Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 1

Authors: Kieron Gillan (author); Jamie McKelvie (illustrator)
Publisher: Image Comics (November 25, 2014)
Copy for review loaned to me by Net Galley and the Publisher
Recommended for: 8th grade or higher

In short: "Every ninety years twelve Gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dad. It's happening now. It's happening again."

My thoughts:
Some of us have been reading stories for a VERY long time. It is difficult, then, for me to be surprised and intrigued by a snippet. But the snippet above really drew me in. Not since the book Every Day by David Levithan, have I been so drawn to a story like this one. Then I opened up the book and the first scene: 1923, 9 skulls on the table, 4 young people sitting in the rest of the spaces, the old woman with the mask. "I love you" and she leaves crying, then au revoir, four clicks, Kaboom!
Next chapter 2014, a psychedelic rock show more like the acid days of the 60s and 70s than 2014 and the story begins again. 

What I like is exactly what is jarring about it. I know it says 2014 but it seems out of place. The clothes, the hair, the way they are drawn, the way when Luci snaps her fingers and the judge's head explodes it has a pop art quality that looks Andy Warhol-ish.

This is not for the young tweens. There is violence and swearing, but for the older middles, it is still a good read and the premise is great because you know it's going to end soon which makes the story that much more interesting.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Author/Illustrator: Miss Lasko-Gross
Publication Date:  January 20, 2015
Publisher: Z2 Comics
Electronic copy furnished by: Net Galley with permission of the publisher.

In short: this graphic novel is about a young girl named Henni who lives in a fantastical dystopia where old traditions and religion threaten to destroy Henni's natural curiosity and wondering about the nature of society, gender, equality and fairness. As she matures, she must leave her community to search for the truth and adventure that she knows is just beyond the boundaries of her life.

My thoughts: I really don't like the cover (above) because she looks scared and alarmed which I think does not accurately portray Henni's nature. She is more calm, brave, and in control than this first cover suggests. The copy that I have shows this cover:

I am not sure if I like this cover either, but at least it shows the ferocity that is Henni. I want to talk about my favorite line and then I have more questions than answers which is never a bad thing after finishing a book, but they are wonderings nonetheless.
No one can know the contents of another's mind - Henni
I like this line because it explains her tenacity and her ability to keep searching and not be complacent or compliant.

Here are my questions:

  • What was the significance of the Phoenix fly scene?
  • Specifically, who is the man who burns his ring into her hand with the phoenix fly blood?
  • What is the connection between the man, the ring, the book with the same insignia at the end and Henni's father?
  • Is the man her father?
  • Does she ever find her father or is he really dead?
  • What is Henni? Human? Animal? Some people look human but she has these ears and when she goes to the second village, she is deemed naked and given clothes to put on over her "fur?" 
  • What happened to her sister?
  • Does her sister miss her and regret turning Henni in?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

14 Cows for America

Author: Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
Publisher: Peachtree Atlanta

In short: Kimeli Naiyomah returns home to his Maasai village from New York City, his heart still heavy about the suffering he witnesses. Under the acai tree he tells his people about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and his villagers are just as sad as he is. What they do next is a beautiful gesture of peace and healing that brings comfort to all who read this story.

My thoughts: Yes, this book is geared for 2nd - 5th graders, but the colors of the art and the simple story engages the older reader and leaves enough breathing space for the reader to really feel the emotions of this story.  The last line of the last page, with the towers reflected in the child's eye - AMAZING!!! I don't mean to be shouting, but this book is a wonderful way to illustrate for young writers the power of simple prose matched with appropriate graphics. Even that blue sky in the background with the touch of darkness like the sky is falling. Beautiful. Read it. Use it. Pass it on.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Les Miserables: Manga Classic

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Story adaptation by Crystal Silvermoon
English script by Stacy King
Art by Sun Neko Lee
Publisher UDON entertainment productions, with Morpheus Publishing Limited

Review copy supplied by Net Galley and the publishers

My thoughts:
Anytime classics are adapated into a manga, what I read it for is to see if the art and the adapted story are able to capture the essence of the original classic and still sell the story enough through the artwork and character development so that my middle readers feel like they want to attempt the original, even if it's later in their school life. 

Victor Hugo's story is just one tragedy after another and it takes a good 200 pages even in a manga before things start looking up, so this book for the first time reader of this work, who has not seen the 2012 musical, takes some commitment. If they use the title as a clue, then they will know that this is a tragedy. The cover shows a forlorn looking Cosette. Even with her big manga eyes, she looks worried. 

Cosette as the blonde Cinderella type is endearingly pitiful while her "benefactors," the Thenardiers are comically cruel so that is a selling point. Fantine, once she must shave her hair just made me think of Anne Hathaway with her equally large doe-like eyes so I almost wanted someone to start singing. That was a distraction, but it may just be because I read the original and saw several different film versions. 

Will this version sell students on reading the original? I think the biggest selling point is the romance between Cosette and Marius because of the way they are drawn, so the girls may like it, but I think the story line between Valjean and Javert is more powerful in the original story and that may appeal more to guys but this manga version doesn't build Valjean up enough or show enough of the action scenes.

Still, overall, it is a good starting place for this classic novel, and if students never read the Hugo version, they will at least understand the story enough to get the gist.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kamen, Volume 2

Title: Kamen, volume 2
Author:  Gunya Mihara (also artist)
Publication date: November 25, 2014
Publisher: Gen Manga

Review copy supplied by Net Galley for Gen Manga

In short:  General Simba (young female) is at war with the Zoh army. Her actions are brash to her elders. Even her uncle, Lord Gailas will crush her army if he must. Out of seemingly  nowhere, the masked man appears. . .to be continued

My thoughts: Several elements must be present in an intriguing manga, mostly because the genre relies on your continued patronage of their art.  First and foremost, there must be an interesting or appealing character with a mysterious backstory that you want to learn more about. 

Second, there should be enough of a cliff hanger at the end of the manga so that you must know the rest of the story.

Although this is the 2nd volume and I did not read the first, I find that the masked man has enough mystery surrounding him where I would like to know more. As stories go, starting at this volume is not advisable, however, I did skip to the end in hopes of finding out a little about the characters. Most manga have this feature at the end. I could surmise from the reading that there was a war but it was confusing and I just kept reading without really knowing who to root for. Until I read the back, I wasn't sure who I was supposed to tag as the "good guy/girl," but based on the backstories, I think the young General Simba is the girl to watch, as well as the masked man.

Second, there is definitely a cliff hanger because I don't know what the masked man is there for and who he works for so the "to be continued" tag was disappointing because I was finally hooked. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review - Bad Magic

Title: Bad Magic
Author: Pseudonymous Bach
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Click on the link to the book above to get a 10 chapter free preview from

In Brief:
Clay misses his older brother who has mysteriously disappeared from his life and he kind of blames magic on his brother's disappearance, so when Clay writes Magic Sucks in his journal and it ends up graffiti'd on the school wall, he can't figure out how to explain his way out of his problem. 

He is sent to Earth Ranch, a camp for "troubled" kids where more unexplained "magic" keeps happening to him and he is thrust into one mystery after another.

My Thoughts:
As today is International Literacy Day and educators are taking the pledge to "Lift Off to Literacy" by engaging students in an extra 60 seconds of literacy activities for 60 days, this book, Bad Magic, would be a great 60 second read aloud for 60 days. There are so many cliff hangers in each chapter. The readers are easily swept into the feelings of Clay who encounters one strange thing after another and is constantly trying to put clues together. Take advantage of the free preview and start reading. Even middle level learners deserve to enjoy a great read aloud. 

My preview of this book is courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This Is the Day: The March on Washington

Author/Photographer: Leonard Freed
Publisher: Getty Publications

This Is the Day: The March on Washington is a  photo-essay by photographer Leonard Freed documenting the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of August 28, 1963, the historic day on which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. This book commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the historic march that ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The black and white photos in this book are so powerful that they don't need text. It shows the waiting, the crowds gathering, the mix of Americans that were there on August 28, and finally the rubble of  a crowd of thousands who came and then suddenly left on their buses, leaving the pamphlets and other human rubbish behind. 

Freed photographed from the grounds, walking amongst the people who came to listen. It's an odd way to write about oneself, but I love the sentence that say:
He photographs the rainbow of blackness that floats above prescribed definitions of beauty and intelligence. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Orleans Requiem by D.J. Donaldson

Author: D. J. Donaldson
Publisher: Astor + Blue Editions
Rating: 4.5

Andy Broussard is the lemon ball popping New Orleans Chief Medical Examiner, and Kit Franklyn is his criminal psychologist who are trying to quickly solve a series of gruesome murders even as they are hosting a conference for other medical examiners, psychologists and criminologists.

There's something appealing about setting this fast-paced story in New Orleans. I have been fascinated with New Orleans post Katrina, from the cuisine, the music and the mystery of this place. Perhaps it's my HBO GO marathons of Treme. New Orleans, after this, is definitely on my bucket list.

The murders are appealing. A missing eyelid. A newspaper with cut letters spelling something and nothing. A countdown of the letters from KOJE to KOJ. A race agains the clock. Mesmerizing.

Finally, as someone who went to college thinking that I wanted to be a medical examiner, and ending up as an English teacher, I truly appreciate the massive amount of detailed research that Donaldson puts into this novel. This is the first time reading this series, but Broussard and Franklyn are so likable that I definitely will be looking for more books with these characters.  This is one of the best mysteries I've read in a while and if you've ever read Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpatta novels this is the perfect YA equivalent.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kumu Hina Film Review

For LGBT week, my local theatre in Hilo, Hawai'i is showing the film Kumu Hina about a hula teacher who has transitioned from a male to a female and it follows her for a year as she brings her husband from Fiji and works with a girl in her school who would like to lead the high school boys' hula class.

I think the interactions and relationships in this movie are a ray of hope for young kids who feel like they're in the middle. In Hawaiʻi, and for Hawaiians, aloha is not a tourist greeting, but a way of life and a way of living with each other on an island. The aloha in this film is a model to change the world.

aloha ke kahi i ke kahi (love one another).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Controversy and Hope

Title: Controversy and Hope: The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales
Authors: Julian Cox with Rebekah Jacob and Monica Karales
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press

In Short: The photographs in this book tell a story of life in the impoverished south and the behind the scenes of the civil rights movement more than it talks about the actual civil rights protests and marches. This is also the story of this one photographer, Karales and how opportunity and skill can position someone to change the world through his/her lens.

My Thoughts: I was expecting the" in your face" violence of some of Bill Hudson's work, like the photo of Parker High School student Walter Gadsen being attacked by a police dog in Birmingham, Alabama. I was even expecting more of the photos like Karales' photo of the march from Selma to Montgomery - the one that is taken from below and shows the mass of faceless people with the dark clouds looming above. The authors do include that. I especially liked the photo of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking from the motel balcony paired with the photo from below of the people listening to him with the story in their faces. However, what struck me about these photos were the intimate storytelling possible when Karales honed his artist eye on small events like Martin Luther King Jr. playing with his daughter in their kitchen. Even more haunting than seeing the violence on the street were the photos Karales took of the non-violent protesters practicing passive resistance training in what looked like a basement in Atlanta. As someone from Hawaii, I also appreciated the photo of Dr. King arm in arm with Rev. Abernathy, Rabbi Eisendrath and Rabbi Heschel, all of them with leis on. For me that was the iconic Dr. King photo when I was a school girl and I'm glad I now know about the life of this photographer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bird & Squirrel on Ice

Author:  James Burks
Publisher: Scholastic

The Short: Friends Bird and Squirrel crash land in the South Pole after a blizzard and find themselves at a penguin village. Sakari, the chief's daughter believes that Bird is the chosen one who will save the village from the hungry killer whale that lives in their bay. Bird loves the idea of being the hero, but Squirrel finds out that the chief wants to feed Bird to the whale so Squirrel and Sakari need to try and save him, but time is running out!

And So: Although Bird and Squirrel are written for children and tweens, even as an adult these characters are FUNNY and charming. I love the strong female character of Sakari that we continue to see so much of in fiction and movies today, but Squirrel is a pretty brave blue squirrel too, and he genuinely cares for Bird and will continue to be the voice of reason. I am also impressed that there is added tension in the climax scene. I found myself reading faster at the end because it was getting so tense. That's just shows that children's literature has always been the role model for adult fiction.


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