Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spinning - Tillie Walden

Title: Spinning
Author: Tillie Walden
Publisher: First Second Books, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 395 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Started: November 18, 2017
Finished: November 19, 2017

From the inside cover:

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden's life. Sh woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing in glitter and tights. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family.

But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the closed-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life.

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award-winner Tillie Walden's powerful graphic memoir captures what its like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

I'm still on my Yuri on Ice kick, hence the figure skating book. This isn't really a graphic novel about figure skating though, it's a coming of age memoir about a girl coming out of the closet and how her lifelong hobby, figure skating, affected that.

This memoir, in graphic novel format, is quite poignant and heartfelt; I'm amazed that the author is only 21 and managed to craft something like this. My only beef with the work is that I feel that some aspects were introduced and then abandoned too soon for my liking, like her relationship with her mother, and the sexual assault for example. I did appreciate how the author mentions that the only reason she even kept up with figure skating at the beginning was for the affection shown to her by her first coach, it really highlights the importance of other adult figures in a kids life besides parents.

The art style isn't as detailed as what I'm used to seeing, but I liked it; and the purple and grey colour palette is really appealing.

A nice quick read, and worth it for the subject matter (our kids need more LGBTQ representation in their media).

Thoughts on the cover:
A nice image that showcases the author's drawing style, plus it's nicely symbolic how Tillie is the only girl looking off in the opposite direction.

Monday, November 13, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens - Margaret Rogerson

Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 7, 2017
Finished: November 13, 2017

From the inside cover:

With a flock of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel's paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron - Rook, the autumn prince - Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.

Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending on each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love...a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folk's ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit. What force could Isobel's paintings conjure that is powerful enough to defy the ancient malice of the fairy courts?

Isobel and Rook journey along a knife-edge in a lush world where beauty masks corruption and the cost of survival might be more frightening than death itself.

Fae, fantasy, and that stunning cover. I love me some fairy lore, so I was so along for this ride. The ride was enjoyable, no doubt, but I wasn't as impressed as I was hoping I'd be.

The premise has such potential: the Fae, who are cunning, vain and cannot lie, are sorted into their seasonal courts like in many other fantasy settings. They crave the products of human imagining (writing, painting, cooking, crafting, etc.) and routinely leave their realm to visit Whimsy, a place shrouded in eternal summer where humans live to produce Craft and hope to live long enough without being subject to the callous whims of the Fae around them. There's the World Beyond that people can escape to, or humans can drink from the Green Well to become Fae themselves.

Amongst all this, Isobel is a painter, specializing in portraits, and her work is prized among the fair folk. When Rook, the Autumn price, asks for his portrait, Isobel finds herself falling in love with him, and he with her, over the several weeks he sits for her. When her work depicting human sorrow in his eyes is unveiled to Rook's court, he absconds with her back to the autumnlands to have her stand trial for her crime of exposing his weakness, but they never make it that far, being diverted by Hemlock and the Wild Hunt pursuing them.

The pure imagination of the setting and the details surrounding it are just amazing. The author is a good writer as well, so I have to give her props for those two elements. The only thing that was a bit of a detriment was that there wasn't enough explained in terms of the world building, like how did Whimsy come to be? What is the World Beyond? Why do the Fae crave Craft? What is the deal with the Alder King and the Wild Hunt? There's so much introduced here and it isn't really built upon, at least to my satisfaction. Also, the romance wasn't really believable. Isobel and Rook essentially fall in love before they go on their crazy journey through fairy land, and it just isn't realistic considering they barely speak during the time the portrait is being commissioned. Other than those two things, the book is quite the enjoyable ride, but unfortunately prevent it from being an absolutely stellar book that I was really hoping for.

Definitely worth the read, but sadly not amazing. I'm interested enough though to see what the author writes in the future though, there's a lot of promise here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Freaking stunning illustration of Isobel and Rook (in raven form). The illustrator is Charlie Bowater, seriously go Google this guy and stand in awe of his work. He has some work in his gallery from Sarah J. Maas' Court of Thrones and Roses trilogy, so any fans of that work can go ogle those like I did.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Language of Thorns - Leigh Bardugo

Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Imprint (Macmillan), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 280 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 1, 2017
Finished: November 5, 2017

From the inside cover:

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, folklore, and fairytale, #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange - to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

I read the Shadow and Bone trilogy (Shadow and BoneSiege and StormRuin and Rising) years ago and adored it, so once I heard the author was releasing a short story compilation from the same world, I knew it would be awesome, and it is indeed.

The Language of Thorns is comprised of six stories from various locations in the Grishaverse world, most from Ravkan, but also one each from Zemeni, Kerch, and Fjerdan. You don't need to be familiar with the author's previous books to enjoy these stories, they all stand on their own as enjoyable pieces of fiction with no background knowledge needed. The author's note at the back of the book states that the author's inspiration for these stories were feelings of unease she felt as a child while reading traditional fairy tales. Those feelings are reflected in these stories, since most are adaptations of traditional tales we all know well, with some major twists to them, especially in "The Witch of Duva" and "When Water Sang Fire". All the tales are beautiful, but my personal favourites are "Ayama and the Thorn Wood" and "When Water Sang Fire."

Another aspect I have to mention is the simply gorgeous illustrations done by artist Sara Kipin. Her drawings are on every page, and the progression is amazing. They begin very simply, and with every page more is added or in some cases even changed, until the end of the story reveals a drawing on a full-page spread. It's hard to describe properly, but hopefully the pictures below will help:

Simply stunning, both the writing and the visuals. If you enjoy folktales that aren't your usual fare, then you will surely enjoy this.

Thoughts on the cover:
The picture doesn't do justice to the cover, it has lovely copper tones with light blue for the thorns, plus everything is embossed, which is a bonus.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Girling Up - Mayim Bialik

Title: Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart, and Spectacular
Author: Mayim Bialik
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Random House), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 177 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Nonfiction
Started: October 29, 2017
Finished: October 29, 2017

From the inside cover:

Growing up as a girl in today's world is no easy task. Juggling family, friends, romantic relationships, social interests and school...sometimes it feels like you might need to be a superhero to get through it all! But really, all you need is a little information.

Want to know why your stomach does a flip-flop when you run into your crush in the hallway? Or how the food you put in your body will affect you in the future? What about the best ways to stop freaking out about your next math test?

Using scientific facts, personal anecdotes, and wisdom gained from the world around us, Mayim Bialik, the star of The Big Bang Theory, shares what she learned from her life and her PhD in neuroscience to tell you how you grow from a girl to a woman biologically, psychologically, and sociologically.

Want to be strong? Want to be smart? Want to be spectacular? You can! Start by reading this book.

I love The Big Bang Theory, so when I heard through the grapevine that Mayim Bialik was publishing a book about growing up female, I was so in. I honestly thought it was going to be a book from the parental perspective about raising girls in our society, but instead it ended up being a book intended for girls themselves to read about growing up in real time.

The book is divided up into six sections: how our bodies work, how we grow, how we learn, how we love, how we cope, and how we matter. The first half of this book is all standard fare that you can find in any number of puberty books for girls. If all you want is information about puberty itself and bodily changes then I'd actually suggest those other books since they are illustrated more than this book is (which for that type of information I'd argue visuals are key).

The latter half of this book is where the author really shines, talking about love and dating, how we cope with stress and which coping skills signal a problem (information kids need but don't get), and how to make decisions about your future and what you want to do with your life. These latter sections contain information most puberty books for girls don't even touch, the type of sage wisdom one usually gets from their mother or other female role models in their life.

Perfect for older pre-teens or young teenagers who need information about growing up female that they aren't likely to find from the usual sources.

Thoughts on the cover:
I'm not sure why the author is donning a superhero cape here (beyond the one reference in the summary it's not brought up again, and it's not like the book is a magical cure all for their growing pains), but it does make for a more dynamic cover.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Threads of Blue - Suzanne LaFleur

Title: Threads of Blue (sequel to Beautiful Blue World)
Author: Suzanne LaFleur
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 203 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: October 23, 2017
Finished: October 26, 2017

From the publisher's website:

A war took Mathilde away from her family when she was chosen to serve her country, Sofarende, with other children working on a secret military project.

But now the other children - including her best friend, Megs - have fled to safety, and Mathilde is all alone, determined to complete her mission.

In this powerful and deeply moving sequel to the acclaimed Beautiful Blue World, Mathilde must make her way through a new stage of the war. Haunted by the bold choice she made on the night she chose her country's future over her own well-being, she clings to the promise Megs made long ago: "Whatever happens, I'll be with you."

I read Beautiful Blue World last year and loved it, so of course I knew I'd be picking up the sequel (especially with the cliffhanger ending of the first book).

This book picks up where the previous one left off, with Mathilde on her journey alone to Eilean after allowing Rainer to escape (essentially committing an act of treason). In doing so, she was separated from the rest of the child soldiers, including her friend Megs, and had to travel separately. She eventually makes it to Eilean and is reunited with her Sofarende military contacts while they form a plan of attack on Tyssia. Eventually, Mathilde and Gunnar are asked to go on a new mission that will lead them back into the ruins of Sofarende, all while Megs refuses to speak to Mathilde since her return.

Though I liked Beautiful Blue World better, this novel, like its predecessor, does a wonderful job of viewing war through a childlike lens. Mathilde spends time in a Eilean refugee camp with other Sofarender children and it really highlights how children experience war: worrying about whether family members are alive, trying to survive in a new environment, and worrying about who will take care of you. There's even the experience of rebuilding a war-torn country and the process of trying to locate missing family and resettling. The book even raises ethical concerns about how far one can do to end a war: do you bomb a country, possibly killing civilians, if it means you can force the enemy to leave? Or do you save the civilians and leave the future uncertain?

Thought not as thought-provoking as its predecessor, this one is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed the story thus far.

Thoughts on the cover:
Beautifully symbolic, as with the first. You see Mathilde, Gunnar, and Rainer in the boat; its a lovely scene till you realize the shadows of the bombs over their heads.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Jane - Aline Brosh McKenna, Ramon K. Perez

Title: Jane
Author: Aline Brosh McKenna and Ramon K. Perez
Publisher: Archaia, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Classic, Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Started: October 23, 2017
Finished: October 23, 2017

From the back cover

Growing up in an unhappy family in a small New England town, Jane dreamed of escaping to New york City to study art and live a life of independent adventure. Soon after arriving, she takes a job as a nanny for a mysterious, powerful businessman, Rochester, and his lovable but lonely daughter, Adele, in a lavish apartment filled with unsettling secrets. Jane soon finds herself drawn into a world of intrigue, danger, and romance that takes her far beyond her childhood dreams.

Award-winning screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) makes her graphic novel debut with Eisner Award-winning illustrator Ramon K. Perez (Jim Henson's Tale of Sand) in this modern day reimagining of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel Jane Eyre.

I'm a Jane Eyre enthusiast, and like with Beauty and the Beast, I'll read any new version that is released; so of course I picked this up. This version does a great job of updating the story for a modern context: Jane is American, escapes her neglectful, extended family to study art in New York, and becomes a nanny to support herself. Rochester is a business tycoon whose wife was shot by a bullet intended for him, is now essentially brain-dead, and he keeps her in the upper floor of his Manhattan penthouse in hope of a recovery. Jane empathizes with Adele, and in her persistence in getting Rochester to step up and be a more involved father, the two bond and a romance develops.

This version does a great job of certain things but falls flat in others. The opening pages show rather than tell about Jane's childhood and neglectful upbringing using very little narrative dialogue, and a lovely metaphoric grayscale colour palette that slowly emerges to brilliant colour as readers see Jane settle in New York. On the other end, the romance between Jane and Rochester is horribly rushed and doesn't do justice to the original. The conversations that they're supposed to bond over are absent, and it just makes for an unrealistic portrayal of the pair. The art style isn't my cup of tea, but it is nicely done.

Worth a read if you're a fan of the original, it's a nice modern take on the tale but not a perfect adaptation. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Showcases Jane's personality and the graphic novel's excellent use of colour. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

She and Her Cat - Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi

Title: She and Her Cat
Author: Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Publisher: Vertical Comics, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 180 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction
Started: October 6, 2017
Finished: October 6, 2017

From the back cover:

"It was the start of spring. It was raining. That was the day that she brought me home."

This is the story of Miyu, a woman who lives alone with her cat, Chobi. As Miyu navigates the world of adulthood, she discovers both the freedom and the loneliness that come with living independently, and Chobi learns of the outside world through her actions. Time drifts slowly for Miyu and her cat, but the harsh realities of the world soon catch up...

Makoto Shinkai is a filmmaker who has an amazingly good reputation, and well-deserved too (I've seen practically all of his movies). I haven't seen the short piece this manga was adapted from though, hence why I picked it up.

The story is narrated from Chobi's (the cat's) perspective, which is always an interesting take on any piece of fiction. We only learn about Miyu through Chobi, so it takes a while before we discover that Miyu is living alone since she recently graduated and landed a job. She struggles with depression, and we see how the responsibility of taking care of Chobi helps Miyu cope. The manga perfectly captures the unconditional love pets have for their owners, and actually does a good job of framing the story from an animal's perspective.

It's worth a read just for the unique subject matter, the fact that it's a touching story is just a bonus. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Encapsulates the feel of the work, and the pearlescent finish is just a nice added touch.