Category Archives: Book Review

Giant Days, vol. 2 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrators: Lissa Treiman & Max Sarin/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The holidays are here! Which means it’s time for the ball–vintage dresses and relationship faux pas abound. Then the university is closed, and everyone is supposed to be at home resting and celebrating with family. But Esther and Daisy received an emergency text from Susan, and they have made their way to Northampton to rescue her, from what, they know not. And when the girls get back to university after the holidays, what awaits but the dreaded exams . . . it would probably help if Esther had actually bothered to attend class for most of the previous semester. Meanwhile, Susan is keeping secrets from her friends, and Daisy has developed a weird Texan alter-ego. Naturally, zaniness ensues.

The second volume of Giant Days follows faithfully in the steps of the first volume, dealing a strong combination of relatable, cute slice-of-life story with some pretty hilarious comedic randomness. I would say that I liked this volume slightly less than the first volume, but that’s a matter of levels of brilliance rather than of good versus not good. The characters are strong, developing their personalities even more and branching out to show us more of each of the girls on their own, while still giving us a good chunk of page-time with them together. (Personally, I would have preferred more time with them together, since that’s when they really shine, but it’s neat to see them developed individually as well.) We also get more involvement and character growth for both McGraw and Ed, both of whom I’m growing to love almost as much as I do Susan, Esther, and Daisy–which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, at the risk of sounding repetitive, the level of character development for all five of these characters is just stunning. It makes me very happy to read it. So does the art, which is just perfect for the story–bright and expressive and kind of casual. Highly recommended.

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Giant Days, vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)

Author: John Allison/Illustrator: Lissa Treiman/Colorist: Whitney Cogar

My rating: 5 of 5

Susan, Daisy, and Esther became fast friends when they began their university studies together. Yes, they all have their individual quirks–you could even say that they’re very different from each other. But perhaps it’s those very differences that make them good for each other, that help them through the complications of studies, relationships, illness, and drama that plague them along the way. Certainly, those quirks keep things interesting, as long as they can survive living in Esther’s drama zone, dealing with Susan’s mysterious past, and helping Daisy handle the big, scary world despite her (shocking) innocence.

I think I’m in love! Giant Days is everything I ask for in a graphic novel. The art is charming–a contemporary style similar to, say, Nimona or Seconds or even Kibuishi’s work, but with its own unique flair–and the coloring is just perfect–vibrant but not overdone. And the tone of the story is spot on, giving us a current, relatable slice of life story that touches on deep issues but never goes so far that we lose sight of the lighter side of things. And there’s plenty of the lighter side to be found here; this graphic novel is brimming with humor in abundance. There’s just enough quirkiness to the characters and the situations they find themselves in to appeal to the nerdier audiences, but the story is such a solid, timely slice-of-life story that I think a lot of YA/NA readers will find themselves charmed by this work as well. The characters are strong and interesting, and their depiction is vivid and captivating. I’m excited to see what Giant Days will bring in future volumes.

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When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

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Wisdom’s Kiss

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 4 of 5

You might say that there were many different things–different people’s lives interacting–that ultimately contributed to the debacle that later became known as Wisdom’s Kiss. The Princess Wisdom (better known as Dizzy) herself, for one, what with her tendency to belie her name and throw herself headlong into drama and adventure. The Duke Roger whom she was to wed, as well, although he was truly a pawn in the hands of his overbearing and scheming mother. Then there was the dowager queen Benevolence, Dizzy’s grandmother, who with her far-too-intelligent cat Escoffier discovered the schemes of said Duchess. Less immediately obvious, yet equally influential, were the presence of Trudy, a young kitchen maid with second sight; Tips, her childhood sweetheart; Felis el Gato, Tips’ mentor and a grand performer; and the Emperor of the whole land himself. But it was the interweaving of these individual lives that allowed even the possibility of such an event, one that would shape the course of the land for generations to come.

I’ve enjoyed Murdock’s writing before in her story Princess BenWisdom’s Kiss actually ties in with this earlier novel, although it is certainly not necessary to read the one to enjoy the other. They’re more loosely connected tales rather than anything like a series. Wisdom’s Kiss is really fascinating in the way it’s written. You don’t really get any straight-up narrative, although the sections taken from Trudy’s memoirs read essentially like a regular novel. But for the most part, the story is told in letters and diary entries and, yes, even articles taken from an encyclopedia. It’s honestly enough to be a bit hard to piece together where the story is really going at times, although everything comes together nicely by the end. And I did enjoy the different perspectives and the way the different characters’ personalities came through from the different sources. It was interesting–and something I haven’t seen done much–to see the same character from multiple different perspectives, including their own; it gives a different appreciation for the individual. As for the writing style itself, I’ve heard the author’s writing described in the past as “frothy,” and I can’t honestly think of a better word to describe it. There’s a lightness and wit to it, even in the sections where things seem dark and awful–but in this particular story, there’s also a busyness and a constant activity from all sides that I might almost better compare to the fizz you get when you first open a soda. I think that this is one of those stories that would tend be polarizing; you would either love all the novelty and the different perspectives or it would drive you mad trying to keep up and make sense of it all. Personally, however, I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss and look forward to reading more by this author.

Note: It’s implied at the end of the story that this is a retelling of Puss in Boots . . . and I guess it sort of it, but I would never have caught it if it hadn’t been mentioned directly. For what that’s worth.

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Cinnamon (Picture Book)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Once upon a time, in a small, faraway kingdom, there was a young princess who was blind and who would not talk. Her parents offered (dubious) rewards to anyone who could get her to talk, but although many tried, none succeeded. . . . Until one day, a fierce, man-eating tiger came to the palace and offered to help the princess find her voice.

Cinnamon is a lovely picture book combining the talents of two of my favorite creative individuals–Neil Gaiman and Divya Srinivasan. I would have to say that it manages to highlight the things I love about both of their work. The tale itself is, in a sense, classic fairy tale material. The combination of the mundane and the fantastic, the inevitable flow of events, the underlying darkness at times, and the sometimes fable-like quality all contribute to this feeling of fairy tale that the story evokes. Yet at the same time, it manages to avoid the downfall of many fairy tales when they are told as such–being boring. This story certainly is not boring, and I contribute a lot of that to the author’s great talent and sense of humor. Quirky and realistic details like the stunted mango trees and the contrast between the Rani’s cranky old aunt and the picture of her in her youth give the whole story a much more vibrant and interesting flavor than it would otherwise have. Srinivasan’s art is also huge in transforming this story, giving it a vibrance and luminescence that is just stunning. If you’re familiar with her Little Owl books, the style is very similar and equally charming and lovely. Settings that are generally alluded to in the text are brought to life, again helping to make this story anything but boring. My favorite illustrations are the ones showing Cinnamon and the tiger together as the young princess experiences life afresh through the tiger’s influence. There’s just so much emotion and depth in those pictures that it’s quite moving. I think Cinnamon is a great picture book for younger readers (I’d say ages 5 or so and up, depending on the reader), but is also an enjoyable tale for older readers to share as well.

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Frau Faust (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Ongoing (Currently 3 volumes available in the U.S.)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The old stories tell of a man named Faust who sold his soul to the demon Mephistopheles in order to gain his heart’s desires . . . but what if the stories don’t tell the whole tale? Marion finds himself intrigued when he encounters a mysterious woman by the name of Johanna Faust who first rescues him and then blackmails him into helping her in her search for a piece of, yes, the demon Mephistopheles. It’s impossible, but this vivacious, smart woman claims to actually be the Faust, the one who sparked all the old legends. Only, even if she were, she should have been dead ages ago. Intrigued, Marion finds himself unable to let her go, so he follows her as she continues on her journey to reclaim Mephistopheles from the inquisitors.

I’ve only fairly recently discovered Kore Yamazaki’s work, but this mangaka’s writing is rapidly becoming some of my favorite. It reminds me a lot of the things I love most about Fullmetal Alchemist–great characters, interesting plot, a sense of mystery, vibrant art.  It has a josei flavor, and I like that it’s a bit more mature without being unnecessarily M rated; it’s actually pretty clean. It’s more that Johanna herself is old, like impossibly old–while still appearing young and having an insatiable curiosity about the world–so you get some of that depth that comes from experience playing out in her character. I enjoyed having Marion placed alongside her character, since he is in many ways like a young version of herself; their characters sort of mirror each other and provide some interesting character insights. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the characters that have shown up in this story, and much like Fullmetal Alchemist, it looks like we may end up with a pretty extensive cast. I’m interested to see how that develops, since this series is still in its early stages (I hope, since it certainly has potential to be pretty long). So far, there’s a nice balance of present-day action and flashbacks/explanation of things that happened in Johanna’s past. There’s a lot of mystery involved in said past, which is pretty interesting; I’m very curious to see how that is developed in future volumes. Also kind of random, but I liked the author’s choice of setting for the story–a somewhat medieval Germany (of a country based off of that). European settings just work really well for Yamazaki’s stories, or rather, Yamazaki does European settings quite well. In any case, I’ve enjoyed Frau Faust a lot so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

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Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales

Author: Justin Richards

Illustrator: David Wardle

My rating: 3 of 5

Time Lords tell their own fairy stories, didn’t you know? For instance, have you ever heard the tale of the Three Little Sontarans? Or the story of the twins who were marooned in a forest on another planet? Or about Snow White and how she saved the world from the Doomsday machine? What about Andiba and her run-in with the Four Slitheen? But however strange they may sound at first, they still begin “Once upon a time.”

Time Lord Fairy Tales was . . . not quite what I was expecting, but a fun read nevertheless. It is primarily (perhaps exclusively, and I just don’t know all the base stories) retellings of classic fairy tales but with beings and settings from the Doctor Who universe–like Sontarans and spaceships. The Doctor himself appears at times, on the fringes of the stories, although he is never a central character to the tales. I have to admit, I’m impressed with how well the stories are crafted, the way that the classic tales are reworked in a way that makes sense, carries the flavor of the original story, and yet is fresh as well. The feel of these stories is less retelling and more actual, traditional fairy tale. That’s probably the main reason that I can’t rate this higher just based on personal enjoyment–I adore retellings, but the writing style of traditional fairy tales is much more difficult for me to get excited about. Probably my favorite story is the first, a tale of children climbing a garden wall and finding plates of cookies left for them–suffice it to say that an impossible time loop and weeping angels are involved, making for a tale that is both eerie and poignant. I would have to say that I recommend Time Lord Fairy Tales for that relatively narrow group of people who love both Doctor Who and traditional fairy tales; it will be greatly enjoyed by those individuals and pretty much lost on basically anyone else.

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