27 July 2011

27 July 2011–Good Vs. Evil Two-fer

The Awakening
Written by Donald Lemke; Illustrated by Claudia Medeliros
Stone Arch Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4342-3444-5

Alien Snow
Written by Michael Dahl; Illustrated by Roberta Pares
Stone Arch Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-14342-3443-8
The AwakeningAilen Snow
Before I begin, I’m tweaking to format a little for this review, as I’m reviewing two books using the same hook (discussed at length in the analysis section)

The Awakening –
Set in 1984, the dual stories of a young man and an Oni (Japanese demon) are affected by music from a cassette tape.

Alien Snow – Early 2010 finds a boy discovering the spaceship toy he’s been looking all over for, while at the same time, an alien invader has discovered the next addition to its collection.

Two of the four inaugural books in the new Good Vs. Evil series from Stone Arch Books. Each book in the series follows the same format: two parallel stories that weave together, telling both sides of the story from different points of view.
One story is always the “blue story” (my definition), easily defined by the complete use of blue tones and hues to tell that point of view. The second story is always the “red story” (again, my definition), and is basically the same as the other story, except, as the name suggests, everything is red.
At the beginning of each book is the suggestion to read one story line, then go back and read the other story, then go back and read both stories together.
Seeing this at the start of the book, I was extremely excited to get right in and start reading. However, by the time I got halfway through the first read through, I was growing weary of forcing myself to keep my eyes to one story. After finishing the first read through, I felt a little dread and apprehension going into the second story – not that the writing is bad, but it’s so trying on the eyes to not roam all over the page.
Powering through the second story, I managed to catch a second wind, now excited to read the entire story.
The third read through put everything in perspective and overall, the story felt much more cohesive. The individual stories felt disjointed and incomplete, becoming difficult to read, as certain major aspects are addressed in the opposite story.
  Overall, the artwork is top notch, which always seems to be a given. Their artwork is always inviting and accessible to readers, while the writing is solid as well, but feels a little hampered by the format, however, at the same time, it feels a little liberated from conventional storytelling tropes.
Final Thoughts
While the format has the potential for some fascinating storytelling, the format setup is probably not going to set well with younger readers, and many will read both stories together, or just give up on the book all together.
All in all, I love the concept, but the execution still feels a little rocky and uneven. Currently, it’s a fascinating concept, and worth a look, but I fear it’s a little too far ahead of it’s time to catch on with target audiences.

Talk about coincidence

Earlier today, I mentioned Kibushi’s Amulet Book 4 going into post-production.

I just got an update from NPR in their My Guilty Pleasure segment, author Darin Strauss talks about how in spite of the fact he’s a self described “Book Snob” (capitals my emphasis), his “guilty pleasure” is Kazu Kibushi’s Amulet Book 1

I could point out all the backhanded compliments he pays the book, but I’d rather not waste your bandwidth. I’d just like to point out that he’s finally (hopefully) stepping down off of his high horse and realizing what a lot of us discovered a long time ago.

Just because it has pictures, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have literary or entertainment value. There are tons of great stories and series out there, and it really pisses me off that anyone would dismiss this genre out of hand.

O.k. before I go any further, I'm going to stop, because I’m getting really worked up right now, and I don’t want to say what I feel in my heart on this blog, thereby sullying my integrity.

News of the World

So, a quick heads up for those of you out there that are interested – Raina Telgemeier (of such awesomeness as The Babysitter’s Club graphic novel series, and the award winning Smile [more on that in a second] all from the Graphix! imprint from Scholastic) was just awarded the Eisner Award for Best Teen Publication! Congratulations to Raina on this prestigious award, you totally deserve it. Read all about it Here

In other news, Raina is currently hard at work on her new book “Drama” that is due out fall 2012, so be on the lookout for that.

Kazu Kibushi’s super popular Amulet series (Graphix!) is gearing up for post-production work on the fourth book in the series is due out 1 September 2011 from all major book sellers. This has been an amazing series, and I cannot wait to see what happens in the new book. Kazu has even said that he feels this is the best book so far.

They’ve even put together a trailer for the new book, you can see it Here.

Finally, I received some digital galleys from Dark Horse Comics, so with the volume of reviews that need to get done, I’ll probably be ramping up the reviews for a little while.

25 July 2011

25 July, 2011–Princess Candy: Tales of a Sugar Hero

Princess Candy: Tales of a Sugar Hero
Written by Michael Dahl & Scott Nickel; Illustrated by Jeff Crowther
Stone Arch Books, 2011
tales of a sugar hero
Halo Nightly is like any other 11 year old – her grandma drives a taxi, she’s starting to notice boys, she’s even got a nemesis, at least as far as 11 year olds go. She’s also got a secret – on her 11th birthday, she received a gift from her Aunt Pandora, who has allegedly passed.
Opening the package, Halo finds jars of candies and a note from her Aunt, stating that these are special candies, and must be used wisely. Examining the jars, Halo discovers that each jar is labeled with the Spanish name of an element (i.e. agua, fuego, aire, etc.). Always the inquisitive type, Halo eats a candy from the jar labeled “fuego”, commenting that “Fuego means ‘fire’”. Immediately, she reacts as if she had just eaten a super hot cinnamon candy, and promptly belches fire.
Halo discovers that each of the candies will grant her that elemental power for a limited amount of time, and thus begins the adventures of Princess Candy: A Sugar Hero.
The book contains four stories in it:

- Sugar Hero: Halo learns about her powers, and discovers why and how her nemesis is always doing so well in class.

- The Marshmallow Mermaid: Marshmallows are disappearing at an alarming rate from the school, not to mention the star of the swim team (whom Halo likes) as well as the school nurse! It’s up to Halo to figure out why an angry mermaid has invaded the school.

- The Green Queen of Mean: Halo’s partner is hiding a big secret, one that could potentially destroy civilization in Nightly City! Can Halo show both Flora and Doozie that sometimes it’s better to realize the good that can come out of something, rather than the bad that caused it in the first place?

- The Evil Echo: Halo’s faced off against some tough opponents, but how is she going to be able to defeat an evil version of herself, especially when she’s denied access to her candy?

While super hero genres have seemingly examined every creation story out there (where the hero gets their powers), Halo’s story is a refreshing and exciting new take on the traditional tale. The villains are edgy enough to generate interest in young readers, but not scary enough to cause nightmares, and Halo is a bright, street-smart girl who  makes a great role-model for that age range.

Final Thoughts
Stone Arch has another winner on its hands. Reading through the book, it’s obvious that both Dahl and Nickel know their target audience. The stories are paced just right, they never get preachy (except maybe the bit with the nurse, which I thought was brilliant), and they are never condescending.
Crowther’s artwork fits the story perfectly as well. Never to realistic nor too cartoony, the visuals flow together with the story in such a way that makes it so much fun to read.
This is definitely one that should be picked up and prominently displayed in the children’s section of the library.

18 July 2011

18 July 2011, Brain Camp

Brain Camp
Written by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan; Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
:01 Second, 2010
Summer camp has always been a bit of a jumping off point into adolescence. Spending time away from parents with a bunch of kids your own age can be both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
That sense of terrifying exhilaration is very evident in Brain Camp, the story of two kids from distinctly different backgrounds who both wind up at Camp Fielding abruptly. Once there, they discover that disturbing events are unfolding around them, and if they’re not careful, they might just become the next victims.
The main characters – Lucas, the street-smart, troublemaker who comes from a broken home, shows the typical qualities of a youth growing up in a severely dysfunctional home – ditching school, stealing cars, running with a bad crowd, etc. Jenna, on the other hand, is one of those kids who are basically normal, but come from an overachieving family. Both are seen as “failures” by their respective parents, so it comes as a big surprise when a representative from Camp Fielding appears on their respective doorsteps late one night. The next day, both Lucas and Jenna are unceremoniously dropped off at summer camp with little warning.
After a brief meeting between the two, they go their separate ways, fully believing the other to be a complete waste of space, only to come together again, joined by the fact that the camp is really strange.
Classes in advanced mathematics and chemistry are taught on a daily basis, with the expectation that the kids will just pick it up as they go along. All the campers are expected to run a maze daily, allegedly the fastest getting special treatment at meal times, and the councilors acting suspicious. Even the kids that seem to be complete failures at everything are turning it around overnight!
One night, Lucas can’t sleep. Hearing a noise, he ducks underneath his bed to hide, only to see the councilors enter the cabin with syringes, and then locking the doors to prevent anyone from getting in (or out).
Combined with Jenna’s discoveries, the two grow closer together, trying to get to the bottom of the strange goings on at the camp, ultimately facing a serious, and scary threat.

The story’s pace works well for the most part, and the scares and questions all seem to fall into the right places. Even Lucas and Jenna’s relationship grows organically, while their interactions with the other characters are believable.
Where I have problems is with the authority figures throughout the book. All of those people show little to no concern over their actions (except for one instance where the director has to make an emergency decision that is rather graphic) and how they affect the campers. I understand that from the kid’s viewpoint it seems as though the councilors don’t seem to really care, ultimately they feel like automatons going through the motions, or even enjoying what they’re doing.
The other issue I had with the authority figures was with the parents themselves. The kids both think that their parents were in on the conspiracy the entire time, but I don’t know any parent, no matter how dysfunctional, that would be willing to subject their kids to such a treatment.
“Yes, Mister and Misses So and So, what we aim to do is implant a creepy bird creature in little Suzie’s head. She’ll become super smart, but there’s a slight possibility it could kill her.” “Well, shoot! Let’s sign the little dumpling up!”

It just doesn’t wash.

Final Thoughts
For the most part, Brain Camp is an enjoyable, scary run through the fears of puberty and growing up (the whole ‘wet dream’ bit didn’t even register with me until the third read through’), and on those aspects it hits everything it aims at splendidly. However, I had problems enough with the portrayal of the adults to the point it became a distraction from the book. Overall, I think it’s target audience will enjoy it greatly, but outside of that audience, readers are either going to be too scared, or put off by the lack of empathy from the adult characters.

Jack: I liked the idea of a camp where you can become really smart, and the fact that they had to run through the maze every day. What I didn’t like was that the parents went along with the plan to put the kids in the camp.

11 July 2011

Slight change to postings

So I got to thinking about it, and I realized that if I’m doing reviews of the books, I should at least provide a link to the book if someone wants to purchase the book.

With that in mind, I’ve gone back through and linked all images to their respective amazon.com pages.

Since I live in Colorado, I am ineligible to make any money off of this, but I want the creators to be able to get as much exposure as possible. If you like a review, click on the picture, and please buy a book!

11 July 2011–Sidekicks

Written & Illustrated by Dan Sanat
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-439-29819-3
Captain Amazing has been the hero of Metro City for a long time. He’s also an animal lover, as evidenced by his pets – Roscoe the dog and Fluffy the Hamster.
Being the only real superhero in the city means that Captain Amazing is forced to spend most of his time thwarting the machinations of various villains, so much so that he never noticed his pets had developed super powers of their own.
After Captain Amazing is laid low due to a peanut allergy (during a fight with some villains), he comes to the realization that he needs a new sidekick.  Hearing this news, both Roscoe and Fluffy decide to become Captain Amazing’s new sidekick, even though he explicitly stated “no pets”.
Now, Roscoe, cocky and self-assured to a fault, and Fluffy, who’s three inches of furry fury are going to prove they can be good sidekicks. Their only problem is that they have no real training. So, in order to prove himself, Fluffy and Captain Amazing’s newest pet, a chameleon named Shifty venture out one night to fight crime. After they run afoul of some feral alley cats, they’re rescued by a shadowy character who goes by the name of The Claw, a feline vigilante.
Fluffy and Shifty return to the same alley the next night with a peace offering for The Claw, who turns out to be Manny, Captain Amazing’s first sidekick and former roommate to Fluffy and Roscoe. Fluffy figures that with Manny in his corner, he’ll be a great superhero.
Manny, who has been a vigilante for several years now, takes Fluffy and Shifty under his paw and teaches them the ins and outs of being a superhero. However, when the trio runs into Metal Mutt (Roscoe’s alter ego), old wounds are reopened, and ugly truths are revealed.
When Captain Amazing is blind-sided by a villain who is virtually unstoppable, and hell-bent on wiping the super hero out permanently, will Roscoe, Manny, Fluffy and Shifty be able to set aside Their issues long enough to work together, much less save Captain Amazing?
Nathan -
When I first picked up this book, I thought the artwork felt familiar, but I just couldn’t place my finger on it. There was a nagging feeling that  I knew what it was, but not where I knew it from, until I read the author’s biography.
Sanat is the creator of the popular Disney cartoon, The Replacements. With that in mind, I re-read the book, enjoying it so much more the second time.
Not only has Sanat created a great story that stays with the reader long after the story is over, but the artwork adds an extra dimension that truly brings the story to life. The characters are believable, personable, and enjoyable.
Jack – I liked the fact that Captain Amazing’s (A.K.A. Harry) pets have superpowers and can talk, as anthropomorphism is a great tool for drawing in reluctant readers.
Nathan -
The story reads strictly by the numbers, no major surprises here. However, taking into account the target audience and the sheer enjoyment Sanat infuses into this story makes this a non-issue. Only the most jaded and soured of readers would have an issue with the straightforwardness of the story.
Jack – I didn’t like the fact that Harry had a sidekick that ran away, as it can cause anxiety in some kids, especially if they’ve lost a pet.

05 July 2011

July 5-Missile Mouse Twofer

Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher
Written and Illustrated by Jake Parker
Graphix, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-545-11715-9
Dressed in a smart yellow jumpsuit, with the Diplomacy of Indiana Jones and the subtlety of Robocop, Galactic Security Agent Missile Mouse (MM) is every bureaucrat’s nightmare. Charged with retrieving a mapping device from a far flung sector of space, Missile Mouse is betrayed by his guides, and looses the map to Gurne, a bounty hunter who apparently has history with MM.
Back at headquarters, Missile Mouse first gets yelled at for causing mayhem, and then, as if that’s not enough, he’s assigned a new partner! Missile Mouse and Agent Hyde have been tasked with rescuing an alien scientist who holds the entire knowledge base of his race’s ancestors in his head.
The only thing between them and the scientist? The Rogue Imperium of Planets (RIP), who plan on using the information found on the mapping device along with the knowledge in the scientists head to recreate The Star Crusher, a device so devastating that it can create a black hole on demand. If that wasn’t bad enough, Missile Mouse also has to deal with Gurne, as well as a shocking discovery that could jeopardize the entire mission.
  With the fate of the known universe hanging in the balance, Will Missile Mouse be able to save the scientist, prevent the destruction of the universe, and learn to trust his partner?
Pros: Nathan - Reads just like the great action movies of the 80’s, with lots of excitement and edge-of-your-seat thrills will entertain readers. It is well written, the story moves fluidly, and once picked up, it is extremely difficult to put down.
Jack – I liked the characters and the artwork.

Nathan - Two issues come to mind: the potential of some parental groups feeling that Missile Mouse could prove to be a bad role-model (also reminiscent of 80’s action cinema); and controversy regarding “God Imagery” that happens late in the book.
Jack – I didn’t like the idea that a single machine can destroy half of a galaxy. It’s just crazy!

All-in-all, Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher is one of those “must have” books that should be required for any children’s/young adult program. In fact, get two copies – this one is going to be in high demand.
Missile Mouse: Rescue on Tankium3
Written and Illustrated by Jake Parker
Graphix, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-545-11717-3
Missile Mouse 2
Missile Mouse is back, and this time around, he’s got even more to deal with. In between recovering a fugitive and dealing with a new (robotic) partner, Missile Mouse uncovers a planet-wide slavery ring. To compound his problems, he’s also got to deal with a wicked, amoral bounty hunter with a strong affinity for fire, and a crime boss that feels vaguely similar to Jabba the Hutt.
After Missile Mouse narrowly rescues the fugitive he’s been chasing from a murderous bounty hunter, he discovers that the fugitive was a dupe, tricked into committing crimes he’s not even aware of. This sets off a chain of events wherein Missile Mouse, his new partner, Agent 44, and Lasukus (the former fugitive) must travel to Tankium3 to break up a planet wide slavery ring.
Once on Tankium3, Missile Mouse runs afoul of the local crime boss, King Bognarsh, who forces MM into slavery as well! With the help of Agent 44, and Lasukus, will Missile Mouse be able to break free of his servitude? Will the group be able to defeat King Bognarsh? Will Missile Mouse ever learn to trust a partner? Will the bounty hunter Blazing Bat fry the good guys to a crunchy crisp?
As an added bonus, Parker includes a guide to missile mouse’s universe, including maps of planets, an over view of both Missile Mouse’s and Blazing Bat’s weaponry, defenses and outfits.
Pros: Nathan - Familiar characters make this book real easy to slip into. The artwork stays engaging and exciting. As always, the story flows quickly and cleanly, wrapping up the way action movies should.
Jack – The artwork still is a great draw, and the characters are fun.

Cons: Nathan - Characters feel a little one-dimensional at times, and Missile Mouse’s change of heart about mechanical agents felt slightly forced. Blazing Bat is extremely intense, and may cause nightmares in young readers.
Jack – A few of the characters from Rescue on Tankium3 look a lot like characters from The Star Crusher. There seem to be more than passing similarities between Blazing Bat and Agent Hyde, while Lasukus looks awfully familiar to the scientist.

Ultimately, Rescue on Tankium3 retains the excitement and fun of the series, and definitely leaves it wide open for sequels (honestly, how cool would it be for Missile Mouse to face off against Blazing Bat again?)

02 July 2011

Quick update


I’m going to fiddle with the way  I do reviews starting with my next one. Not necessarily the overall format of the layout, but more with the presentation of content. I’m also going to be adding reviews from my cadre of readers who are more “age appropriate” to the book in question. Be on the lookout for the next review (it’ll be a two-fer) that should be posted no later than Tuesday (due to the Holiday). If you’re wanting a hint as to what I’ll be reviewing, The initials are “MM” and they’re action books.