Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Dragon - Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

Title: The Last Dragon
Author: Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay
Publisher: Dark Horse, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Started: May 16, 2016
Finished: May 16, 2016

From the back cover:

Two hundred years ago, humans vanquished the dragons of the islands of May. Now, the last of the dragons rises to wreak havoc anew - with only a healer's daughter and a kite-flying would-be hero standing in its way.

Master storyteller Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, Sword of the Rightful King) and celebrated fantasy artist Rebecca Guay (Swamp Thing, Magic: The Gathering) weave a textured and lyrical tale of adventure, homelands, and heroism the hard way.

Again I'm on a graphic novel kick, plus it's hard to find decent one-shots in this area, so I decided to give this a go.

The story is quite concise and gets right to the point: dragons were once extinct from the islands, but one dragon egg slumbering deep in the ground hatches and the last dragon grows and begins to feed in the neighbouring area, which arouses suspicion from the townspeople. When they finally realize what has been abducting animals and people, the townspeople try to come up with a way to destroy the dragon. They find an impostor hero named Lancot on a neighbouring island and bring him over. When Tansy, the healer's daughter, realizes he isn't really a hero worthy of being their dragon slayer, they formulate a plan to kill the dragon using some ingenuity and healer's knowledge.

The art style is truly gorgeous, which almost makes up for the rushed pace of the story and lack of character development. I get that this is barely 150 pages so some things aren't going to be as developed, but it would be interesting to see this fleshed out so as to make the characters really shine, for example I liked Rosemary, Sage, and Tansy for the little while we did get to see them.

Rushed plot and the character development is lacking due to the length of the work, but the art is breathtakingly gorgeous so it almost balances out.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not the best indicator of the artist's overall style, but if you do like the cover, the inside art is much better.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories - Moto Hagio

Title: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Author: Moto Hagio
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: May 13, 2016
Finished: May 13, 2016

From the back cover:

Forty years ago, the legendary manga artist Moto Hagio reinvented the shoji (girls' comics) genre with an ongoing series of whip smart, psychologically complex, and tenderly poetic stories. Here now, in English for the very first time, as the debut release in Fantagraphics Books' ambitious manga line of graphic novels, are ten of the very best of these tales.

The work in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories spans Hagio's entire career, from 1970's "Bianca" to 2007's "The Willow Tree," and includes the mind-bending, full-colour title story; the famously heartbreaking "Iguana Girl"; and the haunting "The Child Who Comes Home" - as well as "Autumn Journey," "Girl on Porch with Puppy," the eerie conjoined-twins shocker "Hanshin: Half-God," "Angel Mimic," and one of the saddest of all romance stories, "Marie, Ten Years Later."

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is supplemented with a feature-length interview with Hagio, where she discusses her art, her career, and her life with the same combination of wit, candour, and warmth that radiates from every panel of her comics.

I'm a manga enthusiast, and I'm especially interested in the titles that were big game changers to the genre historically, many of which belong to this particular artist. I have a copy of "The Heart of Thomas" on my shelf (one of her best-known longer works) and have read a few of her shorter pieces before, which I was happy to see here. Her art style is gorgeous, and her stories are exactly as described in the summary: more mature, complex, and not afraid to tackle serious subject matter.

I have my favourites obviously: Angel Mimic and Iguana Girl deal with subject matter you don't often see in comics period, Girl on Porch with Puppy is a bit of a mind-screw, and A Drunken Dream is just stunning, partly because this story is included in full colour.

If you're interested in shojo manga and want to see pieces from one of the artists that revolutionized the genre, this is a must-read.

Thoughts on the cover:
Freaking gorgeous. The combination of the yellow, white, and gold is stunning; plus the title has that embossed gold leaf that shimmers and creates a nice effect.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Siren - Kiera Cass

Title: The Siren
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 1, 2016
Finished: May 9, 2016

From the inside cover:

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can't resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude...until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can't talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny...and Kahlen doesn't want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all of the Ocean's rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen's feelings, she'll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

This is the same author who wrote the Selection series, which I adore. This is the first book she ever wrote, but wasn't traditionally published until now (obviously because The Selection series was so popular). Thankfully for me that I read the Selection books first, because this one was not as impressive as those.

Kahlen and her family are the victims of a shipwreck in the early twentieth century, inferring from details that the book opens begins during the Depression era. When Kahlen begs to be saved, the Ocean listens and makes her a Siren like those that caused the shipwreck that killed her family. Kahlen and her sisters (fellow Sirens) are beautiful girls (the Ocean doesn't take wives or mothers as Sirens) with voices that lead people to their deaths by drowning, just like the myths. They must orchestrate shipwrecks that give many lives to the Ocean every year or so, which wrack Kahlen with guilt, causing her to make scrapbooks about her many victims. She looks forward to the end of her one hundred year "sentence" when she can return to being human, but the memories of her life as a Siren will fade. When she meets Akinli, a boy at the college in Miami where Kahlen and her sisters are staying, she finally understands why some of her sisters pursue relationships with humans during their service. But when Kahlen actually falls in love with Akinli, she knows she has to forget him or else be destined to see him age while she remains unchanged.

This book had much of the appeal the Selection books had, but wasn't as impressive overall. I liked Kahlen as a character, as well as her sisters (especially Padma), but Akinli fell a little flat. The romance angle felt rushed (hellooooo insta-love), but if you're willing to overlook that then perhaps you'll enjoy this more than I did.

If you're a fan of the author's Selection series, you might be a bit disappointed with The Siren, but still worth the read in my opinion.

Thoughts on the cover:
Quite pretty and fitting.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Keeper of the Mist - Rachel Neumeier

Title: The Keeper of the Mist
Author: Rachel Neumeier
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: April 21, 2016
Finished: April 30, 2016

From the inside cover:

Keri has spent much of her life trying to go unnoticed, and as a young woman running her mother's bakery, the death of the Lord of Nimmira should have little impact on her. But the Lord of Nimmira was Keri's estranged father, and ancient magic has unexpectedly decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady.

The powerful position has never been so dangerous: the magical mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbours have failed. Now Keri's people are visible to strangers for the first time in generations. Meanwhile, half brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside.

Keri has three sources of guidance: her mysterious Timekeeper, a wise and intimidating man; her clever Bookkeeper and best friend since childhood, Tassel; and her steadfast Doorkeeper, Tassel's stoic but noble cousin. Thrust into the spotlight after a lifetime of avoiding it, Keri must find the will to lead - or lose everything.

It's been a while since I've read a good high fantasy, so I figured this would be a good pick.

Kerianna is the youngest (and illegitimate) child of the Lord of Nimmira. When the Lord dies and the Mist must choose a successor, Keri never thinks it will be her, everyone in town wants her older half brothers Brann or Domeric to inherit, since youngest brother Lucas is not an ideal ruler. So when Lord Dorric's Timekeeper, Bookkeeper, and Doorkeeper come to her bakery to appoint her as the new Lady, Keri has a lot to take in. She doesn't have much time to adjust to her new role though, because the Mist around Nimmira is weakening, exposing their tiny country and making them vulnerable to invasion. Keri must figure out a way to repair the Mist and keep the lords of the neighbouring countries at bay, all while trying to navigate her new role as Lady and trying to gauge how trustworthy her three brothers are.

The world-building was interesting here, though I wish the magic system was explained more. Keri just automatically comes into her magic without any training, so that was slightly unrealistic in my opinion. The world-building and characterization could've been developed a bit more, but I felt like those elements were sacrificed in order to keep moving along with the plot.

Keri fell a little flat in terms of characterization, she was your average fantasy heroine who is thrust into a position of power who feels conflicted yet persists, there wasn't much to distinguish her. I liked Tassel, but Cort fell into that same trap of the stoic male who's really rather devoted. I adored Lucas though, he's more of an original character and really made me laugh.

Interesting premise that is worth checking out.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the multi-coloured mist against the silver background, very eye-catching.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Year Without Mom - Dasha Tolstikova

Title: A Year Without Mom
Author: Dasha Tolstikova
Publisher: Groundwood Books, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 168 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic novel; Realistic Fiction
Started: April 19, 2016
Finished: April 20, 2016

From the back cover:

A Year Without Mom follows twelve-year-old Dasha through a year full of turmoil after her mother leaves for America.

It is the early 1990s in Moscow, and political change is in the air. But Dasha is more worried about her own challenges as she negotiates family, friendships, and school without her mother. Just as she begins to find her own feet, she learns that she is to join her mother in America - a place that seems impossibly far from everything and everyone she loves.

This gorgeous and subtly illustrated graphic novel signals the emergence of Dasha Tolstikova as a major new talent.

I picked this up because I love graphic novel accounts of kids living in other countries, especially during important times in history, so I figured this fit the bill.

Dasha lives in Moscow in the Soviet Union of the 90s with her mother and grandparents, while her father lives in Los Angeles. When her mother is accepted to study at a university in Chicago and leaves for a year, Dasha feels lonely and unsure of how she will cope with everything with her mom gone. She proves herself resilient though, navigating crushes, friends, and school more or less on her own. When her mother comes for a visit, she tells Dasha that she is coming with her to America for the next year before they both return to Russia. Dasha realizes she has grown and changed in the year her mother was gone, and whereas before she would've gone with her mother in a heartbeat, now she is reluctant to leave.

I assumed before picking this up that because the story takes place in Russia around the time communism fell that the political climate would have more of a focus in the story, but aside from some differences in the school system and some vocabulary, I honestly forgot I was reading a story that even took place in Russia. Dasha's struggles are quite universal, and she worries about the same stuff every other twelve year old does, which makes this a good pick for the middle grades to show that we as humans are really more alike than we are different no matter where we live.

Very nice story with universal struggles all kids can relate to, with an interesting art style as well (normally not my cup of tea but I actually liked it).

Thoughts on the cover:
You can get a good feel for the art style here, and the image is strangely representative of the atmosphere of the book (Dasha alone being slightly apprehensive about it all).

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Tragedy Paper - Elizabeth LaBan

Title: The Tragedy Paper
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013 (Hardcover)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Young Adult; RealisticFiction
Started: March 27, 2016
Finished: April 4, 2016

From the inside cover:

Time Macbeth is a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is "Enter here to be and find a friend." Time does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential it-girl Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving's most popular boy. To Tim's surprise, Vanessa is into him too, but she can kiss her social status good-bye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine relationship while looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving's version of a senior-year thesis, assigned by the school's least forgiving teacher, Mr.Simon.

Elizabeth LaBan's stunning novel unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the love-struck new kid, and Duncan, a current senior who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa's story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving's history.

Someone recommended this book to me, saying it is somewhat similar to Thirteen Reasons Why, which I loved. Upon reading it, though it does share some very superficial similarities to Thirteen Reasons Why, I enjoy the book moreso for its commentary on tragedy outside of the literary sense.

Duncan is a senior at the Irving School, a private boarding school in New York state. When Duncan arrives on the first day of school to find his room and his treasure, a present the previous year's graduate leaves for the new senior that occupies their dorm room, he is disappointed not only that he has received the worst room on the floor, but also that his "treasure" is a bunch of CD's. Upon closer examination, the CD's are recordings by Tim Macbeth, the room's prior occupant, who was involved in some unfortunate events that occurred last year that the reader isn't completely informed of until the end of the novel. Duncan begins to play them, getting caught up in Tim's story of himself and Vanessa, a classmate that he finds himself falling for.

The chapters alternate viewpoints between Duncan and Tim. The dual narration is well-done, the voices are clearly distinct and I never got them confused. Tim's story was engaging. Even though I never cared much for Vanessa as a character, I read on purely because I wanted to know what happened to Tim. I also love how the author made this novel very much like a modern-day equivalent to a classic tragedy, from the character names from tragic literature (Tim Macbeth, Duncan, Daisy) to the presence of tragic flaws, and the adherence to the proper structure of tragedy. Duncan is afraid his senior year will be tragic like Tim's and Vanessa's, so it is interesting to see the dichotomy between Tim and Vanessa's actions and Duncan and Daisy's.

Now go forth and spread beauty and light by reading this book, especially if you're a literature enthusiast.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the image of Tim (I'm assuming Tim) running in the snow with his back to the reader. The colour scheme of blue, silver, and grey is very aesthetically pleasing as well.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Only Child - Guojing

Title: The Only Child
Author: Guojing
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House), 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel/Picture Book
Started: March 17, 2016
Finished: March 17, 2016

From the inside cover:

A little girl - lost and alone - follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world.

But home and family are very far away. How will she get back?

In this extraordinary wordless picture book, Guojing brilliantly captures the rich and deeply felt emotional life of a child - filled with loneliness and longing as well as love and joy.

I saw the cover and knew this had to be mine, the cuteness alone made me melt.

The story follows a little girl in China who leaves home to visit her grandmother and ends up lost in the woods. She meets a stag, who takes her to a world in the clouds with baby animals as playmates. The stag eventually locates her family and delivers her back home.

The plot is pretty simple, but this book is incredibly beautiful, partly because there is absolutely no text so everything is conveyed without words, and also because the drawings are shaded rather than coloured. I especially like the fact that the story takes place in the winter, so the snow makes everything especially magical. It makes for a very surreal, charming experience. The author used her experiences growing up under the one-child policy in China in the 80s to inspire this, and as a fellow only child, the loneliness and desire for companions comes across well.

So gorgeous, this is a great addition to anyone's library. This would make a great creative writing prompt to use in the classroom as well. 

Thoughts on the cover:
So beautiful, and the art on the inside is even better.