Sunday, August 23, 2009

Amulet: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

Finally, this sequel is coming out!

Emily and Navin are still in the kingdom of Alledia and have made a few new friends. But now the evil elves are on their trail. While Emily travels to Demon's Head Mountain to retrieve the Godoba fruit that may be the only cure for their mother, Navin pilots the house and saves the robots from the vengeful elves.

This episode of the story is very exciting, with lots of fight scenes. We learn more about the land itself and the strange properties of the Stones and the Stonekeepers. Emily and Navin both grow as characters and the entire story becomes more complex and exciting.

As with the first GN, the art work is beautiful. I like the mix of traditionally drawn characters with the lush, detailed backgrounds and wild steampunk machines. The two-page spreads are especially breathtaking. In the advanced readers copy, only the first eight pages are in color and the remainder is black and white. I expect that some people will be disappointed if this is the way it is published, but I actually enjoy the monochrome better. It is much easier to follow the story (esp. during fight scenes) and the details are not overcome with too much color. This technique allows the reader to take in all the intricacy of the style without being overwhelmed. It also, in my mind, brings me closer to the characters.

Maybe I'm just used to black and white and what can be done with it, since I read so much manga. I'll be quite happy if this is the way the final product looks. Plus, less shiny, colorful pages almost guarantees that this volume will be less likely to fall apart, as happens far too often with glossy American comics.

Book Source: Advanced Readers copy provided by publisher

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton

My library finally received a copy of this graphic novel. I have been a fan of Youme's since her picture book, SelavĂ­, was a Texas Bluebonnet Nominee and have been waiting for this book since I heard about it last year.

Pitch Black, a slender & short graphic novel, tells the true story of how Youme (an artist & author) met Anthony (an artist who lives in the NYC subway). The artwork is beautifully rendered in black watercolor which highlights the underground setting as gritty and dark, but also bright. Anthony writes about how he came to be living in the subway and Youme provides the illustrations.

The first page opens with a white box in an all black page with the black lettering "Just cause you can't see don't mean aint nothing there." It perfectly sets the tone for this story of seeing the invisible - and in the case of this book - that's Anthony. Uneducated and unwanted as a child, Anthony winds up in a shelter, which he describes as "Hell" and "I saw things no kid should ever see." These pages show drug abuse, sex solicitation, and other despairs of homelessness. Anthony flees to the subway and then while running from police discovers that others live in the dark passages of the subway tunnels. Anthony describes how he learned to survive there (selling things he found in the trash, waiting for rainy days before moving in to make sure your spot won't leak) and the people (and 1 dog) who came to his aid. This is an excellent addition to nonfiction graphic novels and teen collections.

Pitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton
Cinco Puntos Press, 2008
library copy

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaption by Tim Hamilton

I’ll admit it, I’ve never read Fahrenheit 451. This may have something to do with not having attended school in the states. My English classes were filled with British titles such as Sumerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (which nearly made my brain explode due to extreme patheticness of main character).

Regardless, I did know the basic premise before going starting the graphic novel. I knew that this was a dystopian future where books were banned, where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, where people are much more interested in their giant wall sized TVs and entertainment than anything else. From what I’ve read, the GN stays very close to the story with all the major points being covered. Even so, I couldn’t help feel that even though the GN is intense, it probably lacked some of the emotional suspense of the original text. I enjoyed the story, but the characters lacked depth (or rather they had depth, but the reader needed to bring that depth with them – they needed background knowledge of the book to fully appreciate the motivations, the inner turmoil of Montag and others).

I was somewhat confused as to why books are banned, what the government and those in power gained (other than the obvious gains from a dimwitted populace). How this tied into the ever-present and very real threat of war. Or if it did at all – things that I’m sure were more obvious in the novel. What was obvious, to the GN’s credit, was how disconnected and depressed the people were – even though they didn’t have the tools to express this dissatisfaction or even recognize their feelings for what they were. Giant TV screens are fun! Life is fun! Life is nice, but you know what? Wouldn’t everything be nicer if I was dead?!?

I liked the art which is all muted tones with limited color palettes. Things appear dreary, dark, faces often appear in shadow. There are only two things that appear bright. The first is Clarisse McClennan – the young girl that is Montag’s trigger to change. The second is, the fire. Of the two, the fire is the much brighter and more visibly powerful force, of course, it isn’t necessarily the most powerful thing…

I enjoyed this, I think it is a great supplement, but I don’t think it’ll replace the original any time soon. For schools teaching this title, I think comparing and contrasting the two would be a very interesting and thought provoking lesson.

Book Source: Publisher review copy (committee)

Dear Julia by Amy Bronwen Zemser

With all the hubbub about the movie Julie and Julia, this book was brought back to my attention. I had found the concept interesting when it first came out, remembered it had gotten very positive professional reviews and so I picked it up.

And I have to say, it’s a strange little book. Our heroine, Elaine, is sort of like a 60 year old woman trapped in a high school girl’s body. She has always loved to cook. Always. She especially loves to cook French food ala Julia Child’s recipe books. From age six on she’s written letters to Ms. Child detailing her difficulties mastering the techniques needed to properly prepare food, but has never mailed a single one of them. Because besides being an incredible cook, Elaine is also an incredible coward. She is shy, she lacks confidence in all areas outside of the kitchen, and she has been told from day one that cooking is not what her life will be about (regardless of the fact that it is so obviously her passion).

Elaine’s mother, a frontrunner in the feminist movement and now the holder of a high ranking government position wishes her only daughter to aspire to something other than a life "slaving" away in a kitchen. She looks down upon traditional feminine roles, ignoring the fact that the job of Chef (which is what Elaine would like to be) has actually been a male dominated profession. I found this an incredibly interesting choice made by the author who essentially uses the mother's strongly ingrained feminist beliefs to thwart the goals of our female protagonist. Of course, I should clarify that this is not an anti-feminist book at all. The mother's application is flawed, but not her feminist beliefs. There were several other humorous plays on feminism. The househusband/dad who does little other than sample Elaine's cooking and practice yoga in the basement. Elaine's five brothers whom are all named rather femininely: Robyn, Leslie, Lynn, Francis, and Chris. Elaine's friend's lesbian lawyer mothers who can't cook to save their lives.

The catalyst in the book is one Lucida Sans, and no, not the computer font.

Meanwhile, growing up on the very same town at the very same time, and attending the very same high school as Elaine Hamilton, there lived a girl named Isadora Wilhelminetta Fischburger, a name that was so terrible she changed it to Lucida Sans, which is the name of a font on the computer (a font that Isadora, or Lucida, as we shall now call her, thought was the most beautiful name in the entire world).

When Elaine meets Lucida, things begin to change…as they undoubtedly must when one meets someone who names themself after a computer font.

There is a very breezy, easygoing, not terribly realistic tone in this book. And it really works. It is incredibly funny. I laughed out loud several times. This is one of those books where you pretty much know the ending - you just know that it will have a happily resolved finish. Because of this, all is dependant on the journey and the author does a bang up job taking you on several pleasant and humorous twists and turns.

What this book does not do (or at least did not do for me) is make you hungry for the cooking of Julia Child – which seems strangely dependant on duck. Blech!

Book Source: Library Copy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Manga MIni Reviews

With the craziness of the summer season, my reading habits have been really erratic. Honestly, I haven't been able to finish many novels--I just keep losing my focus. However, my appetite and attention for manga is as high as ever, and I have read some good stuff lately. So, here are a few small reviews for the manga lovers out there.

Night of the Beasts by Chika Shiomi

Aria is a strong girl with a no-nonsense attitude. When strange killings begin to take place in her town, apparently by wild dogs, she soon discovers that they have something to do with her family and with the handsome guy she just met, Sakura. Can her ability to calm the beasts prevent the murder of 4,000 people? And save the man she is falling in love with?

This one is by the same manga-ka as Canon and the artwork is very much her style, kind of retro 80s with sharp chins and impossibly wide shoulders. Night of the Beasts is a lot darker, though. Aria and Sakura are much more likeable, too. After just one volume, you are so rooting for them to succeed and get together. I can't wait to see what happens!

Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase

The author of Fushigi Yuugi and Ceres: Celestial Legend once again brings us an intriguing and hilarious love triangle. Riiko has been repeatedly rejected by the boys she likes when she meets a strange salesman who gives her a card for "Kronos Heaven," an online specialty shop for lovers. Curious, Riiko designs her perfect boyfriend; shockingly he arrives that very night boxed in a crate and waiting for he kiss to awaken him! .

This one is just plain fun. Night and Riiko are a cute couple, especially when Riiko is trying to teach Night about the real world. However, Soshi is such a good guy, you can't help but root for him, too. And Riiko's debt and her constant attempts to pay it off are so funny! In the end, Riiko learns a lot about romantic relationships and Night learns a lot about the world; Soshi learns to share his emotions. The ending is bittersweet, but perfect.

Monkey High by Shouko Akira

Haruna Aizawa transfers to a new school after a highly publicized scandel involving her politician dad. She is determined to lay low and just observe the "monkey mountain" that is high school. But, her crazy classmates have other ideas, dragging her into their silly antics. Not only that, but she finds herself drawn to the most unexpected boy--Masaru (or Macharu, as his friends call him), a short, funny monkey of a boy who is a strange mismatch to Haruna's good looks and serious nature.

The things I love about this manga are the supporting cast, the great match-up of two unexpected leads, and the tension, oh the tension. Haruna and Macharu's friends are varied, loyal, and hilarious; anytime the group is together you know they are going to have a good time! And Atsu--it is so easy to both love and hate this boy at the same time! He is perfect--beautiful, fun, friendly but at the same time kind of narcissitic and manipulative. You really want to just hate him, but every time you think you can, you learn more about his past, his life, and his motivations that just make you still love him.

I really do love that Haruna and Macharu don't match. And, that for once in shojo, it is not the girl who is strange, silly, and funny. While Macharu may seem kind of one-dimensional at the beginning of the story, slowly you begin to realize that he is human and complex, even if he smiles all the time. He gets angry, despressed, and confused like all teens do. And he wants Haruna to see him as a man....

And thus, the tension. While Haruna obviously loves Macharu, she has a lot of trouble seeing him as a man. She loves his childish nature, but he isn't going to stay a child; he is already becoming a man. The biggest angst moments come when Haruan and Macharu get into misunderstandings or when Macharu wants to move their relationship on to the next logical level. Will they ever move beyond kissing? Do we want them to?

Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara
Hmm, more love triangles. I'm beginning to see a theme in my current reading...

Ann and her mother move to the small village of Shimane from Tokyo after her parents divorce. At first, Ann hates it, but slowly she makes friends with Daigo, Fuji, and Shika. When her mother commits suicide, Daigo and her friends are the only thing that keep Ann together. But when Ann decides to move back to Tokyo to live with her Dad, will Daigo's and her relationship survive? Oh, and Fuji will be in Tokyo too, and he obviously has a thing for Ann...

This one is sweet and sappy with moments of darkness and comedy. I love the whole cast and want them all to be happy. But the interlacing relationships can make things very difficult, especially when you add in the emotional family baggage that everyone (except Daigo) seems to carry as well.

Sand Chronicles has won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shojo manga in Japan and ALA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2009 list.

Tail of the Moon by Rinko Ueda

Usagi is a training to be a kunoichi (female ninja) in her family's ninja clan, but she is hopelessly inept. Finally, her great-grandfather, head of the clan, gives her one final chance--to become a full ninja she must travel to Segachi and become the wife of the great ninja Hattori Hanzo, and bear him a child. But Hanzo has sworn never to marry, so Usagi has her work cut out for her!

This manga is so much fun! It is populated with famous Japanese figures from the Tensho era, but is pure ninja romantic situational comedy! The boys are beautiful; the girls are gorgeous and strong; and Usagi is a complete mess. I laugh on nearly every page...

Well, I guess that's all for today. I'll keep you posted on the newest manga and graphic novels I get my hands on!

Book(s) source: Public library

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

I’ve been foaming at the mouth to read the second in the Resurrection of Magic trilogy for almost two years now (has it really been that long?!), or basically ever since I closed Skin Hunger. So this one was eagerly anticipated and the book surprisingly huge – Sacred Scars clocks in at 554 pages, where the first one was a much slimmer 368 pages. And I think due to this, it was a bit slow in the beginning. Not poorly written, mind you, just a bit repetitive and slow to take off. Once it does (and oh boy does it) you won’t mind having spent that extra time with the characters, but I have to admit I was raring to go from the first page and felt a bit like letsgetonwithitpeoplecomeonletsgo until about 150 pages in.

The dual storyline is continued. We get Hahp’s and Sadima’s stories in alternating chapters. There is much going on in both and the story progresses quite a bit. We learn more about the foundation of the school and more – hopefully hopefully – about its upcoming demise. We learn more about the wizards, their friendships, their anger, their individual stories, but very little about where their loyalties actually lie. Readers may read into the subtext regarding the wizards, but I expect Duey has some surprises up her sleeve to reveal in the last book.

The character that frustrated me the most was Franklin. I think in the first book he was much more of a sympathetic character. In this one I found him much more of a co-dependent enabler with a smidgen of Stockholm Syndrome and I kind of wanted to shake him and maybe slap him up a bit. I actually came to hate him. Sadima, on the other hand I grew to love more and more. She is clearly the heroine to Hahp’s hero.

Hahp also comes more into his own. He grows in skill, he grows in self-awareness, and he becomes stronger and better for it. Gerrard is still very much a mystery, who he is and how he comes by his knowledge of magic is something that I strongly suspect will be resolved in the third book. And I have theories – oh yes I do.

Both storylines are extremely compelling – it would be impossible to pick out which one I enjoyed more. They complement each other well.

I strongly recommend this series and am on tenterhooks waiting for the third installment.


Book Source: Tayshas review copy

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia

Lots of talk about this on Yalsa-bk listserve lately. Love the cover, love the fact that the first chapter is available online. I read it and it totally hooked me. I was surprised that the main character was a male. Totally wasn't expecting that from the cover. And yes, I always judge books by their covers. I am that kind of person :)

To read the first chapter, visit the website.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Where we get our books and things like that...

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately where people are disclosing where they get their books. It's been really interesting so I thought I would contribute where I get my books. I don't want to speak for everyone else who blogs on here, because everyone has different circumstances, but I bet most us here on Oops are basically the same.

I have served on a Texas Library Association committee for several years in one role or another and I get books sent from the publisher due to this. Rarely, although it has happened on occasion, has a publisher contacted us via the blog to send us a book to review.

I get arcs of books I'm interested in when I go to the TLA conference every year. I'm pretty selective, I really don't take it unless I want to read it. And I have co-workers who attend ALA. We all share our books with each other. Especially when we get one that is really popular.

Our library also gets review copies sent to it. All of our staff are able to review these books.

The rest of my books come from the public library. I check them out. I'm not a big buyer of books. Strange and unusual, I know, since most library people tend to be book collectors. I'll usually only buy books after I've read them and like them enough to think I'll read them again. I tend to like to buy books as gifts. I buy my kiddo lots of books too. I also buy books for the library I work at. So really, if you look at it that way, I spend a hell of a lot of money on books.

Anyhow, I think I'll put a little blurb at the end of my reviews like I've been seeing out there on other blogs just in the interest of full disclosure.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Blade: Playing Dead by Tim Bowler

“There’s the name I was given as a baby, but that’s a dronky name, so I never use it. Then there’s the names I make up. I got garbage bags of those. Different names for different people. Depends on where I am and who I’m with.”

Lately he’s been known as Slicky, but when men start throwing their weight around and chasing after him, his best known name is back. Blade. A name he’d hoped to have escaped, nevertheless, a name given to him for good reason.

This book is practically one long non-stop chase scene. Seriously, it is chase to chase to chase - it is a breathless pace. And there are big holes in our understanding. Like why are these men so intent on capturing Blade? What happened to make Blade into what he is? That’s because Blade’s telling us the story and he’s deliberately leaving things out. He’s street-smart, he’s a survivor, he’s certainly not an innocent and has violence in his past. He is observant and self-reliant, and is able to handle himself, although perhaps not as much as he’d have us believe.

The book was written by a British author and even though I read a fair amount of British books, I didn’t recognize some of the slang. I understood what he was getting at from context clues, but couldn’t figure out the origin of the slang on my own. I was all set to say it was great that they didn’t Americanize it, but interestingly enough, I got halfway through and then he/they/someone chose to use the word flashlight instead of torch.

There are some very exciting plot twists. Honestly, I was almost entranced, I never knew what would come next. And then that ending…um…how can I say this…I found it incredibly irritating. No answers. Not. A. One. Just more twists that lead to more questions. I was frustrated (to say the least). Turns out this is the first in a series. A rather long series of eight books actually! I wonder if they are all as breathless as this one. Our vendor has the second to be released in early 2010. I am officially less irritated.

It is a great book for boys. I would even say this would be good for reluctant readers. I think the action and the constant threat of danger would appeal enough even though they’d have to work harder to understand the slang.