Friday, January 23, 2015

Tomboy - Liz Prince

Title: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Liz Prince
Publisher: Zest Books, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 255 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: January 22, 2015
Finished: January 23, 2015

From the inside cover:

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn't a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing pretty princess like the other girls in her neighbourhood. And she wasn't one of the guys, either. She was somewhere in-between. But with the forces of middle school, high school, parents, friendship, and romance pulling her this way and that, "the middle" wasn't exactly an easy place to be. Tomboy follows award-winning author and artist Liz Prince through her early years and explores - with humour, honesty, and poignancy - what it means to "be a girl."

My god, I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager, perhaps I wouldn't have had such issues about my femininity if it had. I've always described my level of girlyness as "middle of the road": I like stereotypical feminine colours but equally enjoy red, blue, and green; I have a weakness for all things cute and cuddly, I love purses and bags, can alternate between being coldly logical and fiercely emotional, and I prefer my clothing to be comfortable rather than pretty. I've never been much into makeup, hair, jewelry, clothes, shoes, glitter, celebrity gossip, or any of the other stereotypical things women tend to enjoy, which marked me as the "weird one" from early on. It wasn't until high school and university when I encountered groups of girls just like me that I began to realize that being a girl is about more than just what we see in the media or what the majority of women embody, that it very much means different things to different women. This book relives the author's realization of that same thought.

The beginning of the book was such a nostalgia trip, apparently the author and I are close in age so I could totally relate to identifying more with male characters and leads from 80s and 90s tv and film (at least until I discovered Japanese anime with their much more varied types of female characters). Like the author, I could also very much remember hating everything feminine until the high school years because it was so heavily pushed and I couldn't really articulate that I hated the limiting expectations and not the things themselves. The section on her middle school years rang true in many areas, especially about the bullying. We all sadly know that males who act stereotypically feminine often get teased/bullied/harassed or worse, but many people believe that a woman who acts stereotypically masculine won't receive that treatment, when in reality such a woman very much can. I remember having my sexuality questioned simply because I wasn't over-the-top girly, and there are stories of other girls who experienced much worse.

This book absolutely needs to be read by teenage girls and young women everywhere, it really will be an eye-opener for some; it would have been for me if I hadn't already figured things out painfully on my own over the years. There is some very mild content about sex and drugs, so not for the kiddies, but this is definitely something that older readers will adore.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple but poignant, especially once you realize the symbolism behind the author's use of the "women's washroom" figure.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Seconds - Bryan Lee O'Malley

Title: Seconds
Author: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Publisher: Random House Canada, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: January 18, 2015
Finished: January 19, 2015

From the inside cover:

Katie's got it pretty good. She's a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie's life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all - but they don't come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over.

1. Write your mistakes
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew

And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. She's also got a dresser drawer full of magical mushrooms - and an irresistible urge to make her life not just good, but perfect. Too bad it's against the rules. But Katie doesn't care about the rules - and she's about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions.

From the mind and pen behind the acclaimed Scott Pilgrim series comes a madcap new tale of existential angst, everyday obstacles, young love, and ancient spirits that's sharp-witted and tenderhearted, whimsical and wise.

I read the Scott Pilgrim books years ago and enjoyed them but they were a bit too quirky for my taste, but when I saw the author/illustrator was releasing a one-shot, I knew it would be worth the read.

Katie is twenty-nine and doing pretty well for herself. She co-owns a restaurant that is famous for her food, and planning to open a new restaurant all her own. But then she has a wacky dream about a girl perched on her bedroom dresser and her waitress Hazel gets badly burned, followed by said dream girl offering her magic 'shrooms...that's right. When Katie wakes up the next morning, Hazel is fine and more things begin to go wrong. Katie gets the idea to use the mushrooms to erase past errors with her love life, with her restaurant, and with herself. But as she messes with supernatural things she doesn't understand, Katie's world begins to unravel and get simply creepy, unless she can figure out how to restore the balance and move on without the aid of magic.

I really enjoyed this story because it spoke to me about my stage of life recently and currently. So many graphic novels either deal with kids and teenagers and their lives, or adults in fantasy settings that aren't realistic to begin with, so it was refreshing to see a realistic story about a person firmly entrenched in adulthood who's struggling with their choices, especially since that protagonist is female. Katie is very believable, she mostly has it together and is pretty successful but still screws up and questions her sanity from time to time. Hazel was simply adorable, and did have awesome hair. Lis was sufficiently creepy and unsettling, and I liked how the cast was very obviously multi-cultural.   Though the ending felt rushed, I have to give the creator credit for getting incredibly creepy and existential, and it takes a fair bit to creep me out these days. There is some sexual content, so not exactly appropriate for younger readers, but I wouldn't be clutching my proverbial pearls if a sixteen or seventeen-year-old got their hands on this.

Approachable and sweet with a touch of the other-worldly, this is a must-read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the red and blue with Katie's awesome starfish hair.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch - Eric Orchard

Title: Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch
Author: Eric Orchard
Publisher: Top Shelf, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 89 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: January 17, 2015
Finished: January 17, 2015

From the back of the book:

Eleven-year-old Maddy loved working in her parents' bookstore...especially when joined by her pet flying toad, Ralph. But that was before the mysterious Thimblewitch turned her mom & dad into kangaroo rats!

Now Maddy's on the adventure of a lifetime. To save her parents, she'll need to sneak past an army of spider-goblins, scarecrow warriors, and much more...Fortunately, an assortment of new friends await, including the cloud cartographers Harry and Silvio, a bear and racoon who explore the world in their moon-balloon. They'll help her along the way, but in the end, the fate of everyone will depend on Maddy's courage, compassion, and creativity.

Full of surprises and stunning artwork, Maddy Kettle is a truly magical debut from Spectrum-Award-winning cartoonist Eric Orchard. Climb aboard and let your imagination soar!

I saw a preview of this at Free Comic Book Day this past year, and since I'm always on the lookout for appropriate comics for young readers and the middle grades, I wanted to check out the whole thing.

This is the first book in a series, so I can partially forgive how fast-paced the plot was since there will be more books to flesh things out. The story begins with Maddy trying to get her parents to agree to her plan to find the Thimblewitch so they can be turned back into humans. We get a flash-back of Maddy's very Western-esque town where her parents were transformed by the Thimblewitch in the first place. When her parents are kidnapped, Maddy must travel to the Thimblewitch to get them back. Along the way she meets Harry and Silvio, who travel with her, thus solving Maddy's transportation problem. They eventually encounter the Thimblewitch and uncover the mystery of what really happened.

The plot did move quite fast, there wasn't a lot of fleshing out of anything. Maddy immediately goes from parents to rat parents to no parents, finds Harry and Silvio without much difficulty, finds the Thimblewitch almost immediately after (with no issues getting into the castle/compound), and it turns out it was all an honest mistake. So everything fell into place way too easily, to the point where I would recommend this book for younger readers, perhaps one of the first graphic novels they get introduced to, but I would imagine 9 year-olds and up would probably expect a more sophisticated plot than what I saw here.

Lovely artwork with an uncomplicated plot, perfect for beginning readers being introduced to comics and graphic novels

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the combination of the blue, yellow, purple and orange colours here; it's a very calming image for the cover.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Accidental Highwayman - Ben Tripp

Title: The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, A Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides
Author: Ben Tripp
Publisher: Tor, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Adventure
Started: January 5, 2015
Finished: January 10, 2015

From the inside cover:

In eighteenth-century England, young Christopher "Kit" Bristol is the unwitting servant of notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. One dark night, Kit finds his master bleeding from a mortal wound, dons the man's riding cloak to seek help, and changes the course of his life forever. Mistaken for Whistling Jack and on the run from the redcoats, Kit is catapulted into a world of magic and wonders he thought the stuff of fairy tales.

Bound by magical law, Kit takes up his master's quest to rescue a rebellious fairy princess from an arranged marriage to King George III of England. But his task is not an easy one, for Kit must contend with feisty Princess Morgana, gobbling attacks, and a magical map that portends his destiny: as a hanged man upon the gallows...

The first book of a trilogy about the exploits of Kit and Morgana, The Accidental Highwayman is a swashbuckling tale of high adventure, otherworldly magic, and true love that you won't soon forget. Fans of classic fairy-tale fantasies such as Stardust by Neil Gaiman and The Princess Bride by William Goldman will find much to love in this irresistible YA debut by Ben Tripp, the son of one of America's most beloved illustrators, Wallace Tripp. Following in his father's footsteps, Ben has woven illustrations throughout the story.

I saw comparisons to The Princess Bride and I was hooked. Realistically, nothing can trump The Princess Bride, but this book is done in a similar fashion and is bound to endear readers to it for that reason alone.

Kit is the young servant of James Rattle, who is actually the highwayman Whistling Jack. When his master dies, Kit must take up an unfinished quest: rescue the fairy princess Morgana from her arranged marriage and find a place where she can escape to without being hunted down by various faerie folk. Throughout the journey they encounter goblings, a monkey, a pirate queen, among other amazing things. The writing is beautiful and does remind me very much of The Princess Bride, the level of language is sophisticated and there are even footnotes for some obscure words that the average reader wouldn't recognize. The dialogue between Kit and Morgana is quite entertaining, the scene where Kit asks how communicating by bee works had me laughing. Morgana is pretty awesome and I loved her instantly, Kit is quite appealing as a naive young man getting to know the magical world through trial by fire. And Willem is hilarious. I didn't have as much invested in this story as The Princess Bride, but the novel was a great adventure story.

If you love The Princess Bride, you'll want to give this a go. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are wonderful.

Thoughts on the cover:
There's a red version of the cover with white lettering floating around, but my copy had the black cover with gold lettering seen in the pic above. I'm liking the black and gold version slightly more just because it looks amazing.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Free Like Sunshine - Christina Kilbourne

Title: Free Like Sunshine
Author: Christina Kilbourne
Publisher: Bookland Press, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: January 8, 2015
Finished: January 8, 2015

From the author's website:

All Kat really wants is a home, a forever home where she can live with her three sisters. She's even willing to give up her Disney-princess dream of living happily ever after for the chance. But giving up her birth parents for the possibility of a predictable life isn't an easy choice, no matter what they've done.

After five years of fending for herself and her little sisters, six foster homes and an eighteen-hour car ride to their new lives, Kat lives in constant fear that one of her sisters will blow it and get them sent back to Blackwater Creek.

It takes years before she believes her adopted parents will love her no matter what happens. Even then it takes her older sister running away to make Kat understand that real parents never give up on their children, and their is no time limit on forever.

5-year-old Kat lives in northern Ontario with her mother, stepfather, and her three sisters Jewel, Raven, and Janie. Their lives are tumultuous to say the least: their parents invite friends over to drink, leading to neglectful behaviour towards the girls as well as sexual abuse, and Kat frequently flees to a neighbour's house when fighting breaks out in the middle of the night. After a call to Children's Aid, the girls are removed and placed in foster care; Kat is 5, Jewel is 6, Raven is 3, and Janie is 2. Years pass, and after a bad foster home, a kidnapping attempt by their parents, and a good foster home where the girls finally thrive, their case worker informs them that all 4 sisters are able to be placed for adoption. When their new family drives them to their home hours away in southern Ontario, the girls all react differently while they wait out the honeymoon period until (they believe) their new parents will send them back.

I really appreciated this very candid and realistic account of a child in the Children's Aid system from removal, to foster care, to adoption. My husband and I went through the process to become an adoptive family through CAS before our daughter was born, and based on our experiences from our classes, the account in the novel is pretty spot on in terms of how children react in these experiences especially in terms of attachment. The only thing I found a little off was that Kat and her sisters were adopted by a white couple even though the girls are Aboriginal. CAS will only place Aboriginal children in a non-Aboriginal household if all other options have been exhausted, so I'm assuming the scenario in the book could fly based on the large size of the sibling group.

A very heartfelt, realistic account of a sibling group as they progress through the foster system into adoption.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very poignant pose, but the cover model, who I'm assuming is supposed to be Katrina, doesn't match her description in the book.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Winterkill - Kate A. Boorman

Title: Winterkill
Author: Kate A. Boorman
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 318 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: January 1, 2015
Finished: January 4, 2015

From the inside cover:

In the woods outside Emmeline's isolated settlement, a powerful enemy lurks, one that wiped out much of the population generations ago. Inside the settlement's walls, Emmeline is watched for Waywardness - the rule-breaking behaviour that sent her grandmother to her death. She knows she shouldn't go into the trees or seek answers to questions no one else will ask.

When one of the settlement leaders asks for her hand, she could wipe the slate clean, ridding herself and her family of the Stain of her grandma's crimes. But there's something out there in the woods...and it's calling to her.

I saw this and the premise looked interesting, and later found out why it sounded familiar, it has a similar setup to M. Night Shyamalan's movie "The Village".

In Emmeline's time, society as we know it is gone, with only a small settlement of English and French speaking survivors living in a large village on the Canadian Prairies surrounded by watch towers to protect them from the Malmaci, the monsters in the woods that killed the early settlers of Emmeline's people. Emmeline's family is Stained (Emmeline even more so because of her injured foot), seen as lesser by everyone else because of the crimes of her grandmother, who was killed for them. Waywardness, rule-breaking, is not tolerated, and anyone who is found to constantly break the rules is left to die.

Emmeline isn't afraid of the woods, and in fact hears them call to her. She and her friend Tom explore to find remnants of the Lost People, the native peoples that lived in the area before Emmeline's people settled there. Emmeline's curiosity and daydreaming have led the Elders to watch her for Wayward behaviour. When one of the Elders, Brother Stockham, asks for Emmeline's hand in marriage, she and her father see it as a way to get rid of the Stain that shames the family, but Emmeline has doubts, and also loves another. As La Prise (Winter) sets in and the settlement will be enclosed till spring and Emmeline married off, she sets out to find out more about the strange things she discovered in the woods before it is too late.

I enjoyed the insertion of French and English into the book's dialogue. It is explained that Emmeline's group of people is a mix of both speakers, hence why the inhabitants tend to use both interchangeably . I can see that it could be jarring and choppy for a reader who can't read French, but it did not bother me. Also, I appreciated the obvious Canadian references (props to the author being Canadian): Saskatoon berries, the Prairies, bilingualism, and the freezing death of winter. Emmeline and Kane's romance is well done, they're very sweet together and the romance did have a chance to build satisfactorily.

I wasn't too fond of the ending though, it felt too rushed and that I was missing something, perhaps that I was expecting more of a revelation about the Lost Peoples.

Good premise and execution but leaves a bit to be desired at the end.

Thoughts on the cover:
Gorgeous, I love how everything's laid out.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

All the Bright Places - Jennifer Niven

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), Hardcover, January 6, 2015 (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 388 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: December 18, 2014
Finished: January 1, 2015

From the back cover:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches - and manages to find - something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school - six stories above the ground - it's unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising - just like life.

Soon it's only with Violet that that Finch can be himself - a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.

This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.

This release has had a lot of hype, claiming to be the next hit like those from Rainbow Rowell and John Green. Having read Eleanor and Park and The Fault in Our Stars and adored them (as have most people who have read them), the kind of claim can be off-putting. Thankfully though, this author is amazingly talented and the hype is well-deserved, I do think this will be a YA hit this year.

Theodore Finch struggles with mental illness It's clear from the beginning that he's dealing with something, but the specific diagnosis isn't given until practically the end. He has been bullied for years, called a freak, and doesn't fit in at school or among his dysfunctional family. Violet is suffering from PTSD from the car accident that killed her older sister a year ago. She used to run a writing blog with Eleanor but can't bring herself to write anymore, or get anywhere near a car. Her life has stalled, which brings her to the school bell tower.

Violet and Finch meet at the bell tower, and Finch talks her down (and himself). From that, they are assigned to work on a school project which takes the pair to thought-provoking destinations that offer life lessons and insight. Misunderstood and feeling alone, the two form a bond, both looking for reasons to live. Violet blossoms due to Finch's attention, while Finch struggles to survive.

First off, I loved Finch, his personality was so charming and his numerous personas were hilarious, particularly 80s Finch, which was something straight out of a John Hughes movie. His narration was wonderfully done, the day-to-day struggles with bipolar disorder were incredibly realistic and raw.  Violet wasn't as much of a favourite as Finch due to personality, but she was a likeable and realistic portrayal of a person trying to move past a traumatic experience and move on with her life after losing a pivotal person such as her sister.

Huge, catastrophic stuff goes down. Just a warning, you will cry like a baby. I liked how it was handled, realistically and sensitively, and I appreciated how the author included various hotlines and websites at the end. Obviously suicide is mentioned quite often throughout the book (can't say much more due to spoilers), and this is one of the few books that I feel handles such a sensitive subject quite well.

You must read this. If you like John Green's books, this one has a similar writing style and feel. If you like the charisma of Rainbow Rowell's books, you will love Violet and Finch. Though the book does deal heavily with suicide and mental illness, these subjects are handled sensitively and well. Truly a stellar book.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The soft blues, purples, and yellows, the bird and the flower, the post-it note layout, it's awesome.