Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ban This Book - Alan Gratz

Title: Ban This Book
Author: Alan Gratz
Publisher: Starscape, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 243 pages
Genre: Children's Realistic Fiction
Started: September 21, 2017
Finished: September 21, 2017

Summary:
From the inside cover:

It's a battle of the books - and Amy Anne is determined to win!

It all started the say Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favourite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That's when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favourite book was banned! All because a classmate's mom thought the book wasn't appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned-books library out of her locker. As word spreads, Amy Anne's locker stash quickly grows into a school-wide sensation. Soon, she and her friends find themselves on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what kids can read.

Review:
I so needed this book as a kid. Like Amy Anne, I was the little bookworm who was quiet and didn't stand up for themselves. I definitely would've appreciated Any Anne's transformation to become a kid who speaks her mind and stands up for what she believes in.

Amy Anne is nine, and with two younger sisters at home (one of whom she shares a room with) she doesn't get a lot of quiet time to herself. So she stays in the library after school reading book after book. When she tries to check out her favourite yet again, the librarian tells her it's been removed due to a parent challenging the book's content, along with several others deemed inappropriate. Even after her parents buy her a copy of her own, Amy Anne decides that good books deserve to be read, and that only someone's parents can tell a kid what they can and cannot read. When she discovers that some of her friends own copies of the other banned books, the B.B.L.L. (Banned Books Locker Library) begins. After pooling their money to purchase more books, and even receiving donated copies from authors, the B.B.L.L. begins to grow even further. When the principal uncovers their little operation, leading to the librarian being fired, Amy Anne and her friends decide to step up their game and really show the trustees how ridiculous book banning can be.

As an English teacher and general book-lover, this book and the story it tells is so incredibly important. The story takes place in North Carolina in the US, where I know they do have more issues with banned books and censorship. I'm fortunate that I work in a school board in Canada that hasn't really had an issue with book banning and censorship in general, although a board near mine did temporarily ban Philip Pullmans's His Dark Materials a few years back which I was absolutely incensed over. I'm of the opinion that if a kid is old enough to read something let them have at it, but to be a parent and have a conversation about the content your kid is reading, same as with movies or tv shows or any media they consume. Are there some books I wouldn't let my kid read at this stage? Of course, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't let her read them ever, and that's my prerogative as her parent.

The list of banned books in this novel are real: they've all been banned at some point in time in the US over the past several decades, and the reasons are mind-numbingly stupid. Amy Anne and her friends make that point crystal clear when they intentionally look for things that would get a book banned: any behaviour considered negative like disobeying parents, violence, sexual content of any kind, having LGBT or transgender characters, and many others. I look at that list and see many books that were actually required class reading in elementary school for me: Bridge to Terebithia, Island of the Blue Dolphins, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. Not only did these books not corrupt me as a child, they made me a better human being. I see books on that list that not only would I not mind if my child read them, I've already bought those exact copies in preparation for when she's a more proficient reader (she's not quite six yet, I figure give her another year to eighteen months and she'll be voraciously devouring everything on the shelves). So needless to say, the unrestricted right to read is one I will always defend.

I love Amy Anne's character development in this novel. She goes from a meek little mouse (as Trey's drawing depicts) with very closed-minded ideas about good books and the people that read them, to a kid who will speak her mind about what she feels is right, who realizes that different people like different things, and that even the parent that instigated the book banning is actually a good person who's just a bit misguided. I also like that Amy Anne is a person of colour (as are her family), we need more diversity in our kid's lit, not to mention on our book covers too.

The only thing I have issue with in this book is that there is no way a group of average nine year olds could've orchestrated the series of events as lined out in this book without parental influence of some kind (unless they were highly gifted, which the kids in question are not). Could kids of eleven or twelve do it? Sure, but not nine, no way. But aside from that suspension of disbelief, the book is awesome.

Recommendation:
All book lovers should read this, not to mention teachers, parents, hell let's make it everyone.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very basic. It gets the message across, but this is a book that would benefit from a good cover redesign.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Ancient Magus' Bride - Kore Yamazaki

Title: The Ancient Magus' Bride
Author: Kore Yamazaki
Publisher: Seven Seas, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 180 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Started: September 19, 2017
Finished: September 19, 2017

Summary:
From the back cover:

Enter the Magician's Apprentice

Her name is Chise Hatori, a penniless orphan troubled by visions. Sold as a slave to an inhuman mage, she is about to begin a strange new life, filled with magic, fairies, and other beings of a fantastical nature.

Review:
I first came across this as a recommendation from an internet friend, and I must admit, I was really intrigued by the skull-headed guy (whom I later found out was Elias, the mage of the title). I've since read most of the available manga volumes and am waiting with bated breath for the anime tv series set to premiere in October. This type of story and universe seems extremely weird at first glance (I'll even admit I didn't think I'd like it), but decided to give it a shot based on my friend's tastes and am I ever glad I did.

This story does a fantastic job of world-building: there is a smaller cast of main characters (both human and non) but a cavalcade of creatures that make the world that Chise and Elias inhabit vibrant. All the characters in my opinion are very endearing (there aren't any I can honestly say I dislike) and their relationships to each other are quite heartfelt. I appreciate how even though Elias literally buys Chise from a slave auction, that they do have a sweet, almost familial relationship and they do genuinely care for each other.

Recommendation:
If you're big into fantasy, give this a shot.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nicely posed and detailed, and as always I appreciate the colour since manga has very few colour pages on the inside.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Giants - Conor Nolan, Jared Cullum, Brandon Dayton, Feifei Ruan

Title: Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Giants
Authors: Conor Nolan, Jared Cullum, Brandon Dayton, Feifei Ruan
Publisher: Archaia (Boom Entertainment), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 128 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Started: September 20, 2017
Finished: September 20, 2017

Summary:
From the back cover:

It's not the stories you tell, but how they are told.

The critically acclaimed Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Giants celebrates four mythic tales of when giants roamed the Earth, inspired by folklore from around the world and told in the spirit of Jim Henson's beloved television series.

Featuring an array of styles and stories by some of today's most original talent, including Conor Nolan (Neverboy), Brandon Dayton (Green Monk), and introducing Jared Cullum and Feifei Ruan, this stunning hardcover edition also includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the process and care taken in adapting each of these timeless tales.

Review:
After reading the original release and finally getting my hands on the Dragons volume from last year, I was excited to read the Giants volume since this is honestly one of my favourite graphic novel installments; partly since they release new collections so intermittently but also because there's such variety in the stories presented.

The Giants volume features four stories centered around giants, but more often than not the real focus is on those whom the giants terrorize and how they reclaim their livelihood. I didn't like this volume quite as much as the Dragons collection, but I give this installment credit for the adorable art style of the third story, "Pru and the Formorian Giants." Also, the art of the final story, "The Fisherman and the Giant" is so incredibly gorgeous I think it's worth picking up just for that, I mean, look at it:

It's a story adapted from One Thousand and One Nights, so the artist used a Middle Eastern inspired art style; it's enchanting to look at.

Recommendation:
Again, if you like folktales and stories in general you'll want to pick up these volumes.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the consistency from cover to cover in this series: the dragons volume was done in green tones, this one in blues and the witches volume in dark reds (which I still need to track down).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Star Trek: Boldly Go - Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen

Title: Star Trek: Boldly Go (Volume 1)
Author: Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen
Publisher: IDW Publishing, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 152 pages
Genre: Adult/Young Adult; Science Fiction, Graphic Novel
Started: September 9, 2017
Finished: September 10, 2017

Summary:
From the back cover:

After the destruction of their ship in Star Trek Beyond, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise have been reassigned to new ships with unseasoned crews, and unfamiliar roles. The galaxy enjoys a fragile peace, but the discoveries of new worlds, new species, new ships, all lead to a new danger unlike anything the federation has encountered before. And resistance may be futile...

Review:
While waiting for the new Star Trek series to appear on my streaming service, I thought this might be an appropriate way to pass the time.

This version takes place shortly after the events of the third film, and follows the crew as they're split up in different environments but eventually reconnect in order to rescue a ship of people from being assimilated by the Borg. There's also one issue of the six included in this volume devoted to a vignette about Jaylah.

I enjoyed how the story forces the crew to come together again, I really do enjoy them all as a group. The story was decent, enough that you could read this solely on its own or continue to the subsequent volumes. The art style of the first five issues is consistent (not the same as the cover art though), but then changes in issue six (I preferred the former rather than the latter), so that's something to be aware of.

Recommendation:
Definitely worth a look if you're a fan of the new Star Trek universe and enjoyed the movies.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the art style here, and several more of the artist's pieces are included throughout the book.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Court of Wings and Ruin - Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Wings and Ruin (3rd in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 700 pages
Genre: Adult/Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 14, 2017
Finished: August 22, 2017

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's maneuverings and the invading king threatening to being Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit - and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords - and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book of the Court of Thorns and Roses series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

Review:
Have I mentioned how much I love this series? After reading A Court of Thorns and Roses and positively losing my mind over how freaking good A Court of Mist and Fury was (a book that definitely does not suffer from "bridge book syndrome"), I definitely enjoyed A Court of Wings and Ruin, but honestly, A Court of Mist and Fury was good to the point where I don't think anything could've topped it, and I was right.

A Court of Wings and Ruin starts out a bit slow but picks up rather quickly. Feyre is back in the Spring Court, pretending to have been abducted and controlled by Rhysand all these months in order to obtain information on Tamlin's alliance with the king of Hybern and their responsibility for the attack on Velaris. When Tamlin becomes violent and Ianthe uncovers her true motives, Feyre and Lucien escape back to the Night Court, where she and Rhys plan to meet with the other High Lords to arrange for an alliance against Hybern. But with the king of Hybern controlling the Cauldron, Prythian forces need all the help they can get; the only question is how far Feyre and company are willing to go to save their homeland.

If you're a fan of this series already, the same things you enjoy are still here. The writing is good, the banter between characters is hilarious, the existing relationships are fleshed out and new ones are introduced, and you will be put through the wringer emotionally throughout the entire book (but damn, you will enjoy it).

Recommendation:
Go read the first two books if you hadn't already discovered this amazing series. This instalment is good, but can't measure up to the awesomeness of the second book, but is still a fitting conclusion to this particular arc. The series is set to continue in the next few years, but I'm not sure what the future books will focus on, since Feyre's story is more or less concluded at the end of this book (here's hoping for character side-arcs!).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuation from the first two covers, this time with Feyre front and centre instead of off to the sides. Also, the red, blue, and now green colour schemes for the respective books look really nice together on a shelf.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Nunavik - Michel Hellman

Title: Nunavik
Author: Michel Hellman
Publisher: Pow Pow Press, 2017 (Paperback)
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Adult; Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction
Started: August 20, 2017
Finished: August 21, 2017

Summary:
From the inside cover:

"Do you know what constitutes a typical Inuit family? A man, a woman, two children...and an anthropologist!" Follow Montreal author Michel Hellman on a trip to Nunavik as he discovers he's the punchline to that joke.

Review:
This was an interesting selection that popped up when I was browsing through new library books. Nunavik is the northern part of Quebec, sparsely inhabited by Inuit peoples, where Montreal artist/author Michel Hellman travels to for inspiration for his new graphic novel. The end result reads like a travelogue rather than an actual story, showcasing both the beauty of the North as well as its challenges.

The art style is simple, but conveys much, and it's an interesting detail that the artist decides to portray himself as a bear but truthfully depict everyone else. I liked how the author does explain the issues that Nunavik faces, but there's no real reflection on them, they're just presented with no follow up. This would make for a good discussion prompt for a classroom or a bookclub, though.

Recommendation:
A welcome look into a part of Canada rarely explored.

Thoughts on the cover:
The cover ives you a good idea of the artistic style.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Radiance - Grace Draven

Title: Radiance
Author: Grace Draven
Publisher: Grace Draven, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 2, 2017
Finished: August 7, 2017

Summary:
From the back cover:

The Prince of No Value

Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.

The Noblewoman of No Importance

Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn't just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she's known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.

Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.

Review:
I needed some light summer reading lately, kind of like a beach read (but not since I don't do beaches), and this is what I ended up picking. I honestly didn't have huge expectations going into it, but I have to say I was honestly surprised that I ended up actually enjoying it.

Brishen and Ildiko are both of royal blood, but aren't very important in the overall scheme of things, and as such are married off to each other for a political alliance. Brishen's people aren't human (but conveniently enough share the same anatomy with only some slight differences), so both partners find the other ugly and repulsive from the get-go, and are honest about it. While Ildiko gets used to her role as the Hercegese, she and Brishen are attacked by a neighbouring kingdom trying to take advantage of the newfound alliance.

The one thing that stands out in this novel is the dialogue. Brishen and Ildiko are brutally honest with each other from their first meeting, and this leads to some really hilarious dialogue between the two which was quite refreshing to read. Their romance is very much a slow burn that takes time to develop, and I was just thankful it wasn't another case of insta-love that I see way too frequently for my liking. There were a few things that bugged me on the other end of the spectrum. Considering Brishen and Ildiko both consider the other to be ugly (and to an extent unsettling), they are overly kind to each other at the beginning. In my experience, people who find others ugly to the point of looking like a corpse aren't exactly going to show a great degree of respect towards that person. Also, it was way too easy for Ildiko to adjust, she just fit right in to Kai society socially, her appearance being the exception. I'll buy that growing up in a courtly environment would prep her for the verbal sparring sessions, but I'd expect her to struggle with at least a couple things (like the Scarpatine, her adjustment to that was a blip on the radar for something that's described as something coming out of Alien).

Recommendation:
Worth the read in my opinion, it'll make you laugh at the very least. There is also a sequel to this that I'll be tracking down as well.

Thoughts on the cover:
The pose fits the mood of the book, but I like how Brishen is posed in such a way as to avoid really illustrating his eyes and teeth (the main descriptors that stood out while reading).