Author: Michael F. Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5
It all started when Grandma got killed by that huge grizzly. Or, well, Ray’s guilty conscience niggles that it may have even started before then, when he killed her avatar in the video game they were playing together and started the whole Rube Goldberg chain of events that led to her death. Whatever the case, it’s when her will was read that things started really getting ugly. Because apparently she left the entirety of her trailer park and reputed wealth to Ray . . . but only if he can figure out the Meaning of Life within the next month. Otherwise, he’s out of luck and his mom (who he’s pretty sure hates him) gets it all. No pressure.
I really wanted to love this book. The first chapter had such potential with its mad riot of dark humor–almost a dark take on Richard Peck’s style. But then everything just gets so depressing and existential–nihilistic almost for a bit. And then it turns into some zen self-help ridiculousness. I mean, it’s not all bad. Some of the zen self-help stuff is pretty common sense for having good relationships and a better life and stuff. But I don’t read a fictional story to get self-help relationship tips. Seriously. Good points: There is some solid character growth and change over the course of the book, which is always nice to see. There are occasional bits of humor or insight that are refreshing. And the author pulls off first person, present tense seamlessly. Extra points for that. So yeah, I don’t regret reading Ray vs the Meaning of Life, but I probably won’t read it again. It’s not the first thing I’d recommend for someone looking for a good story, either; although to be completely fair, it’s highly rated on Goodreads and has won some prizes. So maybe it’s just me.
Author: Namwali Serpell
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Strong/offensive language
Will knows he’s done plenty of bad things in his life. But the things he’s gotten caught for, gotten in trouble for? He swears those were never actually him. . . .
In this contemporary retelling of Poe’s “William Wilson,” we are given an intriguing look into the mind of a very paranoid, disturbed individual. Everything is told in first person, with an older character in prison for the rest of his life looking back on how his downhill road all started . . . with a gravely-voiced doppelganger–same name, same clothes, even the same tattoo–that no one else seems to notice or remember. You’ve got an obviously unreliable narrator, and it’s interesting to see the persecution complex that builds in his mind throughout the story. There’s a strong use of dialect that adds quite a lot in terms of character development as well–though strong warnings for the language, including some racially offensive terms. I haven’t read the original Poe, so I can’t say how they compare, but “Will Williams” was an interesting character study, with a nice use of dialect, rising tension, and sense of madness.
Author: Bill Myers
The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 3
My rating: 3 of 5
Wally and his pals Wall Street and Opera get the chance to take a trip out to visit Wall Street’s older brother . . . which would be super cool and fun, except for the fact that her brother has forsworn the faith of his family and chosen a lifestyle that his family definitely doesn’t approve of. Which makes the whole trip just a bit AWKWARD. And of course, any given day isn’t complete without Wally’s notorious clumsiness and dorkiness getting him into some kind of trouble. So, naturally, when you expose him to great stuff like hot air balloon races, mad bulls, and the great outdoors, disaster is bound to strike. But somewhere in the midst of all the craziness, Wally and his friends may just find out what trusting God is really all about.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is a classic series that I’ve loved since I was a kid, and My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord definitely continues the trends of the first two volumes of the series. You’ve got a hilarious, slapstick story that’s just good fun but that has distinctive spiritual and moral undertones that are fleshed out through the experiences the characters go through. Plus, the tone of writing in Wally’s voice is just too funny. I think this particular volume isn’t my favorite just because there’s too much of a dichotomy. I mean, in this series, there’s always that contrast between the humor and the actual point the author’s trying to make. But in this book, between the arguments Wall Street’s family have and the weight of the whole turning away from the faith thing, it just gets pretty dark (for a light-hearted middle-grade story, I mean), and it just doesn’t seem to fit–or rather, the slapstick seems an awkward fit in comparison. Still, My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord is definitely a good Christian middle-grade story that I would recommend.
Producer: Choice of Games
Author: Logan Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5
Pull out your magnifying glass and get ready to solve some mysteries. Okay, okay, you’re way too cool for that old-fashioned magnifying glass stuff. But when mysteries start popping up around your school, you are exactly the person for the case.
Sixth Grade Detective is another text-based game along the lines of Choice of Robots, utilizing the same game engine–so no music or visuals, just a story that your choices influence, powered largely by your own imagination. I really love the concept and have greatly enjoyed other games in this vein. This particular one is pretty decent, although generally a bit simplistic. The mysteries aren’t particularly hard, and although your choices certainly influence how the game progresses, there isn’t so much of a branching plotline as in, say, Choice of Robots. You get more choices as to what your attitudes towards events and authority are, what kind of relationships you’re going to build, who you take to the dance . . . that sort of thing. Not a ton of replay value, though. I do have to say that this would make a great introduction to this sort of game for a younger player; I mean, the main character is a middle-schooler, the story’s generally fairly clean, and the challenge level is approachable for a beginner. So yes, Sixth Grade Detective wasn’t my favorite of this game set, but it was interesting and would be a good choice for kids.
You can find out more at Steam or Choice of Games website.
Author/Illustrator: Atelier Sentō (Cécile Brun & Olivier Pichard)
Translator: Marie Velde
My rating: 3 of 5
On their visit to Japan, two young folks from France come into possession of an old, plastic camera that–so they are told–is specially made so as to be able to photograph yokai or spirits. Fascinated by the idea, they take pictures at sites reported to be haunts of yokai, tracing down legends around the country. But they won’t know until the roll’s finished and they’re back home whether it actually worked.
I feel like I should preface my review of Onibi by saying that it generally has positive reviews on Goodreads and has even won an award . . . because generally speaking, my own personal review isn’t that great, so maybe I’m totally missing something. I think a lot of my issue is just mistaken expectations. I mean, looking at this book–both the cover and the description–it looks like some cool graphic novel of a couple of kids going around hunting yokai. Which sounds awesome, incidentally. In actuality, this is more of a graphic memoir/travelogue of the authors’ visit to Japan. And that’s cool and all . . . if that had been what I was wanting to read. But being what it was, I was disappointed by an overall lack of plot and character development. You barely even see the main characters’ names mentioned, and their personalities don’t really come through at all–barring their penchant to be curious and seek out yokai legends. So yes, not an actual fictional story proper, more a fantasized adaptation of reality. On the other hand, to give credit where it’s due, when seen as what it is, Onibi does have its good points. Probably the best part is its depictions of rural Japan; you get some lovely landscapes and drawings of small towns. The art is nice in general–pretty typical western graphic novel style throughout. And the actual photographs at the end of each chapter were eerie and cool, much like some of the pics you see in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children–the ones that you know are some trick of lighting or such, but it totally looks like there’s a ghost or something. So yeah, as a travelogue, Onibi is a pretty interesting tour of some of the more rural areas of Japan . . . just don’t look to it for a lot of plot and such.
Author: Richard Titus
My rating: 3 of 5
An isolated tropical island. A whimsical, incompetent king who just wants to see the world. A mysterious girl. Sea monsters and pirates. Extra-dimensional lizards who may or may not exist. What kind of mad wonder is this?!
You can tell before you even open The Gift of the Quoxxel that it’s going to be a quirky trip. And you would be right in that assumption. This is quite the whimsical genre-mash, with a lot of fantasy but also elements of science fiction and mystery, plus a lot of humor. If you’re a fan so Seussical neologism or Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy, this is the book for you. It’s filled with quirky characters, long strings of alliteration, and plenty of surprises. For myself, I did personally find the surprises to be a bit too obtuse for my taste. It was like the author tried to keep things so mysterious at points that I just found myself getting lost. Not that I get the feeling that everything is supposed to fall into place and be perfectly understood. It’s not that kind of story. But . . . I kind of found myself getting lost in the whimsy at times. Still, The Gift of the Quoxxel was a fun trip, and even better, one that’s appropriate for all ages.
Status: Ongoing (currently 6 volumes)
My rating: 3 of 5
Warning: Although this is technically rated T (actually, I think the first volume may even be rated A) there’s definitely some ecchiness and partial nudity, so . . . fair warning
Kobayashi-san lived a fairly quiet, normal life as an average office worker and closet otaku. . . . That is, until one night in a moment of drunken unthinking, she invited a dragon to live with her. That’s right, a dragon–wings, scales, the works. The next morning, she finds a cute girl wearing a maid outfit and sporting horns and a tail staying in her home. Weird, but hey, Tohru certainly keeps life interesting, and her undying devotion and eagerness to help is kind of appealing. With Tohru’s presence, Kobayashi’s normal life has disappeared, but can she really find it in herself to truly regret it?
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one of those cute, episodic seinen stories that just sort of meanders through life in its own charming way. Honestly, there are elements of it that kind of remind me of Yotsuba&!, even down to the way a lot of the chapters follow the formulaic “Tohru and this or that ordinary thing that she’s just now interacting with.” Because Tohru isn’t accustomed to the human world, you get some unique, quirky perspectives on things that seem everyday to us. There’s a lot of relationship building and re-evaluation going on throughout this story as well, so it’s kind of more of a dramedy of sorts, because the humorous element is definitely present throughout. I guess there are elements that could almost be shoujo-ai flavored, but it’s in a way that could be totally platonic as well, so take your pick there. Again, fair warning that there are parts that are a bit more ecchi; that just seems to be the mangaka’s default, although it’s not quite as much here as in, say, Mononoke Sharing. The art itself is cute and fits the story, again in a way that seems pretty typical of the mangaka’s usual slightly sloppy/loose sort of style. Recommended for those who like cute seinen slice-of-life stories but who are open to a bit more of a fantasy flair.