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!)

Book Review: Comics for Choice: Illustrated Abortion Stories, History and Politics edited by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor, and O.K. Fox (2018)

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

#shoutyourabortion, now in graphic novel format!

four out of five stars

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

In the editor’s note, Hazel Newlevant explains the genesis of Comics for Choice: Illustrated Abortion Stories, History and Politics:

Comics for Choice was sparked by my outrage at the clinic closures and suffocating restrictions on abortion rights in states like Texas. It is not enough for abortion to remain technically legal; it is a moral imperative for abortion care to be accessible to all who need and want it. The right to abortion is the right to bodily autonomy, and to determine one’s own life path. When our 45th president was elected, and the future of abortion rights seemed more uncertain than ever, I couldn’t wait any longer. The very next morning, my co-editors and I set the wheels in motion to create the book you now read.

The result is, sadly, both relevant and timely; in the words of badass old broads everywhere, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit.”

The anthology brings together more than sixty contributors – including women (and some trans and nonbinary folks) who have had abortions; women who were born after their mothers chose to terminate a previous pregnancy; reproductive rights advocates; clinic escorts; abortion doulas; and other feminist activists – to share their stories about abortion. Comics for Choice aims to destigmatize abortion, birth control, and family planning (but mostly abortion) by sharing personal stories from those who have undergone the procedure, as well as historical context, scientific information, and (in an especially touching piece by Jennifer Camper and Katie Fricas) a memorial to those murdered by anti-choice terrorists in the United States.

Like many anthologies, collection is somewhat uneven. Unlike most anthologies, the breadth of voices is also the book’s greatest advantage: if nothing else, Comics for Choice underscores the fact that abortion cuts across myriad lines – race, class, politics, sexuality, even gender. One in four women will undergo an abortion at least once in her lifetime; countless others will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term due to unequal access. Comics for Choice gives people from divergent backgrounds the chance to share their stories, sometimes pairing artists with regular folks to better convey their experiences. Representation matters, and the editors have taken care to make this mantra the backbone of Comics for Choice.

As for my favorites, one piece that stands out – and will probably haunt my dreams throughout the Trump presidency – would have to be “Horror Stories” (as in “Do It Yourself Abortion Horror Stories”) by Jennifer Camper. Simple yet horrifyingly effective, the one-page comic portrays fourteen methods of DIY abortion with stark and chilling brevity. Dr. Cynthia Greenlee and Jaz Malone’s portrait of Dorothy Brown, Tennessee’s fist black woman legislator (“They Called Her Dr. D”), follows “Horror Stories” and provides a nice, fist-pumping counterpoint.

Mick Moran shares her experiences as an abortion doula in “Bearing Witness,” which had me convinced that abortion doulas must make the best, most empathetic friends ever. The last comic, Vreni’s “Nothing Feels Real (an abortion diary)” is also one of the most powerful contributions, offering an intimate look at funding, undergoing, and recovering from a surgical abortion.

Perhaps the most surprising piece, for me, was “Abortion Trials.” Based on transcripts of abortion trials from the post-WWII era, Rickie Solinger and Rachael Morrill explore how women were routinely slut-shamed and demonized – “thoroughly degraded and humiliated” – often for public entertainment, and when they were not necessarily the ones on trial. In many cases, it was their doctor’s own defense attorney dishing out the abuse.

Comics for Choice isn’t always an easy read, but it’s a necessary one – and a much-needed addition to the swell of women’s voices that continues to rise into 2017 and beyond.

(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 Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (2018)

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

The Prince and the Dressmaker
by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache. Her graphic novels Koko Be Good and In Real Life (with author Cory Doctorow) were published by First Second. jenwang.net

 

Like a lot of people, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Jen Wang’s YA graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker. Also like a lot of hopefuls, I was turned down for a digital copy on NetGalley. So imagine my excitement when I was invited to participate in the blog tour! (Schedule here.) Happy dances galore.

You can read my full review below (spoiler alert: it is gushing), but for now let’s talk about the theme of the blog tour: my favorite panel. My top fave is actually a huge spoiler, so instead I’ll go with a close runner-up, which is a little safer. Here, Sebastian and Frances are discussing Lady Crystallia’s debut at a beauty pageant, where she absolutely slays. Depressed over having to hide a piece of his identity from his parents and subjects – and desperately unhappy at the mounting pressure to marry – Sebastian laments his powerlessness … a feeling that only abates when he’s allowed to embrace his true self:

More than anything, this one image perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the The Prince and the Dressmaker: we’re at our most free, our most powerful, when we’re able to be our authentic selves, and share this person with the world. Luckily for Sebastian (and us!), he’s able to do just that. Bring some tissue, people, you will need it.

 

I love everything about this book!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher. Thanks, First Second Books!)

Young seamstress Frances is toiling away in relative obscurity when a bold ballgown design catches the eye of a mysterious patron. Before she can say “silk chiffon” three times fast, Frances is whisked away to the royal mansion, to serve as the personal seamstress of the visiting Crown Prince of Belgium, sixteen-year-old Sebastian … who sometimes moonlights as Lady Crystallia, a trend-setting, red-haired beauty.

Fearing that his passion will alienate him from his parents and future subjects, Sebastian swears Frances to secrecy. But as Lady Crystallia’s daring outfits attract more and more accolades – and scrutiny – Frances must weigh her professional ambitions against her growing friendship with Sebastian. On his end, Sebastian is under increasing pressure from the King and Queen to marry and produce an heir. But how can love flourish when part of Sebastian’s very identity is confined to the shadows?

I know it’s only January, but The Prince and the Dressmaker is destined to become one of my favorite reads of the year. The art is enchanting; the story, heartwarming; and the denouement actually elicited a very loud gasp from me. Frances and Sebastian are compelling characters, and I found myself rooting for them both, even as their desires pulled them in opposite directions.

It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot (generally speaking) about well-meaning but ultimately harmful LGBTQ stories featuring tragic characters or endings. The Prince and the Dressmaker couldn’t be further from this. While Sebastian’s outlook seems awfully dire for a moment there, ultimately he triumphs. The ending is lovely, heartwarming, and uplifting. We need more of this. SO MUCH MORE. Queer kids need to feel that more awaits them than just doom and gloom. They need hope. Also, parents and friends like the King and Queen, Frances, and Emile wouldn’t hurt, either.

I also love how Jen Wang played with different tropes and twisted gender roles into big ole messy knots. With the appearance of Lady Sophia Rohan on page four, Wang thumbs her nose at gender roles and stereotyping. The portrayal of the cross-dressing Prince Sebastian is both compassionate and exhilarating; when he confides in Frances that “It’s weird, I don’t feel like Prince Sebastian could lead a nation into battle, but Lady Crystallia could,” my heart darn near swelled out of my chest.

But my favorite scene belongs to the King: Papa Bear, dressed as a majestic woodland creature, coming to his son’s defense. Sarah Palin ain’t got nothing on this guy.

(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 Genealogy: Poems by Kiki Petrosino and Lauren Haldeman (2017)

Friday, January 26th, 2018

A haunting cry across the chasms of time and injustice.

five out of five stars

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

You want to know who owned us & where.
But when you type, your searches return no results.
Slavery was grown folks’ business, then old folks’.
We saw no reason to hum Old Master’s name
to our grandchildren, or point out his overgrown gates
but you want to know who owned us & where
we got free. You keep typing our names into oblongs
of digital white. You plant a unicode tree & climb up
into grown folks’ business. You know old folks
don’t want you rummaging here, so you pile sweet jam
in your prettiest dish. You light candles & pray:
Tell me who owned you & where
I might find your graves.
Little child, we’re at rest
in the acres we purchased. Those days of
slavery were old folks’ business. The grown folks
buried us deep. Only a few of our names survive.
We left you that much, sudden glints in the grass.
The rest is grown folks’ business we say. Yet
you still want to know. Who owned us? Where?

In Black Genealogy: Poems, Kiki Petrosino explores her attempts to name and locate her ancestors – a matter made all the more complicated and frustrating for the descendants of slaves. Dehumanized, objectified, and stripped of their personhood, scant records exist to reaffirm the individuality, the bonds, the very humanity and being of kidnapped, trafficked, and enslaved humans. Of her search, Petrosino laments: “For a whole page, instead of talking about H, Old Master counts his glass decanters from France.” And so her journey is arduous, frustrating – at times, even harrowing.

In the second half of the book, Petrosino’s ancestors answer her call. They are angry, amused, loving: everything you imagine an aged great-grandmother to be. They cry out to her across the chasms of time and injustice, both delighting in and envying her living, breathing body.

Bookending and separating these two pieces are several untitled comics, visual adaptations of Petrosino’s poems by illustrator Lauren Haldeman. Petrosino is haunted by a Confederate reenactor, and his Cheshire cat-like like grin.

The three parts of the book – Petrosino’s prose, her ancestors’ poetry, and Haldeman’s drawings – work wonderfully together. While I do love the poems best, the various components complement each other in a way that I can only describe as masterful. The result is alternately beautiful, sorrowful, and downright chilling, as with this more-than-vaguely threatening exchange Petrosino shares with the soldier:

The essays – okay, more like modestly-sized paragraphs – in Part I are sometimes confusing but, to be fair, I think this is supposed to echo the journey of Black Genealogy: the reader’s experience is meant to mirror that of the author.

A strong 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 where necessary.

Read it with: Octavia Butler’s Kindred. For some reason, the illustrations really reminded me of the graphic novel adaptation. I blame it on the lingering, sinister grin.

(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: Elsewhere, Volume 1 by Jay Faerber, Sumeyye Kesgin, and Ron Riley (2018)

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

What happened to Amelia Earhart?

four out of five stars

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

This a fun, quick read. A more outlandish piece of alternative history told in graphic novel format, Elsewhere explores the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart. When she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, had to bail from their plane due to do engine trouble, they jumped right into a space-time portal that transported them to an alien world. Amelia is rescued by a ragtag team of freedom fighters and quickly drawn into their cause, as the groups’ missions converge. Together with another stranded earthling named D.B., Amelia and her allies storm the fortress of despot Lord Kragen in search of their friends.

The result is entertaining, if not terribly substantive. What Elsewhere lacks in plot depth and character development, it mostly makes up for with a cheeky sense of humor – not to mention a plot twist that maybe kinda sorta hinges on male entitlement and misogyny. (Whether it’s intentionally or accidentally feminist is anyone’s guess.) The artwork is stellar, and Amelia makes for a delightfully plucky protagonist. Overall Volume 1 lays the foundation for what could be a really great series.

3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 a) because I’m a generous reviewer and b) to make up for the book’s current middling 3.18 stars on Goodreads.

(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: Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks by Jim Mahfood (2017)

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Hard pass.

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for sexist and racist language, as well as rape jokes/threats.)

DNF around 33%.

This is my first exposure to the Grrl Scouts series, and it quickly became apparent that my expectations were way off base. Instead of a rad girl gang of feminist besties, kicking ass and taking all the things, what I got was a rather disjointed story about a bunch of women treating each other like shit, sometimes – but not always – in the pursuit of a pair of cursed extraterrestrial socks.

The artwork is easily the book’s best feature; raw and unpolished, it has a street graffiti feel to it. I loved it even when it veered from weird into straight-up confusing (e.g., the fight scenes).

The general plot line isn’t even that bad, or at least going on what I read of it. The dialogue tries a little hard to be uber-hip and campy, but it’s at least good for a laugh now and again. What I didn’t love – what caused me to throw in the towel – was the constant use of racist and sexist slurs (cunt, twat, the n-word), as well as the odd rape joke/threat. It’s like Mahfood tried his best to be as “un-PC” as possible. What a rebel! Gag.

(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: Three-Fifths a Man: A Graphic History of the African American Experience by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2018)

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

Essential Reading

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review from the publisher, Hill & Wang.)

– 4.5 stars –

This is actually the second graphic novel by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón that I’ve read in as many weeks – though it didn’t quite register until I was several chapters in. I won a copy of their previous book, The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation, in a Goodreads giveaway; and, while I ultimately recommended it, this was due more to the book’s Very Important subject matter than its successful execution. Heavy on text and with a flow that proved hard to follow, The Torture Report was a bit of a slog.

While Three-Fifths a Man: A Graphic History of the African American Experience is similar in style and form to The Torture Report, the narration is infinitely more succinct, engaging, and intuitive. I can count on one hand the number of times I got lost between panels; and, though this still isn’t ideal, it’s a huge improvement over The Torture Report, which led me astray on nearly every page. The chronology also makes more sense, with fewer time jumps; when Jacobson and Colón do flit back and forth in time, it’s in a way that feels natural and doesn’t confuse the reader or disrupt the narrative.

Don’t get me wrong: Three-Fifths a Man is still pretty heavy on text, but given the breadth of the topic, it never feels tedious or repetitive. This sits in stark contrast to The Torture Report, where everything after the first third of the book felt like a bad case of déjà vu.

The title perfectly encapsulates the content of Three-Fifths a Man: from the beginning of African slavery in the so-called “New World” to the birth of the Movement for Black Lives, this is a graphic history of the African American experience. Jacobson and Colón cover a pretty stunning range of events in a mere 179 pages, including but not limited to the trans-Atlantic slave trade; the Civil War; Reconstruction; the rise of the KKK and other white nationalist hate groups; Jim Crow; WWI and the great migration; the Depression and FDR’s The New Deal; WWII, and the (gradual) opening of the US military to black soldiers; the rise of the Dixiecrats; the New Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era; Reagan’s War on Drugs and the advent of the New Jim Crow; the beating of Rodney King and the focus on police brutality and racism; and ending with the election of our first black president, Barack Hussein Obama (and I absolutely do not include his middle name as an insult here).

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Babyteeth, Volume 1 by Donny Cates and Garry Brown (2017)

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

“I Was a Teenage Apocalypse”

four out of five stars

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

Sadie Ritter is sixteen, pregnant by some d-bag, and hiding it from everyone but her older sister, Heather. As if that’s not enough to deal with, her newborn baby boy Clark (after Superman! I legit snorted at that one.) is either a demon spawn, or the future King (of what, we don’t know, seeing as Volume 1 cuts out so quickly). In just the first few weeks of motherhood, Sadie’s had to contend with a mohawked assassin, a demon racoon unwittingly summoned from a hell dimension by her son, an honest-to-goodness warlock, and two warring factions of mysterious Illuminati-type fanatics who want to destroy/worship little bloodsucker Clark. A mother’s work is never done, amirite?

Babyteeth is … a lot of fun. It’s got a dark, cheeky sense of humor that gets you laughing at unexpected moments, and I loved the pop culture references – everything from Buffy to REM – which are sprinkled throughout in just the right amount. I mean, just check out the single issue titles!: “Another Hellmouth to Feed”; “I Was a Teenage Apocalypse”. (They’ll age well, I expect.)

The art is a little rough for my taste, but the cover gallery in the back is stunning, so probably it’s an intentional stylistic choice. I dug most of the characters, even though there’s not a whole lot in the way of character development, or at least not thus far. The collection does end pretty suddenly, though – I thought the first collection could use at least one more issue to provide a little clarity.

3.7 out of 5 stars? I usually roll my eyes when people get so specific, but this is too good for a mere 3.5, and not quite good enough to merit 4 stars. I’ll definitely pick up Volume 2 when it comes out, but I won’t exactly be popping out of my skull with anticipation until then. (RIP, little chickens. RIP.)

(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: Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant (2017)

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Goes down like cotton candy.

four out of five stars

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

Just your average polyamorous romance story: a lesbian dominatrix from Oregon and a bisexual cartoonist from New York meet and fall in love, despite their geographic challenges (‘You’ll be my New York girlfriend!’) and other lovers (who, spoiler alert, are wonderfully supportive). It’s a sweet story with eye-popping illustrations (the colors! so sumptuous!) and a healthy, progressive approach to sexuality and dating.

Really my only complaint is that it’s so short. More, please! I need to know how Argent and Hazel handle the long-distance thing! And it would be totally rad to see that dinner party with the lovers and the ex-lovers!

Happily, I just downloaded an anthology of comics about abortion, Comics for Choice, which – and I didn’t realize it at the time – is edited by Newlevant. So that’s a pretty great consolation prize, anyway.

But seriously, Return to Sugar Town? Anyone?

(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: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung (2017)

Friday, December 15th, 2017

I could have used this book twenty-five years ago.

four out of five stars

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

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World is a memoir in graphic novel format. Author/illustrator Debbie Tung explores the growing pains of adulthood … made all the more agonizing and confusing by her introversion. As she struggles to maintain a proper level of sociability – first as a graduate student, then as a member of the workforce – Tung wonders what the heck is wrong with her? When she stumbles upon a personality test online one day, it all clicks: she’s not broken, just different.

I have social anxiety; I’m probably an introvert, too. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I’d relate to Tung’s life but, as it turns out, it’s like looking in a mirror. Whether it’s celebrating the cancellation of a much-dreaded get together, lying awake obsessing over an embarrassing episode that transpired years ago, or spending the remainder of the day napping to recuperate from an hour-long appointment, many of these could be scenes from my own life.

Yet these are pretty common manifestations of social discomfort and malaise, especially in the modern era, where technology often circumvents face-to-face interactions. It’s when Tung’s more specific weird quirks hit home that my mind was well and truly blown.

Humiliating parent-teacher meetings about your shyness? Check.

(My sixth-grade teacher actually set me up with another girl, on account of we were both so quiet and friendless. Like can you imagine?)

Fantasizing about eloping in order to avoid the public spectacle of a wedding? Check.

(My husband and I did elope, in Las Vegas. The only witness? The secular priest. My mom tried to send some family along and was super-pissed when I begged off.)

Not being able to make a phone call around other people? Yup, I’m afraid so.

Honestly, it just got freaky deaky after a while. It’s like she cracked my skull open and was crawling around inside my mess of a brain.

The artwork is sweet and complements the story nicely; the color scheme is a muted grey, which suits the story’s melancholy feeling. Topics like this can get real dark, real fast (seriously, just read my journal. Or don’t!), and there are some rather depressing panels, but overall it’s pretty gentle and forgiving. It’s clear that Tung has found a place of acceptance and self-love (or at least understanding), which lends the book a hopeful vibe.

Along with Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections, this is a book that I’ll keep on my bedside table and return to in the future, whenever life feels like it’s just too much. A must read for introverts, the terminally shy, those with social anxiety – and the people who love them.

(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: Comics for a Strange World: A Book of Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand (2017)

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Welcome to sideways world.

four out of five stars

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

If you’ve ever read Reza Farazmand’s web comic Poorly Drawn Lines, then you know more or less what you’re in for here: irreverent humor, a dash of commonsense observations, and just the right about of black comedy.

Comics for a Strange World is a bit hit-or-miss; a equal number of the pieces had me guffawing in happy shock as did those that stumbled and fell flat. A fair number seem a direct response to this crazy, heart-wrenching Drumpf era we now find ourselves in; see, e.g., the opening panel, which is the first of five favorites I included below.

But don’t worry: Ernesto the talking bear and his duck sidekick Kevin make several appearances, and this strange world is also populated with a fair number of talking animals, self-aware ghosts – and even a dinosaur packing heat. (“It’s his right.”)

Try it! You won’t be sorry, and you just might help Ernesto out of that slump.

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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 Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (2017)

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Important, though occasionally repetitive and hard to follow.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads. Trigger warning for violence, including torture.)

The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program – otherwise known as “The Torture Report” – is the result of a three-and-a-half-year bipartisan Senate investigation into the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA in the wake of 9/11. Weighing in at 6,000 pages, the entirety of the report has yet to be released; rather, in December 9, 2014, the SSCI released a 525-page version containing key findings and an executive summary of the full report.

Among the committee’s twenty key findings:

* The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

* The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

* The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

* The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice (DOJ), impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

* The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

* The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.

* The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

* CIA detainees were subjected to coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.

* The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained, and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention. The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.

* The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious or significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systematic and individual management failures.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was inherently unsustainable and had effectively ended by 2006 due to unauthorized press disclosures, reduced cooperation from other nations, and legal and oversight concerns.

* The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: The Creeps (Deep Dark Fears Collection #2) by Fran Krause (2017)

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

everything to fear

three out of five stars

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

The second in cartoonist Fran Krause’s “Deep Dark Fears Collection,” The Creeps is a compendium of reader-submitted fears, given eerie, undead life by the author’s illustrations. The result is a little uneven, but ultimately enjoyable.

With ninety-seven new fears, it’s more likely than not that you’ll spot one or two or several dozen of your own fears in these here pages. A certified crazy dog person ™, Fear #7 (your animal friends are only being nice to you because you’re dying, and only they know it) hit me right in the feels.

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0001 [flickr]

Ditto: just about every panel about being followed, stalked, robbed, or accidentally maimed.

The supernatural ones didn’t have as much of a chilling effect, but that’s just because I don’t believe; I found them entertaining, if anything. Fears eleven, twenty-nine, and thirty-eight actually read a lot like those “horror stories in 140 characters or less” that pop on Twitter every now and again.

While many of the panels are dominated by ghosts and other monsters (sadly, not many zombies!), some are disconcertingly mundane and, um, relatable. Take this one from anonymous:

2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0006 [flickr]

That one hits a little too close to home for comfort, mkay.

On a lighter note, I absolutely delighted in number thirty, on account of my youngest brother sold his soul to a kindergarten classmate – for five cents, I think? Or was it a piece of candy? – way back in the mid-90’s. Either way, cue The Wonder Years nostalgia.

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The ones involving murdered and dismembered animals – haunting their consumers, resembling the look or feel of human flesh a little closely – made me, the vegan, entirely too smug.

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2017-09-26 - The Creeps - 0004 [flickr]

Don’t worry, the coming superbugs (thanks, animal ag.!) will probably kill me the same as you.

The Creeps is an, erm, interesting reading choice for someone prone to anxiety, as I am. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lay away at night, wondering whether that strange scratching noise you hear in the walls is actually a homeless person living in your attic. Or a rabid bat about to bust out of the heating vent and eat your face. Tomato, tomahto.

(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: #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy & Mary Beth Leatherdale (2017)

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

“We aren’t historic figures; we are modern women.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for allusions to violence against women, suicidal ideation, genocide, and racism and sexism.)

It’s strange to me how people always want me to be an “authentic Indian.” When I say I’m Haudenosaunee, they want me to look a certain way. Act a certain way. They’re disappointed when what they get is . . . just me. White-faced, red-haired. They spent hundreds of years trying to assimilate my ancestors, trying to create Indians who could blend in like me. But now they don’t want me either. I’m not Indian enough. They can’t make up their minds. They want buckskin and war paint, drumming, songs in languages they can’t understand recorded for them, but with English subtitles of course. They want educated, well-spoken, but not too smart. Christian, well-behaved, never questioning. They want to learn the history of the people, but not the ones who are here now, waving signs in their faces, asking them for clean drinking water, asking them why their women are going missing, asking them why their land is being ruined. They want fantastical stories of the Indians that used to roam this land. They want my culture behind glass in a museum. But they don’t want me. I’m not Indian enough.

(“The Invisible Indians,” Shelby Lisk)

Because history moves like a fevered heat down through the arteries of generations
Because PTSD to the family tree is like an ax Because colonization is the ghosts of buffalos with broken backs
Because today only burning flags could be found at the ghost dance of my people

(“Stereotype This,” Melanie Fey)

I feel like I should begin this review with a word of caution: If you see any complaints about formatting problems ahead of the pub date, disregard them. The Kindle version of this ARC is indeed a hot mess, but this is par for the course when it comes to books with a heavy graphic element. The acsm file, read on Adobe Digital Editions (which I loathe, but happily suffered for this book!), gives a much clearer picture of what the finished, physical copy is meant to look like. And, if Amazon’s listing is any indication, #Notyourprincess: Voices of Native American Women will only be released in print.

That said, #Notyourprincess is fierce, vibrant, and nicely organized. It feels a lot like an experimental art project, and I mean that in the best way possible. Within these here pages you’ll find an eclectic mix of personal essays, poems, quotes, photographs, line art, watercolors, comics, portraits of activists and athletes, and interviews with Native women. #LittleSalmonWoman (Lianne Charlie) even adopts the format of an Instagram page, while “More Than Meets the Eye” (Kelly Edzerza-Babty and Claire Anderson) profiles ReMatriate, which shares images of modern Native women on social media in order to reclaim their identities and broaden our ideas of what a “real” Native American woman looks like. (The quote in my review’s title comes from Claire Anderson, a founding member of ReMatriate.)

The topics touched upon run the gamut: genocide, colonization, forced assimilation, cultural appropriation, kidnapping, rape, domestic violence, mass incarceration, mental illness, sexuality, addiction, street harassment, homelessness, and intergenerational trauma.

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and John Jennings (2017)

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Octavia E. Butler Gets the Graphic Novel Treatment (Finally!)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Trigger warning for violence, including rape.)

Inventive, hypnotic, unflinchingly honest – such is the work of Octavia Estelle Butler, and in Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, the grand dame of science fiction finally receives the graphic novel treatment she so desperately deserves.

First published in 1979, Kindred tells the story of Dana, a modern black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported to the antebellum south. She finds herself on a Maryland plantation, circa 1812(-ish), placed directly in the path of a drowning boy named Rufus. Over a period of weeks (her time) and years (his), Rufus will unconsciously summon Dana to his side whenever his life is endangered. Though she’s often tempted to let the selfish young man – and heir to the Weylin plantation – die, to do so would threaten her very existence. Rufus is Dana’s distant ancestor, and her life depends on the continuation of his. That is, at least until Grandmother Hagar Weylin has a chance to be born.

2017-06-25 - Kindred - 0006 [flickr]

There’s a well-known nerdy maxim (or trope, if you prefer) that time travel isn’t safe for black people, or women, or [insert your marginalized group here]. Time travel is “exclusively a white [male] privilege,” as Louis CK put it. Kindred manifests this principle in ways both chilling and potent. Dana uses her time in the past to try and change things for the better, if only in tiny increments: she surreptitiously teaches some of the enslaved children to read, and attempts to steer her great-grandfather in a more enlightened direction. Yet history is more likely to change Dana than vice versa, as she notes with shock and horror as she finds herself growing accustomed to the daily cruelties of slavery.

Likewise, when Dana’s white husband Kevin is left stranded out of time – for a whopping five years, as she later learns – Dana is frightened of who or what she might find upon her return. How might an era steeped in racism and misogyny stain the man she loves?

Kindred is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite writers. The prospect of an adaptation left me both nervous and excited, which is par for the course when it comes to literature that’s burrowed its way into my heart and mind. But Damian Duffy’s translation of the work is masterful; he mostly captures the spirit and tone of the original, and deftly condenses the novel into a comic book format.

(I say mostly because, let’s face it, Octavia Butler is in a class of her own. The original work is infinitely more harrowing, but the adaptation is still pretty great. If you haven’t yet read Kindred, you owe it to yourself to start today. If you have, this will definitely leave you clamoring for a re-read.)

2017-06-25 - Kindred - 0018 [flickr]

From the first panel, which ominously proclaims “I lost an arm on my last trip home,” John Jennings’s artwork is moody and atmospheric.

2017-06-25 - Kindred - 0001 [flickr]

Many of the palettes are stripped down, with two or three colors dominating many of the scenes.

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He employs some pretty neat tricks, such as placing close-ups of Dana and Rufus side-by-side to emphasize both their opposition and interconnectedness,

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and underscoring Dana’s trips through time and space with dramatic changes in color. Some of the drawings, especially of Rufus and his father Tom, are a little rough around the edges – which struck me as perfectly apt, given the circumstances. Dana, on the other hand, is a near-perfect mirror image of how I envisioned her.

2016-12-23 - Kindred - 0007 [flickr]

2016-12-23 - Kindred - 0008 [flickr]

Even the design of the book is breathtaking. The book cover features an almost gothic landscape of dark purple trees against a black sky and lavender moon. On the back side, the Weylin house beckons. The first and last pages are splashes of red with streaks of pink; Dana, Isaac, or Alice’s skin after a brutal lashing.

2017-06-25 - Kindred - 0017 [flickr]

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation is a wonderful homage to Octavia Butler and the world she built, explored, and ultimately dismantled in Kindred. I hope it’s also a hint of what’s to come: from Kindred to the Parables duology, Lilith’s Brood to the Patternmaster series, Butler’s novels and short stories are all but begging for second lives on screens both big and small, panels in comic books and fan conventions the world over. May Damian Duffy and John Jennings’s work introduce a whole new generation of fans to this extraordinary writer.

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