Field Tripping (Graphic Novel)

Authors: James Asmus & Jim Festante

Illustrator: José García

Status: Ongoing (2 issues/5 projected)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Mrs. Flubbins’ class is off on another exciting field trip in their magic bus, ready to explore whatever wondrous adventure their teacher has in store today. It starts off great, exploring a world where you can experience all four seasons in a single day . . . until they find that this world also has man-eating plants. Then their controls get messed up, and they find that they can’t get home. The class ends up jumping from world to world . . . for seven whole years. Those of them who survive, anyway, although even they find themselves irreparably changed. Still, for all that Mrs. Flubbins hasn’t saved them, she’s still the adult in their lives and they look to her for guidance–until their teacher’s captured by pirates, and they have to save her instead.

Field Tripping is–quite frankly–a trip, and I kind of love it. The beginning harks strongly back to The Magic Schoolbus, like, almost uncomfortably so. Only, this graphic novel goes darkside pretty quickly. It’s like the authors are imagining what all could have gone wrong in a situation where a teacher takes her students without their parents’ knowledge on field trips using magic–like, realistically (as realistic as one can be in such a hypothetical, fantastic situation), that’s dangerous and sketchy at best, right? This story plays that up, with most of the students being dead by the end of the seven-year gap, and the survivors being cursed or stuck in magical armor or transformed into a bear or something crazy like that. But it’s not just dark and dour–actually, it’s not really dour at all. Because the personalities presented here are just plain funny, especially since these kids have basically grown up together at this point and know each other really well. And the authors do a good job of adding in situational humor to keep it from being overwhelmingly dark. The art is fabulous as well, and plays into the atmosphere and balance of it all quite well. Field Tripping has been an extremely interesting story so far, and I’m quite interested to see how the rest of it plays out. Recommended.

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Happy Bird (Manga)

Mangaka: Emi Fukasaku

My rating: 4 of 5

Believe it or not, Masato’s friend and classmate, Koto, is actually an android–she just looks like a cute girl. Around exams, it’s easy to get frustrated with how easily she can load the information she needs to know, while he’s busy trying to study. But it’s also all too easy to forget how utterly dopey and forgetful she can be about taking care of herself–getting to school on time, taking in the water that is necessary to fuel her functions and protect her operating system. Her (irresponsible) creator has asked Masato to look after her for just that reason . . . but with all the studying he’s trying to do, he hadn’t realized just how much she needs him until it’s almost too late.

Happy Bird is another super-short oneshot manga from the author of Alpha Minus, and it’s also extremely adorable. The art is just too cute–again, somewhat reminiscent of Kiyohiko Azuma’s work. While reading this story, I was also reminded a lot of Keiichi Arawi’s manga, particularly Nichijou. The blend of a cute slice-of-life school story with just a touch of the surreal, especially with the whole android thing, is what really brings that flavor out. It’s enjoyable and sweet, and the characters are interesting to read. Recommended.

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Alpha Minus (Manga)

Mangaka: Emi Fukasaku

Status: Complete (1 volume)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Because she’s an alien and weird things happen to any texts she sends, Sasamori has just decided not to send text messages at all . . . which is a problem when shy Arimura in her class wants to message her, since it’s the only mode of communication he’s comfortable with. Meanwhile, poor Nishida has extreme trouble with time management, always seeming to have the worst timing for absolutely everything . . . except for the timing that brought her friend Taketoshi into her life.

Alpha Minus is a random little indie two-shot manga that I discovered completely by accident–and I couldn’t be more happy to have found it. It’s cute and fluffy and quirky in the best way. The art is just adorable; it kind of reminds me of Kiyohiko Azuma’s work. The stories themselves are short and simple, but also super cute. Plus, they manage to avoid being too stereotypical and boring–like, they’re both cute school romances, but one’s about an alien (?!) and the other deals with time management. Basically, the characters are actually developed and interesting enough to really carry the story in both of these shorts. Recommended. I’ll definitely be checking out more of this author’s work.

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Louisiana’s Way Home

Author: Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When Louisiana Elefante’s Granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to pack her bags and scramble into the car, it’s not the most alarming thing. This has happened before, after all, and they always go back. But as they continue driving, Louisiana begins to realize . . . they’re not turning back towards home. They just keep driving, further and further away from her friends, her cat Archie, and the one-eyed dog she shares with her best friends Raymie and Beverly.

I have yet to read anything by Kate DiCamillo that I didn’t love, and Louisiana’s Way Home is no exception. This is a powerful and captivating story, simple and absurd in turn, full of whimsy and hope and hard knocks as well. For Louisiana, her life is just her life, but for the reader, I think the way she’s been raised to grift and charm her way through things is pretty heartbreaking. And in turn, the way she loves stories and music and her friends, the way she keeps trying, is just beautiful. She’s the sort of character that you want all the good things for, even though they don’t seem to be happening much, and the way she focuses on the good things she does get is pretty poignant to read. I promise, this does have a happy ending–one so fulfilling that I ended up crying through much of the last chapter or so. But it’s kind of rough at parts, just in the sort of way that is still ok as a kids’ adventure story. I think this would be a fun story for a middle-grade reader and a heartbreaking, heartwarming story for an adult reader; great in either context!

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No Guard Wife (Manga)

Author: Toshinori Yano

Status: Ongoing (currently 2 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Juri has just recently married, and she adores the faces her husband makes when he gets flustered. Cue all sorts of plans to be super romantic and make him blush. Only trouble is, he all to frequently beats her to the punch, being even more romantic and leaving her a blushing disaster . . . which he finds adorable.

No Guard Wife is a doujinshi, in the sense that it’s a self-published manga, not that it’s a fanfic manga based on a popular series. As such, it’s pretty short, with volumes running just over 20 pages each. The upside of this sort of publishing is that it’s a labor of love–without the restrictions of editors requiring certain things in the story, the author’s free to create what they want. In this case, the result is adorable and wholesome and sweet. We get multiple instances of this newlywed couple being sweet to each other and getting embarrassed, because they love each other and they’re in that just-married phase. It’s episodic, slice-of-life romance that would be kind of fanservice-y in other contexts, but seems remarkably wholesome in this particular context. Granted, this sort of manga isn’t for everyone, but most readers rate it 4-5 stars, so it’s generally well received. The story and art are both very cute, and the price is low enough that it doesn’t feel like too much to pay for such a short volume. Recommended.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Award Winning Manga by Kodansha Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle is once again offering a great bundle of manga from Kodansha. Although some titles are repeats from previous bundles, there are enough different ones to make this bundle interesting in its own right. Also, they’re offering huge chunks of the manga, not just a volume or two, which is extremely nice. Included are the entirety of Love Hina (in omnibus format), Space Brothers through volume 34, the entirety of BeckTo Your Eternity through volume 11, the entirety of Descending StoriesParasyte through volume 8, the entirety of Your Lie in April, and Princess Jellyfish through volume 9. It’s a good selection worth checking out, in my opinion.

If you’re interested, you can find out more here.

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These Unfinished Creatures (TAZ: Balance Fanfic)

Author: marywhale

AO3 ID: 12434553

Status: Complete (6 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Rated T; Mature Audience, because please, consider the source material, okay?

VICTORIAN GOTHIC AU. The Raven Queen has sent Kravitz to Neverwinter to track down who keeps stealing souls from the astral plane . . . undercover as a living human, which is crazy weird considering he hasn’t been alive in centuries. At first, even remembering to breathe is a chore, but he soon manages to blend in, taking a job as an assistant at Hecuba’s funeral parlor. It’s a good cover, even though he’s still not making much (any) progress in his investigation. When Hecuba’s ex and his friends hold a funeral for their friend, Taako, things get weird. No one’s mourning properly, the militia comes to confirm Taako’s really dead–something about being wanted for poisoning a bunch of people? And this Justin person who shows up and deals with the militia for the family is really distracting. Not to mention, this group of friends seem to be investigating something on their own that closely ties in to Kravitz’ own investigations. . . . Might be an opportunity to crack the case and get to know this Justin person better at the same time.

First off, I have to say that I adore marywhale’s The Adventure Zone fanfic just in general. The writing is great, the ideas are creative, and the characterizations are excellent and in character–appealing but not shying away from the characters’ faults. These Unfinished Creatures  is one of my favorites. I love the whole Victorian Gothic atmosphere, for one; it works surprisingly well with these characters and especially in a story focusing on Krav and the Raven Queen so much. I enjoyed how their relationship is portrayed as well, including how different Krav’s perspective on it is from that of Taako when he sees them together. The relationship/romance between Krav and Taako (because, of course, “Justin” is Taako and the funeral was fake, naturally) is sweet–and just as bumpy and messy as these two goofs can possibly make it. The mystery is well plotted and interesting, although the culprit is kind of obvious if you think about it; however, said culprit makes a good villain (I already hate him in canon), so it works. The other supporting characters are also excellently done, particularly Lup and Barry (yay!), and it’s really fun to look in on this group from what’s essentially an outsider’s POV. Plus, I just love the development that goes into Krav’s character here; he’s such an adorable nerd and I love marywhale’s interpretation of his character. Seriously, just read this fanfic, then go read all her other stories. They’re fabulous.

Note: You can find These Unfinished Creatures at https://archiveofourown.org/works/12434553/chapters/28300203.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Author: Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Ever since Abby’s birthday party at the roller rink, when Gretchen was the only guest to show up, they’ve been BFFs. They’ve shared secrets, done practically everything together . . . they even have their own secret expressions that no one else understands. But in high school, a very strange and scary experience at a friend’s beach house marks the beginning of change. Gretchen starts acting weirder and weirder, and it’s scaring Abby, especially when she begins to clue in to what’s actually going on.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism was a truly strange read, but I liked it quite a lot. It’s like a good, quality horror story–but one that has its roots in old-school pulp horror. There are tons of references to 1980’s pop culture (since that’s when the story is set). There are even a number of visual references–pamphlets, postcards, yearbook pages, etc.–to build the vibe, which I though was pretty cool. The story honestly begins reading like some kids’ coming-of-age story, with the girls becoming friends, growing up, sharing experiences. Then, about a third of the way through, things just start getting darker and scarier the further you go. The author does a great job of balancing the horror of what’s happening with the awfulness of Abby’s reactions–because what she in response to the changes in Gretchen is pretty terrible too. The whole story is a great picture of how we will do the impossible–and the unconscionable–for the people we love. This is an edgy yet old-school horror story full of friendship and 1980’s Charleston culture . . . as well as some pretty gross stuff. Recommended.

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EXPIRED | Deal Alert: Free Books for World Book Day

Once again, in honor of World Book Day, Amazon is offering a selection of books by authors from around the globe–temporarily for free. The selection this year includes several I haven’t seen before, so I’m looking forward to reading them. Genres range from contemporary to thriller, true crime to memoir, historical fiction, and even a children’s book.

You can find out more at https://www.amazon.com/article/read-the-world-2020?ref_=nav_signin&.

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Lotus Blue

Author: Cat Sparks

My rating: 5 of 5

Many years ago, wars decimated the planet, unleashing bio-engineered weaponized plants and mecha supersoldiers–half human, half machine–on the world. Now, the only ones who truly remember what the world once was are the few still functional Templars, their bodies sustained by the tech inside left over from the wars. Meanwhile, vast sections of the remaining population hole up in underground cities, waiting for the world to recover. And on the sand roads above, a determined few face the fading world and strive for survival, the tech of the past incomprehensibly altered to the stuff of myths. But the world is changing–Angels fall from the sky, travelers arrive from the hidden underground cities, and somewhere beyond the Obsidian Sea an ancient consciousness awakes.

I hugely enjoyed Lotus Blue, right from the start. This may not make sense, since they’re really not particularly alike, but the flavor of this story reminds me a lot of Firefly (a favorite of mine). The author’s descriptions are evocative, and the worldbuilding is sublime. I love the way she looks at modern (and futuristic) tech through the eyes of a people who have long forgotten what it actually is; the combination of advanced technology and primitive culture is quite intriguing. I love how the world slowly blossoms before the reader, displayed through the eyes of a variety of characters, each with different backgrounds, understandings, and motivations. The multiple points of view are fascinating, and the characters are all interesting in their own ways. The story itself weaves multiple individual stories into one big interconnected plot, and does so remarkably well. I honestly had no complaints about this book; it was very enjoyable and is one I would highly recommend–an excellent work of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction.

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