Mix It Up!

Author/Illustrator: Hervé Tullet

My rating: 4 of 5

We are presented with a page, completely blank save for a solitary gray spot. Invited to tap said spot, we do and are presented with an explosion of spots of all colors. And now that we have colors to work with, we’re challenged to try combining them to see what happens when we mix it up.

Mix It Up! is certainly not the sort of picture book to which I am accustomed. It isn’t actually a story at all. I’m honestly at a loss as to how to even categorize it. It’s an interactive experience for kids presented in book format; that’s the best explanation I can come up with. A bit more complex that your usual “name the colors” book, Mix It Up! visually and experientially teaches kids color theory, what happens when you mix different colors, how to create shades and tints, that sort of thing. It’s all very vibrant and interactive–rather than didactically telling the reader what’s happening, it invites us to see and discern for ourselves. This book is great for kids that need a bit more interactivity as it asks them to tap, shake, squish, and tilt the pages as they go along; fortunately, the pages are actually sturdy enough to withstand this kind of abuse. As far as recommended age goes, I think Mix It Up! is best suited for a slightly older demographic than most picture books, although it could be pretty flexible. My two-and-a-half year-old niece enjoys the first half, but the latter parts where more inductive reasoning is required are a bit beyond her appreciation yet. I’d say around five would be the ideal age for this book, but it would depend on the kid. For any age, it’s a great introduction to color theory.

 

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Explorer: The Lost Islands

Editor: Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Perhaps it’s a place where festivities turn to horror. Or maybe it’s a place where stories are broadcast from all over, where magic is made. It may not be an actual place at all, but rather something symbolizing our sense of self. Whatever the case, the idea of a lost island, isolated and strange, is tantalizing and full of equal parts fear and wonder. Come and see what’s there to find.

I’ve read one volume of Kibuishi’s Explorer series previously, The Hidden Doors, which I quite enjoyed. The Lost Islands brings a similar experience–a collection of graphic shorts by a variety of authors/illustrators, all somehow connected by the titular idea. It’s great to see the immense variety that is presented in this collection. You’ve got light, fluffy pieces and scary, adventurous stories and even one that’s contemplative and psychological. All in all, it’s a good selection; I don’t think there was a single story I didn’t enjoy. The art is all excellent, again with a good bit of variety between styles. The stories are generally middle-grade appropriate, but recommended for basically all ages, in my opinion. I especially appreciate that the stories aren’t just existential occurrences; they focus on ideas such as hard work, self-awareness, being true to oneself, and the importance of being a good friend. I would definitely recommend Explorer: The Lost Islands, and I look forward to reading more by the authors/illustrators represented here.

Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Braden Lamb, Michel Gagné, Katie Shanahan, Steven Shanahan, Eric Kim, Selena Dizazzo, & Kazu Kibuishi

 

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Downsiders

Author: Neil Shusterman

Downsiders, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

In the wake of her parents’ separation and her mother’s latest whimsy (a long-term trip to Africa), Lindsey finds herself shunted off to New York to live with her distracted father and her odious step-brother Todd. Meanwhile, deep beneath that same city, Talon finds himself challenging the precepts and perspectives of his own culture–a people who live beneath the city with their own noble way of life, isolated from the Upsiders whom they view as stupid. And when these two teenagers’ worlds collide, the result is staggering . . . possibly even devastating to both worlds.

Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, as is pretty obvious just from this blog. His books have such a different way of viewing things; they’ve very unique. Downsiders is true to his norm in that it’s quite different from anything I’ve ever read, but it’s also pretty different from any of Shusterman’s other writing. While there are aspects that are similar, I’m not sure I could have picked him out as the author if I hadn’t known. The pacing, while great for this story, is slower than in a lot of his books, and there just isn’t quite as much spark . . . I don’t know how else to put it. Also, the flavor is almost–I want to say Dickensian, but that’s not quite right–it’s as close as I can get to describing it, in any case. Still, while all that sounds kind of negative, I did actually enjoy this book. The concept of a complete, isolated culture living in the abandoned tunnels and forgotten structures beneath New York City is fascinating, and the actual development of this culture in the book was well written. The characters were also believable, and the choices and changes they went through during the course of the story felt true, honest–and important to us as readers because of that. The ending, largely due to those decisions being honest choices not fairy-tale ones, is both beautiful and bittersweet; the story is better for its being so. I wouldn’t recommend Downsiders for everyone, but if you’ve got the patience to dig into it, this book is a rewarding read.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 movie)

Marvel Studios

My rating: 3.5 of 5

An unlikely band of misfits and unsavory types is thrown together–mostly by their own greed and/or hatred of each other, surprisingly enough. And in the midst of their joint efforts at prison breaks, selling of stolen goods, and running for their lives, they somehow manage to go from being at each others’ throats to having each others’ backs. Which is good, because they might just be the only thing standing between the galaxy and total destruction.

I’ve probably stated this before, but I’m generally not a big fan of superhero/comic-based stories–and Marvel ones in particular. I actually mostly watched Guardians of the Galaxy because Karen Gillan is in it. That was a bit of a disappointment; I felt like her character ended up being pretty flat. *cries* But I did enjoy other aspects of the story and characters. It was weird to me that the entire main group of characters are really not what would typically be considered good people–thieves, bounty hunters, traitors, and individuals bent on revenge. But they made for an amusing and sympathetic group, I have to admit, and the tension between the characters is a big part of the enjoyment of the film. Obviously, Rocket and Groot are the best (and funniest) part of the whole story. But with that, I also have to give fair warning that this is PG-13, and it shows in the humor–as well as in the language and the violence, although it’s not particularly bloody or anything. I think one of the things I loved the most is how integral music and dance are to the story throughout. Plus, it’s an origin story of sorts, which I generally enjoy, so there’s that. Overall, the whole film has a funky, off-kilter flair that feels almost indie, although that’s immediately belied by the impressive visual production, which is quite attractive and fun. While it will probably never be my favorite movie, I think Guardians of the Galaxy was a funny, quirky tale that I did enjoy and will likely watch again sometime.

Written by James Gunn & Nicole Perlman/Directed by James Gunn/Produced by Kevin Feige/Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Music by Tyler Bates/Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, & Benicio del Toro

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Deal Alert: Humble Book Bundle: Super Nebula Author Showcase presented by SFWA

Hey, just wanted to let you guys know that, for those who enjoy good sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction, Humble Bundle is currently hosting a bundle feature Nebula Award winners and nominees, as well as a few other collections and such thrown in. Several of the stories certainly looked interesting, including The Last Temptation by  Neil Gaiman and Sister Emily’s Lightship by Jane Yolen. If you’re interested, you can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/super-nebula-book-bundle. As of when I’m writing this post, the deal’s good for 12 more days. Enjoy!

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A Fresh Perspective (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: dr4g0ngrl

FanFiction ID: 8495208

Status: Complete (14 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

An innocuous (if extremely annoying for Merlin) hunting trip with Prince Arthur turns into something drastically different when the two find themselves attacked by a group of sorcerers who manage to shove a suspicious potion down Merlin’s throat. After dealing with their attackers, Arthur turns around to find . . . an unconscious Merlin who is now a little kid of around four years old. Oops. Unsure what to do with a child, Arthur makes the natural decision–take the kid back to his mother. So the two of them show up on Hunith’s doorstep, and Merlin’s poor mom gets dragged into the mess, trying to comfort her confused son while also keeping his magic a secret from Arthur and the rest of the magic-hating world. But for a little child to keep secrets, especially a secret as big as this one, is not exactly easy, and Arthur is in for more than one surprise on his way back to Camelot.

A Fresh Perspective is just about everything I wish for in a fanfic–or in any story, for that matter. The writing flows well, uses excellent grammar, shows a very readable use of third-person narrative, and is just generally pleasant to read. The plot, as the author admits directly, is basically an excuse to write Merlin-as-a-kid fluff. And the result is absolutely adorable. The author’s grasp of Merlin’s character, as well as how that would display as a four-year-old kid, is excellent if flavored towards a highly favorable view of his personality and character (just as I like it). This view of him and his utter devotion to Arthur and to Camelot is vital to the way in which the plot develops, especially after Arthur and the knights discover Merlin’s magic. I also love that the knights (Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, and Leon, specifically) are heavily included in this story, because they’re fabulous and they’re individual reactions to kid-Merlin are important in developing their own personalities, histories, and relationships with each other and with Merlin. The bromance between Merlin and Arthur, as well as between Merlin and Gwaine, is well crafted here, and I think the way in which the author handled that uncertainty of relationship at the point where Merlin is suddenly a child and has no memory of Arthur or Gwaine was very well done. Honestly, I would change nothing about this story, and will probably re-read it many times over. I just want to find more stories by the same author!

Note: You can find A Fresh Perspective at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8495208/1/A-Fresh-Perspective.

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I Hunt Killers

Author: Barry Lyga

Jasper Dent, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Seventeen-year-old Jasper Dent (better known as Jazz) did not have the most normal childhood. Actually, he was raised by his dad, a notorious serial killer–raised to think like and eventually become a killer himself. But now Jazz’s dad is behind bars and Jazz wants a different life for himself. So when the body count begins to rise in his small home town, Jazz decides to (unofficially and without the sheriff’s permission) assist with the investigation. Because he knows how the killer thinks. And to prove to the town that he’s not like his dad . . . only, is it the town or himself that he needs to convince?

So, I’ve never read much Barry Lyga, but I Hunt Killers was an interesting enough read. It’s kind of a mashup of a contemporary YA novel and an adult crime thriller. And I guess that’s where I get my weird personal reactions to this story. Because on the one hand, I really enjoyed it, but on the other hand, it’s kind of strange and unsettling in a way I’m not sure I like. There’s this total dichotomy, even though in the book the elements are actually combined pretty well. On the crime thriller side, you get this guy who can get into the killer’s head, you get some pretty intense crime scenes, some very painfully intense flashbacks to the guys’ childhood, and a puzzling mystery that gradually unfolds. And on the YA side, you’ve got this kid who is struggling to even see himself as human, who struggles to see the people around him as human rather than just as things to be used. There is a ton of psychological and emotional baggage and internal conflict going on. And then you’ve got Jazz’s awesome girlfriend Connie and his BFF Howie–both of whom get dragged into the mess that Jazz involves himself in. The writing and the pacing of the story are good. The author clearly put a lot of research into this book. And I would read more of Barry Lyga’s books. I probably would read more of this series, even. But I still feel just a bit off about I Hunt Killers . . .  but maybe that’s the intended results, because how can a book about a kid who was raised to be a serial killer ever really be okay?

 

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