Review: Aya: Ceres Vol 1 by Yuu Watase

 

Title:  Aya: Ceres Vol 1

Author: Yuu Watase

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Aya and her twin brother Aki thought they were going to a celebration of their sixteenth birthday at their grandfather’s home, but the funeral-like atmosphere tips them off that something’s not right. Their "birthday present" turns out to be a mummified hand–the power of which forces an awakening within Aya, and painful wounds all over Aki’s body! Grandfather Mikage announces that Aki will be heir to the Mikage fortune, and Aya must die! But Aya has allies in the athletic cook and martial artist Yûhi, and the attractive, mysterious Tôya. But can even two handsome and resourceful guys save Aya when it’s her own power that’s out of control?


Review:

Okay, I have a confession to make.  Yuu Watase is like crack for me.  She has a gift when it comes to writing angsty, action-packed series, and I just gobble her stuff up.  It’s a mix of cotton candy, corn dogs, and French fries.  That’s a lot of junk food, but it is so tasty and filling that it’s hard to resist.  And yes, I just compared Yuu Watase’s writing to carnival junk food.  That’s okay, though, because I love carnival junk food!

Aya and her twin brother Aki are turning 16.  Instead of hanging out with their friends as they had planned, their parents demand that they accompany them to their grandfather’s house.  Once there, they discover all of their relatives, somberly awaiting their arrival.  To cap off the really, really weird day, Aya and Aki are given a box to open.  inside the box is a mummified hand, and once they see it, their lives will never be the same again.

Aki collapses in a pool of blood, shredded by some magical force unleashed by the mummified hand. A power awakens within Aya, and she discovers that she’s the descendant of a celestial maiden, and now her family wants her dead!  With her entire family out to kill her, who can she trust?  The Mikage family bodyguard, Toya?  Or the martial artist chef Yuhi?  Who is going to save Aya from her family, and who is going to save her from the destructive power she can’t control?

I love this story!  I have seen the anime, but I haven’t read the graphic novels yet.  I thought it would be fun to read them all, and blog about them as I do.  Hopefully you will be inspired to read them yourself, or watch the anime, which is still one of my favorites.  When it came out, it received some flak, mainly because Aya can be irritating, especially when she gets herself in to trouble, and then has to have one of the guys come and save her.  While I prefer a more self-reliant heroine, I love how Watase brought the legend of the celestial maidens to life in Ceres.  Add in her detailed artwork with her delicate linework, and mixing in a dash of humor to the horror and action elements, and you have an engaging, fast-paced story full of mystery and weird supernatural powers.f

This first volume introduces the major characters, and sets the tone for the rest of the series.  Ceres is the story of a powerful family, and the dark secret they have been hiding for centuries. It is also the story of Aya’s coming of age.  She is a spoiled and overindulged teenager, who thinks life is one big party at the local karaoke place.  She hasn’t had many responsibilities, and she’s never had to really do things for herself.   Now that she’s lost the shelter of her family, she’s forced to deal with her mother’s betrayal, and somehow keep herself alive.  Suzumi and her brother-in-law Yuhi come to her rescue, and now Aya must navigate  treacherous waters as she tries to decide who she can trust.  If she’s wrong, she’s going to end up dead, and nothing’s she learned in high school has prepared her for this nightmare. The cliffhanger at the end made me happy that I have the next volume, and ensured that I would be reaching for it quickly.  This is a fast-paced story with many unanswered questions that beg to be answered.  Only 13 more volumes before we get them!

Grade:  B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

 

Title:  Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Author: Tony Cliff

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.


Review:

What a fun read!  Selim is a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps, and he’s content to be a soldier.  Sure, the sultan is a blood-thirsty jerk, but Selim’s life isn’t so bad.  He enjoys living a quiet life, brewing his delicious tea and keeping his head firmly attached to his neck.  All of that changes when he’s given the task of acting as the translator for a new prisoner.  Delilah Dirk is everything that Selim is not.  She’s bold and confident, and she thrives on danger.  She’s a master swordswoman, she’s traveled the world, and nothing intimidates her.  When Selim relates Delilah’s boastful stories to the sultan, his peaceful life comes to a screeching halt.  Delilah has arrived at the palace with one goal in mind, and that’s robbing the sultan.  When she escapes, Selim is accused of being her accomplice, and suddenly he’s living a life on the run.

I enjoyed the interaction between Delilah and Selim.  Delilah is like a forest fire; she is a force of nature, and if you find yourself standing against her, good luck!  She is clever and resourceful, and nothing phases her.  Like a cyclone heading for landfall, it’s best to just get out of her way.  Selim, on the other hand, is quiet spoken, and he wants to live a long, happy, healthy  life.  He immediately realizes that he’s live a short, painful life if he continues hanging around with Delilah, but honor requires that he pay back the debt that he owes her.  She rescued him when he was about to be executed, and while he’s rather go hide somewhere safe, his pride won’t allow him to shirk his obligations.  Never mind that Delilah drags him from one deadly adventure to the next.  A debt is a debt, darn it!!

I loved Selim.  He thinks he knows what he wants out of life, but he really hasn’t a clue.  Racing about after Delilah is one heart pounding thrill after another, and while Selim professes to dislike his new circumstances, he has to admit that there are some advantages.  Fresh air, nights under the stars, the satisfaction of a good meal cooked from scratch.  Delilah’s an entertaining companion, full of death-defying tales of her previous endeavors.  When he’s given the opportunity to settle down and have that peaceful existence he’s longed for, he realizes that there’s something to be said for the company of a good friend.

At it’s core, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is the story of friendship.  Sure, it’s got all of that fun sword fighting, mass destruction, and running for your life, but this is the story of two polar opposites who discover that together they make a team to be reckoned with, and that together, they make a more cohesive whole.  The full-color, expressive art is just as engaging as the storyline, and the dialog is snappy and keeps the plot racing along.  This is a fun read, one that’s hard to put down.  I read it in one sitting, and was entertained from the first page to the last. 

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Guest Post: Tony Cliff on Writing Strong Female Characters and Giveaway!

Today’s special guest Tony Cliff has a guest post for us, and after, you can win a copy of his graphic novel Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant.

Writing Strong Female Characters by Tony Cliff

I don’t know whether she meant it sincerely or whether she was just trying to tease me, but when a notably feminist-minded female friend saw the cover for my first little Delilah Dirk comic back in 2007, she said, “oh! You made a feminist character.” Knowing how vocal this friend could be about feminist issues, it was often fun to bother her about it with a grab-bag of stereotypically misogynist remarks, so she could have been returning the favour by maligning-but-not-really my labour of love. Pointing out that the project I’ve been working on for months secretly demonstrates feminist principles would have been a sort of, “ah ha, you’re part of the club and you didn’t even know it” statement. Whatever her intentions, she was the first person to posit that Delilah Dirk might be a “strong female character.” Since then, presumably because I am a human male and the incongruity is astonishing, I am often asked why and how I have written a “strong female character.” Let me tell you!

I’ll just pass by arguing about whether Delilah Dirk is, in fact, a “strong female character.” Since that first mention, enough people have framed her as such that I’m just going to roll with it. No one that I am aware of has argued that DD is specifically not a “strong female character.” If I’m reluctant to embrace that term (as indicated by my liberal use of scare-quotes), it’s probably due to my personal tendency to be contradictory, but also because I am occasionally suspicious of peoples’ motivations in throwing the term around.

I’ll also pass by the question, “why do you write strong female characters,” because Joss Whedon has already addressed that question very eloquently. Listen to him here (http://youtu.be/cYaczoJMRhs?t=1m44s).

If possible, I would also defer to Joss Whedon about how to write strong female characters. He has more experience than I do. I’m not entirely sure what makes a “strong female character.” Others have invested years of post-graduate study in this topic – there are tests to see if your work of fiction has sufficiently fully-featured female characters, there are classifications, there are archetypes and stereotypes… I just sat down one evening to invent an adventuresome character who seemed appealing.

Here is the extent to which I considered Delilah’s gender: inspired by Hornblower and Sharpe adventures during the Napoleonic Wars, I wanted to have a sort of logistically hyper-flexible (i.e. “globetrotting”) action character, and the genre and setting were already chock-a-block full of male characters. Plus, a female character in 1810 naturally faces more obstacles due to societal norms, which I thought would present more opportunities for conflict. It would generate laughs, too, because our society has come so far since then that the gender roles are comically outdated. Feel free to roll your eyes in disagreement, if necessary – again, I am a White Male. I was also motivated by the mainstream comics I had encountered – mostly Image comics of the late 1990s. The female characters were across-the-board boring. Too serious, too bland, no sense of humour, no depth or colour.

Meanwhile, throughout my life I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy the platonic friendship of a few actual human females. I have studied them – made notes, measured and analyzed their behaviours and characteristics. I have dissected their droppings and run samples of their blood through complicated scientific equipment, at great personal expense. I have made a surprising number of astonishing conclusions!

There are differences, but all you need to figure them out is a little observation, a little time, and to not be a raging garbage bag of misogynist filth. Sure, there might be subtle differences between a male character and a female character who are identical except for their gender. But the gulf is not very wide. Maybe you know how to write characters who fall all along the personality spectrum, from a cruelly selfish man to heroically brave man, to a paralyzingly cowardly man. If so, you’re more than capable of embracing the socially and physiologically imposed differences between genders. They are minor by comparison. Yes, there may be aspects of a character that are forced on them by their physiognomy and anatomy, how they think of themselves, and how your society of other characters treat them based on their perceived gender, but this is where imagination and observation come in.

So how do you write a strong female character? And is this different from a believable female character? Is there something that separates strong from believable? Is it just the addition of swords? Is it some other “empowering” trait? After all, the forcefulness of how a character represents their gender is not necessarily an indication of their strength. I am suspicious that when people say “strong female character” what they really mean is “believable female character” or just anything except “curvaceous plot device.” Assuming you want to step away from having your character serve the limited purposes of a plot device (ahem, Princess Peach, ahem, every damsel in distress), I like two simple tools for the job: contrast and depth.

Contrast is a simple idea, and it applies to anything you’re creating, at any step in the process. It is a flexible and infinitely useful fundamental concept. Follow along. When you’re reading a WHERE’S WALDO book (or WALLY, I guess, for you Europeans), it is difficult to figure out Where Waldo is because he is surrounded by other humans, some of whom wear stripy things and/or share similar colours with Waldo. This is low contrast. It’s hard to tell where Waldo is because he’s surrounded by so many things that are similar. He gets lost in the Waldo-ness.

Conversely, if you put Waldo on a flat, deserted ice floe, voila! he’s easy to see. He is the only Waldo-shaped and -coloured object that’s visible. This is high contrast. Waldo stands out because of all the not-Waldo-ness around him. Meanwhile, the polar bear behind him? Neither you nor Waldo saw it coming, because a white polar bear against a white background is the epitome of low contrast.

You can (and ought to) apply principles of contrast to everything. Readability and understanding increase when contrast increases. So it goes when you are creating a character. Their happy moments stand out in contrast to their sad moments. Their angry, intense, moments stand out in contrast to their quiet, meditative, sitting-and-sipping-tea moments. I believe this is what sets an interesting (“strong/believable”) character apart from a dull character. Certainly, if you’ve heard the term “one-note character,” this is a way to combat that, and it’s the beginning of achieving a little depth of character. Just put them in situations where they’ll be motivated to have different feelings.

It is frustrating to realize that I have just given advice that amounts to, “give the character more than one feeling,” because if you think about it that simply, it seems inconceivable that anyone could make anything even passably interesting for the maker without clearing this low hurdle. But I guess it needs to be mentioned. Those dour, guns-blazing ladies in my late-90s Image comics all had approximately two-and-a-half modes of expression: “scowl”, “scowl harder”, and “laugh derisively.” Sometimes they would look very serious while sunbathing by the pool, or on a boat, or on cloudy days. Not exactly a rich tapestry of emotion.

Conversely, in his series of novels, Horatio Hornblower is a well-rounded, fully-coloured character. The stories are no major touchstones in the history of literature, but they are solid, enjoyable, and are improved dramatically by the depth that C.S. Forester gives his protagonist’s character. Hornblower’s strength, resolve, and bravery stand out so much more impressively because they are contrasted against his worry, neuroses, and his internal conflicts.

For advice on achieving depth of character, I’m once more going to defer to someone with more expertise than me. After all, this is the sort of topic that one could write a book about, as many have. I like Lajos Egri. His excellent book THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING was written in the 1930s and is designed for the playwrights of the time. Nevertheless, it is a timeless, effective guide to building integrated characters and stories, whether you’re writing a novel, comic, movie, or even an actual play, as preposterous as that notion may be. If you didn’t know when it was written, you might mistake it for being more modern than McKee’s STORY. Egri’s emphasis is on designing stories that could not exist if it weren’t for the characters within them. Weak characters? Weak story. If that seems to you like it might be a recipe for the type of dull literary fiction that lacks the excitement of a good adventurous or romantic story, please see my earlier thoughts re: Horblower. Strong characters make for strong stories. A dull story is elevated and made interesting by entertaining characters, whereas the greatest roller-coaster of a plot is still mind-numbingly dull without interesting characters.

Much of Egri’s approach involves building a character up from their backstory. He is good at providing direction on how to do so. Now, admittedly, backstory and depth are not the same thing. But they can work in tandem. I find that one inspires the other.

Boiled down as simply as possible, depth can be found by giving your character likes, dislikes, wants, needs, preferences, quirks, and fears, among other things. Characteristics. Indiana Jones began as an homage to the heroes of adventure serials from the early 20th century. One of those is H. Rider Haggard’s character Allan Quatermain. Admittedly, I have not read a lot of Quatermain stories – maybe only three-quarters of one story – but you’d think that would be enough to give me a sense of his character. I know him only vaguely as a pith-helmeted avatar for the readers who would have revelled in what would have been exotic adventures back when those stories were written. What does everyone know about Indiana Jones? Whip, hat, competitive, and he’s scared of snakes. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be interesting, and it’s all established in the first ten minutes of his first story. The same can not be said for Quatermain. Say what you will about Wikipedia, feel free to contrast Quatermain’s “Appearance and Character” section with that of Indiana Jones or Horatio Hornblower.

At this point, I’ve wandered away from specifically talking about writing “strong female characters.” Though… I like to think that’s the eventual goal – some time far in the future, we might not need to differentiate between “strong female characters” and “strong characters.” Maybe you shouldn’t be writing strong female characters. Maybe you ought to write strong characters, making them ladies when that makes sense and men when that makes sense. Based on what I hear on Twitter and elsewhere, I can acknowledge that we’re not there yet, but I also get the feeling that I might be preaching to the choir: the type of person most likely to read about how to write a female character is the type who’s probably already inclined to do so, and that person is not the person who needs to be convinced of the value of a treating your differently-gendered characters equally.

So my hope is that you’ll keep writing your characters, and hopefully I’ve shared some viewpoints that complement your own. Perhaps I’ve simply illuminated some of my own biases, and you’ve encountered a type of thinking or some cognitive mistakes you want to avoid. Either way, I hope you’ll keep writing (or start writing) richly-developed characters and sending them out into the world so that, eventually, somewhere down the road, no one feels that a character’s gender requires a special approach to writing.

Thank you, Tony!!

About the book:

Lovable ne’er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she’s picked up on the way, Delilah’s adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan’s guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine…and globetrotting adventures.

Giveaway:

US addresses only, please

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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: Binky Takes Charge by Ashley Spires

 

 

Title: Binky Takes Charge

Author: Ashley Spires

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Binky the space cat has been promoted to lieutenant. He’s now in charge of training the next generation of space cadets. But then he meets the new space kitten — who isn’t a kitten at all! Is someone trying to pull the fur over his eyes? Binky and Captain Gracie need to figure out the new cadet before the next alien attack!


Review:

I love Binky!  Somehow I allowed this installment of Binky’s space adventures to languish on my iPad, but I’m glad I finally had a chance to read it.  Binky has been given a promotion, and he’s getting a new cadet to train.  To his dismay, however, he learns that FURST (Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) has morphed into PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) in an effort to diversify its membership.  He’s upset to think that he’s a Space Pet, instead of an esteemed Space Cat.  To add insult to injury, his new trainee isn’t a CAT, but a lesser life form instead.  Gordon is a puppy! What is the world coming to?

This book is hilarious!  Poor Binky is at his wit’s end.  Not only is Gordon clumsy, noisy, and an attention hound (pun intended), Binky starts to think that he’s a double agent.  Why else would the aliens be so interested in Gordon’s waste matter? Why else would he be stealing Binky’s human’s possessions?  Why else would he deactivate the anti-alien device??  Things are looking mighty grim in Binky’s world, but he needs concrete proof before he can go to his superiors.  With Gracie’s help, Binky begins a careful and thorough investigation into the motives and behavior of his new charge, and what he discovers is surprising.

This is such a cute series.  The art is comical yet expressive, and Binky’s adventures are always good for a few laughs.  I enjoyed the introduction of Gordon, and more specifically, I found Binky’s reaction to his new student amusing.  With his superior cat attitude, he is resigned to teaching a not so bright trainee, but he isn’t certain of success.  Once the evidence stacks up and Gordon looks like a double-agent, Binky and Gracie race against the clock to maintain the integrity of their space station and the safety of their humans.   This is great stuff, and now I am convinced that Bumble and Poppy are member of PURST.  They are like ninjas, albeit  occasionally clumsy ninjas, in their efforts to take out aliens.  I have never had dogs so determined to wipe out the insect population in the nearby vicinity, so I wonder – have these guys been through boot camp, possibly with Lieutenant Binky?

Recommended for animals lovers of all ages

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

Interview with Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks, Creators of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Please give Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks a warm welcome! They are visiting the virtual offices to chat about their graphic novel Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can each of you describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

Prudence Shen is a caffeine-addicted, camera-toting work in progress. She’s never met a library book sale that wasn’t her jam.

Faith Erin Hicks is a small human from planet Earth. She is addicted to diet coke and making comics. She is always sleepy. Also hungry. Cats

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong?

Pru: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is about loving your friends even when they’re jerks, building robots, and how through teamwork and car theft, anything is possible. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is also about how everything goes completely and totally wrong, and how sometimes that’s okay.

Faith: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a graphic novel about Nate and Charlie, childhood friends and (in Charlie’s case, unwilling) adversaries in a school election gone horribly wrong. There are geeks, cheerleaders, evil plots and it all climaxes in a 50 page battle bot fight scene. You must read it to believe it.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

Pru: Nate and Charlie are basically the worst parts of my personality split across two people. The idea in general came from watching way too many battlebot highlight reels on YouTube, and having a deep fondness for teenaged romps and road trips.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Charlie?

Pru: Hesitating, uncertain, improving.

Faith: Tall. Depressed. Sweaters.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Nate had a theme song, what would it be?

Faith: Haha, I’m just going to take a wild stab in the dark and say Anna Eng by They Might Be Giants. I’m curious what Pru’s choice would be …

Pru: I personally think Marina and the Diamonds, "Oh No!"

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Name one thing Charlie is never without.

Pru: $1 in change; something drilled into him by his dad in case he needs to make an emergency pay phone call, nevermind he has a cell.

Faith: His legs. … oh, that’s two things. His right leg.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things will you never find in Nate’s backpack?

Pru: I feel like Nate’s that kid who never has any cash, a working pen, or clean paper to write on. Probably all of his schoolwork is just filled with marginalia from incidental writing needs.

Faith: Probably a sports team uniform or some kind of sports-related magazine. A complete DVD collection of Saved by the Bell (although that would be hilarious). A note to his parents apologizing for his behavior. ;)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

Pru: The news, insomnia, and books I read as a kid. I was just rereading Farmer Boy this morning, actually.

Faith: My top three cartoonist influences are Jeff Smith (Bone), Naoki Urasawa (Pluto) and Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist). I also like animated shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Gravity Falls. Authors I like are Maggie Stiefvater, Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones and Stephen King.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to work?

Pru: I have to write at a desk or table, must have music, and it usually helps if I’m supposed to be doing something else that’s due on a really tight deadline, because that seems to be the magic bullet for actually getting me to write.

Faith: Diet Coke! My drawing desk! A good audiobook to listen to while I draw!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

Pru: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. If you haven’t read it, you absolutely must.

Faith: I blubbered like a baby throughout Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. That was an amazing book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

Pru: Little House in the Big Woods is the first one I remember vividly, although almost everything I read between the ages of 6 and 8 were foundational things that would build into a lifelong love.

Faith: I was a pretty voracious reader as a kid due to growing up without a television. I honestly can’t remember what books really sparked my love of reading, but I remember what books really inspired me to want to create my own stories and especially stories starring awesome girl characters: the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander. They’re fun, awesome, Indiana Jones type adventure books, starring an amazing heroine, perfect for nerdy 12 year old tomboys like me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

Pru: I’m lucky enough to travel quite a bit. This year I’m hoping to get to Morocco and Shanghai.

Faith: … or drawing? ;) Draw and write more, I guess! I definitely should try and develop more hobbies. When I’m not working, I try and go outside (I like running), explore the city I live in (Halifax), and get fresh inspiration for more stories. I should maybe take up knitting …

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the links below:

About the book:

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: Peanut by Ayun Halliday & Paul Hoppe

 

 

Title: Peanut

Author: Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

"Before you write me off as a delusional psycho, think about what it’s like to be thrown into a situation where everyone knows everyone . . . and no one knows you." Sadie has the perfect plan to snag some friends when she transfers to Plainfield High—pretend to have a peanut allergy. But what happens when you have to hand in that student health form your unsuspecting mom was supposed to fill out? And what if your new friends want to come over and your mom serves them snacks? (Peanut butter sandwich, anyone?) And then there’s the bake sale, when your teacher thinks you ate a brownie with peanuts. Graphic coming-of-age novels have huge cross-over potential, and Peanut is sure to appeal to adults and teens alike.


Review:

When I received this book, I was a bit mystified.  Why, oh why would anyone pretend to have a fatal peanut allergy?  Baffled, I dug right into this graphic novel, intrigued to see if there was a compelling reason for Sadie to fabricate such a serious health issue.  After finishing the book, I have to say that I didn’t find it.  While the characters are likable, the rationale behind Sadie’s pretend illness just didn’t cut it for me.  Sadie’s little white lie, which quickly spirals out of control, is spun in an effort to be more popular at her new school. 

After talking to a girl about her medical alert bracelet, Sadie is so fascinated by the thought of having a severe peanut allergy that she orders a bracelet of her own.  I wanted to question how she was able to accomplish this, online, without a credit card or her mother’s knowledge, but I didn’t.  I just followed along with Sadie as she experiences the unintended consequences of her little lie.  A concerned teacher has her freaked out because she hasn’t turned in a health form, signed by her mother,  to the school nurse, and that EpiPen that she’s supposed to carry with her at all times?  Yeah, she needs a prescription to have access to that prop.  When a new friend asks to see it, she flips out on him.  When her new boyfriend thinks that she’s eaten a chip cooked in peanut oil, she realizes that living with this lie isn’t going to be easy.

The thing that kept me engaged in the story was Sadie’s fear of discovery.  Afraid to fess up to her new friends, she just keeps digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole.  She is terrified that the truth will come out, and when it does, that she will lose all of the friends that she’s made.  When reality does come crashing down around her, it is every bit as awful as she feared.  I think that the fallout was shortchanged, and that mending her bridges went too easy for her.  From her first day of school, the image of herself that she projected was all based on fallacy, and the small amount of page time given for her repentance was disappointing.

The art is quirky and it works well with the tone of the story.  I loved the splash of color from Sadie’s clothes. 

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publisher