The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks

[Hub reading challenge; Great Graphic Novels]

superheroI was about ready to throw in the towel with the challenge-my library system doesn’t have 3 of the good looking graphic novels, a lot of the other books are very long and frankly, depressing looking. ¬†But then, to my surprise, Paul brought home Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl last night. I was surprised and assumed I must have asked him to look for it at his library, but no. In a wonderful coincidence he happened to see it at his library, recalled that we liked Faith Erin Hicks (Friends with Boys) and checked it out. He graciously let me read it first ūüôā

This was super. I really loved it and am thinking that I will have to make an effort to get a hold of everything else she’s written (again, my library system only has one of her titles.) Not just funny and clever, but also rather sweet and relatable. Superhero Girl is a young woman just trying to make a go of being a superhero. She fights ninjas, helps people, but superheroing just doesn’t really pay. So she has trouble making the rent, and other troubles too-like a superhero big brother who everything thinks is terrific, trouble making small talk at parties, etc. ¬†But really I just thought it was all so funny and delightful and expressive. I loved how being a superhero was a job-as best illustrated when she’s at the grocery store and sees a bad guy that she fights. They awkwardly say hello and then she mutters that she hates seeing people from work at the store. Because it’s weird! We all know that! And so funny to think they same would be true for them.

Oh how I hope there are future volumes of this. And I would consider adding this to our library just so that we don’t forget it and have it around for the kids to read when they are a bit older.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

[Hub reading challenge; Morris award]

belleThis was a good book with a fascinating premise, but I just didn’t give it the attention it deserved. It took me forever to read and I read four other books in between starting and finishing it. I suppose that means that I just wan’t engaged enough in the story if I was so easily able to keep putting it down, but I would say I did like it.

Set in Paris in 1888 it made me want to take out Woody Allen’s marvelous film, Midnight in Paris, and watch it again. ¬†Maude is a young woman who has escaped a dreary country life for the glamour of Paris. Unfortunately it’s not very glamorous when you are barely making a living. She is approached by a gentleman who runs a special agency and agrees to employment there. Maude is hired as a repouissoir-one who literally “repulses.” She and other plain (or homely) women are hired by aristocracy to attend social events with them. Their presence will make their clients shine and sparkle by comparison. ¬†It’s a humiliating position, but it pays well. ¬†When Maude is hired for the entire season by a countess she thinks she has hit gold. ¬†She gets to dress up in beautiful clothes and is introduced to a luxurious world of wealth and culture she would never have been part of otherwise. ¬†The countess has hired Maude in secret to accompany her daughter Isabelle, whom she would like to know Maude as just a friend. ¬†Her further instructions to Maude are to help Isabelle become agreeable to a good marriage. ¬†Unfortunately Maude becomes genuine friends with Isabelle, who is intelligent and wishes to attend the Sorbonne to study science, and is conflicted by loyalty, friendship, and finance.

I enjoyed the details of Paris, Maude’s mingling with the Bohemian set, and the details of luxury. ¬†The repouissoir business was fascinating, too.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

[Hub Reading Challenge, PPYA]

necromancerDespite being tickled pink by this title and hearing great things about this book, it’s yet another that I just never got around to reading before now. So thanks, reading challenge for having it be a title this year, because I’m so glad I read this finally.

Sam is living a typical unfocused young adult life-college didn’t work out, he’s working fast food, he has a dinky apartment, and some good friends (Brooke, Frank, and Ramon.) ¬†But then one day a creepy guy exuding power walks into Plumpy’s and everything changes. ¬†The sinister guy has his sights set on Sam, who can’t figure out why and ends up being attacked in the parking lot. As if that’s not enough, the following day Brooke’s beheaded talking head is delivered to him. For real. ¬†Werewolves, necromancers, and other not quite human people apparently are a part of Seattle Sam never knew about and for good reason. His witch mother (what? My mom’s a witch?!) knew he was a necromancer and hid his magic from him. But now the evil guy, also a necromancer, has sensed Sam’s latent powers and wants to eliminate him.

This was smart, funny, creepy but not scary, and I just loved it.  An excellent several years pre-cursor to shows like Grimm (and reminds me a bit of the short-lived show Reaper.)

And, in a rare comment from me, I hope there’s a sequel because I’d love to read more about Sam and his friends! And since Goodreads calls this #1, I assume there is another for me to go put on hold right now.

March: Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

[Hub reading challenge, Great Graphic Novels]

march2I was reluctant to read this graphic novel about civil rights, but am glad I did. ¬†I’ll admit right now that I didn’t recognize John Lewis’s name (prominent civil rights activist, U.S. Representative for Georgia, and author of this) though as I read his story I did know of the events. First of all, I’m completely impressed that an elderly man is down with telling his important story in graphic novel format. ¬†Nate Powell also did¬†The Silence of Our Friends, which I read last year for the challenge, and had a similar response to. I thought that would have been a great book to use in U.S. history classes, and I think this would too. ¬†It’s so heartbreakingly powerful to read his first person point of view of being a young black man in the South in the 1950s. Lewis was instrumental in the lunch counter sit-ins and a speaker at the march on Washington, along with Martin Luther King, Jr. ¬†Note-this is book 1 and by the end the march still hasn’t occurred.

The structure of the book is that Lewis is getting ready to be seated at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 when some visitors come to his office. ¬†He begins to tell them all about how he grew up and found his passion for passive resistance and social justice and civil rights.

This is our country’s history and so important for everyone to know, and I found it so difficult to read about the flat out ignorance and terrible acts committed by civilians, the police, and the government-legally. It’s so shameful and hard for me to wrap my head around. ¬†This book got in my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I definitely recommend it.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

[Reading challenge, Alex award)

relishThis has been on my radar to read for quite a long time, and I’m glad that it took me this long to get it because now I got to read it and have it be part of this year’s reading challenge. Interestingly, for last year’s challenge I read her other book, French Milk, and was very disappointed. Relish, on the other hand, did not disappoint. I loved it! I’ve kept it in mind all day, in fact, because so much of the book is about cooking for people you love, and expressing caring and stories through food, and I happen to be in the midst of preparing a wonderful birthday dinner for my mom. This is on the Alex awards list and it is a graphic novel.

Lucy tells all about how she grew up surrounded by food, and how food has formed her memories and the story of her childhood and young adult years (she’s still a young woman-certainly younger than me.) She grew up part of a serious food scene-her mom is a chef, moved to the country in New York, and was a part of developing the local food scene, well connected to other foodies. ¬†In one section Lucy talks about catering a photo shoot of Kate Hudson.

I liked how this was in different chapters-a European adventure, adjusting to country life, visiting Mexico on the brink of adolescence, attending art school, etc. and how each of those told a full story of the foods and what was going on, and concluded with a recipe. And I loved how the recipes are illustrated! I want to make the chocolate chip cookies (with coconut!), sushi rolls, and shephard’s pie. And even though McDonald’s is not my indulgent fast food of choice (though I do love their fries and have a fondness for the burger), I really appreciated her ode to fast food and unapologetic statements that there’s a reason people like to eat it-it’s delicious!

I think that whether or not you are a serious gourmand, a beginner cook, or somewhere in between, you’ll enjoy this. ¬†Possibly people who don’t like food that much wouldn’t get this book. But I don’t get people who don’t enjoy food and so I’ll just say they’re weird!

Swim the Fly by Don Calame

[Reading Challenge, PPYA]

swimI feel like I’m flying along in the reading challenge! But actually this is only my 4th titles for it. This is on the PPYA list for humor, and I had always heard that this was a funny book (its cover and title do nothing to corroborate this statement-perhaps something that kept me away from it?) and indeed, it was hilarious. ¬†

Matt, Sean, and Coop are three great friends who set their goal for the summer to see an actual real live naked girl. ¬†None of them has ever had any real success with girl and it doesn’t matter how they get to see the nudity, just so long as they see it. ¬†All three are on a swim team and in a fit of desperate to impress Kelly, the girl he has a crush on, Matt volunteers to swim the 100 yd. butterfly. ¬†That sets up the premise for a summer of crazy plans to see naked girls and pitiful attempts to learn how to endure a butterfly race (Matt is terrible at it.) Imagine this book as a summer movie akin to American Pie or something like that. ¬†Lots of funny vulgar scenes that will have you laughing out loud, without ever being too insanely disgusting or crude. Though I thought I might throw up at the thought of drinking Clamato mixed with chocolate milk.

What impressed me about this book was that it was not only funny, but also showed a really great believable friendship (and if I read this as a teenager I would have been very interested in the boys p.o.v. and the realization that they had friendships like I had with my girl friends), some very funny scenes with Matt’s grandpa (who doles out the fantastic advice that when it comes to women tell the truth, tell about your feelings, and tell it all in “excruciating detail”), and a romantic set up that the reader realizes ages before Matt, but is happily not totally blown.¬†

Beauty Queen by Libba Bray

[2014 Hub Reading Challenge, PPYA]

beautyThis was super popular when it came out, but for some reason I just passed it by. I knew the general premise–beauty queens crash land on an island, and I thought for some reason that it was maybe Lord of the Flies -ish? and I just wasn’t too interested. ¬†But whatever, I’m super glad I read it now because I loved it. I had no idea of the funny, pointed angle this takes,with bizarre commercial interjections from “The Corporation” and the insane characters like MoMo B. ChaCha, who is clearly like Kim Jong Il, but even nuttier. The format reminded me of other books I’ve liked, though the only example I can think of is possibly¬†Jennifer Government (and perhaps also the movie Tropic Thunder.) I ended up reading almost the entire thing in one day (at 11:55 I decided to save the remaining chapter and epilogue for the morning, having made it through the denouement.) ¬†Consequently I feel like I totally book binged and am now groggy and need to run around a lot today.

Anyway, yes the book is about a planeful of Miss Teen Dream contestants (one from each state) who crash on a seemingly deserted tropical island. ¬†It’s like the opening of Lost, what with charred bodies and wreckage, until Miss Texas rallies everyone in the perkiest way, demanding they retain their perfect pageant behavior. ¬†The surviving contestants all turn out not to be what their appearances insist they are. ¬†Each character gets her own focus throughout the book. The whole thing is very campy-secret plots, crazed dictators, hidden rooms in volcanoes, commercials for ridiculous beauty products-and thus, hilarious. ¬†And there is pointed skewering of our culture. ¬†But what I found so impressive is that beyond the camp the characters are great individuals and you can really care for them and root for them to find their true selves in this isolated spot. ¬†I really, really enjoyed this and am glad the reading challenge was the bump I needed to check this out.


Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

willMy second book for the Hub Reading Challenge, also off of the Great Graphic Novels list.  When this came in for me at the library this morning I dashed out to pick it up because I had a feeling I was really going to like it. I treated myself to curling up on the couch with it right away and reading it straight through, and I was not a bit disappointed. This was wonderful-sincere, moving, and interesting.

Will (short for Wilhemina) and her friends are like many characters in novels-so much more interesting than I feel I ever was and I wish I was them. Except for the part about Will being an orphan and living with her aunt, a tragedy that she has dealt with it by not dealing with it, instead making everything fine, devoting herself to making creative lamps, and having a crippling fear of the dark. ¬†Will loves old things and she her aunt run an antiques store. ¬†Her friends are Noel and Autumn, and also Noel’s little sister Reese. I liked how nice they all were to her and let her hang out with them. ¬†All three of the teens have something they’d rather not deal with (unrequited crush, steep parental expectations) and are striving to just have a fun end of summer. But then some other artsy kids come along with their Penny Farthing Carnival, featuring art installations and performances and it gives everyone the shake up they need to get their lives moving along a bit. ¬†The other title character, Whit, is Hurricane Whitney, who causes a days long blackout (shades of Hurricane Sandy-argh!)

I really liked this and found the ending so unexpectedly moving that I became quite weepy about it. This is the sort of YA story that I could see as a regular novel, but I found it refreshing that it was a graphic novel and really liked the illustrations and the whole package.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

boxersHere I go again with the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge! First year was great, last year I didn’t finish, and I’m giving it a go again this year. ¬†As usual I’m starting with the Great Graphic Novels. In part because I can read them more quickly, but also because I really like good graphic novels, but never read them unless specific good ones are pointed out to me. ¬†I think Gene Luen Yang is a fantastic author, so I was really looking forward to these. I knew they were two sides of a story about the Boxer Rebellion, but nothing else. And I really mean nothing else-apparently I knew nothing at all about the Boxer Rebellion other than that it happened in China. Thus I found this story fascinating and horrifying. (I was hoping for a historical afterward, but there was not, so I had to turn to Wikipedia for a brief summary.)

Set in 1899-1901 this pair of graphic novels goes together. I believe you are supposed to read Boxers first and Saints second, but I read it the other way around (and liked it that way!)¬†Saints tells the story of a young girl in a rural Chinese village who learns about Christianity from a missionary and is baptized. ¬†She has visions of Joan of Arc and feels a kinship with her, as someone who is connected to God and fighting a good fight. ¬†Eventually the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist breaches their stronghold and attacks all of the people inside. Vibiana (as she is called when she converts to Christianity) had a pretty lousy life up until the Christians took her in. ¬†You really feel for her and are appalled by the violent brutes who would come in and kill, just because she dared to take to a foreign religion. ¬†Every story, especially in a conflict or war or rebellion, has two sides, and Boxers tells the other side of this same story. ¬†The main character of this one does meet Vibiana as a young child, but then their paths part. ¬†He grows up and is impressed by a man who comes to their village and teaches them how to fight. ¬†I liked Vibiana’s visions of Joan of Arc, which I could see as visions, but this volume had a much more literal mystical element to it. ¬†When the men fight they are depicted as characters from an opera, all taking on different elements and qualities (like fire.) ¬†Now, although ever story has two sides and I ended up thinking everyone in 1900 China was crazy and violent (and impressionably ignorant), I found myself more on Vibiana’s side. ¬†It was hard to relate to Bao believing the stories he heard about Christians and foreigners so much so that he would burn a church with women and children inside. ¬†Vibiana and Bao are not inherently bad people, but each does turn to violence, caught up in passionate beliefs.

Both books are quite violent and brutal, depicting with stark honesty the atrocities committed. Boxers is longer as it continues the story well after Bao and Vibiana meet again as young adults and tells the story of the peak of the conflict, in Peking.  Yang did not shy away from difficult and tragic elements and overall I found the story (as a whole, told in both volumes) disturbing, sad, moving, and educational.