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. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Girl From the Other Side: Siuil, A Run Vol. 1 - Nagabe

Title: The Girl From the Other Side: Siuil, A Run Vol. 1
Author: Nagabe
Publisher: Seven Seas, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 180 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult, Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Started: October 5, 2017
Finished: October 5, 2017

From the back cover:

Once Upon a Time...

In a land far away, there were two kingdoms: the Outside, where twisted beasts roamed that could curse with a touch, and the Inside, where humans lived in safety and peace. The girl and the beast should never have met, but when they do, a quiet fairytale begins.

This is a story of two people - one human, one inhuman - who linger in the hazy twilight that separates night from day.

I saw this cover and immediately knew I wanted to read it. People have compared it to The Ancient Magus' Bride, and on the surface level that comparison fits (otherworldly male figure paired with vulnerable female figure), but a closer inspection reveals a different type of tale. The Girl From the Other Side (Totsukuni no Shoujo) is a fairy tale immersed in magical realism that is lighthearted and dark at the same time.

Shiva is a young girl under the care of a well-dressed demon (Outsider) she calls Teacher. She is under the impression that her aunt will come fetch her from the cottage in the woods where they live, but only Teacher is aware that Shiva was abandoned in order to spare her life. During their interactions Teacher cannot touch Shiva, otherwise she will turn into a demon herself. As Teacher and Shiva go about their days in a very adorable father-daughter fashion, he struggles with protecting Shiva both from the Outsiders and from the knowledge that her aunt will never come for her.

The story is shrouded in mystery and is slow to unravel, which is part of its charm. Shiva's childlike innocence is a perfect juxtaposition to the underlying darkness and shadow that pervades everything in the world they inhabit. The art is beautiful as well, it doesn't look like your typical manga style, more like the soft watercolours you'd find in a children's storybook.

The first volume ends on a cliffhanger, so I am definitely reading more of this. There are two volumes out currently in the English translation with a third coming out at the end of this month.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, the cover is what attracted me to this title, it very much embodies the spirit of the work at least thus far.