Picture Book Roundup–Beauty and the Squat Bears

Title: Beauty and the Squat Bears by Emile Bravo

Publisher: Yen Press

It’s tough to be a bear, especially a squat bear.  The squat bears just want to be left alone in the forest, but a beautiful princess wanders into their house and disturbs their lives.  Fleeing from her evil stepmother, the princess is looking for a place to hide out, but being a princess, she refuses to help out with chores.  To get rid of the pesky freeloader, the bears decide that they need to find her a prince.  Sending one of the grumbling bears off to find one as quickly as possible, they hope he can locate a prince so they can get on with their lives.

Humorously mashing up several fairy tales, squat bear trudges through the forest in search of his prince.  Instead, he meets a blue bird claiming to be a prince, and the bear is reluctantly sent off on a quest to have the bird restored to his princely form. The book kept me amused, as the poor put upon bear meets one worthless prince after another.  The art is cartoony and whimsical, matching the tone of the bear’s quest perfectly.  The colors are bright and bold, facial expressions are overly exaggerated, and the dialog is clever and snappy.  A fun read for kids and adults alike.

In stores May 2011

Review: Goong Vol 6 by Park SoHee

 

Title: Goong Vol 6

Author: Park SoHee

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759531475

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Hoping to clear the air between Shin and Chae-Kyung, the ladies of the court pressure the young couple to get more intimate. But even a night together may not be enough to push the two close. Amid lingering suspicions of Shin’s involvement with Hyo-Rin, Yul takes the offensive in claiming not only his right to the throne, but to Chae-Kyung’s heart as well…Will her commitment to her husband and her duty as crown princess prevail?

Review:

If you enjoy soap operas and angsty teen dramas, Goong is the series for you!  I love all of the complicated interpersonal relationships, most of which are highly contentious.  Chae-Kyung has been forced into a life she never expected, and despite being a princess now, she longs to have her normal life back.  There are so many limitations placed on her, and she no longer has much control over her own activities.  She can’t even visit her grandfather, who is very ill and in the hospital, because it conflicts with her duties as a member of the royal family.  Shin, the Crown Prince and her young husband, is also making her miserable, because she is in love with him, but all they manage to do is argue with each other. 

With the press watching their every move, the adults in the palace are worried about Shin and Chae-Kyung causing more gossip, and embarrassing the royal family more than they already have.  Shin and Chae-Kyung are fodder for scandalous rumors, which is giving fuel to Yul’s mother’s ambitions for both her son and herself.  She is scheming to have Yul reinstated as the Crown Prince, and she is also plotting to have more governmental power granted to the royal family.  She is  not content to be a figurehead, and she is paving the way for big, big changes in the status quo.

With lavish art and a storyline that is growing ever more complicated and compelling, Park SoHee is crafting an entertaining, character-driven series.  Chae-Kyung and Shin both behave like what they are; two confused teenagers who have to live a very public life.  In the privacy of the palace, their interactions run a gamut of behaviors; they tease each other, they bicker with each other, they yell at each other, they laugh with each other.  In the public eye, they must always be conscious of their actions, and present a harmonious, united front.  It’s not easy for either one of them, because they are so confused about their own mixed up feelings.  What they need is some time to just be themselves and sort it out, but that isn’t going to happen with all of the meddling adults trying to control them, their obligations, and their busy schedules.

Grade: B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Bunny Drop Vol 2 by Yumi Unita

 

Title: Bunny Drop Vol 2

Author: Yumi Unita

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759531208

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Returning to his family’s estate for his grandfather’s funeral, thirty-something bachelor Daikichi is floored to discover that the old man had an illegitimate child with a much younger lover! Needless to say, the rest of the family is shocked and embarrassed by this turn of events, and not one of them wants anything to do with the little girl, who refuses to say a word. In a fit of angry spontaneity, Daikichi decides to adopt her! But is living with an overgrown teenager who can barely take care of himself the key to making Rin come out of her shell?

Review:

What a fun series!  I love Daikichi and his determination to raise Rin by himself.  He has matured so much in just two volumes!  He is also getting valuable on-the-job training, learning how to take care of a little girl.  There are no instruction manuals, he’s discovered, and everything is new for him.  Even enrolling Rin in elementary school is wading into uncharted waters; for a guy with no clue about what he’s doing, Daikichi is doing a wonderful job providing a stable and emotionally supportive home to his small charge.  Tackling these unexpected tasks, which Daikichi would certainly never dreamed of having to do himself, is daunting for him, but so far he is ignoring the nay-sayers in his life and staying on course.

The more I get to know Daikichi, the more I like him.  He doesn’t understand how anyone could reject such a wonderful little girl, so he searches relentlessly for clues about Rin’s mother.  Who is she? Why isn’t she a part of her daughter’s life?  When he finally tracks her down, he is certain that he made the right decision by becoming Rin’s guardian.  Her mother is barely capable of caring for herself!  She has done everything in her power to distance herself from her daughter, despite Daikichi’s grandfather’s attempt to cox her into bonding with Rin.  I don’t think too highly of Grandpa for getting Masako pregnant in the first place, but at least he didn’t reject Rin the way Masako seems to be.

I loved the shopping sequence, when Daikichi takes Rin to buy a desk.  Her delight at getting to pick out a “big girl’s” desk is obvious, and so cute, too!  Daikichi’s only had to use a little bit of psychology to convince her to buy a work area he thought would be more suitable than the desk she decided she liked. As Rin is growing  more confident in her new surroundings, she is becoming more expressive, and so much more fun for Yumi Unita to draw.  Like with Daikichi, there has been a big change in Rin, too.  She’s starting to discover who she is, and she is starting to exert some independence.  The character growth makes Bunny Drop a touching read, and I’m looking forward to reading more about Daikichi and Rin.

Grade: B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Sumomomo,Momomo Vol 3 by Shinobu Ohtaka

 

Title: Sumomomo, Momomo Vol 3

Author: Shinobu Ohtaka

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759530898

Reading Level: Older Teens

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Eager to prove his strength to his fiancée, Hikaru challenges Koushi to a duel. Touched by his heartfelt display, Momoko stands down, leaving Koushi to face the charge alone! But the class rep can’t let Koushi come to harm because of her secret affection. Donning the guise of the Heavenly Warrior Horse Mask and swallowing her pride, Sanae unleashes her hidden power at last!

Review:

This is one of the titles that I am kind of embarrassed that I like.  Ok, I’m a lot embarrassed about liking it.  For me, it is very over the top and packed with incredibly stupid humor and obnoxious fan-service.  The only reason I can tolerate it is because both genders are portrayed as being equally idiotic.  The coolest character in the series is Momoko, and she will never be accused of being the brightest crayon in the box.  I did get turned off by Sanae’s alter-ego, Heavenly Warrior Horse Mask, but thankfully she was only in the first chapter of this volume.  Ugh!  She needs to demand a new costume designer!  If she is going to be forced to romp around in next to nothing, she should at least look cool while she’s strutting her stuff.  UGH! I know! I know! I am not the target market!!  Somehow I got sucked into reading this anyway!

I was in the mood for stupid, brainless reading, and that is what this series delivers each time I read it.  Koushi just wants to be left alone to study and read his books, but no – from the moment Momoko entered his carefully ordered life, he has suffered through Hell.  Assassins at every corner, people wanting to beat the crap out of him, general unpleasantness for our violence-avoiding hero.  He of course draws girls to him like flies to a compost heap, despite his tendency to take the chicken exit whenever trouble is brewing.  The girls chasing after him could handily beat him to a pulp, which makes his conflict avoidance even more ridiculous.

I just don’t understand why Koushi is so dead-set against getting hitched to Momoko.  She is the perfect girl for him.  She will fight his battles, cook his favorite meals, and generally wait on him hand and foot.  There is the ick factor, since she looks like she’s about 10, but in a few years she’s be the right age to tie the knot and save Koushi from a life of martial arts.   I think he’s being a little shortsighted here, because Momoko is practically tripping over herself to take care of him.  He doesn’t have to lift a finger when she’s around.  I have got to question this guy’s intelligence for constantly trying to ignore her.

Sumomomo, Momomo is one of the silliest series that I am following, and despite the overabundance of fan-service, I find it a very funny read.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: James Patterson’s Maximum Ride Vol 2 by NaRae Lee

 

Title: James Patterson’s Maximum Ride Vol 2

Author: NaRae Lee

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759529687

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Having recovered Angel, Max and the flock head to New York City to pursue a lead regarding their true identities. But where the flock goes, erasers are sure to follow! Even more troubling, though, is the voice that’s begun whispering in Max’s head. Is it really her destiny to save the world?

Review:

I like most of the Yen Press manga adaptations of popular novels, and Maximum Ride is no exception.  The pacing is killer fast, with Max and her flock of escaping one harrowing ordeal after another.  These guys don’t have it easy, and nobody takes it easy on them because they are kids.  They are imprisoned, tormented, and chased from one corner of the country to the next.  They get into and out of so many hair-raising predicaments that it’s kind of exhausting!  It’s lots of fun, but it stretches the limits of my credibility. Good thing for these magic manga glasses that I have, that allow the impossible to seem possible, and allow me to immerse myself into the plot.

Max discovers the hard way that there isn’t really anyone she can trust, and she is even having doubts about some of her closest friends.  Angel has got her wary, as the young girl continues to manifest incredible powers.  She can compel others to do her bidding, and it’s kind of scary to see just how easy it is for her to manipulate others.  Max is already under so much pressure to keep everyone alive and out of the evil clutches of the Erasers, and now she has to wonder just how much she can trust Angel.  This story thread has got my complete attention!

Most of this volume has the gang looking for scraps of information about themselves, before they were given up by their parents to be research subjects.  They all want to know who they really are, and who their parents are.  Most importantly, they want to know why their parents abandoned them.  A mysterious voice in Max’s head gives them guidance, and also gives her never-ending headaches.  Is the voice a friend? Or is it a foe, steering them into yet another trap?

Fast pacing, appealing characters, and attractive art ensure that I will read along a while longer. 

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: 13th Boy Vol 6 by SangEun Lee

 

Title: 13th  Boy Vol 6

Author: SangEun Lee

Publisher:  Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759529991

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sae-Bom’s birthday turns into the happiest day…of Hee-So’s life?! After Won-Jun asks her out during Sae-Bom’s birthday party, Hee-So’s on cloud nine! But is everything really all sunshine and roses? Sae-Bom has had to grow up in the span of a day, Won-Jun is secretly troubled by Sae-Bom’s obvious distress, and Whie-Young’s magical exertions have kept him out of commission. On the five-day anniversary of Hee-So’s relationship bliss (leave it to her to celebrate even the smallest milestones!), she runs into the long-absent Whie-Young en route to school and gets dragged into cutting class with him! But when they return to find Won-Jun waiting for them back at Hee-So’s, will her cheating ways (?) lead to an explosive finale for her second chance at love?!

Review:

Any book that manages to make me feel sorry for a love-struck cactus deserves props.  A CACTUS!  Little Beatrice had me sniffing back tears.  His dreams of happiness seem so unlikely, and the impossibility of his situation tugged at my heart strings.  Until this volume I thought of Beatrice as more of comic relief, but that impression went completely out the window.  He has become an important character to me, quite possibly my favorite.  He certainly seems to have more feelings and common sense than his owner, though he is clearly given to as many flights of fancy as Hee-So.

This volume of 13th Boy solidified the series for me.  While it still has an abundance of humor and comedies of error, it has also grown into a more emotional read for me.  Hee-So can be so shallow and simpleminded that I have never felt a connection to her.  She is the type of person who will bounce back from any setback, and her enthusiasm and zeal for life will see her through any situation.  I can’t say the same for Sae-Bom, Whie-Young, or Won-Jun.  The three of them keep orbiting each other’s lives, making themselves miserable because they are unable to communicate or accept how they feel about each other.  It’s only through Hee-So that they make any progress toward understanding how they feel at all.

I love the complicated relationships and the slow exploration of feelings taking place in the book.  Just when the atmosphere starts to get overwhelming, Hee-So does something selfish or harebrained, usually with amusing results.  There are some occasions when even her happy go lucky attitude fails to smooth things over, and that’s when I find myself enjoying the series best.  The first volume was a struggle for me, but as I got to know the characters, I started to appreciate the title more.  It gets better with every volume, and it has become one of my favorites.  And a cactus made me cry.  A CACTUS!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Gabby & Gator by James Burks

 

Title: Gabby & Gator

Author: James Burks

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0759531451

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

I saw a sample for Gabby & Gator online, and after seeing just a few panels, I desperately wanted to get my hands on the book.  Imagine my delight when I saw it at the library!  I immediately checked it out and counted the minutes until I could read it.

Gator is having a bad day. In fact, he is having 10 bad years of bad days after he gets flushed down the toilet at the insistence of his owner’s mother.  Alligators are dangerous!  Alligators don’t belong in the house!  Alligators will EAT you!  So bye-bye, two-dollar-and-fifty-cent gator hatchling, you are no longer welcome here!  Suffering from a harrowing journey through the sewer system, Gator then must resort to gobbling up dogs, cats, and squirrels to feed his never ending hunger.

Gabby isn’t having a wonderful life, either.  Her mom is always working, and her enthusiasm for social causes has earned her the contempt of her peers. They think that she is weird, and enjoy making fun of her.  Secure in the knowledge of who she is, Gabby isn’t ready to change herself for the sake of such judgmental people.  She just wishes she had a friend or two.  Along comes Gator, and theirs seems like a match made in heaven.  Well, except for Gator’s uncontrollable urge to eat.  Will he be able to resist snacking on his new friend?

Gabby and Gator is such a cute book!  I love both characters, and found Gabby especially easy to relate to.  She is intelligent and is driven by her sense of responsibility.  She’s very unique, and that leaves her open to teasing and bullying.  I loved when she finally stood up for herself.  That took guts because she acted outside of her comfort zone.  

This graphic novel is presented in hardback, with glossy, full-color pages. The illustrations match the tone of the book; they are adorable and full of personality.  If you are new to graphic novels, this is a good one to start exploring the world of comics with.  Gabby & Gator is a fun story about two misfits who are meant to be together.

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library

Review: Highschool of the Dead Vol 1 by Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato

 

Title: Highschool of the Dead Vol 1

Author: Daisuke Sato & Shouji Sato

Publisher: Yen Press

ISBN: 978-0316132251

For Mature Readers

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

A mundane day at school takes a turn for the gross when a zombie invasion has Takashi Komuro and a group of his classmates running for their lives!  Hungry zombies are everywhere, and it’s going to take every bit of sheath, courage, and luck to avoid being eaten. 

This is a fun read, but it doesn’t do much to set itself apart from other zombie tales that I have read.  An intrepid group of students and teachers band together to avoid the rampaging zombie horde, and body parts and blood quickly fill the panels as the undead gain the upper hand.  Tensions mount between the survivors, as egos clash amid the slaughter.  

There’s lots of non-stop action as Takashi’s group undertakes the number one activity in any zombie yarn – they start running as fast they can away from the monsters. I have developed a love for zombies, and I’m not quite sure where it came from, because I don’t usually enjoy horror stories.  The terror of being chased by things that can’t be killed appeals to me, as do the relationship dynamics among the surviving humans.  That has got to take a toll on your psyche, wondering when you are going to be chased down and eaten by a rotting, stinking zombie.  If zombies weren’t so appealing to me, Highschool of the Dead would have gotten a “meh” from me.  The female character designs have me wondering how these girls can stand upright, but that is a common point of contention for me in seinen manga.

I altered my grading scale to better reflect how I felt about this book:

Fun Factor: Summer blockbuster fun, but avoid eating popcorn while reading unless gore doesn’t dampen your appetite

Action Factor: Tons of running, hiding, and whacking zombie skulls, resulting in blood spatters everywhere

Page Flipping Factor: Fast.  Really, really fast, though dialog to skull-whacking factor is surprisingly high

Jiggle Factor: Too high.  Not sure how the women can get back up if they fall, and I worry about back strain

Review copy provided by publisher