Mini-reviews: Cinder, Requiem and Anya’s Ghost

Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler CinderCinder by Marissa Meyer
Published by Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan

I have seen several raving reviews for Cinder and while I definitely liked it, I can’t say it was love for me. I definitely loved the concept, and thought that Meyer took the Cinderella story and crafted an incredibly unique re-telling, and I really liked the characters, especially Cinder herself. I listened to the audio and the narrator, Rebecca Soler, did an excellent job. Such a good job, in fact, that I made sure to get the second installment of this series, Scarlet, on audio as well. I’m definitely a fan of this novel and am excited to see what Meyer does with the series. I think dystopian novels are just becoming old hat for me these days. I haven’t fallen in LOVE with one in a long time. But Cinder is good, definitely well-written, thoughtful, great characters. I’d still recommend it for sure.

Requiem By Lauren OliverRequiem by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

I FINALLY got Requiem from the library and cracked it open immediately upon returning home. For much of the novel, I must admit to feeling underwhelmed. I was, strangely, more interested in Hana’s story than in Lena’s. I found Lena’s portions of the novel more meandering, with too much happening. There was a revolution, there was a love triangle (sort of), there was the possibility of her mother being back in her life … it was too much, and because of all of that not enough attention was given to any one aspect of Lena’s story. Hana’s, on the other hand, was fascinating because she was living in the world as a Cured, engaged to one of the most prominent men in society, and she was learning major Important Things about this world. Overall, I was kept interested in the book but was disappointed in the ending and almost felt like it could have been four books instead of three.

Written & illustrated by Vera Brosgol Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan

Sometimes a graphic novel is exactly the kind of book I need to entertain me without too much effort on my part. I really liked this one, in which a girl falls into a well, finds the ghost of a girl who fell in that same well many years ago, and befriends the ghost. The illustrations in this one were gorgeous, the story is one of those that has a light lesson within, and I was overall incredibly entertained and interested in this story that Brosgol told. For those of you who enjoy a graphic novel every now and again, like myself, Anya’s Ghost is not to be missed.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published by Candlewick Press

Beginning when Conor’s mother first got sick, he’s had the same terrifying dream every single night. But one night, when he wakes from the middle of the dream at the same place he always wakes, a visitor is waiting for him. And this visitor isn’t what he was expecting – this monster is physically harmless, but wants the one thing Conor is unable, unwilling to give – the truth.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for what feels like forever. I loved the Chaos Walking trilogy from Patrick Ness (starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, a book that gutted me in a serious way), and I knew that A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea from Ness’ friend and fellow author, Siobhan Dowd, who was planning to write a book based on this idea but passed away before she was able to do so. Plus, bloggers have been raving about this one since its original release in the UK. I thought I was prepared for this book, emotionally. I thought I knew what to expect. But while I had an idea of what I would find in these pages, the truth of how affecting it would be was lost on me. When I finally reached the end of this book, tears rolling down my cheeks, I finally got it. And now I’m here to tell you that if you have not experienced A Monster Calls for yourself, you must. Absolutely you must read this beautiful book.

Everything about this book spoke to me. Conor, a young child, having to deal with his mother’s suffering from cancer, broke my heart. Not only was he dealing with his mother’s illness, but he had no other adults in his life with even a smidgen of understanding of how to deal with a grieving young child. It was so difficult to read about how the few people his mom had to help them didn’t seem to care about Conor or put any effort into discovering what his needs might be. Truly, this kid just made me want to climb into the book and give him a huge hug.

The illustrations by Jim Kay were gorgeous and I think made this story complete. Seeing the monster added to the spookiness of his existence and made the fact that Conor was seeing the monster with his own eyes more real. The pictures, done in black and white, made the book have that sinister, creepy feel – that feeling that you just know things aren’t going to be happy in the end, but the specifics are a big question mark.

At the end of this book, I was sobbing. This novel is so beautiful, but the truth of the matter is that the issues Conor is dealing with are not pretty. They are difficult, they are heartbreaking, they are real. So please read this book. It’s absolutely gorgeous, such an amazing story, one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Published by Scholastic Press

Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in a Paris train station, alone, as he has been orphaned by his father’s recent passing. When his father died, Hugo quietly took over his duties as clock keeper for the station, and since he has no idea how to cash the stack of paychecks he is compiling, he is forced to steal food at every opportunity just to survive. His life takes a big turn when he meets a young girl whose father runs the toy booth in the train station.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is really something else. Told in both words and pictures, Hugo’s story broke my heart and inspired me at the same time. Selznick’s ability to blend the story of Hugo with his beautiful illustrations is absolutely remarkable and can’t be explained – it needs to be experienced for one to understand how seamlessly he is able to bring together these two elements of the book. The Invention of Hugo Cabret isn’t just a book – it is truly an experience, one that I absolutely loved.

It is impossible for the reader not to fall in love with Hugo immediately. He is such a young child, yet with so much responsibility on his shoulders, and so much emotional baggage to carry around and fight through. But his attitude is one of doing what needs to be done without complaining, without thinking his life could be better, without expecting anything else than what he is used to. He is amazingly mature for his age yet still has held on to the genuine curiosity that only a child can truly have.

I don’t know what else to say about The Invention of Hugo Cabret besides the fact that you should read it. This is truly a magical story, one that is not to be missed.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin

Glory, a young piano prodigy, quickly falls in love with Frank when he moves in next door to the home she shares with her father. But their love develops into something more serious, even desperate, as Glory’s eccentricities and quirks slowly turn into madness. She becomes obsessed with the song “Chopsticks.” Will their love survive Glory’s ever-worsening instability?

Chopsticks is told in a very interesting and unique way. It is a story told mostly in pictures, drawings, text messages, and even YouTube videos. Even with this nontraditional format, it’s very clear how quickly and deeply Glory and Frank fall in love, and their feelings for one another come across just as loudly as if the words were explicitly written.

I enjoyed experiencing Chopsticks - the unique format captivated me and I couldn’t put it down. Since there’s not a lot here to actually read, the book is a quick read and I easily got lost in the story and finished it in one sitting.

The thing is, though, that there’s a pretty big twist in the story. I tell you that because, even though I knew to expect it, I still missed it. Pay attention – things are not exactly what they seem here and if you figure it out, you will be blown away by the end. But seriously – pay attention or you won’t get it!

Chopsticks is a highly enjoyable “reading” experience that is truly more than meets the eye. I would definitely recommend this one.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Published in the US by Drawn and Quarterly

Aya lives in the Ivory Coast and is nineteen years old in 1978. She is smart, has a good head on her shoulders, and is destined for success – the quintessential good girl. Her friends, Adjoua and Bintou, aren’t as much so as Aya, and they get themselves into some interesting situations. In their home of Yop City, there is a marketplace where lovers meet at night, and what happens on these evenings soon becomes the town gossip.

I quite enjoy graphic novels from time to time, and I’d heard good things about Aya (I think from Eva but I can’t be sure) so when I saw my local library had it I couldn’t resist.

There were many things I enjoyed and appreciated about this book. I know almost zero about the Ivory Coast, so this was a nice peek into the culture there and the history of what was going on in that country in the late seventies. In fact, it made me want to read more books set in the Ivory Coast – any suggestions anyone? I liked Aya as a heroine quite a bit. She was a smart and determined teenager, trying to do the right things, but she still had fun with her friends. She felt realistic to me. I liked the illustrations quite a bit; they really brought the story to life for me. Sometimes when I read a graphic novel, I think the story is better than the illustrations or vice versa, but not in this case. I felt the story and the illustrations complemented one another beautifully.

If you enjoy graphic novels, Aya is one that shouldn’t be missed.

Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Lawrence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks

Brain CampBrain Camp written by Susan Kim and Lawrence Klavan, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan

Jenna and Lucas are forced to attend summer camp by their parents. Once they arrive, they quickly realize two misfits are better together than apart, so they form a fast friendship. Things at camp seem okay for a while, but suddenly the two of them see some strange happenings – kids are disappearing, others are becoming strangely much smarter than their normal selves, and they see counselors sneaking into campers’ cabins at night. Jenna and Lucas quickly realize that they must get to the bottom of this before whatever is happening starts to happen to them too.

Typically, graphic novels are targeted toward a pre-teen and teenage audience, and while I’m much older than that, I tend to still get some kind of takeaway from them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case with Brain Camp. While I didn’t dislike the book, I didn’t find anything of particular significance in it which admittedly made it difficult for me to really sink into the book.

I think the issue I’m having with Brain Camp is that I wasn’t expecting it to have such a strong sci-fi/body-snatchers vibe. Definitely this is my problem and not the book’s, but all the same when I understood where the plot was going I was not exactly thrilled. I don’t love these kinds of stories so I wasn’t surprised when I closed this book feeling less than excited about it.

But the good news is that this is just my opinion, based on my own bias toward these types of stories, which I almost never enjoy anyway. Brain Camp itself had really great artwork which I definitely liked, and an important message at its heart about how difficult it can be to fit in and how it’s so crucial to just be yourself even during those painful teenage years. So, yes, there are valuable and even excellent things about this book. But for me, I wasn’t jumping up and down about the overall experience.

So, while Brain Camp wasn’t my favorite graphic novel by a long shot, readers looking for a more lighthearted, funny story that involves some sci-fi elements will probably enjoy this one much more than I did.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

 

In 2001, cartoonist Guy Delisle spent two months in North Korea to work on a children’s television show.  While in North Korea, Delisle had a rare opportunity to see what life is really like in this secluded, dark Communist society.  This graphic novel is Delisle’s account of what he experienced during those two months.

I’m feeling fairly lukewarm about Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea so this post will be on the shorter side.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this book just didn’t click for me.  I was intrigued by the fact that Delisle got into North Korea in the first place, I’m very interested in North Korea, and I love the graphic memoir concept which seems to be more and more popular these days.  And while the book was good, I just wasn’t wowed by it.

Delisle’s story was interesting, the art was well done, and I felt like I really got a feel for what he experienced while he was in North Korea.  So I think a lot of people will enjoy this one.  But for whatever reason, it fell flat for me.

Just don’t let my one little opinion stop you from picking up this book!  As so few people in the world have had the opportunity Delisle was given to get a look inside this country – the book is valuable for that alone.  While it wasn’t the right book for me, I can’t say others shouldn’t try it out.

BBAW: Unexpected Treasure

Today’s daily blogging topic for Book Blogger Appreciation Week is to talk about a book choice inspired by another blogger, which was an unexpected treasure – a book we loved but didn’t expect to love.

I have to say that, hands down, the most unexpected delightful reading experience I’ve had since blogging has been trying graphic novels for the first time.  Before blogging, I’d never heard of a graphic novel, and when I first heard the term I thought it meant erotica (LOL).  Once I figured out what a graphic novel really was, I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea.  Pictures?  In a novel?  What??

However, inspired by some of my favorite bloggers I decided to give American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang a chance.  I was shocked when I ended up LOVING this book.  Obviously, my love for this one resulted in reading more graphic novels, and while I haven’t loved all of them, some highlights include The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman, and Blankets by Craig Thompson.  Interestingly enough, most of my favorite graphic books have been graphic nonfiction, mostly memoirs.  Perhaps it’s because I like the idea of someone telling their own story in a nontraditional format.  And when great art and a great story combine, it just ends up being a fantastic reading experience.

My reading of graphic novels was most inspired by Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot, who would probably get mad at me right now for even alluding to the idea of graphic novels as a genre.  No worries, Nymeth, I know they’re not a genre! :)  But they are a fantastic category of books and I’m so glad blogging gave me the opportunity to explore how wonderful they can be.

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Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman

I read Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began separately, but they have since been combined into one book (The Complete Maus) and they are basically two parts of the same story, so I figured it just made sense to review them together.

If you are unfamiliar with these books, they are graphic novels/nonfiction/memoirs about Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his experience living through the Holocaust.  The first book deals with his life pre-war and just after the war began, and the second book begins with Vladek getting sent to Auschwitz and details his time there up until the end of the war when the surviving prisoners of the Nazi death camps were released.

I loved these books so much that I’m not sure where to begin with my thoughts.  I suppose since these are graphic books I’ll start with the illustrations - they were PERFECT.  I was invested in the story, not just through the words, but also through the pictures.  I can’t imagine how Spiegelman was able to draw places and events he never personally experienced as well as he did.  I felt so in the moment, such a part of Vladek’s life, and that is a rare feeling for me with graphic books.  Also, I loved the depiction of different nationalities of people as different animals – Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs, etc.  I thought it added so much to the story (not even going into the significance of which animals went with which groups of people).

Now, onto the story.  Vladek’s story is disturbing, heartbreaking, tragic, and so difficult to read at times.  Yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away, no matter how much I may have tried (okay, I didn’t try THAT hard).  His story was told in such a fascinating, heartfelt way that I couldn’t help but stay with him through it all.  It is never easy to read about life in a Nazi death camp but Spiegelman made his father’s story come to life, made his story one that I HAD to read, and let’s face it – it is important for us to read stories like this.  It’s important to remember that what we view as an event in the history books was reality for millions of people who suffered through it for years.  It is important to remember the people and stories behind the facts of history.  And Spiegelman brought his father’s story to the forefront of my mind, so much so that along with Eli Wiesel, when I think of the Holocaust now I will always think of Vladek Spiegelman.

Another great aspect of Maus is the interactions between Art and Vladek.  The story alternates between Vladek’s memories and Art’s interviewing Vladek to get to those memories.  It was really a huge part of the story, the relationship between Art and his father, and I think it added a lot to the story.  It allowed the reader to see another side of Vladek, to get to know the person behind the writing and drawing, and to watch as Art and Vladek grew their relationship, through theirs ups and downs as father and son.  These snippets of their relationship were so heartwarming, such a welcome break from the difficult scenes about the Holocaust.

I cannot possibly recommend Maus I and II enough.  If you are new to graphic books, this would be a perfect place to start, and if you are an old pro with the genre – why haven’t you read these yet??  In all seriousness, I loved reading these books and I give them my highest praise.  Art Spiegelman is pretty much a genius in my book.  I hope many of you pick up these books so you can come back and tell me what you think!

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

Title:  Exit Wounds
Author:  Rutu Modan
Release date:  June 12, 2007
Publisher:  Drawn and Quarterly
Pages:  168
Genre:  Graphic novel
Source:  Library

Exit Wounds brings Israel to life as it follows Koby Fanco, a young taxi driver, as he searches for his missing father.  He meets a woman named Noni, a young soldier who was romantically involved with his father, and who tells him that his father was the victim of a suicide bomb attack.  Together the two of them travel around Tel Aviv, hunting for clues to his father’s whereabouts and trying to solve the mystery of his death, all the while hoping he is still alive.

On the surface, Exit Wounds may seem like a simple graphic novel, but it has a lot going on and is about more than just unraveling a mystery of one man’s whereabouts.  First of all, it is set in Tel Aviv, and really brings the culture of Israel to life.  One thing I love about graphic novels is the fact that the pictures tell as much as the story, if not more than the story, as the words do.  Exit Wounds was no exception – the illustrations brought the city to life, and really caused me to dive right into the book, and get involved with these characters in the city they call home.

The other main aspect to Exit Wounds besides the setting is the relationships in the novel.  The biggest one being, of course, Koby and his father’s.  Theirs has always been a difficult and complicated father/son dynamic, with Koby harboring years anger and resentment toward his father.  Yet when he really starts to look for him, he realizes that his father might not be exactly the person he’s pictured him to be, and that he does still love him and wants him to be alive so they can rebuild their relationship.  The other important relationship in the book is that of Koby and Noni.  They are strangers when they meet, yet they form a quick (if a bit reluctant) bond over Koby’s father.  The scene where Noni revealed she was involved with his dad was super awkward, but so realistic – it conveyed exactly how it might feel to be meeting, for the first time, your father’s secret lover.  Their relationship, to me, was portrayed so honestly and was one of the best things about the book.

If you are a fan of graphic novels, Exit Wounds is a must-read.  When I finished it, I kept thinking about how it is so much more than what it appears to be on the surface, and because of that I absolutely recommend it for anyone.  The relationships in this novel are complex and interesting, and the backdrop of Tel Aviv, Israel, adds a lot to the story.  I’m so glad I’ve gotten into reading more graphic novels or I would have missed this gem of a book!