Kate’s Review: “Dark Night: A True Batman Story”

30357924Book: “Dark Night: A True Batman Story” by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This is a Batman story like no other-the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of writer Paul Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a desperate situation.

The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light-as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world.

In the 1990s, legendary writer Paul Dini had a flourishing career writing the hugely popular BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and TINY TOON ADVENTURES. Walking home one evening, he was jumped and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. His recovery process was arduous, hampered by the imagined antics of the villains he was writing for television including the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Penguin. But despite how bleak his circumstances were, or perhaps because of it, Dini also always imagined the Batman at his side, chivvying him along during his darkest moments.

A gripping graphic memoir of one writer’s traumatic experience and his deep connection with his creative material, DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY is an original graphic novel that will resonate profoundly with fans. Art by the incredible and talented Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS, TRANSMETROPOLITAN).

Review: I’m a lifelong Batman fan. Superman is my favorite DC Superhero, but Batman will always have a piece of my heart because I grew up with him and all the villains that came with him. Batman pajamas, Batman sheets, Batman comics, Batman school supplies (well namely Catwoman, but still), I love Batman unabashedly even if I think that he’s kind of a lunatic. Even though I grew up with Batman, I only sporadically watched “Batman: The Animated Series”, as I think it ran opposite “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” where I grew up. Apparently to me the only hero greater than Batman was Bill Nye.

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This probably comes as a shock to no one. (source)

But of the episodes I did watch, I greatly enjoyed, and Paul Dini is one of the people to give huge thanks to for that (along with “Tiny Toons” and “Batman Beyond”). We also need to bow down and kiss his feet for creating Harley Quinn. I had no idea that Dini went through a traumatic near-death experience, as how much does the average comic fan know about those who write the stories? So when I heard that he was releasing a graphic memoir of his attack and recovery, I was definitely interested. Dini is a master storyteller, and when it comes to telling his own story it’s that much more powerful.

Not only is this a story of trauma and healing, it’s also a story of self reflection. Dini had a lot of problems even before he was attacked by two random men while walking home one night. His anxiety levels were high, his self esteem levels were low, and he had moments of depression and self mutilation even before the night he was nearly killed. The way that Dini lays his anxieties out in this comic are as various Batman villains he has written for. Poison Ivy is there to torment his conceptions about his sexual life. Scarecrow is there to freak him out about medicine and the healing aftermath of his attack. And then there is the original Big Bad himself, Joker, who is used to show Dini just wanting to turn his back on his world and self destruct. These villains are the perfect representations of all the worst fears he had at the time, and they are matched up well to those fears. And then there is the Caped Crusader himself, representing Dini’s struggle to overcome these issues and fears. I liked how Dini stayed true to the nature of all of these characters, but still was able to apply them to his own personal issues at the time. They never felt shoe horned in to fit his agenda, which I was worried about when I picked this book up. But Dini is a great writer, and he knows what he’s doing with these characters.

I think that Dini is also very brave for telling this story. He is more than willing to talk about his own flaws as well as the cruelty of others, and never makes himself out to be a sad sack perpetual victim in this. He calls himself out in the moments that he was acting foolish, and is honest about when he hit rock bottom and failed not only himself, but those around him as well. He talks about his PTSD after the fact, but the near emotional breakdown he was teetering towards even before he was attacked, stemming from a childhood of being an outsider and an adulthood of neuroses. A lot of his story really resonated with me on a personal level, and as someone with her own personal Jokers, Ivys, and Scarecrows she deals with (though not as extreme as Dini’s), seeing one of comics greatest minds open up about his demons was very, very satisfying and relatable. The message I loved most from this story was his message of “When someone hurts you, you are so much more than what they took from you.” A mentality that is very hard for victims of trauma to remember sometimes. Dini certainly had a hard time remembering. But he fought to remember.

I also need to note the artwork in this book. Eduardo Risso is no stranger to amazing artwork in the comics world, as he has done the art for “100 Bullets”, “Transmetropolitan”, and other Batman stories. He’s an Eisner Award winner as well. The art in “Dark Night” is gritty and haunting, with lots of shadows, darker or muted tones, and vibrant splashes of reds and oranges and pinks for blood and panic and mania.

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(source)

But when there is hope, and yes, there is hope, the colors are lighter, less harsh, and more vibrant and welcoming. One scene in particular, with Dini’s creation Harley Quinn, has a soft and kind feel to it that made me smile, and made me feel comfortable that there is light at the end of the tunnel for him, and for others struggling with mental illness and traumatic events. Dini takes solace in his creative works, just as many take solace in them as well. It’s a lovely concept.

“Dark Night: A True Batman Story” is incredibly brave and poignant. Dini continues to amaze, but this time it’s with his own redemptive arc rather than that of the Caped Crusader. Batman fans, I implore you to pick this up and read it. It is a testament to how important Batman, and other fictional characters, can be, especially when the night is at it’s darkest.

Rating 9: A deeply personal story that explores the importance of creative works within a healing mind and soul. This is a beautifully written memoir, with Batman at his most important.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dark Night: A True Batman Story” is not on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit perfectly on “Popular Graphic Memoir Books”, and “Memoirs of Mental Illness”.

Find “Dark Night: A True Batman Story” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Court of Fives”

18068907Book: “Court of Fives” by Kate Elliot

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

Review: As advertised on the cover of this book, Kate Elliott is a World Fantasy Award Finalist, which puts me to shame when I admit that before this, I hadn’t read anything by her. But after reading “Court of Fives,” I definitely will!

Jes and her sisters walk a precarious and lonely path. As the daughters of a Patron father who has been making a name for himself with militaristic achievements and their Commoner mother, a woman their father can’t legally marry, they do not fit in either world.  With such limited choices, each sister must find her own solace and way forward, and for Jes, that escape is the Fives, an intricate, Olympics-like sports competition that rests at the heart of society. But when her world begins to crumble around her, Jes must put these same skills to the real test: saving her mother’s and sisters’ lives.

This was perfect timing, as far as books go. Just coming off the amazingness that was the Summer Olympics, I was perfectly primed for a book about an awesome woman athlete kicking ass and taking names. I mean, I’m pretty sure I would have been perfectly happy with this book if it had just been scene after scene of Jes rocking it out at the Fives competition. And that was one thing I truly appreciated about this story. Jes starts out fully confident in her abilities, and then…lives up to her own word! Sure, she meets legendary athletes who help her train, and I’m sure will play more of a role in future books, but Jes is never “downgraded” by “reality” which is so often the case with stories like this. Girl starts out really good at THING, meets boy who then beats her at THING, boy and girl form competitive relationship where girl improves over the course of the book to maybe be awesome by the end. There is none of that. Jes is clearly at the top of her game throughout the story, and gains the respect and admiration of her colleagues for it.

Especially from Kal. I loved their friendship. There’s never any doubt that Jes is the superior player, but Kal is a gracious friend who doesn’t feel the need to tear her own for this, but sees her for the mentor she can be in his own quest to improve. It was a fun dynamic.

Adding to that, I really enjoyed the clashing cultures, classism, and struggle due to colonization that is on display in this book. Each culture/society is well-rounded and it was interesting watching Jes come to the “history is told by the winner” conclusion. Her struggles as a child of two worlds and the realities of the choices she has before her were also well done. There were no easy answers, and it was never forgotten that Jes, her sisters, her mother, and even her father, were constantly bound by the roles that society imposed on them.

I also really enjoyed the relationship that Jes had with her family. Her challenging relationship with a father whose choices she didn’t always understand or agree with, her mother who chose a life of scorn from outsiders to be with the man she loved, and Jes’s sisters, all dealing with the same restrictions as Jes. I particularly enjoyed the sisters, and the fact that none of them became pigeon-holed into the roles they are initially laid out in. At first I was rather dismissive of them all: you have the scholar, check; the rebel, check, and the beautiful, spoiled baby of the family, check. But each character broke from their roles in ways that surprised me.

I really enjoyed this book. There was such depth to this world and the culture, and the mores serious issues regarding classism and imperialism were balanced by fun sports moments and lots of adventure. The ending also made some brave choices, denying Jes an easy resolution and setting readers up for the sequel. My library request is already placed!

Rating 9: A complicated and challenging world, peopled with fun characters. The beginning of a trilogy that earns its follow up stories!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Court of Fives” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “The Games We Play” and “Best Books About Family Relationships.”

Find “Court of Fives” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.2): Allies”

29429565Book: “DC Comics: Bombshells (Vol.2): Allies” by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo (ill.), and (Laura Braga (ill.).

Publication Info: DC Comics, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The shadow of WWII looms ever larger as the Bombshells battle the Axis Powers across the globe.

In Gotham City, a quartet of copycat Batgirls are doing their part to protect the home front.

In Greece, Wonder Woman faces a battalion of the undead, led by the villainous Baroness Paula von Gunther.

In London, Stargirl and Supergirl learn a shocking-and dangerous-family secret, while Mera encounters a monstrous threat from the sea that not even she can control.

And in Berlin, Zatanna attempts to thwart the evil magic that’s been released into the world, while the Catwoman and Huntress rescue a captured Batwoman from the clutches of the Third Reich.

But the paths of these superheroines will converge as they face their greatest challenge yet. To defeat the undead tenebrae soldiers overtaking London, they’ll have to form a Justice League of their own!

Inspired by the popular DC Collectibles line, DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 2: ALLIES throws the world’s finest heroines into one of the greatest battles in history!

Review: When I originally looked into the second collection of “Bombshells” comics, it was said that it wouldn’t be published until September of this year. Which left me to have to muster up a lot of patience for it, as I loved the first collection of the series (I will link to my review of it at the end). But I put myself on the list at the library, and told myself that I was willing to wait for it. So imagine my unbound joy when, in AUGUST, I got a notification that it was ‘in transit’ to my library. August is NOT September and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy of this fact as I was at that moment.

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BEST SURPRISE OF 2016. Book wise I mean. (source)

Now I had a feeling going in that perhaps it wasn’t going to live up to the first collection. And how could it, really? The first one laid out all of the characters, set up their stories, and gave them all a lot to do, yet not so much that they were overshadowing each other. Unfortunately this time around, we got less characters, and of those characters the focus was uneven. I am VERY sad to say that there was no Harley or Ivy whatsoever!!! Given that their shenanigans in France was one of my personal highlights from the first collection, I was pretty darn disappointed. And other characters like Batwoman and Zatanna really had few things to do this time around. A lot of the attention was on Supergirl, Stargirl, Wonder Woman, and the rise of the Tenebrae Undead Army that the Axis has unleashed.

Which is still admittedly pretty damn cool.

Nazi zombies are always a fun villain to hate, and seeing them controlled by the rotten Baroness Paula von Gunther (aka one of Wonder Woman’s recurring enemies) was a DELIGHTFUL treat. I imagine that it would have been tempting to have one of DC’s more popular, MALE villains to be in charge of them, but instead Bennett went with von Gunther and I was pretty pleased by that. There are some great moments for Diana and Steve Trevor too, as poor Steve is very clearly suffering from PTSD (and a fairly sensitive and accurate depiction of it to boot) and she is his protector. But the most important character arc was that of Stargirl (whose name is Kortni in this timeline, the Russian equivalent to Courtney), a superheroine I was not terribly familiar with before these comics, but who became one of my favorites in this series. Stargirl is dealing with the insecurity of her power being relegated to her staff, and not within herself, unlike her adopted sister, Supergirl. In an effort to find out more about herself, Kortni goes to find her biological father, which in turn makes Kara feel like she too is out of place. She doesn’t know what her background is. It’s a lovely way of showing both girls feeling the same isolation in spite of each having what the other longs for. There was also a lot of really nice homages to their Russian origins, with their flashbacks being drawn in a similar style to a lot of Russian Artwork, the kind that my Mom is obsessed with and insists on having coffee table book after coffee table book on. And you can see Swamp Thing in one of these drawings. DELIGHTFUL.

We also got to see a fun new side group back in Gotham, with the rise of the Batgirls! They are a group of (pretty diverse!) teen girls who have decided to take on Batwoman’s ‘cowl’ and take out corruption back on the home front. While it sort of felt like a weird thing to shoehorn in when there were lots of other characters to see, I did enjoy that it gave us glimpses of something a bit more light hearted. Also, Tim Drake showed up in this storyline. I’m okay with this male DC character showing up, as he’s still pretty relegated to sidekick status. Love the dudes, but this is a comic to showcase the ladies!

And then, tragedy. I won’t spoil the tragedy here, but it marked the end of one large story arc, and along with that end came the loss of a character. Given my love for all of these girls, I knew that I was going to be a mess regardless of who kicked the bucket first, but by the time I got to that plot point I was pretty much a weeping mess on the couch, in awe of how bittersweet, touching, and sorrowful it was. These stories are so well written, you guys. I love all of the Bombshells and everything hurts now. I didn’t want to say goodbye. AND WHY DID THE SEND OFF HAVE TO BE SO BEAUTIFUL AND DEVASTATING?????

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Why must you hurt me in this way, Marguerite Bennett? (source)

So while “DC Bombshells (Vol.2): Allies” wasn’t as strong as “Enlisted!”, it was still pretty damn good and filled with a lot of feelings and emotions and great plot lines. It’s probably gonna be a long wait until the next trade comes out, but I have a feeling that it will be worth it. The Bombshells are hands down my favorite comic characters out there today. And it’s filled with more Girl Power than a Spice Girls Video

Rating 9: Not as strong as it’s predecessor, and it’s too bad that some characters were absent, but “DC Bombshells: Allies” was a very good follow up. Lots of great storylines wrapping up, and lots of emotions and tears on my part.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol 2): Allies” is not on any Goodreads lists yet. BUT, if you like the “Ms. Marvel” comics this could be for you. Also, for more fun female superhero stuff, check out “The Supergirls” by Mike Madrid. It’s a great history on female superheroes.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.2): Allies” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviews of “DC Bombshells”: “Enlisted”.

Kate’s Review: “The Girls”

26893819Book: “The Girls” by Emma Cline

Publishing Info: Random House, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Review: When I was sixteen, I read “Helter Skelter” by Vince Bugliosi. It was summertime, my sister, cousin, and I were visiting my aunt in Iowa City, and I would stay up late at night to read about Charles Manson and his cult of followers. I know that I’m not the only person fascinated by this case; there have been movies, miniseries, documentaries, and many books about Manson and the horrific murders his group committed at his behest. Because of my fascination, it should come as no surprise that I was super intrigued by “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Emma Cline already sold the movie rights to this book before it was even released, which only further demonstrates how we as a culture can’t get enough of Manson. “The Girls” isn’t really about the Manson family, per se…. But it totally is, as there are numerous parallels between the plot of the book and what happened in the California desert in 1969, from characters to circumstances to settings. But instead of focusing on Manson (or Russell, as is the charismatic cult leader in the book), it instead focuses on fourteen year old Evie Boyd. Evie is a restless teenager: she is dissatisfied with school, has few friends, is confused about sex and her sexuality, and resents her divorced parents. I think that it was a very compelling idea to tell the story of this group through the eyes of one of the members, especially the member who is still an outsider. Evie was more infatuated with Suzanne, a cool and beautiful older girl who takes Evie under her wing. The girl who is very blatantly supposed to be Susan “Sexy Sadie” Atkins, the Manson Family member who stabbed pregnant Sharon Tate to death.

Evie is a very compelling narrator, whose life we see during her summer with Suzanne and Russell’s group, and then in a more modern day time. In the modern timeline she gets caught up with a couple of young adults, a sociopathic boy named Julian and his devoted and doe-eyed girlfriend Sasha. While I enjoyed the flashback parts of the story more, the present timeline was a great way to show that while we decry and denounce the blind devotion the Manson Girls had towards Charlie, we actively encourage this behavior by making girls in our culture feel like they need the romantic partners in their lives, no matter how dangerously flawed they are. Evie knows this, as her need to be with and excuse Suzanne’s actions almost led to her own destruction. Seeing Evie have this knowledge, and yet be unable to show Sasha the terrible path she could be on, was one of the more melancholic parts (of many melancholic parts) of this story.

But like I said, the parts in 1969 were definitely the strongest parts of this book, and it wasn’t even just the cult stuff that was intriguing. Evie comes from a broken home, with her father married to a much younger woman and her mother seeking solace and fulfillment in fad self help therapies and new boyfriends. Both of her parents are so concerned with their own pleasure and happiness that they see Evie as a non-priority. So of course the poor thing is desperate to find some stability, and therefore drawn into this cult. By telling Evie’s story, we get to see a humanized side to a group of women (though so many of them were actually girls) who have been painted merely and solely as violent and foolish sheep. Is there a teenage self centeredness and feeling on invincibility that has some motivation in what Evie does, and what many of these girls do? To be certain, and it would be dishonest to imply otherwise. But Evie is here to remind us that ultimately, she is still a teenage girl, and that the things that she has to go through, both at Russell’s ranch and even at home with her actual family and friend group, are tragic and unfortunate. She is desperate to find acceptance somewhere, desperate to be loved, and because of this she willingly spirals towards a very dangerous conclusion.

Cline did a great job of creating and building parallels between the actual Manson Murders and what Russell’s family does in this book. Most of the characters have their real life counterparts (Russell is Manson, Suzanne is Susan Atkins, and I’m pretty sure Evie is Diane Lake, a fourteen year old who was caught up with the Manson Family), and the murders have similar foundations in the book to real life (Russell is denied a music deal, and sends his girls to attack the house of the man who he thinks did him wrong, just to find someone else there who they kill anyway). As someone familiar with and interested in the history of Charles Manson and his followers, picking out the analogs in this book was quite a bit of fun. Cline did a lot of research and put in a lot of the details of the original murders, while putting her own story into them as well. Her writing style is also a shining star in this book, as it flows and evokes the sights and feelings of this time period with clarity and ease. She gives Evie such a realistic and sad voice, and she manages to make this book seem less exploitative and seedy than it could have been. It’s definitely sad as opposed to titillating, and the tragedy is all over the damn place, on both sides of it.

Some of the sadness kind of spills over into today and current events. Just recently, Leslie Van Houten, one of the women who participated in the LaBianca Murders in 1969, was granted parole, only to have Governor Jerry Brown overturn it. I have a lot of feelings about this. On one hand, she is indeed a murderer, participating in the horrific killings of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. On the other, she was high on LSD at the time, and has really, really turned her life around while in prison, having gotten both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and has had positive reports by the prison staff. Not to mention that it was so, so many years ago, and the point of parole is to take all of these circumstances into account. Plus, he fact that a few of the dudes in the Manson group have been granted parole (ahem, Clem Grogan and Bruce Davis, both also convicted of torture and murder) kind of makes this all the more perplexing, and makes “The Girls” feel all the more pertinent. Girls who are brainwashed into devotion to a significant other (by both society and the perpetrator, in Manson’s case) are punished when they take that devotion too far. It’s just fascinating seeing Cline’s point played out beyond the page.

“The Girls” is a fabulous debut novel. Cline does a great job of not excusing the actions of a number of violent and misguided girls, while still showing the tragedy of their circumstances.  I hope that this is just the start to a long and great career for Emma Cline, because I’m on board. “The Girls” is tense and upsetting, and a must read for people who are interested in the Manson Family, if only to see a side that perhaps hasn’t been seen yet.

Rating 9: A dark and sad story of growing up, and a really well done fictionalized account of the Manson Family, specifically the women involved.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Girls” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Cults and Communes in Fiction”, and “The Femme Buzz: To Be a Well Read Woman Reader”.

Find “The Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

I’m also going to list some resources on The Manson Family, because there is a lot out there, but not all of it is great.

“You Must Remember This: Charles Manson’s Hollywood”: This podcast about Hollywood devoted ten episodes to Charles Manson, his Family, and Tinseltown in the late 1960s to give it all some context. It’s absolutely fabulous. Start here, and then you can find the way to the next episode at the bottom of the page.

“Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders” by Vincent Bugliosi: This is the definitive book by the prosecutor of the Tate and LaBianca murders.

Flavorwire’s Charles Manson in Pop Culture Guide: A list of various Manson related materials as compiled by Flavorwire.

Biography.com’s list of the Manson Family Members: Links to Biography.com’s information about various members of the family.

 

Bookclub Review: “Bone”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Across the Decades,” we each drew a decade and had to select a book that was either published or set in that decade.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Bone” by Jeff Smith

Publishing Info: first published in 1991, assembled into one book by Cartoon Books in November 2010

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description: An American graphic novel first! The complete 1300 page epic from start to finish in one deluxe trade paperback.

Three modern cartoon cousins get lost in a pre-technological valley, spending a year there making new friends and out-running dangerous enemies. Their many adventures include crossing the local people in The Great Cow Race, and meeting a giant mountain lion called RockJaw: Master of the Eastern Border. They learn about sacrifice and hardship in The Ghost Circles and finally discover their own true natures in the climatic journey to The Crown of Horns.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I only started reading graphic novels a few years ago, so I had heard the title “Bone” thrown around for a while, but didn’t have many preconceived notion attached to it other than it was a classic graphic novel that I would need to get to if I was ever to have any cred as a graphic novel enthusiast. Well, I have accomplished it!

Like I said, I didn’t really have any idea what this story was about other than it featured some strange little while creature called “Bone.” Like…was this supposed to be like an animated skeleton bone? Or…? Very confused. But, after only a few pages, this really ceased to matter as I discovered just how enjoyable this story was going to be! Jeff Smith wastes no time explaining things, like what world this is, what are these creatures, even what happened before that finds us starting a story with Fone Bone, Phoney, and Smiley having been just run out of town. Nope, full throttle ahead! As you see below, we included a list under “Reader’s Advisory” for reluctant reader’s, and this book fits perfectly in that category. The adventure is exciting and instant, and before you know what’s happening you’ve been swept along and are wildly flipping from one page to the next.

One thing that stood out to me particularly was the witty dialogue. It finds the perfect balance point of being approachable for young readers, but there is a very adult level incorporated as well. It strongly reminded me of the humor you find in Pixar movies nowadays, particularly humor-strong ones like “Toy Story.” I was chuckling out loud often as the story progressed. Particularly, I loved the Rat Creatures and their bizarre relationship. The fixation on quiche is not only hilarious, but understandable: quiche is delicious.

I very much enjoyed the way smaller stories were wedged in within the larger mystery. There was never a dull moment, but for a story that is as long as it is, the main plot thread is drawn out in a steady manner, never disappearing completely and feeding just enough new clues to keep it in the forefront of readers’ minds.

There’s a reason this graphic novel series is a classic. Do yourself a favor and schedule a long, cozy Saturday afternoon to make your way through this epic adventure story.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I was first exposed to “Bone” back when the first story arc was being run in Disney Adventures Magazine, and child me really enjoyed it. Then in college one of my roommates had the complete collection, and I read the story in its entirety and loved it. So when we revisited it for our book club, I was super excited to go back and re-read such a fun story. I was kind of worried that it wasn’t going to hold up after ten years, but I am VERY happy to report that I loved “Bone” just as much this time as I did the times before. What I like the best about the story is the characterization of every single character. All of them are well realized and have realistic motivations, from Fone Bone trying to be a good friend to Thorn to Grandma Ben wanting to protect her granddaughter and her kingdom, to even Phoney Bone and his relentless pursuit for riches and power. Even the Rat Creatures, the villains and comic relief in some cases, have their moments of being well thought out and very realistic in their complexities and motivations. I suppose that if you have a story that runs for thirteen years you have lots of opportunity to really flesh out your characters, but it’s still a joy to see all of them leap off the page and into my heart.

Serena mentioned the wit and snark of this series, and I need to give a nod to it as well. There were times that I was reading this book and I would laugh out loud, like really cackle, to the point where my husband would have to ask me what I was laughing at because it was so prevalent. Much of the humor came from my very favorite character Smiley Bone, a light hearted goofball who just likes to be included in everything his cousins do. As you all know, I’m not very big into high fantasy stories in general, but the fantasy epic that is “Bone” is an exception because of these funny and witty moments and characters. Smith doesn’t let the story get bogged down by the dour realities of war and tragedy, as while they are definitely treated seriously, the moments of joy and humor balanced them out. I mean what’s funnier than seeing Smiley Bone dressed up in a really shoddy cow costume?

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I would argue nothing is funnier. (source)

And of course Bartleby. I cannot forget Bartleby. There was much aw-ing over how adorable Bartleby the baby Rat Creature is.

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I can’t with the cuteness. (source)

I could and would recommend “Bone” to readers of all ages, especially readers who enjoy an epic fantasy story. Because at its heart “Bone” is a well thought out and very well done fantasy tale that hits every point it needs to, and brings memorable and lovable characters with it. And along with being very well written, it’s also super, super cute. I’m so glad I was able to revisit this wonderful series.

Serena’s Rating 9: A great romp with a perfect mix of childlike wonder and adult snark.

Kate’s Rating 9: A well written fantasy epic and a beautiful story about friendship, peppered with hilarious moments and memorable characters.

Bookclub Questions:

1.) There are many great characters in this series. Who is your favorite and why?

2.) How did the illustrations aid the story? Are there any particular panels that stand out to you? Any particular story arcs that were better served by the illustrations (or weakened)?

3.) What did you think of the world building for this story? How was it similar to other fantasy adventures, and how did it stand out from them?

4.) This book is generally recommended towards kids, but tends to have an appeal towards teenagers and adults as well. What do you think it is about the story that has such a broad appeal for all ages?

5.) This story is very long, with the complete collection clocking in at 1000+ pages. Are there any parts in the story that could be cut out without hurting the overarching storyline?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bone” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Graphic Novels” and “Best Books for Reluctant Readers.”

Find “Bone” at your library using Worldcat!

The Next Bookclub Selection: “Revolution” by Deborah Wiles

 

Joint Review: “The Raven King”

17378527This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Maggie Steiefvater’s “Raven Cycle” books. Containing both fantasy and horror elements, we’ve both been independently reading this series, and with the release of the fourth and final book earlier this spring, we thought it was about time to share our thoughts! So each day check in to read our thoughts on the next in the series. To round out the week, on Friday we’ll be posting a more extensive list of other books/series that we recommend if you enjoyed the “Raven Cycle.” Today we review the fourth and final book in the series, “The Raven King.”

Book: “The Raven King” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, April 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: Both got the audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

Kate’s Thoughts:

I waited long and not totally patiently to get to this, the conclusion to “The Raven Cycle”. The book version taunted me on the shelf at work, because I was determined to hear Will Patton give life to these characters one last time, and that is what I did. And boy was it worth the wait. When early in the story some strange, ethereal beings that looked just like Blue Sargent came walking through the woods saying ‘make way for the Raven King’, in a weird, strange way, I knew that I was going to enjoy the end of all things. And all of our Raven Boys (and Blue) are so completely burdened during this book that the way that this all shakes out is going to be very, very important and consequence filled.

I was mostly happy and satisfied with how it did, which is the good news! Stiefvater had a lot of plots to wrap up, but I feel like she addressed most of them and gave them closure. The reality of their situation has started to take it’s toll on The Raven Boys and Blue. Blue is coping with the prophecy that has haunted her her entire life, now that she has found a true love in Gansey. Gansey knows that he’s doomed to die in a sacrifice, and is trying to make peace with this. Ronan is still creating things and creatures and pulling them out of his dreams (including a little girl with hooves he calls Orphan Girl), but the responsibilities with this gift are weighing on him. Adam is a powerful scryer, but the loss of Persephone in “Blue Lily, Lily Blue” is still haunting him, as is his abuse filled past. And Noah seems to be wasting away before their eyes. Seeing all of this was both very sad, but very good in the sense that it was a good reminder that they are all teenagers. If they weren’t as affected by these things as they were, it would seem very disingenuous on Stiefvater’s part. It felt appropriate that they were all in their own little angst bubbles in this book.

It was also fun seeing Piper Greenmantle again, newly teamed up with Neve and a really disgusting demon that looks like a giant wasp. The demon always felt like a serious threat, and Stiefvater’s descriptions of it and the hell that it wreaked upon the characters in this book were very scary and made me squirm. But I think that this could tie into one of the weaknesses of this book. While Stiefvater did a good job of wrapping up most of the storylines, there were a few that felt very rushed to wrap up. I don’t want to give spoilers away, necessarily, but there were a couple characters who were brought back just to be thrown to the side. I went in thinking that these characters were going to be there for the remains of the book, especially the ones that have been gone since early in the series, to give them a large send off. But then they would be over and done with after, like, a chapter. I didn’t like how rushed that felt, and I think that sometimes it was done to make room for the new characters, which didn’t seem too fair.

That said, I LOVED a few of the new characters, Henry Cheng especially. We hadn’t seen very much of him in the previous “Raven Cycle” books, but he was given a prominent role in this book as he gets closer to Gansey and Blue. His friendship with Blue was especially nice, since in the previous book he highly offended her without meaning to and it caused a lot of tension between her and Gansey. By the end of this he kind of felt like Carol Cleveland’s role in the “Monty Python” group: not officially a part of the gang, but important enough and there enough that he was totally a part of the gang all things considered. I also liked the introduction of his mother, Sun, a dealer in magical and antique items, a fact that manages to tie a lot of the realties of this world and the conflict that is in it together.

There was another thing that I was worried about in this book, and that was Gansey’s ultimate demise. I, of course, hoped that there would be a way to make this prophecy not so, as I love Gansey, I love his relationship with his friends, and I love his relationship with Blue. But at the same time, this Death Kiss had been so hyped and so matter of fact, that if Stiefvater did some sort of cheap cop out or cliched solution, I would only be disappointed. I was worried and very skeptical that she would muck it up in some way. I’m not going to say much else on the matter, except that this was NOT the case at all, and that she was able to reconcile everything together in a way that I really, really enjoyed.

And Adam and Ronan. Oh my gosh, Adam and Ronan. I love everything about their relationship, and there were absolutely beautiful descriptions about each of them through the other’s eyes that felt so achingly romantic and tender that I got choked up a few times. You wouldn’t think that describing someone as an oil spill would be breathtaking in this regard, and yet Stiefvater managed to do it. Both of these characters are filled with so much anguish and pain, and they understand each other so well and so fully that it always hits the mark in the exact way that it should.

Overall I enjoyed “The Raven King”. I’m going to miss all of these characters and this world that Stiefvater has created, but I am so happy that she ended it the way that she did. Fantasy fans need to check this one out..

Serena’s Thoughts:

And so it ends. I was so nervous for this book. For one, sticking the landing is notably difficult for any series. And for two, Stiefvater had seemingly dug herself quite the hole to dig her way out of. Beyond the obvious prediction of Gansey’s death that has hung over the series as a whole from the very first chapter of the first book, none of these characters have had an easy time of it.

Blue, with her struggles to find a place for herself in a world that she doesn’t seem to fit within all while carrying this heavy burden with regards to love and death tangled in such a way that would break most adults. Ronan, so powerful and yet so trodden down with the burdens of his gift and the losses that just seem to keep coming. Adam, who has come so far, but still carries the scars of his home life, and the internal struggle to accept the gifts of friendship that he has been given, and now has to contend with the full extent to which his promise to be Cabeswater’s hands and eyes will affect his life. And Gansey, now aware of his doom, who can feel the end coming but doesn’t know how to get there or even what role he is to play, now surrounded by such supernaturally powerful friends as Ronan, Blue, and Adam have become. How does to end all of these stories in a way that is true to the tone of the book?

It will be very hard to review this story without spoilers, but I will say that I was immensely satisfied with the ending. These are incredible challenges to face, and I think that Stiefvater handled them all with aplomb. Further, and I really shouldn’t even be surprised any more by this, she adds another character, Henry, who comes with his own baggage and gifts and was slotted in so seamlessly that by the end of the story, I was just as invested in his outcome as the others. Seriously, how does she do this??

The horror in this book also reaches its peak. There were pieces of imagery that were incredibly disconcerting, and often the scene-setting even played hand-in-hand with the type of story-telling you will find in the best horror/thriller novels. At one point, a scene is described through a character’s perspective who cannot see what is happening around him. In many ways, the scene was exactly like one you would come across in a horror movie, when suddenly a room is plunged into darkness and all you have to go on is scuffling and the random shout of dialogue to piece together what is happening. Stiefvater, just like a director of a film scene like this, understands perfectly that sometimes our imagination will make the unseen a million times more terrifying than anything actually presented. It was excellent.

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(source)

And, while I was satisfied with the ending, Stiefvater doesn’t fall into the trap of happily-ever-after. The villain in this story is a demon, and if that’s what you’ve got to fight against, a story can’t end with only rainbows and butterflies. A few villains from previous books make surprise appearances, and the background into Mr. Grey’s life as a hitman hired by an underground network of magical art dealers, essentially, is more fully fleshed out in a very creative manner. Sacrifices are made and there were times were I was definitely crying.

But like I said, it did end perfectly. The paths that are lain before the remaining characters were believable and true to the types of people they had all grown into by the end of the series. There was the possibility lain down for future stories for the characters, but I’m not sure how I would feel about a return to this series. This all felt wrapped up so neatly, and I am more than content imagining their future adventures without needing actual follow-up novels. But, at the same time, I’ve started out skeptical about how Stiefvater could pull of this series and live up to the hype, and she’s completely surpassed my expectations. Maybe I should be more trusting! Either way, this was a fantastic conclusion, and I highly, highly recommend this entire series to fans of young adult fantasy and horror.

Kate’s Rating 8: Some of the plot points are hastily tied up, but overall the characterization is spot on and the ending is very satisfying.

Serena’s Rating 9: Practically perfect ending.

Reader’s Advisory:

We’ll include a detailed Reader’s Advisory post for the whole series on Friday!

Find “The Raven King” at your local library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews: “The Raven Boys,” “The Dream Thieves” and “Blue Lily, Lily Blue.”

Serena’s Review: “The Ghost Bride”

16248223Book: “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo

Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review: This book has been hanging around on my TBR list for so long that I have zero idea where it came from, and honestly, had very little idea what it was even about. A historical book about Malaysia in the late 1800s? A ghost story? Fantasy book? Yep. Yep to all three. “The Ghost Bride” came out of left field and was everything I hadn’t known to look forward to.

There are so many things I could talk about with this novel, I’m not even sure where to start. First off, I guess, is the rich detail that Yangsze Choo brings to this story. The language, culture, and vibrancy of Malaya (now Malaysia) was so rich and nuanced throughout. It was like the most beautiful, most interesting history lesson on a part of the world and the merging of several cultures that I had very little understanding of to begin with. It was evident that Choo had meticulously researched her subject, and more impressively, she integrated these facts and details in a way that never felt unnecessary or distracting from what was, largely, a very action-packed story.

The story itself was also surprising. I guess if I had read the book description a bit more thoroughly, this might not have been as shocking. But the unexpected turn from a traditional, period piece story into a underworld fantasy adventure was a jolt to the system. And even throughout these more fantastical portions of the story, the narrative never lost sight of its foundation, even then laying more insight into the time period, culture, and religious beliefs of the people of Malaya. (It is worth noting that while elements of this story were created by the author, she includes detailed author’s notes at the end that explain her decisions and provide even more insight into the background of these elements.) Even the ending was unexpected. About one third of the way through the book, I thought I had a pretty good idea where the story was going. About two thirds of the way through, I had changed this slightly, but it was still pretty much the same. The last 50 pages? Nope, I had it all wrong the whole time and the story was even better for it!

The characters themselves were also well written and thought out. Li Lan is an endearing protagonist, Tian Bai a compelling villain, and side characters such as her loving, yet superstitious nanny, Amah, and Er Lang, a mysterious man who keeps crossing Li Lan’s path, add flavor and spunk to the story.

Additionally, I listed to the audiobook version of this story which was read by the author herself. She had a great voice, and her pronunciation was particularly useful for a book like this where I would have likely butchered half the words in my head had I been reading the book. If you enjoy historical stories with an fantastical element, definitely check out “The Ghost Bride.”

Rating 9: An  unexpected yet very welcome surprise! Just like the ending of the story itself!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Ghost Bride” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Ghost Fiction” and “Chinese and Japanese Fantasy.”

Find “The Ghost Bride” at your library using Worldcat!