shell of yourself the next day.

Book lovers will see themselves reflected – and celebrated – in Debbie Tung’s latest collection of comics, Book Love. Drawn in the same style (and with the same quiet sense of humor) as her previous book, Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, this is an endearing and relatable read that’s sure to win the hearts of book lovers. I saw myself in so many of her strips, from fantasizing about nesting in a library, to refusing to clean out my book stash. (Actually, I had to get rid of about 70% of my physical books for a cross-country move, and it damn near broke my heart. I still shipped 40 boxes of my babies fwiw.)

My only complaint is that the book starts to feel repetitive about halfway in, almost as thought there isn’t that much to say about bibliophilia, which certainly cannot be so!

(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: Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy (2018)

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Brilliant.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for Islamophobia, racism, and sexism.)

Cartoonist, educator, and former law student Huda Fahmy was born and raised in Michigan – but this doesn’t stop strangers from asking her where she’s really from, or commenting on the exoticism of her (midwestern) accent. Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab is a collection of her webcomics – originally seen on Instagram* – which deal with the racist, sexist, and xenophobic microaggressions she struggles with on the daily, as a Muslim WOC living in Drumpf’s America. (Spoiler alert: things were pretty shitty pre-2016 too.)

The result is usually cutting, often depressing, and yet (amazingly) always hilarious. Fahmy possesses a sense of humor that’s equally wicked and witty. She’ll have you lol-ing even as you die a little inside. People can be assholes, but Fahmy has discovered the secret recipe for making assholaid. (Erm, chocolate milkshakes? Idk.)

Don’t be a Small-Minded Susan, read this book! Pay special attention to Chapter 6: It Never Hurts to Hope, for some examples of allyship (and just plain human kindness) in action.

* Maybe this will be the straw that finally makes me create an account?

(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: To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Fred Fordham & Harper Lee (2018)

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

A faithful adaptation, for better or worse.

three out of four stars

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

My feelings on this are conflicted and messy:

– How do you judge an adaptation of an existing work: on its own merits, or in its faithfulness to the source material? On the latter point, Fred Fordham’s adaptation is a definite success. His graphic novel adaptation is loyal to both the plot and tone of Harper Lee’s classic, and even plays on the nostalgia of the 1962 movie. Comic book Atticus is a dead ringer for Gregory Peck, and the Finch kids resemble their respective actors as well.

– My first experience with To Kill a Mockingbird was as a tween, well before I had to tools and knowledge to identify its more problematic aspects, chiefly the novel’s inherent racism. Revisiting the story as an adult, in a different format, was…jarring. Some of the racism is plainly evident, e.g., is it ever okay for a white writer to use the n-word, even if historically accurate? And isn’t it kind of gross for a story about Jim Crow racism and the lynching of a black man to center white voices? But there are so many layers to unpack, including liberal hero Atticus Finch’s racism. (If he existed today, Atticus might be one of people pleading for “civility” from both sides. Yuck.) I found myself cringing as much as tearing up.

And that’s kind of the crux of the matter, right? No doubt To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel will evoke all sorts of nostalgia (coupled with an irrational desire to protect and defend a cherished piece of one’s childhood), especially in white Americans; but don’t let that prevent you from engaging with the book critically.

fwiw, I’d love to see a reimagining of Harper Lee’s story told from Calpurnia or Helen Robinson’s perspective.

(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: Loading Penguin Hugs: Heartwarming Comics from Chibird by Jacqueline Chen (2018)

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

Just what I needed.

four out of five stars

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

Filled with uplifting and inspirational illustrations from Jacqueline Chen’s tumblr chibird, Loading Penguin Hugs is like a nose bump from a happy dog, or a warm cup of tea on a rainy fall afternoon. It’s sweet, adorable, and positive AF: basically a great friend to turn to when you’re feeling down. Let positive bunny, motivational penguin, happy ghost, and the positive puppers make you feel a teensy bit better about this trash fire called life.

(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: Aquicorn Cove by Katie O’Neill (2018)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Oh, the mixed feelings!

three out of five stars

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

After her mother perished in a tragic boating accident, Lana’s father moved them out of the idyllic seaside town they called home and into the city. Now they’re back, if only for a few days, to help the community recover from an especially devastating storm. Yet when she rescues a sick young aquicorn (think: a cross between a seahorse and a unicorn) from a tide pool and nurses her back to health, Lana’s mission ripples outward until it becomes monumental in scope. Not only must she confront the unacknowledged grief and depression that assailed her after the loss of her mother – indeed, everything she’d ever known – she must also save the aquicorn’s home, under assault from climate change, pollution, and overfishing.

So there are lots of things I loved about Aquicorn Cove: The artwork is super-adorable, the aquicorns especially (and unsurprisingly). I appreciate the breadth of diversity when it comes to Aquicorn Cove’s citizens: not only do we see a variety of skin tones, but there’s a refreshing range of body types too, from tiny little old ladies (who are still getting it done, okay), to aunt Mae, who is big and beefy and has the kind of biceps I’d kill for. There’s even an implied same-sex romance between Mae and Aure, the queen (keeper? guardian?) of Aquicorn Cove. I ship it.

While I liked the environmentally friendly vibe, as well as the message that not a single one of us is too small to make a difference, the story lost me in its treatment of its smallest creatures: the fishes. There’s a clear divide between the aquicorns (flashy, majestic, kind, unique) and the fishes (food, natural resource), even though both are someones, not somethings. Whereas I doubt Lana would even dream of killing and eating an aquicorn, somehow it’s just fine to do this to someone who’s “just” a salmon (or whatever). In a word, it’s speciesist.

Granted, Lana’s people are perhaps indigenous to the island, and that’s a conversation worth having. That said, I don’t think it’s helpful to feed kids self-serving pap about how food animals “sacrifice” themselves for you. Most animals, when faced with death, fight to survive – just like human animals. So please just don’t try to romanticize their deaths, or make them appear complicit. They do not exist for your pleasure or convenience.

In summary, Aquicorn Cove is a pretty adorable book, though vegan parents might be better off skipping it entirely. There’s just too much to unpack.

(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 Many Deaths of Scott Koblish by Scott Koblish (2018)

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Not for the chronically anxious.

two out of five stars

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

— 2.5 stars —

The Many Deaths of Scott Koblish is exactly what it sounds like: the author’s weird and varied imaginings of how he might meet his end. The scenarios range from the mundane-yet-tragic (being buried in an avalanche; dying in a festive house fire) to the more bizarre and outlandish (being kidnapped by aliens only to die in a fiery wreck when the US government shoots your flying saucer down; being murdered in the night by your daughter’s adorable stuffed teddy bear). My personal favorites are those that involve nonhuman animals getting revenge (such as the kangaroo boxer who stomps his human opponent to death. down with animal fighting!). There are no fewer than five instances of cats sending an unsuspecting Scott Koblish plummeting out a window to his death.

It’s a cute enough idea, if not terribly memorable. Well, unless you’re scared of clowns, alligators, or dying in unclean undies. Then some of these panels just might keep you awake at night. No death by sheer embarrassment, though, so I’m safe! :)

(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: Watersnakes by Antonio Sandoval (2018)

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

A swing and a near-miss.

three out of five stars

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

Mila is swimming in the forest when she meets a mysterious girl named Agnes. By way of introduction, the mischievous Agnes shouts “water snake!,” causing Mila to jump from the water in fright. For her part, Mila is inexplicably drawn to Agnes’s teeth. If this all sounds weird, welcome to the world of Watersnakes.

Turns out Agnes has been dead for eleven years. Within her resides a black octopus/the former king of the sea. Her teeth are his warriors, determined to restore their ruler to his throne. I’d be worried that I’m dropping spoilers right and left here, if the book’s synopsis hadn’t already spilled the beans.

I wanted to fall in love with Watersnakes – I mean, just look at that friggin’ cover! – but alas, it is a swing and a miss.

Pros: The artwork. MY GODS, the artwork. It’s apologetically weird and occasionally surreal and grotesque, but always in the most beautiful way. It also contains one of my favorite horror tropes – SHE’S BEEN DEAD FOR YEARS!!! – and the LGBTQ elements immediately captured my interest, but…

Cons: The plot is terribly, frustratingly underdeveloped at best, and downright confusing at times. Worse: the FF romance is undermined by a kinda-sorta case of mistaken identity (no want!). Worst: When “picnic hunting” – i.e., dressing in papier-mâché animal masks and robbing an unsuspecting family of their picnic snacks – Mila pinches the ass of (read: sexually assaults) a fellow teen girl. I shit you not, I did about a dozen double takes, damn near certain I had misread the panel. (I didn’t.) Gross.

(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 Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously by Adam Ellis (2018)

Friday, November 16th, 2018

Shout out to the socially anxious and chronically depressed.

four out of five stars

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

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously is a collection of autobiographical comics by Adam Ellis who – like me – struggles with anxiety, depression, and (I assume) IBS. (Spoiler alert: there is digestive upset of some nature.) Reading it is like looking in a mirror, for better or worse – except, mercifully, I do not suffer from dick cling.

Not all of the comics deal with mental health issues; there’s also a mix of the weirdly specific (Ellis’s brief obsession with healing crystals) and the wildly absurd (memory foam pillows that make you relive your worst moments each night). But my favorites, unsurprisingly, involve SAD and social anxiety.

Oh, and there be cats.

(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: Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero (2018)

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Celebrating the inner sloth in all of us!

four out of five stars

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

Slothilda is an everywoman: She’s addicted to her phone, laptop, and the internet. She naps hard and snacks harder. She loves carbs and is an A+ procrastinator. Her beautifully curvaceous behind is a mirror image of that of her dog, Peanut. (A corgi, natch!) And, oh yeah: Slothilda is a sloth. (fwiw I think she more closely resembles a hamster, but it’s all good.)

With sections on fitness, food, work, money, home, lifestyle, and fur baby, Dante Fabiero pays homage to his inner sloth, and celebrates the sloth that lives in all of us. (I have to assume, if only for my own self-esteem.) Slothilda is a heroine that’s both super-adorable and relatable AF.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly shocked to discover how closely my diet and work habits parallel those of a sloth, but some of the strips are weirdly specific. (Hours spent hunting for a valid online coupon code to save a measly coupla bucks, hello!)

My only complaint is this: In the ARC, the captions appear as text separate from the illustrations, giving the comics an odd and disjointed feeling. I’m sure this will be corrected in the final version.

Oh, and Peanut should totes be renamed Cheddar. That is the only acceptable name for a corgi.

(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: Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes: Owlturd Comix by Andrew Tsyaston (2018)

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

If you loved Sarah’s Scribbles

four out of five stars

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

I hate to compare this to Sarah’s Scribbles, mostly because I compare everything to Sarah’s Scribbles. (What can I say? It’s my benchmark for socially awkward, relatable AF irreverent humor!) But Andrew Tsyaston feels like Sarah Andersen’s equally weird and self-conscious west coast guy cousin. Same unfortunate wavelength (thanks God’s broken salt shaker!), different genders. But in color!

So as you can probably gather, Tsyaston tackles a number of mental health issues through his cartoons (most prominently social anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem) as well as topics especially though not exclusively relevant to millennials (technology, student debt, the death of facts). The titular BUFF DUDES are a) totes nude but b) actually the antagonists of Tsyaston’s stories; see, e.g. Life. The result is both hilarious and crushing, and will leave you feeling marginally better about this effed up plane of existence we call the human experience. Shen might be a white dude (I mean, I think?), but you’ll see bits of yourself reflected back in the funhouse mirror that is his soul.

In summary, Owlturd Comix is great, and I look forward to devouring many more of them. And now I shall leave you with just a few of my favorites.

(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: Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege by Mike Norton (2018)

Friday, October 19th, 2018

449 Days in The Bad Place

four out of five stars

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

I will say about Lil’ Donnie Volume 1: Executive Privilege what I say of all humorous/satirical books about 45: it’d be funny if it wasn’t so damned depressing. A collection of the first 125 strips of Mike Norton’s webcomic of the same name, Volume 1 spans the time of Drumpf’s inauguration through April 13, 2018.

Norton’s art is spot-on; somehow he manages to make a revolving door of white men all immediately recognizable and distinct (something not always easily accomplished in comics). My favorites are Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, depicted here as a cursed apple-doll puppet. John Bolton’s ‘stache merging with Drumpf’s comb-over in nuclear ecstasy is a solid runner-up.

Norton’s wit is similarly biting, although I must admit that some of the earliest strips had me scratching my head and consulting ye ole google. With catastrophes breaking on the daily, it’s hard to remember what fresh hell transpired last month, let alone last year.

I look forward to reading the inevitable Toad-inspired strip.

(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: Zenobia by Morten Dürr & Lars Horneman (2018)

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

A powerful piece of activism.

four out of five stars

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

One day, young Amina’s parents leave her home alone, ostensibly while they travel to the market. This is kind of a Big Deal because they haven’t had much to eat lately. But when they fail to return, Amina must summon the courage of Zenobia – a warrior woman and queen of the Palmyrene Empire, who once ruled over Syria and is now widely considered a national hero – to help her traverse her war-torn homeland and make it to safety.

Zenobia provides a window into the Syrian war and resulting refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. The result is deeply personal and moving. The narration is sparse and the illustrations, simple, sometimes rendered in just two tones of a single color. This allows Amina’s experiences take center stage.

The ending is rather jarring and deeply unsatisfying. I’ve been trying hard to shake the hollow feeling settling deep in my bones since finishing the book several hours ago. But perhaps that’s the point: there is no happy ending, at least not yet. And though I consider Zenobia a powerful piece of activism, it’s hard to imagine that it will soften hearts and change minds in this deeply divided and hateful political landscape.

(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 Book of Onions: Comics to Make You Cry Laughing and Cry Crying by Jake Thompson (2018)

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Embrace It, Jack

four out of five stars

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

This is not a cookbook, although a book of onion-based delicacies does sound amazing. Rather, The Book of Onions is a collection of strips from the webcomic Jake Likes Onions by by Jake Thompson. Drawn in black and white with a four-panel convention, Thompson’s comics often veer toward the absurd and bizarre, with a wickedly dark sense of humor. They’re a little reminiscent of The Far Side, but more obscene (mostly in a good way). The never did get me crying quite like a fat, juicy onion, but they were good for a chuckle or two, and some of the especially bleak ones just may haunt my nightmares. (Jack, I’m looking at you.)

If you don’t follow Jake on twitter, what are you waiting for?

(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: Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels (2018)

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Welcome to the anti-Clone Club.

five out of five stars

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

Despite being an interracial couple who married in the ’70s, Molly and Hank Nonnar have built a pretty charmed life together. Dr. Manuela Nonnar is a scientist (geneticist?) at the top of her field, while Hank continues the legacy left him by his father, a franchise based on a popular black superhero named Slane. Though they have no children of their own, the couple acts as surrogate parents to their niece Del, who likes play researcher in Molly’s backyard. (Yay girls in STEM!) Then a fateful meeting between Hank and Dr. Victoria Teel upends their world and calls everything they thought they knew into question.

For their 40th anniversary,* the couple decides to make a substantial investment in a company called Via; in exchange, they’ll be the first to undergo Via’s experimental “genetic purification” procedure. It promises to make them stronger, smarter, faster, healthier, and more long-lived than any human before them. And it does, in a way.

Molly and Hank wake up seven months later in bodies that have seemingly aged ten years. Instead of being changed, they have been cloned. And their clones are half-formed “monsters”: aborted (er, “canceled”) during the 10th week of development, Manuela and Henry (as their counterparts are christened) resemble baked potatoes with cured ham for limbs (in technical terms). But they are “better” than the source material in every other way, blessed with superhuman strength and intellectual prowess that surpasses that of their creators.

Yet there’s only room in the world for one Molly and Hank. Will it be the “source material” that Dr. Kallose intended to destroy upon the successful completion of the project, or the “monsters” that are a sentient success, yet are too aesthetically displeasing to ever present in public?

Upgrade Soul might just be one of the most bizarre, horrifying, and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read, graphic novel or otherwise. It raises a myriad of deliciously thorny questions: What makes you you? Is a person more than the sum of their parts? How much are we shaped by our environments? Our bodies? What is normality, and who gets to define it?

Plus it delights in a wicked sense of humor while doing so, particularly in the forms of Molly and Hank 2.0.

The plot’s pretty compelling, and the artwork, appropriately crude and weird – but in an oddly moving way. There were a few holes, though; for example, it was never entirely clear to me what Molly and Hank expected of the procedure (e.g., did they know that their “original” bodies were destined for the incinerator?). Also: an already creepy story gets even freakier with the additional of an incest subplot, which is kind of left dangling, much to this reader’s dismay. (You can’t just drop a bomb like that and walk away, mkay.) And just why did Manuela do what she did?

Still, Upgrade Soul is one of the better graphic novels I’ve read in recent memory: a legit page-turner that both entertains and challenges. If you dig sci-fi, you owe to yourself to add it to your TBR list.

* It’s right there on page 47 of my ARC, no matter what the synopsis says.

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Book Review: Bald Knobber by Robert Sergel (2018)

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

Not so much about the Bald Knobbers as a struggling middle-schooler.

two out of five stars

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

Named for the bald knob summit on which the group formed, the Bald Knobbers was a vigilante group that operated in the Ozarks in the wake of the Civil War. Being a border state, Missouri “was hard hit by neighbor against neighbor bushwhacker fighting.” (h/t to wikipedia for this paragraph.) After the war’s end, the violence continued, with law enforcement either powerless to – or disinterested in – stopping it. The Bald Knobbers – largely Republicans who sided with the Union Army – ostensibly formed to bring marauding gangs to justice. This led to the birth of opposition groups, the rather uncreatively named anti-Bald Knobbers. The original Taney County chapter was ultimately forced to disband when the Missouri Governor became involved due to escalating violence.

Sergel uses this chapter in history – presented in the form of a book report given by our middle-school protagonist Cole – as a backdrop for Cole’s own personal problems. His divorced parents loathe one another, and have no qualms about fighting – and fighting dirty – in front of their only child. Cole is the target of a local bully named Sam and, when he fights back, he finds that the relief is only temporary. Everything comes to a head in a shocking twist that could either be an act of unspeakable cruelty … or a tragic accident.

Honestly, I was hoping to learn more about the Bald Knobbers than we actually do. The parallels that Cole finds between their lives and his feel superficial and a bit contrived – especially since the book mostly ignores the group’s enforcement of religious mores, of which there is nothing heroic. (There is a mention of whipping “drunkards and loose women,” a term the teacher scolds Cole for using, but that’s about it.) Curiously, there’s also no mention of slavery, Reconstruction, or the Bald Knobbers’ political alliances. I am not fond of Civil War discussions that don’t include the words “slavery” the bare minimum of once.

Cole also comes to the conclusion that violence is never the solution; rather, violence always begets more violence. This, um, in a book at least tangentially about the Civil War. Tell me, were we going to work that one out with politely worded missives and caramel-loaded candy-grams?

Otherwise, the art is nice to look at; the black and white color scheme feels clean and simple, and helps to underscore the book’s tone. I just wish the story had shown more depth and nuance.

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