Kate’s Review: “The Dollhouse Family”

51233715Book: “The Dollhouse Family” by Mike Carey, Peter Gross (Ill.), and Vince Locke (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Black Label, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Alice loves to talk to her dolls, and her dolls and dollhouse love to talk back.

When Alice is six, she is given a beautiful antique dollhouse. When things in her life get scary, Alice turns to her dolls and dollhouse for comfort. One day, they invite her to come play inside with them. As Alice’s life is turned upside down in the “big” world, she is always welcomed home to the little world inside the dollhouse; the house will even grant her a wish if she agrees to live with them!

Follow Alice through the door of the dollhouse and into the demon’s den.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

Let it be said that Hill House Comics has gotten some pretty legitimate authors on board of their imprint! It’s not that surprising, as Joe Hill seems like a cool guy who knows talent when he sees it. “Basketful of Heads” was an awesome first experience for me in regards to this imprint, and when I saw that M.R. Carey was getting in on the action with “The Dollhouse Family” (though writing under his usual comic name Mike Carey) I was pleased. When Carey does straight up horror, like “Someone Like Me”, I am fully on board with his works. So I’m definitely all in to see what he can do with a creepy dollhouse!

“The Dollhouse Family” is a generation spanning family saga that wraps itself in a dark fantasy horror story, and for the most part I felt like it worked pretty well. We have a couple of paths that we’re following, and while the way they connect isn’t completely apparent at first, Carey does a really good job of building upon then until we do reach that connecting point. The first is of Alice, a young girl who inherits an old dollhouse from an estranged relative. Alice’s father is abusive and her mother is passive, and Alice finds solace in the dollhouse… especially when the dolls start talking to her, and she finds out that she can shrink down to join them inside. The other path is in the past, as a man named Joseph, while doing survey work, finds himself in a cave, and comes face to face with a mysterious woman, and a sleeping giant.

As mentioned, it isn’t totally clear how these two stories relate, but they are both interesting enough in their own rights that you will want to see how they do. After Alice makes a decision that completely shifts her life’s path, due to a suggestion by a mysterious being in the dollhouse called The Black Room, she ultimately ends up with a daughter of her own, and a fear of the dollhouse that just keeps showing up. I really liked Alice, and while the unfolding of the other timeline wasn’t as interesting to me, the world building and mythology building that Carey did with it definitely laid a foundation that made sense for where Alice and daughter Una end up. I liked the build up and the horror elements of demons, as well as cosmic/Lovecraftian body horror that gave me a serious case of the squicks.

But where this book ultimately fumbles is that for all the world building and build up, the ending is incredibly abrupt. I was reading this on my computer, and when I saw that I only had tenish pages left I was convinced that the file I had was cut off prematurely, as there was no WAY that it could all be wrapped up in ten pages. And yet, it was, and because of that it all felt SUPER rushed and unsatisfying. For all that background and foundation, the climax was way too quick, and the let down after the climax was even quicker.

The art style, though, was a good match for the tone. It felt a bit old school in its design, but the details were intricate, as intricate as that on the strange dollhouse within the story itself.

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(source)

Overall, I think that “The Dollhouse Family” is probably worth it for horror comics fans just because of the things that do work. But I do wish that Carey had taken a little more time to wrap things up.

Rating 7: A creepy and well planned out horror fantasy, “The Dollhouse Family” is an entertaining comic, but resolves itself a little too quickly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dollhouse Family” is included on the Goodreads list “Haunted Dolls”.

Find “The Dollhouse Family” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Tea Dragon Tapestry”

51323376Book: “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” by Katie O’Neill

Publishing Info: Oni Press, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Join Greta and Minette once more for the heartwarming conclusion of the award-winning Tea Dragon series!

Over a year since being entrusted with Ginseng’s care, Greta still can’t chase away the cloud of mourning that hangs over the timid Tea Dragon. As she struggles to create something spectacular enough to impress a master blacksmith in search of an apprentice, she questions the true meaning of crafting, and the true meaning of caring for someone in grief. Meanwhile, Minette receives a surprise package from the monastery where she was once training to be a prophetess. Thrown into confusion about her path in life, the shy and reserved Minette finds that the more she opens her heart to others, the more clearly she can see what was always inside.

Told with the same care and charm as the previous installments of the Tea Dragon series, The Tea Dragon Tapestry welcomes old friends and new into a heartfelt story of purpose, love, and growth.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I don’t know if not being at work has made my advanced knowledge of titles a little rusty or what, but when I was perusing NetGalley for a new batch of books I saw that Katie O’Neill had written a new “Tea Dragon” book that I hadn’t heard of. So I of course immediately accessed it, counting my luck stars that once again we were going to join Greta, Minette, Hesekiel, and Erik, and all of their adorable Tea Dragons.

And then I found out that it was the last story in the series.

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How can this possibly be the end? HOW? (source)

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” takes us back to the characters in “The Tea Dragon Society”, as we are reunited with blacksmith Greta, tea shop apprentice Minette, tea shop owners Hesekiel and Erik, and the always adorable Tea Dragons. Everyone is a bit older, and now Greta and Minette are starting to wonder about their places in the world and what they are going to do next with their lives. All the while, the Ginseng Tea Dragon that has ended up in Greta’s care after its owner passed away hasn’t been flourishing, and Greta is worried that she will never be able to bond with it. So right off the bat, identity and grief are presented as the themes of this book. O’Neill has a real gift for taking on heavy topics and making them feel digestable and gentle for the reader, and no matter how much anxiety or conflict a character may be feeling, you never get the sense that things are going to turn out badly for anyone. While this may come off as a lack of conflict and therefore a lack of investable plot, I actually really liked the calm atmosphere of this book. I also liked that there were moments dedicated to addressing the grief of the Ginseng Tea Dragon, and that grief is natural and doesn’t have to abide by timelines, nor does it mean that a person (or Tea Dragon) is broken. It was a great way to teach the young reader demographic potentially reading this (as this is generally a Middle Grade series) that when someone you care about is dealing with it, just being there is better than trying to find a fix so YOU feel better. Important lessons that even lots of adults don’t quite get, so I loved seeing it here.

Along with some great themes, revisiting characters from both “The Tea Dragon Society” and “The Tea Dragon Festival” was such a joy. O’Neill ties the two stories together and finally brings all of the characters to one place, with Rinn and Aedhan visiting Erik and interacting with Greta and Minette, and helping them with their self reflection. It was delightful seeing Rinn all grown up, and seeing her relationship with Aedhan and how it has changed and progressed. And even with the treat of familiar faces, O’Neill still manages to bring in some new characters, and lets us get to know them and learn to love them just as much as the old. I was particularly taken with Ginseng Tea Dragon, as it had a different, and just as valid, personality to some of it’s compatriots. New favorite Tea Dragon? Very possibly.

But it’s hard to choose, of course, because the Tea Dragons REMAIN EVER SO CUTE!! The design of this story is the same unique imagery that O’Neill has had for her previous books, and I still love it and how sweet and dreamy it is. The simplicity and bright and vibrant colors really bring out such joy and bring the story to life.

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Source: Oni Press

While I am not ready to say goodbye to the charming and wonderful characters of this series, “The Tea Garden Tapestry” gives it the best kind of send off I could have hoped for. I am very interested in seeing what Katie O’Neill does next now that she’s leaving her Tea Dragons and those who care for them.

Rating 8: A heartwarming and sweet conclusion to a series that I have come to associate with kindness and tranquility, “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” gives us one more adventure with Greta, Minette, and all the Tea Dragons.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” is included on the Goodreads lists “Fantasy Fiber Fiction”, and “2020 YA Books with LGBT Themes”.

Find “The Tea Dragon Tapestry” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.4): Season of Mists”

25101Book: “The Sandman (Vol.4): Season of Mists” by Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner (Ill.), George Pratt (Ill.), Dick Giordano (Ill.), Kelley Jones (Ill.), P. Craig Russell (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), & Malcolm Jones III (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1991

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Ten thousand years ago, Morpheus condemned a woman who loved him to Hell. Now the other members of his immortal family, The Endless, have convinced the Dream King that this was an injustice. To make it right, Morpheus must return to Hell to rescue his banished love — and Hell’s ruler, the fallen angel Lucifer, has already sworn to destroy him.

Review: Up until this point, “The Sandman” has been a combination of vignettes, massive world building, and showing how Morpheus/Dream is adjusting to trying to rebuild The Dreaming after his captivity. I think that it’s safe to say, however, that we don’t really know THAT MUCH about Morpheus as a character in terms of his wants, desires, and personality. He’s a deity of sorts. He’s a bit grumpy. He can be vengeful, or merciful. But in “The Sandman (Vol.4): Season of Mists”, we finally get to see him grapple with some very tough decisions, as well as having to look inwards and grapple with his own demons and mistakes. After a meeting with the other Endless, aka his siblings, Morpheus is taken to task by Death for banishing his former lover Nada to Hell after she refused to marry him and rule The Dreaming by his side. Realizing that he did something reprehensible, he decides to go to Hell, confront Lucifer Morningstar, and see if he can set her free. You think that the story you’re about to read is going to be a great battle between two powerful beings, and that it’s going to be a focus on the big fight between the two to save Nada.

But instead, when Dream arrives to confront Lucifer…. Lucifer quits his mantle as the ruler of Hell, and tells Dream that he is now responsible for what happens next to his former kingdom.

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Lucifer as he peaces out. (source)

So in a great twist and subversion, now Dream has to hold court to those who would want to take Hell over, and The Dreaming becomes host to Gods, Goddesses, Deities, Demons, and others who all think that they should get this prime real estate. Frankly, I loved that this was the main conflict. Seeing Morpheus have to bring all of these beings into his home and to let them say their piece, and then have to do some critical thinking about the pros and cons of giving one of them Hell (through sucking up, threats, or bribes no less), was such a fascinating turn of events. We get to see Gods from various mythologies come in, from Odin to Anubis to Bast to Susanoo-no-mikoto, Gaiman gives all of them a reason to want Hell for themselves. It also gives Dream time to think about what kind of terrible fate he left Nada to. That was actually the greatest weakness of this arc, in that things with Dream and Nada is almost resolved too quickly and easily. I liked seeing Death read Dream the Riot Act about how AWFUL he was to her. It doesn’t sit as well these days for MANY reasons (given that she was also of African royalty, so seeing Morpheus subjugate a Black woman just feels all the more tone deaf and problematic). But over all, I really liked this entire arc, and feel that this is where “The Sandman” has finally become it’s own thing, even more so than “The Doll’s House”.

But more significant for me within the whole of “The Sandman” mythos and universe is that this is the collection in which we finally get to meet Delirium, the youngest Endless and my number one favorite character in this series. Sure I’ve sang the praises of Death, and while she is my number two gal, Delirium holds the key to my heart. I love her so much that in 2015 I was her for Halloween.

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Not many people at my party got it, but those who did were LIVING. 

Along with the intros of Delirium and Destiny, we get to see the Endless interacting with each other, and seeing the power dynamics, as well as hints towards a missing Endless, but more on that in later collections. They are definitely dysfunctional, but you at least get the feeling that they, mostly, care for each other, as well as otherworldly godlike beings can (though Dream seems to have no love for Desire, which is fair as Desire is the wooooorst in many ways). This extended scene felt natural and was incredibly charming.

As I’m sure you noticed above, there are SO MANY illustrators with this arc, and they all added something unique to each story. But once again my favorite is the one that deals with the Endless, with illustrations by Dringenberg and Jones. The dreamy details of the Endless as they confer and debate really made me feel like I was in a strange place between worlds.

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(source)

Rating 9: A fascinating and twisted (yet also somewhat lighthearted) storyline that brings together many myths and legends, “Season of Mists” gives Morpheus a lot to think about in terms of fairness, and his own culpability in monstrous acts. We also meet my favorite character in the series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.4): Season of Mists” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Non-Super Hero Graphic Novels”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”,

Find “The Sandman (Vol.4): Season of Mists” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

Kate’s Review: “Basketful of Heads”

50490087._sy475_Book: “Basketful of Heads” by Joe Hill and Leomacs (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: June Branch visits her boyfriend, Liam, on Brody Island for a relaxing last weekend of summer. After an escaped group of criminals breaks into the house that June and Liam are watching, Liam is taken by them. June grabs a strange Viking axe and flees from the intruders. When one of the attackers finds her, she swings the axe and takes off his head, which rolls away and begins to babble in terror. For June to uncover the truth, she’ll need to hear the facts straight from the mouths of her attackers, with…or without their bodies attached. Collects issues #1-7.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

While it’s true that we aren’t getting a new Joe Hill novel this year, never fear fellow Hill lovers! He has made his triumphant return into the comics world with DC’s imprint Hill House Comics! Given how intricate and awesome “Locke and Key” is, when I heard that he was coming up with his own comic imprint I was very happy. When his premiere contribution “Basketful of Heads” became available in its full form on NetGalley I downloaded it almost immediately after I saw it. I had high hopes, and like most Hill content that comes my way, it met my expectations.

First thing is first, Hill has created some fun characters and a fun setting for this story. Brody Island feels exactly like the kind of beach town you would see in 1970s and 80s lore, with heavy nods to “Jaws” in particular (as this is one of Joe Hill’s favorite movies I wasn’t surprised; Brody Island named for the police chief in that movie, as well as a character saying someone should be hung up by their ‘buster browns’, a la the mayor). In this limited scope of a story you get a sense of the town and the people who live there, and the nostalgia factor was on point. Our protagonist June is the kind of lady character I’ve come to expect from Hill. She’s tough, she’s no nonsense, but she isn’t forced into a stereotypical ‘badass woman’ box we sometimes see when these kinds of characters are on the page. While it’s true that she’s lopping people’s heads off in hopes of saving herself and her boyfriend Liam, which is incredibly badass, she retains her personality and her core being. June also has some well done complexity, as she loves her boyfriend but has aspirations of her own through her education and focus on psychology. While others disparage her aspirations, she values them and holds true to them. I loved June. Add her to the list of excellent Hill heroines.

And then there’s the horror and mystery aspects of this story. As June takes off the heads of violent men who want to do her and Liam harm, we see a lot of gore and splatterpunk-esque violence that is very entertaining. We don’t really know what it is about the axe that June is carrying that makes people’s heads stay alive after being removed from the body, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The bigger question is why were June and Liam targeted by their attackers. And as that mystery slowly unfolds, we get a well plotted and full of twists ride that I really enjoyed. Hill has a number of tricks up his sleeves, and I found all of them entertaining as hell. I sped through this story wanting to know how it was all going to turn out, and with every reveal I was excited to learn more. Throw in some really fun Easter egg references to Stephen King and his work (prisoners from Shawshank on the run, the location of “Derry County”) and I could barely contain the smiles on my face that kept breaking out.

On top of all that, I liked the art style quite a bit. It is splatterpunk and gory when it needs to be, but also has some moments of cartoony camp and intimate expressions on our characters faces.

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(source)

“Basketful of Heads” was a really fun story, and I couldn’t be happier now that Joe Hill is back to doing some work in comics. I will definitely be looking into his imprint more to see what other stories come out of it. Summer may be over, but if you want to cling to it a little while longer and you like this kinda thing, pick it up!

Rating 8: Super fun, super gory, super twisty, “Basketful of Heads” is a hoot and a half and a hell of a ride.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Basketful of Heads” is new and isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Horror Comics/ Graphic Novels”.

Find “Basketful of Heads” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)”

50160417Book: “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman

Publishing Info: Graphix, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. A sweet and charming coming-of-age story that explores friendship, love, and coming out.

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn’t think he has a chance.

But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

Review: Sometimes you just need a good romance. While it’s not really my go to genre, I do have a soft spot for a kissing book every once in awhile, and in graphic novel form that’s all the better. Given how things have been going as of late, when I was throwing money at my local indie bookstore I decided to order “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” by Alice Oseman, given that a few of my friends had read it and enjoyed it. I waited for a day where I was stressed out and needed a nice fluffy distraction. And if you too are looking for a nice fluffy distraction, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” will do you just fine.

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This book showing up to shower you with romantic goodness. (source)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is about two teenage boys. The first is Charlie, a shy and introverted 10th year at his school who is out and used to be bullied because of it. The other is Nick, a gregarious and charming rugby player who gets along with all sorts of people. After being seated next to each other in class they strike up a friendship, and then perhaps something more starts to develop. This is a very straightforward story about two boys who are still trying to find themselves, and by finding each other they grow and change and blossom. While there isn’t much in terms of twists or turns or crazy drama or conflict, the quiet pangs of seemingly impossible crushes and the confusing moments of shifting (or perhaps merely expanding) sexuality bring enough relatable angst and joy to the reader that you will still be invested. Charlie and Nick’s friendship is realistic and darling, and seeing Charlie yearn for Nick while thinking he has no chance, and seeing Nick become more and more drawn to Charlie makes it so that you are completely taken in by their tale and will want to see what happens. Both Charlie and Nick are extremely likable, and I loved seeing how they interacted with each other and how their potential romance slowly built up through these interactions. What I found the most satisfying about this story is that while Charlie makes mention of past bullying, and while there are definitely moments of ‘soft’ homophobia from some characters (by no means to I mean not harmful, but more thinking in stereotypes of what a gay person is ‘supposed’ to be), it isn’t the main conflict for Charlie within the narrative. After all, while addressing the oppression that members of the LGBTQIA+ have to face is important, it’s also important not to define their stories by that oppression. So to have Charlie and Nick navigating the highs and lows of a potential romance in very run of the mill ways was refreshing. I also appreciated how Oseman addressed that one’s sexuality can shift and change when you are trying to figure out who you are, as Nick is going through a lot of self discovery. And that can be hard. The story is definitely soft and sweet, and while it does end on something of a cliffhanger you also have hope going into the next volume. Whenever that may be. Soon, I hope!

And finally, I really liked the artwork for this comic. Oseman’s style is very simple, but there are little hints of originality that I found very endearing. Be it sometimes writing out sound effects to have in the panel, or how the words are hand written and typed out letters are reserved for texts and messages between characters, or how body language gets translated into words, there is something very endearing and charming about how Oseman tells her story with her imagery.

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Please ignore the not so good quality picture, I had to improvise. (Source: Graphix)

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a lovely start to this pleasant story, and I am very eager to see where Charlie and Nick go from here.

Rating 8: Soft and sweet, “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is a darling romance with lovely characters and a charming coming of age plot line.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heartstopper (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great M/M Webcomics”, and “Let Boys Be Soft”.

Find “Heartstopper (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Displacement”

39908611._sx318_Book: “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes

Publishing Info: First Second Books, August 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A teenager is pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in World War II-era Japanese internment camps in Displacement, a historical graphic novel from Kiku Hughes.

Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II.

These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive.

Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

I am always going to keep hammering home the point that if we don’t know our own history, we are going to repeat it, especially now when our country seems to be determined to undercut civil liberties of its own citizens. Between police brutality, towards minorities (particularly Black people), a Muslim ban, and children in cages at the border, it feels like we are slipping more towards times in American history where we committed terrible atrocities that we haven’t really faced as of yet. That brings me to “Displacement” by Kiku Hughes, a graphic novel on the Japanese American Internment during World War II. I’ve read my fair share about this horrific practice (and reviewed another graphic novel on the topic, “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei), and figured that this would be another powerful, but familiar, take on this period in history. And I can safely say that “Displacement” wasn’t really what I was expecting.

“Displacement” is both fiction, and non-fiction. The non-fiction aspect is that Kiku Hughes’s grandmother Ernestina was held prisoner at both Tanforan and Topaz Internment camps, and that Kiku and her mother did a lot of research into it as Ernestina didn’t open up about it while she was alive. But the fictional aspect is a device that works very well, in which Kiku tells a story of herself being transported back in time, or ‘displaced’ to the 1940s, and ending up at the same Internment sites as Ernestina, therein letting the reader see this historical atrocity through the same modern lens that Kiku may. It’s very similar to “Kindred” by Octavia Butler, and Hughes mentions her specifically in her acknowledgements. I thought that it worked really well because it makes the story feel more personal than perhaps a textbook would, and more relatable since Hughes is a young adult who doesn’t know that much about the camps and what life there was like for Ernestina. It’s a perfect read for tweens and teens who might be wanting to learn about this topic, as while it’s ‘fantasy’, it’s also very realistic and provides the same perspective that they may be going in with. I read “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jane Watasuki Houston when I was in seventh grade, and while I did like it and got a lot from it, I think that if I had something like “Displacement” I may have connected more with it just because of the modern lens. Hughes also makes very clear connections to the current political climate we are in today with Trump and his goons in power, and how there are stark, STARK similarities between the prejudices they hold and the policies they are inflicting upon marginalized groups, and the ones inflicted upon the Issei and Nisei in this country during the Internment.

While “Kindred” is the book Hughes mentions specifically as influence, I also see a lot of similarities to Jane Yolen’s “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, in which a modern day (well modern when it came out) Jewish girl named Hannah is transported back to Poland right as the Nazis take over. I kept going back to that story as I saw Kiku pre-displacement, thinking about how Hannah, like Kiku, doesn’t feel that much connection to her heritage. While “Displacement” certainly does a great job of talking about what specifically happened to her grandmother during the Internment, Hughes also makes direct connections as to how the Internment facilitated a loss of identity for Japanese Americans, and played a part in generational trauma that still lingers today. It’s a theme that I haven’t seen as much in other books, be they fiction or non-fiction, about the Internment, and it is a really powerful way to show that there are far reaching consequences that touch later generations when it comes to trauma and violence directed towards a group of people. Kiku recounts (in the true story part of this book) how she and her mother decided to do their own research about Ernestina’s life in the camps, and about the camps themselves, and find out things that neither of them knew because of survivors not wanting to talk about it due to trauma and shame. This was the aspect that stood out to me the most.

And finally, I really liked Hughe’s artwork style. It feels not dissimilar to what you might expect from modern comics, but there are undercurrents of more realistic artwork and imagery that kind of remind the reader that this is based on something real, and terrible.

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(source)

“Displacement” is a book that I really think educators should have in their curriculums when teaching teens about the Japanese American Internment. It’s easy to understand, easy to parse, and has a whole lot to say about identity, racist policy, and trauma that can last beyond a generation.

Rating 8: A powerful graphic novel and the perfect introduction to the subject for tween and teen audiences, “Displacement” takes on a reprehensible part of American history with a magical realism twist.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Displacement” is included on the Goodreads lists “Surviving in the Japanese Relocation Centers of WW2”, and “2020 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”.

Find “Displacement” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country”

25100Book: “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” by Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones (Ill.), Charles Vell (Ill.), Colleen Doran (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1991

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The third volume of the Sandman collection is a series of four short comic book stories. In each of these otherwise unrelated stories, Morpheus serves only as a minor character. Here we meet the mother of Morpheus’s son, find out what cats dream about, and discover the true origin behind Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The latter won a World Fantasy Award for best short story, the first time a comic book was given that honor. collecting The Sandman #17–20.

Review: One of the things that I need to get used to when going back and re-reading “Sandman” is that Gaiman sometimes like to meander and experiment with stories in their tone and mythologies. So while “Sandman” does have an overarching plot line, on occasion you will find tales that don’t fit in. Sometimes I really love this, as in both of our previous collections I’ve highlighted these standalone stories. So theoretically I should have been totally game with “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country”, as it has four stand alone tales that don’t really focus on Dream and his journey. I’m all for experimentation, just like on my first read through, “Dream Country” didn’t live up to the books before.

Our first standalone story, “Calliope”, is one of the ones that most fascinates me, but also has some really problematic elements to it. In concerns the Muse Calliope, Morpheus’s former lover and mother of their late son Orpheus, who has been imprisoned by an author so that her influence will make him write amazing works. While in captivity Calliope is isolated and raped repeatedly, and she calls upon Morpheus for help in escaping. I greatly enjoy the concept of a person using the means of a Muse for ill will, and I liked the harkening back to the Greek Mythology that Morpheus has some part in, but I really had a hard time with the way that Calliope is abused by one man, and is basically damsel in distressed until another man saves her. The concept was my favorite of the four, but the execution was very upsetting and felt a bit tone deaf by today’s standards.

The second is “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, a fun and kind of sad story about house cats and how they went from ruling the wild to being subjugated by human kind. Given my love for cats, the idea of cats wanting to rise up and free themselves from their human ‘captors’ is very fun, if only because it has been said that if house cats were much larger they would absolutely try to kill their owners. Morpheus is here (in the form of a cat, no less!), but it really could have been anyone waylaying this information to our feline protagonists. This probably could have worked as a short story out of the “Sandman” universe, and I wonder if Gaiman had the idea for this kind of story outside of this narrative, as it felt a bit forced into the box of the Sandman world.

The third story is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, a World Fantasy Award winning tale (the first comic to win this award even!) in which Morpheus brings people of the faerie realm to come watch Shakespeare’s traveling troupe put on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Basically Morpheus and Shakespeare cut a deal and this is the first of two plays that Shakespeare has written for him. We get a lighthearted version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and get to see their ‘real world’ counter parts react to the way that they are portrayed within the play. Cute to be sure. I think that were I a bigger fan of the play itself I’d have enjoyed this more, but “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” isn’t a fave of mine, Shakespeare wise.

It’s the fourth story that I really, really liked, and kind of saved this whole collection for me. “Facade” is the saddest tale within this collection, and it doesn’t even have Morpheus in it! Instead we get to see my girl Death shine, though she, too, plays a smaller role in lieu of a new original character. Raine is a woman who, when on an archaeological dig in Egypt, was cursed with immortality. Though she is going to live possibly forever, her body is slowly deteriorating, rendering her isolated and scared and desperate to die. She puts on fake faces to go into public, but it’s by no means a long term solution, and after a particularly bad day Death hears her begging, and decides to talk to her. Looking at the consequences of what immortality would actually be is always sobering, and Raine is such a sad character that you ache for as the story goes on. And while it was kind of surprising to see that Morpheus wasn’t in this one, I think that Death was really the character to use given her empathetic nature (unlike Dream, who is prickly at best), and it was really nice seeing her getting a little more spotlight. She is such an intriguing character on her own, after all. I also really liked the artwork for this one. It’s a lovely design for Death.

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(source)

“The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” is a fine detour from the main storyline, but I’m eager to get back to see what Morpheus is up to. I definitely encourage you to read these if you are taking on the series, but if you have to go to Volume 4 before this one, that’s probably going to be fine.

Rating 7: These standalone stories are enjoyable for the most part, but they don’t really progress the plot, and feel a bit dated in some of their themes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books About Faery”, and “Mythic Fiction Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.3): Dream Country” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

 

Kate’s Review: “Child Star”

44280824Book: “Child Star” by Box Brown

Publishing Info: First Second, June 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Child Star is a fictional documentary-style graphic novel about how growing up in the spotlight robs young actors of a true childhood.

Child star Owen Eugene had it all: a hit sitcom on prime time, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a memoir on the bestseller list. The secret to his success was his talent for improvisation . . . and his small size. On screen he made the whole world laugh, but behind the scenes his life was falling apart. Hollywood ate him alive.

Inspired by real-life child stars, bestselling author Brian “Box” Brown created Owen Eugene, a composite character whose tragic life is an amalgam of 1980s pop culture.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

My love for “The Lost Boys” meant that when Corey Haim died I sat down and cried very deeply. He (and his costar and friend Corey Feldman) were two child stars who were plagued by personal demons that were brought on by fame (and all the bad things and people that come with it), so his death by overdose was tragic, but not surprising. He was just one in a long line of child stars whose life turned to tragedy. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking of Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Gary Coleman, and so many others as I read Box Brown’s new graphic novel “Child Star”. Which is, of course, the point.

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My heart….. (source)

This is kind of new for Brown, as up until now his graphic novels have been non-fiction. “Child Star” is written in a faux documentary style, so the approach feels like a ‘True Hollywood Story’ kind of tale. I definitely found it interesting that even in a fictional take (though arguably this is the life of Gary Coleman, fictionalized) Brown approaches the content in a just the facts manner. We are told the story of Owen Eugene, a child actor whose popularity exploded due to a 1980s family sitcom, and his small stature as caused by a genetic disorder. We see Eugene’s rise and fall through the eyes of family, friends, and colleagues, and trace how his life in Hollywood changed, and ruined, his life. I really enjoyed the documentary style put on the page, and liked how it truly felt like I was watched a seedy VH1 TV show as I read it. From his parents who clearly took advantage of their son’s fame to the predatory higher ups in Hollywood to the people who knew Eugene due to personal and professional settings, Brown creates a very well thought out, and incredibly tragic, tale of a person all based on the perceptions of those around him, and the reliability and unreliability of their words. Owen Eugene as a character is always a bit of a mystery because of this secondary source template, but I think that we get a nuanced and complex characterization, even if it’s being told through the eyes of others. He has a lot of analogs in real life, and while Gary Coleman is clearly the main influence the sad truth is that so many child stars suffer similar paths and fates that you can see many others inside of this tale.

There is a certain nostalgia on these pages to go with the pathos, and that is for 1980s family sitcoms. I was a little too young to experience it in real time, though I saw my share of reruns of “Growing Pains” and “Who’s The Boss” thanks to syndication. “Child Star” taps into the feel for how these sitcoms would play out, their plots derivative and their casts charming if not a little generic. What struck me the most, however, was how Box worked in the whole way that politics and Nancy Reagan’s ideals would weasel their way into these shows and put forth ‘very special episodes’ about various societal ills. Looking back at those episodes through more modern lenses usually means that we see how cloying they are (especially the ‘don’t do drug’ episodes; I remember rewatching the “Growing Pains episode where frat boys offer Michael cocaine and then mock him when he says no. Coke is EXPENSIVE. No one is going to mock you for saying no, it’s more for them!). It also comments on how Owen was just used in a whole different way for other peoples motives, even if those other people were the President and First Lady.

I will say that while I haven’t had issues with Brown’s art style in the past, for some reason in “Child Star” it felt a little out of place and took away from the impact. I think that part of it is because in the other books I’ve read by him, the stories do have emotional aspects, but are also filled with hope and a little bit of whimsy. In “Child Star” it just feels like a tragedy, and therefore seeing the very cartoony illustrations was a little jarring.

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(source)

Overall, “Child Star” is another well done graphic novel by Box Brown. It’s a bummer to be sure, but also interesting to look at these issues that no doubt still haunt various celebrities.

Rating 7: A poignant and sad faux documentary graphic novel that explores the wrecked life of a child actor, “Child Star” makes you think about the dark side of fame, especially for those who are too young to handle it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child Star” isn’t included on many Goodreads lists, but honestly any memoirs by former child actors, like Corey Haim’s “Coreyography”, and Tatum O’Neal’s “A Paper Life”.

Find “Child Star” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House”

25099Book: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman, Steve Parkhouse (Ill.), Chris Bachalo (Ill.), Michael Zulli (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), & Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A being who has existed since the beginning of the universe, Dream of the Endless rules over the realm of dreams. In The Doll’s House, after a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

Collecting issues #9-16, this new edition of The Doll’s House features the improved production values and coloring from the Absolute Edition.

Review: Our revisit of this classic comic series presses on, and now that Morpheus/Dream has reclaimed his power over The Dreaming, he has more work to do! As I continue my re-read I have been struck by how visceral and enchanting “The Sandman” universe is, and while it does still harken to other DC characters and mythos on occasion, we have started to stay firmly within a world of Gaiman’s making. And it is just as engrossing this time as it was the first time.

I don’t know why I waited so long to revisit Dream, The Endless, and the Dreaming, because going back to “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” really hit home how much I love this series. There’s dark humor, there’s lovely fantastical world building as you get more familiar with The Dreaming (Dream’s domain he rules over) and begin to meet other Endless (specifically Desire in this arc), and there’s an undercurrent of horror to go along with the fantasy. Our main drive this time is that of Rose Walker, a woman who is, unknown to her, a Dream Vortex, and therefore something very dangerous for The Dreaming as her very existence could damage it beyond repair. On top of that, a few of Dream’s Nightmares have escaped, and are wreaking havoc in different ways. In this volume Dream is still trying to re-steer his ship after his captivity, and we see just how far the damage of his absence has  gone. Rose has her own mission, and it is to find her little brother, who has gone missing. With the help of a mysterious but kind man named Gilbert, Rose goes looking for her brother, just as Dream starts looking for her. We see a few callbacks to other parts of “Preludes and Nocturnes”, which were done in slow and subtle ways, which made them feel all the more satisfactory as they were peeled back and revealed. The dreamlike atmosphere of this series is still present, as is the darkness. This time that horror aspect is in the form of a ‘Cereal Convention” that Rose and Gilbert stumble upon, which is actually a gathering of serial killers that are hoping to share insight with each other. I had forgotten how twisted this entire thing was, and let me tell you Gaiman doesn’t hold back. To the point that I really feel a need to give a content warning for abuse and sexual assault (and also a note that there is descriptions of violence against trans people in particular. Which felt very problematic but also very of the time that this series was going).

But once again, it’s a standalone story that has a lot of philosophical oomph and a lot of heart that stood out to me in this volume. While the arc of Rose Walker and the ‘cereal’ convention is definitely stellar, it was the story “Men of Good Fortune”, in which Dream and Death decide to give a man named Hob Gadling eternal life after they hear him waxing philosophical about mortality in a pub in 1389. Every hundred years, Hob and Dream meet at this pub, and Hob tells Dream about what he is doing with his eternity. There are highs and lows as Hob experiences the evolution of London, and we get to see how he changes the direction of his life and how it leads to success and devastation. What struck me the most about this story, outside of seeing how one person might shift and evolve with the world they live in were they to have eternity to do so, is that Hob and Dream are an unlikely set of friends whose friendship feels natural and touching. I remembered that Hob pops up here and there throughout the series, but I had forgotten how lovely his introduction was.

The art is still excellent. We’ve started to see more experimentation in design, style, and placement, and while sometimes there is a very traditional art style (like in “Men of Good Fortune”), sometimes it is very abstract. It really just adds to the flavor of the atmosphere that they’re all trying to create, and for the most part it works.

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” opens up the series to more possibilities, and more darkness. You can tell that this is something very special on these pages.

Rating 9: More chills and world building along with introductions to more of the Endless, “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” keeps the horror elements up while also showing moments of true tenderness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Psychological and Philosophical Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes”

23754Book: “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), and Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman’s transcendent series SANDMAN is often hailed as the definitive Vertigo title and one of the finest achievements in graphic storytelling. Gaiman created an unforgettable tale of the forces that exist beyond life and death by weaving ancient mythology, folklore and fairy tales with his own distinct narrative vision.

In PRELUDES & NOCTURNES, an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps her younger brother Dream instead. After his 70 year imprisonment and eventual escape, Dream, also known as Morpheus, goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine, and an all-powerful madman.

This book also includes the story “The Sound of Her Wings,” which introduces us to the pragmatic and perky goth girl Death.

Review: After re-reading “Transmetropolitan”, I knew that I wanted to re-read another comic series that I have great affection for. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to tackle, as I have a few that I REALLY love, but then fate interceded and announced that Audible was going to do an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s magnum opus, “Sandman”. “Sandman” is probably up there with “Watchmen”, “The Dark Knight Returns”, and “Maus” when it comes to influential graphic novels and comics. It is absolutely my favorite of Neil Gaiman’s works, and now the time has come to get reacquainted with Dream, Death, and all the other Endless and dream worlds.

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I don’t know why I waited so long. (source)

When we first meet Morpheus, aka Dream, he’s become a prisoner to those who wanted to try and capture his sister Death for their own devices. “Preludes and Nocturnes” is not only the story of how he escapes, but his quest to gather his three sacred objects: his bag, his helmet, and his ruby. Along the way Morpheus meets familiar faces from the DC Universe, as this is a Vertigo title (RIP you magnificent company) and we’re bound to see other licensed characters. It’s great seeing the likes of Martian Manhunter, Scarecrow, Mr. Miracle, and more, as it gives us a familiar footing to introduce us to a VERY complicated world and mythos that Morpheus is coming from. As of now in the story, Morpheus is rather one track minded, desperate to get his objects back and going to many lengths to do so. His journeys lead him to some very dark places, and the plot and tone is what tells you that this is starting out as dark fantasy that is right in the middle of fantasy and horror. I had forgotten how dark this volume goes until I was in it, and it gave me chills. There are moments of sheer horror, absolutely, but they almost always have a dreamy feel to them, as they should (though I’m excluding all the stuff that happens with John Dee in the diner… You’ll know what I mean when you get to it. It’s just complete nightmare fuel). All the while, Morpheus remains stoic and intimidating, and yet feels ruminative and introspective as well. As of now we don’t know much about him and his backstory, but you still get the feel that he contains multitudes that are just waiting to be explored. It gets you hyped to keep going on.

For me, however, the most effective and greatest tale of this volume, and one of the best of the entire “Sandman” story, is the standalone “The Sound of Her Wings”. It is within this tale that we actually get to meet Dream’s older sister Death, the original target for the capture that Dream got caught up in. It’s a quiet, bittersweet tale of Dream accompanying her as she makes her rounds, releasing mortals from their lives, and seeing the peace for the dead, and the anguish for those left behind. Death is a Top 3 Sandman character for me, and probably most fans, as she is kind, bubbly, and compassionate. She also looks like a fan of the Cure circa 1987, but that just adds to her charm. This is probably the story I remembered best in all of the “Sandman” lore, and reading it again was just as lovely and emotional as it was the first time.

Finally, the artwork is so of it’s time but also very well done. Sam Kieth has been seen on this blog before, probably most notably in the review of the “Alien” comic series. While I didn’t feel that Kieth’s work matched the tone of that endeavor, it is pitch perfect for “Sandman”. The use of shadow and blanched colors is great on it’s own, but it’s the weird little details that are put in to give an extra sense of unreality.

 

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Look at that cape!! Just look at it! (source)

Honestly, if you are a fantasy fan and you haven’t read “Sandman”, I really encourage you to do so. It’s Gaiman’s best work, and “Preludes and Nocturnes” will get you hooked with just a little taste of what is to come.

Rating 9: A dark and dreamy introduction to one of the greatest comic series of all time, “Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes” builds a world that is wholly unique and almost otherworldly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” is included on the Goodreads lists “500 Essential Graphic Novels”, and “Quality Dark Fiction”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.1): Preludes and Nocturnes” at your library using Worldcat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!