Graphic Novel Review: The Highest House

The Highest House by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. IDW, 2018. 9781684053544. 188pp. Contains #1 – #6 of the series in an oversized paperback.

Moth’s mother sells him as a slave to Clan Aldercrest in order to feed his siblings. It’s soon clear that the Steward sees something special (perhaps magical) in him. After he crosses The Bridge of Sorrows and enters Highest House, Moth begins training as an apprentice roofer. He also begins delving into the mysteries of the House, both on his own and with a powerful being trapped somewhere inside it who speaks to him and wants Moth to pledge himself to its service.

This book has a lot to recommend. It’s from the creative team behind The Unwritten and the original run of Lucifer, both published by DC’s Vertigo imprint. Carey also writes as M.R Carey (The Girl With All The Gifts and its sequels), plus he authored the Felix Castor novels, many other great comics, and lots more I probably don’t know about.

Check out his work if you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman. This oe also reminded me of Anne Leckie’s newest book, her first fantasy novel, the story of a trapped god: The Raven Tower.

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Graphic Novel Review: To Build A Fire

To Build a Fire by Chabouté, Based on Jack London’s Classic Story. Translation by Laura Waters. Gallery 13 / Simon & Schuster, 2018. 9781982100827. 62pp.

An overconfident newcomer to Alaska and his dog walk through the frozen Yukon, headed for camp. He’s distracted by thoughts of warmth and food. The dog, of course, can’t tell its master how much the cold worries it.

I can’t think of another comics illustrator as gifted as Chabouté. This short graphic novel combines the best elements of his Alone (an exploration of the mind of an isolated man) and his adaptation of Moby Dick (the time period, and strong, quick characterizations) with a sense of struggle and cold to perfectly express the short story by Jack London. (And maybe this is weird, but I was struck by his perfectly drawn birch trees. And his sticks! Every detail of this book looks perfect.)

Worth noting: this graphic novel could save your life if you’re given to wandering in frozen landscapes alone.

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Graphic Novel Review: Blossoms in Autumn

Blossoms in Autumn by Zidrou and Aimée de Jongh. Translation by Matt Madden. SelfMadeHero, 2019. 9781910593622. 145pp.

A beautiful romance develops between a former model turned cheesemaker, Mediterranea, and Ulysses, a retired mover. Both are dealing with loss and with getting older when they meet in Ulysses’ son’s waiting room, and their relationship develops from there. My favorite moment: Mediterranea, still afraid of apples because she saw Snow White when she was a kid, examining her aging, naked body in the mirror and seeing the witch. And then there’s the first sex scene — drawn in a sketchier, less colorful style than the rest of the graphic novel; composed without panels, it really captures the timelessness of the moment.

Buy this beautiful graphic novel for your library’s adult collection. And then, for bonus points, maybe put it on display near your large print shelves?


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Graphic Novel Review: Kiss Number 8

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ellen T Crenshaw. First Second, 2019. 9781596437098. 314pp including a conversation between Venable and Crenshaw in the back.

At the beginning of the book, Mads (Amanda) kisses one of her best friends from church, and she kisses her back, which starts some very difficult times for Mads. Flash back to a month earlier where she’s hanging out with her friends Laura (quiet) and Cat (party girl), avoiding the affections of Laura’s hot younger brother Adam, and on the verge of finding out that her father has a secret (Mads suspects he’s had an affair, but it’s pretty clear she’s wrong). Mads and her dad are super close, so the whole situation is difficult for her and her family, though it does give Mads a chance to get to know her mom and others better.

It’s always hard to review a graphic novel with a plot built around a secret, but here’s what I’d want to know if I was buying this for my library: it’s LGBT-themed, has little nudity but conversations about off-page sex (plus drinking and a few swears), and it takes place in the past (flip phones instead of smart phones). I’d have let me daughter read it in middle school without me looking over her shoulder, and I think she’d still enjoy it in high school.

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Graphic Novel Review: Sister BFFs

Sister BFFs by Philippa Rice. Andrews McMeel, 2018. 9781449489359. 144pp.

Philippa Rice and her younger sister Holly star in short comics (and texts) where they clearly love each other and also get one each other’s nerves. It didn’t long much to draw me in — the messy endpapers remind me of my daughter’s room, and the dedication to Rice’s older, kinder, prettier sister Kate (and the anti-dedication to Holly) had me laughing. This book has it all: fart jokes, familial cruelty, awkward selfies, and essential oils, plus a discussion about kissing Tom Jones for money.

Other comics by Rice:
My Cardboard Life

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Graphic Novel Review: The Great North Wood

The Great North Wood by Tim Bird. Avery Hill Publishing, 2018. 9781910395363. Not a thick book with lots of pages, but they’re oversized and beautifully colored.

This graphic novel is a mediation on the place in the UK where an ancient forest used to be, a guided tour through time (and a bit through space) led by a fox. In the first scene, the fox is enjoying whatever leftovers it found in a takeout box in front of a fast food chicken place, now. And then it’s the ice age, and then trees are starting to grow. It’s not quite linear, it’s a bit magical, and it’s got way more pink (and much, much less green) than you’d expect in a book about a forest. There are people, too, in stories about Honor Oak, Ned Righteous, Gipsy Hill, and more. It achieves a sense of stillness, and it’s beautiful.

Many thanks to the pro at my local library system ordered it, and to the folks at Avery Hill, who have also published a few short graphic novels by Tillie Walden that I love.

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Fiction Review: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch. Crown, 2019. 9781524759780. 336pp.

Crouch is a master of putting a unique spin on time travel puzzles, then weaving those into intense and emotional family stories. His novel Dark Matter was one of my favorite books of 2016, and I had just as hard a time putting this one down. (Here’s the Unshelved Book Review comic about Dark Matter: )

There are two stories in Recursion, that of Helena Smith, a neuroscientist researching memory to help her mom, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, and that of Detective Barry Sutton, a man mourning the accidental death of his teenage daughter eleven years ago. Smith gets a blank check from a mysterious source, to fund the development of a device she wants to invent but that she’s discussed with no one. Sutton fails to stop a suicide, and is then kidnapped and offered a chance to make his life right. Both narratives relate to a new disease, False Memory Syndrome, whose sufferers find they suddenly have multiple sets of memories, of possible lives they’ve never lived. When the narratives finally come together, it’s amazing.

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YA Fiction Guest Review: A Story About Cancer (With a Happy Ending)

A Story About Cancer (With a Happy Ending) by India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer, translated by Solange Ouellet. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2019. 9781786039774. 96pp.

The way cancer is discussed in fiction is very different from the way cancer really feels. In fiction, it’s often used as a shorthand for an unavoidable tragic death or someone bravely battling an illness. Unfortunately, that often spills into the way people treat people with cancer.

This book, written after a girl in cancer treatment asked the author for a cancer story with a happy ending, is more about how cancer really feels. The narrator is a teen with leukemia. She hates the awful pale green, pale pink, and beige of the hospital walls. She hates how the smell of the hospital, like “disinfectant and illness,” sticks to you after you leave and asks her mom to spray her room with lavender. She hates how people look at her like she’s going to die. She hates how her mom, and everyone else, keeps telling her that she’s strong, that she’ll survive this battle. She says, “I never pictured what I was going through as a battle anyway because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.” She finally asks her mom the question she’s been afraid to ask: “Mom, if I don’t get better, will you be disappointed in me?”

There is a happy ending, both for her health and for her blossoming relationship with a boy, one who actually treats her like a normal person. I’m glad the ending is right on the cover. (I sort of wish that the books about tragedy and brave battles had a warning sticker for people with cancer.)

The art is beautiful — I especially liked the illustration of the narrator like a floppy noodle person when she’s feeling weak and tired. I know what is essentially a picture book for teens might be a hard sell, but this book is not just needed, it’s also really good.

Guest book review by Sarah Hunt, who used to review books with me on Book Threat.

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Graphic Novel Review: Dark Angels of Darkness

Dark Angels of Darkness by Al Gofa. Peow Studio, 2018. 978187325373. 170pp.

On the inside of the dust jacket, Gofa (pen name of Alex Gouin Fafard) says he “wanted to make a book for the five-year-old me…What I liked most was creating cool characters.” The book is full of superhero hybrids that recall Dragon Ball, especially the battles full of over-the-top declarations and explanations that I could never quite follow. If you’ve read Michel Fiffe’s Copra, I can say this is fun in almost exactly the same way, with art that feels like a quickly drawn distillation of many things I love, and a mix of colors –so many yellows and purples — that fully supports the often out-of-control level of action. I could not explain the plot if you held a gun to my head, but there’s no need, it’s entirely extraneous to my enjoyment of this book.


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Graphic Novel Review: Alpha

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora and illustrated by Barroux. Translated by Sarah Ardizzone. Bellevue Literary Press, 2018. 9781942658405. 128pp.

Alpha Coulibaly, a cabinetmaker in the Ivory Coast, has had no news of his wife and child. He hopes they made it to Paris, and are at the home of his sister-in-law. But they didn’t have French visas, and neither does he, despite the fact that his grandfather fought for France in WWII. Knowing he might die before reaching Paris or finding his family, he sets out after them. His journey is difficult and expensive, long and dangerous, full of false promises and people who want to take what little he has.

The emotion of Barroux’s simple art and layouts pulled me along on Alpha’s journey. This book stands out, along with Don Brown’s The Unwanted, from other graphic novels about the current refugee crisis.

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