Graphic Novel Review: Bluffton by Matt Phelan

 

Title: Bluffton

Author: Matt Phelan

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Matt Phelan, graphic novelist extraordinaire, presents a rollicking tribute to vaudeville, small-town dreams, and Buster Keaton as a boy.

In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and — lo and behold — a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, "the human mop," but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends. With signature nostalgia, Scott O’Dell Award–winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan visualizes a bygone era with lustrous color, dynamic lines, and flawless dramatic pacing.


Review:

I don’t think that I’ve read anything by Matt Phelan before I picked up Bluffton, but now that I’m aware of him, I’ll be trolling his backlist.  I wanted to read this book because I saw that it took place in Muskegon, Michigan in the early 1900s.  That’s the only reason.  I didn’t realize until I started reading it that it’s about Buster Keaton’s childhood.  Doh!  While I have heard of Buster Keaton, I didn’t really know anything about him, so this book was informative as well as a visual treat. 

Bluffton is the story of Henry Harrison and his magical summers in Bluffton.  Once the vaudeville performers, led by Joe Keaton, begin vacationing in the sleepy town near his home in Muskegon, Henry’s life will never be the same.  He quickly makes friends with Buster, but along with their friendship is envy and a longing for a more exciting life.  Henry is envious of Buster’s talent and the constant attention sent his way.  Buster, on the other hand, longs for a more normal childhood.  He wants to play baseball, and if asked, which he never is, he’d prefer to be a civil engineer than a vaudeville star.  When pretty Sally shows an interest in Buster, the boys friendship is put to the test. 

This was a perfect summer weekend read.  It’s an engaging coming of age story, and it manages to sneak in some history, seamlessly and compellingly, at the same time.  Henry has to come to terms with his normal, though happily ordinary, life, while watching Buster’s star blaze brighter and brighter. The only thing  that keeps Buster from being unlikable is that he, unlike Henry, has no real choice for his future.  His father has honed his stage presence since he was a young boy, and nothing is going to change the course of his life.  Not the authorities seeking to take Buster away from his parents under the suspicion of abuse, and certainly not Buster himself, who longs to have a say in who he is and what he does. 

Bluffton is a heartwarming, slice of life story, about two boys and their unlikely friendship.  It’s a gentle story of summers gone by, and wistful dreams for the future.  While Henry woefully lacked any talent for entertaining, he made his dreams come true in his own way. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Graphic Novel Review: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen

 

Title: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Author: Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

You wouldn’t expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie’s the laid-back captain of the basketball team, and Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. But they are friends, however unlikely—until Nate declares war on the cheerleaders. At stake is funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms—but not both.

It’s only going to get worse: after both parties are stripped of their funding on grounds of abominable misbehavior, Nate enrolls the club’s robot in a battlebot competition in a desperate bid for prize money. Bad sportsmanship? Sure. Chainsaws? Why not. Running away from home on Thanksgiving to illicitly enter a televised robot death match? Of course!

In Faith Erin Hicks’ and Prudence Shen’s world of high school class warfare and robot death matches, Nothing can possibly go wrong


Review:

I have to admit that I wasn’t too eager to dive into Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and I don’t know why.  I think that the synopsis just didn’t grab my imagination.  A surprise day off due to power issues at work prompted me to pick this up, and I’m glad I did.  This is such a fun read, with plenty of humor to keep the conflict between Charlie and Nate from getting too intense. 

At the beginning of the book, when the cheerleaders were forcing Charlie to run for Student Body President, I just wanted him to tell them to go jump off a cliff.  He gets caught up in an election campaign that he wants nothing to do with, and it is destroying his friendship with Nate.   Nate only wants to win because he’s discovered that the Student Body gets to decide whether funding will be available for the cheerleaders’ new uniforms or his beloved robotics club.  Charlie doesn’t care one way or the other, except that the cheerleaders freak him out.  They are like ninja cheerleaders – they are scary and they get what they want, and what they want are those new uniforms!  As Nate’s war on the cheerleaders, and Charlie, by association, heats up, Nate doesn’t hesitate to pull out all of the stops, and many of the stops are embarrassing to Charlie.  The pony incident when he was little certainly didn’t need to be plastered all over the high school walls for everyone to see!  I enjoyed Nate and Charlie’s friendship, and how they interacted with each other.  Even when they were so pissed that they were driven to pummel each other, it was evident that they didn’t really want to ruin their friendship.  They are so different that they complimented each other, and I thought they made a great team.

When it’s apparent that the election isn’t going to have the desired results, Nate figures out another way for both sides to get what they want.  It requires working together, and the cheerleaders need mucho convincing.  Through all of the negotiations, it’s obvious that Charlie has a lot more on his mind than robots or uniforms.  He’s been having a hard time forgiving his mom for leaving him and his dad and moving to California.  He’s resentful of his dad, too, for never being home.  Charlie has a lot going on, and his way of dealing with his problems is to ignore them.  He is passive aggressive to both parents, and even though he wants to give them a piece of his mind and make them understand where he’s coming from, he just can’t find the words.  Instead, he hangs up on his mom a lot, and then avoids her calls.  I found him a very likable and sympathetic character, and kept hoping he would find the strength and courage to let both of his parents know how badly they had let him down. 

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a fun, humorous read about robots, scary cheerleads, and all of the important relationships in the lives of two unconventional friends.   Friendship is work, especially when you don’t always have the same goals, and this book captured the ins and outs of working through adversity through the magic of spot on prose and expressive illustrations.  Highly recommended.

Grade:  B+ / A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Manga Review: La Quinta Camera–The Fifth Room by Natsume Ono

 

Title: La Quinat Camera – The Fifth Room

Author: Natsume Ono

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421532196

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An apartment in Italy. In four of the rooms live four single men with singular personalities. Into this peculiar ménage steps an exchange student, the new tenant of the fifth room. Brought together by chance, friends by choice, they pursue their dreams together as the days drift gently by.

Review:

Now, this is a treasure!  I don’t know why I let this book linger so long in the TBR pile, because it deserved to be read the second I received it.  Told through vignettes, La Quinta Camera follow the daily challenges and adventures of the tenants of an Italian apartment house.  Massimo, the owner, rents rooms to his best friends, and also hosts foreign exchange students for the local language school.  The story starts with Charlotte, who is having a Really Bad Day.  She has lost her bag, which had her money and the directions to the room she’ll be staying during her time in Italy.  Her first day in Italy isn’t going well!  As she meets friendly people willing to give her a hand, she begins to have a Really Good Day.  I loved this introduction to the characters, and I felt that I was getting to know them along with Charlotte.  By the end of the book, I was sad that our visit to Italy had drawn to a close.

The subsequent chapters build on the friendships and personality quirks of Massimo and his tenants.  This is an understated book.  There are no battles to the death, no political machinations, hardly any action of any kind.  And that is what sets La Quinta Camera apart.  This is a completely character-driven book, and it’s those characters that make it compelling.  As they go about their daily lives, facing the same challenges we all face, they become living, breathing beings.  Will Charlotte be able to make a life for herself in the country she has grown to love?  Will Luca get over his crush?  Will Cele make it to his own birthday party?  Will Massimo be able to find an inner peace as his life, and the lives of his tenants, continues to change and evolve? 

I had a hard time putting this book down, and when I reached to last page, what I really wanted were more!  Ono’s quirky, whimsical art was perfect for this book.  La Quinta Camera is an underrated gem, one that I am grateful I was finally able to enjoy.

Grade:  A

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

 

Title: Rival

Author: Sara Bennett Wealer

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061827624

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Brooke
I don’t like Kathryn Pease. I could pretend everything’s fine between us. I could be nice to her face, then trash her behind her back. But I think it’s better to be honest. I don’t like Kathryn, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Kathryn
I saw a commercial where singers used their voices to shatter glass, but the whole thing is pretty much a myth. The human voice isn’t that strong.

Human hatred is. Anybody who doubts that should feel the hate waves coming off of Brooke Dempsey. But I don’t shatter; I’m not made of glass. Anyway, the parts that break aren’t on the outside.

Brooke and Kathryn used to be best friends . . . until the night when Brooke ruthlessly turned on Kathryn in front of everyone. Suddenly Kathryn was an outcast and Brooke was Queen B. Now, as they prepare to face off one last time, each girl must come to terms with the fact that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had.

Review:

When Rival first came out, the book flew under my radar.  It wasn’t until reviews started popping up that I realized that it was another contemporary featuring music as a backdrop.  I loved Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, so I added Rival to my library hold list.  I wanted to revisit the competitive world where gifted musicians put their talent on the line.  This time their instruments were their voices, and the prize was a hefty check to help with college expenses.  For Brooke, the competition is about winning her dad’s attention, and expressing her love for music.  For Kathryn, it means giving her already cash strapped parents a hand with her tuition bills.

Like Virtuosity, the girls must battle with rival singers, and they must also battle with their own inner demons.  Kathryn yearns to be somebody, and when A-lister Brooke befriends her, everything changes for Kathryn.  Unfortunately, her sudden popularity goes right to her head, and Kathryn soon becomes somebody who is very hard to like.  She turns her back on her best friend, starts lying to her parents, and lets her grades plummet.

As Kathryn is drawn further into Brooke’s clique and starts hanging out with Brooke’s other friends, Brooke begins to wrestle with jealousy.  She liked Kathryn when it was just the two of them, talking about music, listening to operas, and going to performances at the local college.  Little by little, Brooke begins to change too.  She allows her envy to eat away at her, and soon, Kathryn and Brooke are mortal enemies, after their emotions flare out of control at a party.  Now Kathryn must deal with bullying as she becomes a social pariah, and Brooke is left with even more feelings of groundlessness.  Her friends don’t understand her, and she knows that they will never get how important music is to her. 

Told through alternating flashbacks to their junior year and their current, intense rivalry now that they are seniors, Sara Bennett Wealer weaves a gripping, compelling look at a friendship gone terribly wrong because of a misunderstanding and the inability of the protagonists, especially Brooke,  to express their feelings.  As Brooke becomes ever more dissatisfied with her friendships, she withdraws more into herself and refuses to confront her feelings.  There’s a lot of angst here – Brooke has so many issues she is trying to deal with, but she can’t open up and confide in anyone, not even Kathryn.  Everyone thinks that she’s one of the golden girls, but her popularity and her status as the Queen B don’t matter to Brooke.  She just wants to lose herself in her music, and she desperately wants to win her father’s approval. 

There were many times that I didn’t particularly like either character, but I did care about them.  They are both flawed, which made them both more relatable.   I kept hoping that they would get over themselves and see what they were throwing away because of their personal ambitions.  I became impatient with both of them, because neither of them seemed to be learning from their mistakes.  Kathryn grew especially trying as she morphed into someone totally opposite of who she had been before she started hanging out with Brooke’s social circle.

If you enjoy emotion-charged contemporaries, Rival is the book for you.  It builds up slowly to a gripping, unflinching look at two friends turned to enemies, exposing their faults and flaws layer by complex layer.  I could not put the book down as they grappled with their inner demons and their sudden and intense dislike for each other.  I bet you won’t be able to put it down either.

Grade: A-

Review borrowed from my local library

Teaser Tuesday–Rival and Bleeding Hearts

I had a bunch of holds come in from the library, so I am trying to fit as many of them into my reading schedule as possible. The first one I picked up was Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer. After reading Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, I was craving another story with a competitive music backdrop.  So far, this is really good.

 

“Hey, Kathryn! Catch!” A beach ball hits me in the chest and then plops into my lap.  I look up to see Brooke’s older brother Brice bobbing in the water in front of me.

 

My other read is Bleeding Hearts by Alyxandra Harvey.  It’s about the Drakes.   I adore the Drakes.  There is nothing else to be said. 

 

Nicholas won’t even sit in the same car with me because the smell of warm human blood is still too tempting.  He just turned a little over a year ago, and it takes time to get all those appetites under control.  I think of it like a case of perpetual PMS, where you just feel inside your bones that if you don’t get a hot fudge sundae right away, you might actually kill someone.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!