Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Zombies: The Recent Dead" edited by Paula Guran

473 pages

This massive volume contains zombie fiction by Neil Gaiman, Max Brooks, Joe R. Lansdale, Kit Reed, and many more. There's a ton of variety among the stories, with everything from classic terrifying zombies to humorous spoofs to social commentary. As is the case with almost every short story collection I've read (especially one with stories by different authors), I liked some stories more than others. For the most part, though, I enjoyed the collection. Zombie literature is popular right now, so authors are going to have to be creative to keep it fresh. This collection contains a lot of original ideas that indicate there are still plenty of ways for zombie stories to go before there's nothing left to write about.

"Skinny" by Ibi Kaslik

244 pages

From the outside, it looks like Giselle has it all. She's beautiful, smart, and in medical school. Beneath the surface, though, Giselle is a mess. She's slipping further and further into the clutches of severe anorexia. Meanwhile, her younger jock sister, Holly, is struggling to pull Giselle back from the edge before it's too late. As it almost always is, though, Giselle's eating disorder is about much more than just food. She never felt loved by their father, who died before she could fix her relationship with him. And then, as Giselle is fighting for her life, some hidden information about her family's past comes to light. If Giselle is ever going to get better, she, Holly, and their mother are going to have to confront the truth.

This is a very interesting, multilayered story. I like the way it demonstrates that eating disorders are almost never really about food--they often arise as a way for someone to gain control in one area of his/her life when everything else it out of control. Anyone who's had an eating disorder--or any mental issue at all--will relate to Giselle and the voice she hears in her mind, the one that tells her she's worthless, not good enough, etc. In fact, I'd venture to say that almost everyone has heard that voice at one time or another. Also, I liked the suspense about what really happened with Giselle's family, and the way that the narration switches each chapter between Giselle and Holly. It makes things all the more fascinating to hear each side of the story. I'd say this is a must-read for anyone who has/has had an eating disorder, but many other people will enjoy it as well.

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern, 387 pages

One of the reviewers said this tale plays on the premise that Tolkien showed us so well: the world isn't big enough for two powerful wizards. A has-been wizard with the stage name of Prospero finds out he is the father of a small, quiet girl named Celia. Does he clutch her to his chest in surprised joy? Not exactly. He discovers she has magical powers superior to his own, and decides to pit her against Marco, the protege of his arch-rival, "the man in the grey suit."

Though this may sound
like Harry Potter, the writing style is more literary and the tone cool and menacing, more like Neil Gaiman. Celia and Marco have no idea that the "game" they are engaged in is a duel to the death. And it is only when they reach adulthood that they meet and eventually fall in love. Someone else has called this Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, though most of the Shakespearean references are about The Tempest.

The setting moves back and forth from America to Europe, and from the late 1800's to the early twentieth century. Most of the story revolves around the mysterious the Cirque des Rêves, or Circus of Dreams. There is something a bit sinister about the Circus which "Opens at Nightfall/Closes at Dawn". It reminded me of the circus in Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. The slower pacing and complexity of the plot and characters are similar to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, another story about rival wizards and the kingdom of the fey.

While I enjoyed the writing and the interesting setting, I didn't feel a emotional connection to the main characters. That could be because I had to rush reading the ending because there were people on the waiting list. This is still on the bestseller lists and has been optioned for a film.

Cate K.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

2010/288 pgs

Told in many alternating voices this is the story of one classroom and their teacher during a year of school. Who knew this year would change them all? This is a touching story with lots of plots going on-mean girls, grief, family feuds, bullies. I think there's something for wide range of readers and I can see this book being a popular Mark Twain read, especially for readers who like stories with a touch of make you cry moments.

Samurai's Blood

by Owen Wiseman and Michael Benaroya (creators), Owen Wiseman (script), Nam Kim (pencils), Matt Dalton (inks), Sakti Yuwono (colors), Josh Aitken (letters), Rob Prior (logo), and Jo Chen (covers), 185 pages

When the Sanjo clan is overthrown and nearly wiped out through the greed and betrayal of two of its own retainers, it's up to those who remain to make things right.

I picked this up because of the cover art and because I do enjoy a good samurai and sword story. Although I was disappointed that the story art was not as cool, attractive, and realistic as the covers (which are by a different person, as is often the way with serial comics from the big American publishers), I still enjoyed reading it.

I have not read nearly as many American comics as I have Japanese and Korean ones, so as I try to remedy that I find myself going through an adjustment period. I have to remind myself that the traditions of each are different and I can't judge them with quite the same scale. So just keep that in mind whenever you hear / read me grumbling about overly-beefy heroes, Botox-lipped heroines, and insides that don't match their outsides.

I loved Jo Chen's covers for the originally serially-published chapters (so much so that I Googled her and bookmarked her official website). Every time I flipped the page to start a new chapter and saw one, I'd try to hold that image of the characters in my head while I read the actual story. The digitally-colored interior art is very slick. While I like the well-used color palette and detailed backgrounds, I was less fond of the figure art. The pronounced chins, cheekbones, jaws, and noses (hallmarks of traditional American superhero comics), and the fact that many characters don't look the same from panel-to-panel, distracted me. Also, I thought the plot seemed like it skimmed over a few points that would have worked better (and would have given the reader more opportunity to get emotionally invested in the characters) had they been given a little more attention. And while the narration gets a little purple at times, it fits the melodrama of the story, so I didn't mind too much. Overall, this is a decent action / revenge drama that might have benefited from an additional couple of fleshing-out chapters along the way.


by Yumiko Shirai, 327 pages

As the Tenken festival approaches, a construction manager learns its origins are not as fanciful, or as innocuous, as people believe and resolves to help a young worker escape her potentially tragic fate.

For more details, please see my full review at!

Dengeki Daisy: Volume 7

by Kyousuke Motomi, 189 pages

Teru has a distressing encounter with the mysterious Akira, which spurs Kurosaki to embrace his fears and move forward. But will Akira and the others' plans derail the two's progress permanently?

Both the action and emotional storylines pick up the pace in this volume and leave me eager to read the next one. Who is this Akira guy, really? What happened with Kurosaki and Teru's brother Soichiro in the past? How's Kurosaki going to react to the chaotic events of the last chapter? Despite Teru's tendency to melodramatically obsess over Daisy, she and Kurosaki are interesting, likeable characters who are just unpredictable enough to break away from their traditional shojo roots and draw the reader in despite the hokey premise that sets up their story.

Crimson Hero: Volume 10

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 178 pages

Off the court, Nobara's having a hard time keeping the secret of her and Yushin's new couple status, especially since the once-brooding Haibuki has turned a new leaf and has never been kinder to her. On the court, the Crimson High girls throw themselves into the Newcomer's Tournament against a historically powerful team that has them beat in numbers; but Aiyu Gakuin's girls can't hold a shine to Crimson's unity, trust, and teamwork.

Ooh, see? He may have meant well, but this has got to be the worst idea Yushin has ever had. Duplicity is not compatible with either his or Nobara's naturally open personalities and the two of them are only going to hurt themselves and the people they care about by hiding the truth. That, and Nobara' just going to get more confused by the suddenly solicitous Haibuki's new vulnerability.

Crimson Hero: Volume 9

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 188 pages

Ryo's beach team, the Eagles, go up against his former schoolmates from Sokai in a battle for pride. With Yushin unexpectedly showing up and cheering her on, Nobara's encouraged to go all out on behalf of her temporary teammates as well as for herself.

Hmm, the mutual-understanding scene is a little anti-climactic given all the build-up, but I'm still happy for the kiddos. But I think their little "let's wait to be official till we succeed at our volleyball dreams" in order to avoid causing more friction on the boys' team until after the championship is not the best plan they've ever hatched. Foolish, idealistic children.

Crimson Hero: Volume 8

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 198 pages

Nobara goes off on an assignment from her coach to get some training from some star player at another school. But when she gets there, she finds out he's gone rogue and is playing beach volleyball with a hodge-podge band of other mostly-older guys from the community. Can she really learn anything from these oddballs? Meanwhile, Yushin's discovering he's not so much a fan of a Nobara-less house.

A little cheezy, beach Ryo's gang of misfits, but well-meaning. It's nice to see Nobara picking up some new skills and expanding her arsenal. But her out-of-the-blue freak-out in the storm goes a little overboard with the melodrama and doesn't fit as well in the story as her previous episodes, so I'll just try to forget about it and move on with the rest of the characters.

Crimson Hero: Volume 7

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 189 pages

In-fighting is unraveling both the girls' and the boys' teams.

Those second-year boys behave rather awfully, but kids can be cruel in the real world, too. Their former teammates are more forgiving than I would be, but with Yushin leading by example it's not surprising.

Crimson Hero: Volume 6

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 178 pages

Yushin and Haibuki's friction is starting to affect their game while Nobara tries to put it all aside and focus on her own. The arrival of a new, crazy-strict coach could be just what the girls need...if she doesn't discourage them off the team first.

We get a glimpse into the home life and insecurities of some of the other girls. Tomoyo, Haibuki's ex, has settled in and mellowed considerably since we first met her, but now it's the others' turn to spaz out and lose confidence. They all need to bond as a unit before they can expect to take on another team seriously.


by Natsume Ono, 248 pages

Lunches made by someone who loves you, doughnuts and coffee on a chilly fall day, and moving forward in the face of loss are just a few of the thoughts in this collection of short, early graphic works (some previously unpublished) by the creator of Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, House of Five Leaves, and not simple.

For more details, please check out my full review on!

The Unwritten: Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock

by Mike Carey (story), Peter Gross (art), and Yuko Shimizu (covers), 152 pages

Lizzie struggles with her own identity issues and Savoy has an unlucky run-in with Tommy Taylor's immortal nemesis, the vampire Ambrosio, as the release date of missing Wilson Taylor's fabled fourteenth Tommy Taylor book draws near. At the center of a complex plot he doesn't understand, Tom believes the only way he'll find any answers is to track down his father and demand a full explanation. But he should know better than to assume he'd get anything like a straight answer from the man who may have written him into this chaotic mess in the first place.

Lizzie and Savoy appear to be the "real world" mirrors of Tommy Taylor's loyal friends Sue and Peter, who are themselves rather Ron and Hermione-like (on purpose), so I can only hope they fair better in the end than most of the unfortunate people caught up in this word-woven web. Poor Lizzie's messed -up background is laid out for the reader as a choose-your-own-adventure chapter. I've never had much patience for those, so I ignored the "go here," "go there" instructions and just read the pages in order, trying to link them together logically in my head, which seemed to work ok. I've grown rather attached to Savoy's comic relief, so Ambrosio and his possessed vessels had better keep their sharp pointy teeth well away from him. But as unpleasant as Wilson's intentionally Voldemort-like "fictional" vampire is, the shadowy cabal of wordsmiths and string-pullers trying to shape the world to their liking is far more frightening.

Tom and friends are off to Nantucket next to "catch a whale." Hee! Being a fan of Moby Dick, I'm looking forward to seeing how Carey ties it in with Tom's metaphysical quest for truth.

This is one series where the lovely dream-like cover illustrations balance out the cartoony Tommy Taylor segments and the main story's more traditional, old-school comic book look. The mix of art styles blends interestingly with the dark violence, reality-bending philosophical examinations of literature, and moments of levity (the latter being rare but, oh, so appreciated!).

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise: Part 1

created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, 72 pages

After Avatar Aang defeats the Fire Lord and bonds with the latter's wayward son Zuko, the rest of the conflict-weary world needs to be healed, too. But agreeing on the best way to achieve real peace may just drive another wedge between these new friends.

This is the first part of a story meant to fill in the continuity between the end of the animated Avatar: The Last Airbender series and the new Avatar: The Legend of Korra series that's starting later this month. The art looks like it could have been pulled straight from the television series, which is fine since it's just supposed to be a bridge, anyway. While it's frustrating to see Zuko go all insecure and angry again after having struggled so long to grow as a person, the tension stems from some understandable dilemmas. I just hope they clear things up soon. Things move a little too fast and come off a bit shallow here, but it does the trick. Strictly for fans of the original series, this, but they'll be happy for the extra time with characters they've grown to love.

(I am so excited about the new series! The first two episodes of Korra aired online weekend-before-last and I can't wait to see where they go with it from there. And woot for the new Avatar being a girl!)

Crimson Hero: Volume 5

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 179 pages

Love vies with volleyball for precedence in Nobara's heart as she suddenly finds herself in the role of emotional support when her crush's love life takes an unexpected turn. Should she be happy for herself or sad for Yushin? And what's she supposed to do when bitter Haibuki suddenly decides he's had enough of Yushin's unconscious hold over Nobara? Why does life have to be so complicated?

Ooh, Haibuki's being a jerk, but so is Yushin, in his own way. They each have their reasons, but still. Clueless teenagers, all. Except that they look a lot older than sixteen, even if they are unusually tall, star volleyball-players-in-the-making. At least Yushin cut his hair so he doesn't look quite so cartoony now. The art's still a hurdle here, but I can deal.

The Pearl

by John Steinbeck
Read by Hector Elizondo
87 pages

This classic novella could really be summarized by the phrase, "Money is the root of all evil."  It begins with a small, young family of Mexican pearl fishers.  The baby has been stung by a scorpion and needs medical treatment that the parents, Kino and Juana, cannot afford.  They go pearl fishing and pray to find a pearl large enough to pay for treatment.  Their prayers are answered, and they find "the pearl of the world."  They think that the pearl will solve all of their problems, but it doesn't.  The pearl complicates their lives and does more harm than good.

I really enjoyed this classic parable.  It is beautifully written, and Hector Elizondo is the perfect narrator for this story. I would definitely recommend this audio book, available on Overdrive, to anybody interested in reading this tale. 

Crimson Hero: Volume 4

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 177 pages

The Inter-high preliminaries have begun and Crimson High's girls are both stoked and insecure when they discover they'll be playing one of the region's top teams in their very first match. Meanwhile, the more established boys' team is off to a good start in their tournament.

A surprisingly realistic outcome for a newly formed team's first match. And you can't help but feel sorry for Nobara as she struggles with both her on- and off-court emotions.

Bakuman: Volume 5: Yearbook and Photobook

by Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 188 pages

The boys have gotten their own series, but now the work really begins. They need contracts, they need assistants, and, hardest of all, they need to get used to working with a new editor. Regular popularity poll rankings determine whether a series stays or goes, so should the kids change their story to boost the numbers or stick to their guns and let their fan-base grow?

I love this series more with each volume. The window into the manga publishing world is fascinating. The fact that the creators got the OK to use real names and faces in the business (companies, editors, creators, series) just adds to the believability of it and lets you appreciate the fun extremes they go to with some of the characters' personalities.

Tegami Bachi: Volume 6: The Lighthouse in the Wasteland

by Hiroyuki Asada, 183 pages

Lag struggles to find the right words to place inside the special bullet that could return Gauche's heart; discovers the sender of some anonymously hand-delivered postcards; gets lost in the echo of heart swirling inside an isolated lighthouse; meets the coolness-personified star Bee, Jiggy Pepper; catches a glimpse of lost Gauche's memories; and sees the place where his devoted dingo Niche was born.

I do like this series. It's shamelessly sentimental and earnest with just enough underlying zing to make you genuinely worry about what's going on in the background with Gauche and Rhoda, Reverse, and the horrible implications of dark doings within the capital.

Crimson Hero: Volume 3

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 181 pages

Nobara's volleyball club is official! But how is she going to afford equipment and room and board on her tiny "dorm mother" stipend without doing the unthinkable and asking her mother for help? On top of that, they've finally scheduled their first practice game, but Nobara's loyalties are tested when her little sister, who's been filling in for her back at the inn, calls her for help with a scary patron just as she's leaving for the game. Plus, Nobara's dealing with some previously unfamiliar emotions. What's a loving sister / passionate team player / growing teenager to do?

Oh, poor girl. Luckily, her housemates are warming up to her and supporting her as far as they can. Too bad for her that she's fallen for kind, bluntly-honest Yushin, who turns out to have a girlfriend already. He and his potential competition, the reserved Haibuki--who's only admitted to having once had a crush on her in elementary school--are silent about their current thoughts on the matter, though the reader sees them watching her, which is nice and helps build some realistic dramatic suspense there. On the other hand, I really dislike Nobara's mom, whose character is mostly there to be a source of conflict and isn't very developed at this point.

Crimson Hero: Volume 2

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 178 pages

Desperate to play the game she loves, Nobara goads the boys' team captain into a deal. If she and whatever scraggly handful of girls she manages to gather can score a single point off the boys in a match, they'll have access to the court for practices. But if they can't, she'll give up the idea all together.

She's a stubborn girl, that Nobara. And persuasive. "I'm the one who decides what I'm worth!" A mantra we should all take to heart, no? Such things make me put up with the cheeze and the art's slightly-off, stiff, and inconsistent anatomy.

The Sigh by Marjane Satrapi

This is an illustrated fairy tale (not quite a graphic novel) that's part Beauty and the Beast, part East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and part questing tale. This is a quick read and great for readers who enjoy fairy tales.

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

2012/296 pgs

This is a vampire book that's not a vampire book, an alternate historical fiction, a book about social classes and magic and families in power. It's a lot all rolled into one. To escape her family and an impending marriage to a man she can't stand, Felicita fakes her death and runs away to the slums of Pelemburg looking for a new life. There she finds a city in turmoil, an uprising brewing, and a mysterious vampire. Readers looking for something more than just a typical paranormal should enjoy this one.


by Craig Thompson, 671 pages

Habibi recounts the story of Dodola and Zam, two souls lost to a world of poverty, slavery, and violence. They meet by chance as children and become one another's sole support, only to be parted first emotionally by the simple fact of growing up and then physically by fate. Will they see one another again? If so, in what roles? And is there any future for them that doesn't involve further suffering?

I enjoyed this visually appealing, ambitious graphic novel, but with a good many reservations.

Things I liked include the focus on the power of words and the role of written language as symbolism, art, and talisman, as well as simple communication. I also enjoyed the religious history lessons as the characters consider the differences and commonalities of the Qur'an and the Torah and try to find comfort there in the face of hardship. And then there is the arresting, detailed, often lovely artwork. Clearly, Thompson researched the heck out of his subject before setting pen to paper. Most importantly, I cared about the characters and fretted over their misfortunes and fragile happiness.

Things with which I was less enamored include the focus on sex; its role in / hold on the mind, body, and spirit; and the denial of self and the disconnect that result from trauma and abuse. This would not be a complaint, actually, were it not for the inequality in the author-artist's portrayals of men and women. In the artwork, the female body gets much more (and much more detailed) exposure than the male. Even though a major male antagonist often runs around naked, his modesty is protected by strategically placed plants and other obstructions, while the women are all laid bare on the page, including in lyrical, detailed diagrams of their reproductive organs, pregnancy, and childbirth. Even Zam's occasional nakedness is hidden except for when he's an innocent child. This apparent idealization and objectification of women makes the narrative appear to have a one-sided perspective, despite the story being told from both viewpoints and despite both lead individuals experiencing sexual trauma--but again, it's unequal, as Dodola's is forced on her whereas Zam's is self-imposed. While both are clearly victims, Dodola is acted upon while Zam acts, and this is the case for a good deal of the story. Similarly, the book's women are physically beautiful, while the men are comic, ugly, ordinary, fat, and monstrous. Despite the prominent role of a harem in the story, women are far less developed or individualized. Other than religious references, the only woman besides Dodola with any depth (or a name?!) is Nadidah, and she abruptly disappears following a tragic event. But the males are distinct from one another and more spotlighted as individuals, however unpleasant most of them may be. Is this a product of the patriarchal society depicted, of Dodola's physical and emotional isolation, or does the author really not realize how unbalanced his perspective is? Considering I had similar issues with his earlier work Blankets, I worry it's the latter (although at the time I read it I just attributed it to his main character's adolescent obsessions). As a female reader, this pervasive inequality made me uncomfortable and undermined my trust in the legitimacy of the author's voice and vision.

Another concern is the depiction of race. Dark-skinned characters, including Zam as he gets older, look exceptionally cartoony, bordering on caricature. And some of the Arab males are similarly exaggerated stereotypes, with the large-lipped, rotund, hairy, wife-murdering sultan and a sunglasses-sporting, Gaddafi-esque rapist among them. I found this aspect of the art distracting and even offensive.

Lastly, there are the issues of time. The story's chronology initially confuses the reader, as the narrative jumps back and forth to different stages in Dodola and Zam's lives and it takes a bit for the reader to get used to the visual cues that indicate the changes. There is also the inconclusively communicated time period in which the story is meant to be set. It feels like a century or two or more in the past until the reader is presented with a modern cityscape complete with skyscrapers and motorized vehicles about four-fifths of the way through the book. The jarring effect of this revelation pulls the reader right out of the story as she tries to reinterpret everything she's read up until then in an entirely different context.

So. Despite my criticisms, I did actually enjoy the book. But my complaints are many and sincere and I don't know that I could recommend it to someone without a fair warning. It'd be interesting to see how a male reader addresses these issues. He'd probably see things I didn't, too, so it certainly offers good fodder for discussion.

Anna Dressed in Blood

by Kendare Blake, 316 pages

Cas is a ghost hunter, secretly tracking down violent spirits who make deadly trouble for the living. Having inherited his calling from his father, who was killed on a hunt in New Orleans, he uses his blade to send them on to wherever it is they go and then moves on with his worry-ridden white-witch mother to a new town, a new school, and a new ghost. When he gets a tip about the ghost of young woman who's been disappearing runaways and vagrants up in Canada, Cas's gut instincts tell him he has to go and that she'll be good practice for when he confronts the most powerful spirit yet--his father's still-at-large murderer. But he's unprepared for both the dead girl's strength and his own weakness. As unexpected, gruesome deaths pile up on his conscience, Cas will have to reexamine his motives, his enemies, and his till-now isolated existence.

I quite liked this teen horror / romance and its premise, although it loses a little of its edge and originality towards the end. Anna, the ghost in question, is startlingly scary (and violent!) early on. And Cas has a convincing, jaded-for-his-age outlook that's nicely set up from the get-go. I had a harder time buying into their chemistry, though, as the story moves along and they both start to come in from the extremes toward a more conventional melodramatic young adult romance pairing. There was one element I thought would be relevant during the climax but which was never brought up again, so I'm wondering if it will matter later or if I just read too much into it and made things up myself (perfectly possible). While the main plot wraps up at the end, things are clearly left open for the sequel (Girl of Nightmares, out in August 2012), which I will happily read. I think a few more scenes or chapters showing how and why the characters soften up as much as they do would have helped me believe in their professed bonds (and that goes for Cas and his friends, too), but it's still a nice creepy read and come October this would be an easy sell to any older teens looking to add some edgy darkness to their spooky romance reading pile.

Bakuman: Volume 4: Phone Call and The Night Before

by Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 194 pages

Can the boys really achieve their goals alone? Their editor, Hattori, sees the big picture and tries to help them work things out. With another shot at earning a series on the horizon, they can't afford to wait. Meanwhile, Mashiro's girlfriend Azuki struggles to follow her voice-acting dream, too.

Yay, finally the boys are on to something that doesn't feel like a sell-out! I hope Azuki has the same luck, as her chosen industry is riddled with pitfalls and horrible compromises of its own that are worse than anything the boys have run into. Plus, while the boys have Hattori, she doesn't have the sincere support of someone on the inside who's looking out for her. Be strong, Azuki! And would you and Mashiro get over this silly not-talking-till-we-succeed business and just call one another on the phone like normal people instead of relying on nothing but text messages and passed-on information from your mutual friends? *sigh* Silly teenagers.

Bakuman: Volume 3: Debut and Impatience

by Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art), 188 pages

Against the advice of their editor, the boys are determined to create a mainstream battle manga. But the ideas aren't coming too well, so they give each other some space. Takagi hangs out more with his girlfriend Miyoshi while Mashiro ends up taking a temp job as an their arch rival?

I am surprisingly fond of the boys' biggest competition. I thought Nizuma would be an egocentric eccentric with nothing but disdain for everyone else, but he's endearingly nuts and honest and open to improving himself as long as he trusts the source of the advice. And he genuinely likes our heroes. He might be my favorite character, actually. They've all grown on me since the first volume and I'm rooting for them to succeed.


Gail Carriger, REM (art and adaptation), 228 pages

Headstrong Alexia Tarabotti worries more than she cares to admit that spinsterhood may very well be in her future. But when she gets caught up in a rogue vampire case that lets her be useful to Queen and country (and a certain handsome if infuriating werewolf), the prospect of not settling down for a secure life of domesticity and social calls loses its ominous edge. Adventuring and putting her quick mind, silver-tipped parasol, and unique unnatural ability to good use sound rather exciting to her, actually. Much to the werewolf's displeasure.

Yay, the manga adaptation of the first Parasol Protectorate book is out! And, yay, it's about as much fluffy fun as the novel. The art's a fine fit and everybody looks like themselves, although Alexia's a little tinier-waisted than expected and looks about to spill out of her scandalously low-cut bodice most of the time. Otherwise, though, I'm quite pleased, as it's rare for an adaptation to work out so nicely and maintain as much of the original's personality. I look forward to the next one.

XxxHolic: Volume 19

by CLAMP, 180 pages

Watanuki has been waiting for Yûko and selflessly running her wish-granting shop for decades, but now he's suddenly dreaming of a butterfly and doesn't know what it means. Dômeki and his other friends stand by him and do what they can, but the ultimate choice to stay or go is his own. So they wait along with him and watch for the signs. But not even Watanuki knows what the future holds.


This might get a little spoilery, so skip it if you like.

This is both another lovely addition to the series and a sadly disappointing final volume. The wishes that arrive on Watanuki's doorstep are as thoughtful and unique as ever and his companions are as watchful and loving. But that's the problem. I knew, this being CLAMP, that the creators were not likely to outright answer anything and would probably build up to some open-ended, cryptic yet goosebump-inducing, beautifully drawn climax that the reader is happy to believe makes sense in some alternate universe. But there is no climax at all; no action on Watanuki's part to resolve his wait, no opportunity for Dômeki to use the mysterious object he's been holding onto for years now. Instead, Watanuki just decides to continue to wait, even though he's been given permission to go by a dream sent to him long before his vigil began. I was ready to accept incomprehensible conclusions, but not the complete lack of one, comprehensible or otherwise. It makes me sad. Did they run out of ideas? Write themselves into a corner? Lose interest in the characters and story? I still love these characters. I still love this story. But it will live in perpetual limbo now unless CLAMP have plans to tie it back into some future series, which I doubt is the case. I'm more content with this state of affairs now than I was when I first read this volume, but I wish I didn't have to resign myself to it. Unfortunately, that's one wish Watanuki isn't going to be able to grant. Still, lovely. Also, grrr. And, as always, a wee bit of hmmmm. *sigh*

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 11

by Yuki Midorikawa, 191 pages

Natsume and Tanuma get more than they bargained for when they agree to help Taki clean her family's storage building. And when Natsume gets a call from a relative about the impending sale of his childhood home, he tries to convince himself he doesn't need to go take one last look. Those who love him know better. But revisiting the past stirs up more than just memories and Natsume may have to fight to ensure he and his loved ones will have a chance to make new ones.

Oh, this volume made me giggly and weepy, both (and in both stories!). Giggly, because Natsume's goofy friends from school want to go on a hike to find a "soda water spring." And weepy because Natsume has denied himself so many things in his troubled young life, all out of self-preservation and not wanting to be a burden to others. This volume shows just how far he's come and just how observant and protective his friends and family are when it comes to his emotional well-being. The Fujiwaras, his foster parents, watch and worry quietly, concerned but not wanting to pressure him, yet letting him know they'll be there waiting for him when he gets home. Tanuma, on the other hand, let's him have it when he thinks Natsume's being stupid and I just wanted to hug both him and Nyanko-sensei for telling it like it is. I just blow my nose and go, "Ahhhh...." So very good.

Natsume's Book of Friends: Volume 10

by Yuki Midorikawa, 185 pages

Natsume is approached by a former classmate over a matter of the heart and then by a gang of diminutive white-hatted yokai with a rather huge favor to ask. As he goes about trying to help the latter locate their missing god (and hide the fact that he's missing), Natsume bumps into Natori, who has been hired to look into the same situation, though from a client with very different motives. Though their philosophies may differ, will Natsume and Natori be able to work together and prevent catastrophe on the mountain?

I love this second story (though the first one's nice, too!). Natsume's all dressed up like a god of the harvest, but Natori's not fooled. Hee! Their united purpose brings them closer to the same page and it does the reader good to see them bond as friends. Natsume builds more rapport with the yokai, Natori's exorcist cred goes up, and the two both learn to believe in themselves a little more. This series always finds a way to make melancholy, bittersweet things still feel like happy endings, so even if I sniffle, it's with a smile.

Crimson Hero: Volume 1

by Mitsuba Takanashi, 186 pages

Fifteen-year-old tomboy Nobara's family wants her put all her efforts into school and learning everything she'll need to take over their traditional Japanese inn, but all she wants is to play volleyball. She defies their wishes and enrolls in a high school with a volleyball program only to find that her mother has convinced the administration to disband the girls' team. Not one to take such interference lying down, Nobara leaves home, moves into the boys' team's dorm as their interim "dorm mother," and goes about trying to recruit enough members to reinstate a girls' team. But with resistance coming from more than just her family, will she be able to make her dreams reality?

The set-up's a little cheezy and the figure art's pretty awkward, but I like the story of a non-girly girl with goals and who has no intention of giving up in the face of adversity. There appear to be hints of a love triangle in the making, as well, which could be either fun or annoying, depending on how things play out.

Chew: Volume 4: Flambé

by John Layman (story) and Rob Guillory (art), 115 pages

Tony investigates a school rampage instigated by a mind-controlling recipe, goes on a USDA suicide mission to stop production of a bio-weapon, sneaks into Area 51 with his twin sister to foil domestic E.G.G. terrorists, and infiltrates a Kool-Aid-drinking egg cult, all in pursuit of truth, justice, and illegal fowl.

All we learn this volume is that Tony's sister's got a secret of her own, that his boss really wants him dead (which isn't new or surprising, but it's still pretty funny), and that messing with Poyo the fighting rooster is a bad idea (ditto). But in between, we get to watch Tony and John banter as they try to piece together the clues, Savoy expand his mind, the Russian "vampire" gloat, and Tony blush and project little pink hearts whenever he talks to his girlfriend. There's more--some of it icky, some of it cute, most of it amusing. And now I must wait for the next trade (out in April!).

The Unwritten: Volume 2: Inside Man

by Mike Carey (story), Peter Gross (art), and Yuko Shimizu (covers), 164 pages

With all the circumstantial evidence against him, Tom Taylor loses the love of his erstwhile fans as well as his freedom following a spree gruesome murders at a historic villa. In prison, he meets his new cellmate Savoy, the only person who seems remotely sympathetic about his situation. But even on the inside, Tom's not safe from the powerful forces looking to remove him as a threat. And he's still struggling to accept the truth of who or what he is, the depth of his father's elaborate plans, and the existence of what it is increasingly difficult to deny is magic.

This volume gets even darker and more surreal than the last as Tom and his companions (Savoy and Lizzie Hexam, a possible agent / pawn of his father's) step out of the bloody reality of the prison under siege and into a pre-recorded-film-like WWII Nazi Germany. It's all harmless enough...until you focus your attention on something and give it substance. A twisted tale's corruption takes on physical mass and threatens to swallow everything in its path. The power of words to shape people, perceptions, and history, itself, takes some work to wrap your head around, but it's interesting stuff. And the side story about one of Tom's father's enemies trapped in a Beatrix Potter / Winnie the Pooh-ish story with a dark underbelly is both disturbing and cool. (The first volume ended with a chapter about Rudyard Kipling's assisted rise to prominence, the effects his writing had on the British Empire, and his desperately clever efforts to fight back against his "handlers" with more words when he realized what he'd contributed to. Neatness!)

"Scumble" by Ingrid Law

400 pages

In "Savvy," we read about the wild adventure Mibs had after she turned thirteen and gained her "savvy"--the special, unique power everyone in her family gets when they become teenagers. Now, in "Scumble," it's nine years later and Mibs' cousin Ledger is trying to adjust to his own savvy. He's feeling pretty disappointed about it because instead of a "cool" savvy like the ability to shift mountains, mind-reading, or the power to control electricity, Ledger's savvy is more of a pain than a power: things just fall apart when he's around. His parents decide he should spend the summer on his grandfather's ranch in Wyoming instead of their home in Indiana so he has some space to adjust to his savvy and can learn from his relatives. Before long, it's become clear that Ledge's savvy is more powerful--and more difficult to control (or "scumble," as they call it)--than anyone thought. Even worse, he's being hounded by Sarah Jane Cabot, a local amateur reporter who's caught wind of his family's special talents. Now he has to keep Sarah from finding out the truth and learn to scumble his savvy before things get out of control.

I loved "Savvy," and this companion novel did not disappoint me. It's just a heart-warming, fun story--the kind of book that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Ledge and his relatives obviously make mistakes, but they're so warm and supportive of each other that I want to be part of their family! I like that "Scumble" lets me know what the characters from "Savvy" are up to but puts the focus on new characters. There's not as much action in "Scumble" as the first book, but that allows for more character development so we really get to see Ledger's internal struggles and growth. I think he's a character a lot of people, kids and adults alike, can relate to. His self-esteem is totally shaken by the savvy thing and he feels like he's a disappointment to his dad, and those things resonate with a lot of people (okay, not the savvy part, but the self esteem part). The end is predictable but satisfying. Overall, a very pleasing sequel!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

By Laini Taylor, 418 pages.

Karou is a master of deception. To her friends, she is a funky art student, a fantastic artist attending a prestigious art academy in Prague. Outrageously talented, though a bit eccentric with her bright blue hair, Karou keeps a sketchbook full of monsters and demons; her imagination seems limitless. What her friends and teachers don't know, however, is that the monsters are real and not monsters at all. They are her family, the strange beings that have raised her from birth and who she visits regularly to run strange errands for. But for all the secrets Karou keeps from others, there are many more she wants to solve herself. What is behind the back door in Brimstone's (her adopted father) shop? What are the teeth that she collects night in and night out used for? Most of all, who is she? Human or chimera? Girl or monster? She is about to find out, and the answers will astound not only Karou, but everyone who reads her story.

I was so excited to pick up this book, and even more excited to not be disappointed. The story is fascinating and the characters relatable, even the 'demons'. My only concern was that the story got a bit bogged down towards the end, a little too much explaining and a great deal is revealed in a very short moment. I would read it again, however, and I am looking forward to the next installment.

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

By Rosalyn Schanzer, 144 pages.

Using grim black and white illustrations and a language kids can identify with, Schanzer tells the real-life ghost story of the Salem witch trials. The best thing about this book: kids will pick it up. Just look at the cover, it leads the reader to expect a spooky tale with plenty of cool illustrations and they will get just that as well as the facts relating to the story, quotes from the real people who were involved, and a list of sources to go on to learn more. The text naturally grasps the readers attention and expertly weaves in the facts and the language of the time without making it feel out of reach. A great first stop for kids just being introduced to the topic.


By Pat Schmatz, 240 pages.

Why? That is what Travis wonders when his grandfather (and guardian) uproots them from the only home he has ever known in the swamp and moves them to a new town. Grandpa doesn't even let him look for his dog, Rosco, the only true friend he has ever had. A new town means a new school, new teachers to presume he is lazy and new kids to presume he is stupid. This novel is ultimately about secrets, the long-time secret Travis has kept from every teacher he has ever had and his grandfather, the secrets his grandfather has about what happened to Travis' parents and the reason for their sudden move, and the secrets kept by the strange girl named Velveeta who for some reason has befriended Travis. This is a simple book about learning to trust and forgive.

Between Shades of Gray

By Ruta Sepetys, 344 pages.

This is a fantastically, touching, poignant, and painful book. Looking back, Lina knew something was wrong in her sheltered, comfortable life in 1941. Her parents were tense, she was chastised for speaking her mind or drawing images of the Russian soldiers occupying her Lithuanian city, and people were acting strange. But nothing prepares her to be arrested in the middle of the night by soldiers, torn from everything she knows, and shoved into a train car like an unwanted animal. With growing horror, Lina begins to realize that this is real, she is being deported from her home, is accused of being a criminal, and no one is coming for her or her family. Worse still, the car her family is on continuously moves north through Siberia, towards the very top of the world where few survive. Desperate to contact her father to let him know that she, her mother, and her brother are alive and refusing to believe that she will never see him again, Lina covertly begins documenting her experience in drawings. How Lina and her family attempt to survive in horrific conditions, both physical and mental, makes for a gripping novel that is difficult to put down.

I knew very little about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states before reading this book, and immediately after reading it I was prompted to look up more information on the topic. This is a difficult book to read, but an important one, and a reminder that we must actively work to be aware of the things going on in our world, both in the past and currently.

The Exiled Queen

By Cinda Williams Chima, 586 pages.

This is book two in the Seven Realms series. Princess Raisa has fled the Fells narrowly escaping an illegal forced marriage. Disguised as a soldier, she heads to Oden's Ford to attend the military academy in secret. Meanwhile, Han is also heading towards Oden's Ford, only he will be attending the wizard school. Raisa must keep her identity a secret, but at the same time carve a place for herself and prove that she belongs in the rigorous school. Han is finding himself pulled in many different directions by all the forces that are interested in him.

This was a typical "second in the series" book, not a lot of action, not a lot of momentum, not a lot of issues solved. Chima did keep building her characters, and we find a bit more depth to them in this installment. Certainly not a bad book, but definitely a bridge between the excitement of book one and hopefully an exciting book three.

The Trouble with May Amelia

By Jennifer L. Holm, 199 pages.

It has been a month of sequels for me, this is the second installment of the May Amelia series. Set in 1900 in Washington State, this story is about a young girl struggling to survive as the only daughter in a family with seven boys. That many brothers will give a girl spunk and that is necessary to deal with farm life, crazy neighbors, taking a boat to get to school, and all the other every day adventures she has to deal with. Everything is not idyllic however, and the family is in danger of losing the farm after May's father falls for a scam -- after utilizing May as a translator. May Amelia is blamed for the loss by her father and must somehow figure out a way to save her family.

I enjoyed 3/4ths of this book and was reminded of my childhood when I couldn't get enough of early American historical fiction. I felt true fury at May's father (and almost flung the book across the room) and laughed out loud at many of the funny parts. I wish a bit more thought was given to the ending, everything goes from being horrid to 'all ok' in just a few pages, but overall a great book for kids who are fans of historical fiction.

The Fox Inheritance

by Mary E. Pearson, 304 pages.

The sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Fox Inheritance follows the story of Jenna's friends, Locke and Kara. After being trapped for centuries in a digital limbo, Locke and Kara are reanimated by a scientist who may or may not have their best interests at heart. Once they discover his plan for them, they escape, and are flung into a world vastly different from the one they remember, where the only people they can trust are each other, a robot taxi driver, and one of the scientist's former servants who inexplicably wants to risk her life to help them. After discovering that there is nothing left of the life they knew, they undertake a journey to find the only person who even remembers they exist: Jenna Fox.

My biggest complaint about the Adoration of Jenna Fox was that it was too short and not detailed enough, and the same holds true for this installment. The plot moves too fast for such a complex background and to allow the reader to really understand the nuances of the characters. I finished this book feeling as though it were incomplete, and not because a third book may be in the works (I'm not sure if there is, but it is called a series so I am assuming so). Pearson has such an interesting concept and has clearly thought it out, I just wish she would share a bit more with her readers. An entertaining read, but definitly read Adoration first.

The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett 217p.

This was the first noir I had read, but it seemed like a definitive noir detective story. There were interesting characters and descriptions. It had a very straightforward style that made it easy to read with only a few dated kind of words. It did not end how I thought it would end.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 
by Anne-Marie O’Connor
Knopf, 2012. 349 pages

This is an account of the painter Gustave Klimt and his model Adele Bloch-Bauer, and how World War II brought a tragic end to all concerned. Adele was a well-heeled deb in pre-war Vienna. She broke out of the mold others in her family had decreed. While she was married in a marriage of convenience to a much older man, she still kept her independence and passionate outlook on life.

She modeled several times for Klimt, many of these paintings are well-known, some were destroyed during WWII. The book’s pacing does include lots of characters, it’s hard to keep up with so many people.   It’s almost as if the Nazis are the central figure is this story. The higher ranking Nazis went on a juggernaut of theft, re-classifying artwork to support their Aryan agenda. Adele’s portrait was renamed The Lady in Gold, in an effort to remove the stigma of the “degenerate” subject.

The most interesting part of the book, is the effort of many years by a relentless Bloch-Bauer heir to return the painting to her family. This court battle highlighted what present-day Europe is doing to make reparations.

Jane With a Vengeance: A Novel

Jane With A Vengeance : A Novel
Michael Thomas Ford
Random House, 2012. 275 pages.
Vampire Jane Austen make plans for her wedding to her (unsuspecting) boyfriend. Hijinks, of course, must ensue. A whirlwind trip to the Continent provides murder, bloodline revelations and a quick resolution to all problems. I really hoped this book would continue with the storyline that was in train. The plot started going off the rails (yeah, I said it)at the end, and sort of wrapped it all up with a gasp.
On a positive note, all three covers were appealing.

Jane Goes Batty

Jane Goes Batty
Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books, 2011. 285 pages.
In this book, we find more out about vampire Jane Austen, now called Jane Fairfax, achieving fame as a best-selling author. She doesn’t kill her victims, just inconveniences them. Her mentor Lord Byron begins to teach her new skills. These skills will be put to the test as her new agent is found murdered. Jane encounters a new undead enemy in the form of Charlotte Bronte. Literary license runs amuck in this follow-up to Jane Bites Back.

Jane Bites Back

Jane Bites Back
Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books 2009. 299 pages.

Showcasing (or cashing in on) the classics turned horror theme, this is the first in a series of three novels (so far). We find Jane Austen turned vampire against her will, living in upstate New York 200-plus years later.

Sharing her confused life: a plucky assistant, a contractor/sweetheart and Lord Bryon. After being rejected by publishers, she finally gets a contract on her latest book, and has to defend her literary style from critics crying copycat foul.

This book is charming, and a quick read. I’ve never read a “vamp” novel, and I suspect this is a mild version of the genre. I read all three of the novels in sequence, it’s great when you can do that, this is my favorite of the series.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

by Mindy Kaling
222 pages

This is a non-fiction book containing biographical essays pertaining to Mindy Kaling's life.  Mindy Kaling, best known for her role as Kelly on NBC show The Office.  Kaling, in addition to being an actor, is also a writer and producer for The Office.  This book recounts humorous episodes from her life.  It also contains lists and essays about Kaling's own thoughts and opinions.  She jumps around in time, and some essays are rather random, so this is not a straightforward biography.  Overall, Kaling is humorous and down-to-earth.  You don't necessarily expect someone so successful to be so real.

This is definitely a light read.  It's one of those books you can either read in one-sitting or read over several weeks.  It's a nice book to read while indulging in your favorite treat/beverage while hanging around the house in your pj's.

Guilty Pleasures

by Laurell K. Hamilton
266 pages

This first book in the Anita Blake series is definitely full of action.  Anita is not your average petite girl.  She is a zombie animator and a vampire executioner.  She's great with knives and guns.  She's smart, strong, stubborn, witty, sarcastic, and a little bit quirky.  (Okay...I really like Anita.  I'm obviously gushing.)  Anyway, there have been a slew of mysterious vampire murders recently, and the master vampire has decided that Anita is going to be the one to solve them.  Though Anita's not exactly willing, the vampire master makes her an offer she can't refuse.

There is plenty of blood and guts in this novel.  I thought there would be some romance in this book, but that element is surprisingly absent.  However, I have the feeling that future novels in this series will have a more romantic feel.  I'd recommend this book to female horror fans, and I will probably attempt to read the next book in the series.

The City of Ember

by Jeanne DuPrau
Narrated by Wendy Dillon
270 pages

The City of Ember was built by the builders as a last refuge.  The sky is always black, and there are no stars.  Without electricity, the city would be completely dark.  The builders did not plan for the residents of Ember to stay in this city as long as they have, but the instructions for exit have been lost.  Nobody knows that they are supposed to leave.  Supplies are running low, and the generator is beginning to fail.  Things look bleak for the citizens of Ember, but two 12-year-olds, Lina and Doon, are determined to find an answer to all of Ember's problems.  

I enjoyed this book.  It's definitely a unique idea, and I enjoyed the originality of this story.  The plot was a little predictable in places, but I'm an adult.  I'm guessing the intended audience would not feel this way.  This is definitely a great read for grades 5-7.  The book finished with a cliffhanger that left me anxious to read the next book.

I listened to the audio version, and I must say this is the best audiobook I have listened to so far.  The sound effects made the story come to life, and the narrator really brought the characters to life.  Each character had a distinct voice and manner of speaking.  However, I think I might have enjoyed this book more in print.  I know I almost always say this, but this time I feel it's more true than usual.  There is this document fragment that Lina and Doon are trying to piece together and figure out.  I would have liked to have seen it, so I could try to piece it together with them.  It's really hard to do that with the audio version.  That being said, I'd definitely recommend the audio version to others.