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.

Tags No Comments - Read More

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

Tags No Comments - Read More

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.

Tags No Comments - Read More

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.

Tags No Comments - Read More

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.

Tags 1 Comment - Read More

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.


Tags No Comments - Read More

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.

Tags No Comments - Read More

Graphic Novel Review: The Hidden Witch

The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9781338253757. 204pp.

This sequel to Ostertag’s The Witch Boy is just as good. It continues the story of Aster, a boy who wants to learn to be a witch with the girls, and his non-magical friend Charlie. Back at school, Charlie befriends a new student, Ariel, who is secretly a witch and who sends some nasty magic Charlie’s way. Aster is having a hard time catching up with the girls, so Grandmother offers him the opportunity to improve his skills by helping with a special project (something in The Witch Boy). While other creators might turn the story toward a huge battle, don’t expect that here; the emphasis is really on friendship and helping one another even when it’s difficult, forgiveness, and being true to oneself. Ostertag’s art throughout is fabulous — my favorite pages involve literal meetings of minds and frightening shadows.

Tags 1 Comment - Read More

Graphic Novel Review: Woman World

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. Drawn & Quarterly, 2018. 9781770463356. 260pp.

What would the world look like if men not-so-suddenly disappeared and the world went through a series of natural disasters? “…this is the story of a village in this new world.” And the story is pretty great, from the little girl who thinks all men must have been like Paul Blart to the design of a new flag to a grandmother trying to explain the phrase “that’s what she said” to her granddaughter. In a world with no men, no one sees dick-shaped clouds anymore. It’s pretty much the most lighthearted, good-natured post-apocalyptic graphic novel ever. One more thing to recommend it: the final comic provides one of my favorite endings to a graphic novel ever.

Left this one on the dining room table and told my daughter I thought she’d enjoy it, but she beat me to the punch — she said she used to read it when Dhaliwal was still posting it to Instagram, and that she loved it. No idea why she never told me about it. Crikey.

The final book versions of the comics look like they may have been edited and added to a bit when compared to what was online, but you can get a sense of the series from the episodes still posted at (click on the “First Episode”).

Tags No Comments - Read More

Fiction Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris. Saga, 2018. 9781481494922. 306pp.

Cover blurbs from Lee Child, Seanan McGuire, and Anne Bishop? I picked this up out of curiosity, never having read a book by Harris, and then couldn’t put it down.

Lizbeth Rose is a small, deadly young woman in Texoma, where she works as a gunnie on a crew guiding/guarding others. Her part of the fractured, alternative version of the US feels more like the old west than not, though there are some modern conveniences, including weapons and vehicles, plus: magic. Gunnie Rose is the kind of quiet western hero who always does what she says she’s going to, whether that means killing, risking her life to get people to safety, or guarding wizards into Mexico to locate a descendant of Grigori Rasputin. The latter journey takes up most of the book, and an open secret of Gunnie Rose’s seems destined to set her at odds with said wizards (though it seems likely they’ll be killed before that’s an issue).

All in all a fun novel featuring just the right level of violence and a character I could root for, that came into my hands at just the right moment and saved me from a more boring book that I continue to work my way through. Seems destined to be a movie or TV show, especially in the era of Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and the Road Warrior movies.

Tags No Comments - Read More