Sunday, December 10, 2017

Review - One Trick Pony

One Trick Pony
by Nathan Hale
Date: 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

The aliens have arrived. And they’re hungry for electricity. In the Earth of the future, humans are on the run from an alien force—giant blobs who suck up electrical devices wherever they can find them. Strata and her family are part of a caravan of digital rescuers, hoping to keep the memory of civilization alive by saving electronics wherever they can. Many humans have reverted to a pre-electrical age, and others have taken advantage of the invasion to become dangerous bandits and outlaws. When Strata and her brother are separated from the caravan, they must rely on a particularly beautiful and rare robot pony to escape the outlaws and aliens—and defeat the invaders once and for all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

First, let's get the weirdly sexist blurb out of the way. This book is not about Strata and her brother. In fact, it's not even just Strata and her brother who get separated from the caravan. Their male friend is with them as well. I have no idea why the blurb makes it sound like a brother/sister act, because in reality, Strata saves the day while the boys do nothing helpful; in fact, they manage to get themselves captured and nearly killed.

So, setting that aside, what do we have? A pretty entertaining graphic novel. It's funny that I picked this up at the same time as Doug TenNapel's Ghostopolis. Both had a sequence with an unusual horse saving its teenage rider from a group of monsters using the exact same trick. The panels were almost identical! Whether Hale read Ghostopolis and decided to use the same sequence, I don't know; I just thought it was an amusing coincidence.

Unlike Ghostopolis, this is a darker story, even though it's intended for a younger audience. The post-apocalyptic landscape was creepy, and the aliens (called pipers because of the pi-pi-pi noise they make) were downright horrifying. I'm kind of glad this one was done with a monochromatic scheme, because full colour might've given me nightmares.

The story was quite imaginative, and I liked the whole idea of the world that was built here. I do have one major complaint with the story, however, and that was the ending. It was way too abrupt. If there was ever a book that needed an epilogue, it's this one.

My other complaint is about a minor (but still irritating) issue. This graphic novel had the smallest text I've seen so far. I couldn't even read it on a 21" monitor without having to zoom in. That's part of the reason why it took me so long to get through it, even though it's fairly short. Zoom, scroll, click... It was kind of a waste of time. And it's not like there wasn't room for larger text. I have a feeling that if I'd read this in physical form, I would've needed a magnifying glass.

All in all, this is a cool story with decent characters and some wonderfully horrible villains. Oh, and a title that makes perfect sense once you read the book. But I won't spoil that for you. Go check it out for yourself!

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review - Ghostopolis

Ghostopolis
by Doug TenNapel
Date: 2010
Publisher: Graphix
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 272
Format: e-book
Source: library

Imagine Garth Hale's surprise when he's accidentally zapped to the spirit world by Frank Gallows, a washed-out ghost wrangler. Suddenly Garth finds he has powers the ghosts don't have, and he's stuck in a world run by the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who would use Garth's newfound abilities to rule the ghostly kingdom. When Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather's ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, and nearly lose hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Minor spoilers! To read the version with spoilers hidden, check out my review at Goodreads.

This was a surprisingly quick read for the length of the book, but that's probably because this graphic novel's a bit lighter on text than some of the others I've read. The synopsis made it sound like a fun read, and it was... in places. But the book had some problems. Plus, I don't think I was the intended audience.

At times, I wasn't sure what age group this book was aimed at. Some of the subject matter was heavy (a kid with a terminal illness, as well as the relationship between Frank and his ex), and that threw me because my first impression was that this was a middle grade title. It's actually supposed to be aimed at teenagers, which is a bit confusing, given some of the humour that seems like it was directed at 10-year-old boys.

The characters were a mixed bag for me. Some were incredibly creative (especially in the afterlife realm), but others were annoying and left me kind of cold. Frank, in particular, I didn't really like; he came across as a petulant little kid, though he was supposed to be a mature adult. Claire's werewolf uncle was actually pretty hilarious (I want a book just about him!) and the villain was suitably nasty. The skeleton horse was probably my favourite character, even though he didn't talk. Garth, though, as the main character, was kind of underdeveloped. And I had a big problem with his illness.

See, he doesn't appear to be sick. He's supposedly dying (from what, we're never told), and yet he doesn't have any symptoms. He doesn't appear to be having any sort of treatment, either. Unfortunately, this makes the whole illness aspect seem like a cheap plot device (especially when he finds out that there's going to be a cure for his disease, so he's not going to die after all). I don't think this would play very well to kids who are actually sick.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this one. The world-building is cute and some of the characters are amusing, but I felt like it was aimed at much younger readers and I can't get behind a book that trivializes serious illness.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5 ladybugs

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review - Soupy Leaves Home

Soupy Leaves Home
by Cecil Castellucci
illustrated by Jose Pimienta
Date: 2017
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 208
Format: e-book
Source: library

Pearl -Soupy- Plankette ran away from her abusive father, but has nowhere to go until she stumbles upon a disguise that gives her the key to a new identity. Reborn as a boy named Soupy, she hitches her star to Remy -Ramshackle- Smith, a hobo who takes her under his wing. Ramshackle's kindness and protection go a long way to help Soupy heal from her difficult past. But Ramshackle has his own demons to wrestle with, and he'll need Soupy just as much as she needs him.

Set in 1932, this is the story of two misfits with no place to call home, who build a relationship during a train hopping journey from the cold heartbreak of their eastern homes toward the sunny promise of California.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one, other than that it's a historical graphic novel. It takes place during the Great Depression, and offers the reader a glimpse of the hobo lifestyle.

At first, I wasn't thrilled with the style, as it appears to be monochromatic. It is... but those colour palettes change throughout the book. While we never get true full-colour illustrations, the pops of contrast work well enough to highlight certain important objects and plot points in the story.

The book is a little light on plot, and I didn't really find the ending believable (given Soupy's reasons for having left home in the first place); it just seemed a little too neat and convenient to me. The characterization was also mixed. I thought Soupy could've been developed a little more, given that she was the main character, and I also would've liked to learn more about Professor Jack (that guy's got to have a backstory). Ramshackle was probably developed the best, although he came across as a little too philosophical for my taste (and I'm not sure how that would play with the book's intended audience).

The real strengths of this one are its setting and history. I learned things I didn't know about riding the rails, and about hobos themselves. Did you know there's a difference between a hobo, a tramp, and a bum? Well, there is, as one character explains. There's also a neat glossary of hobo symbols at the end, so you can go back and see the messages that Soupy and Ramshackle encountered on their journey.

Overall, it was a decent read, but not one I'm that excited about. It had its moments of lovely writing, and a good historical foundation, but the story itself wasn't that memorable. I can see it as a good addition to a history class for middle graders, though.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Review - Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (Wires and Nerve #1)
by Marissa Meyer
illustrated by Douglas Holgate
Date: 2017
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 238
Format: e-book
Source: library

When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers' leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the series.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

First, a disclaimer: I'm not a huge fan of The Lunar Chronicles. In fact, I could only push myself to get through the first two books. But since I'm on a graphic novel kick at the moment, I thought I'd give this one a try.

Presumably, you don't have to have read any of the books in the other series for this one to make sense. All the characters are introduced at the beginning, and we're given a basic run-down of the events that took place in TLC. So even though I hadn't read Cress or Winter, I still understood what was going on.

Unfortunately, however, I just didn't care what was going on. The whole thing fell kind of flat for me, and I think that if I hadn't read Cinder and Scarlet, it would've been even worse. The characters are so underdeveloped that it made it really hard to care about them (especially the ones I wasn't familiar with). Iko herself was actually one of the worst. I knew her as a fun little robot who loved to gossip and play dress-up and dream of a certain handsome prince. But that's not really what we get here. I'm assuming her personality is supposed to be the same as before, even though she's in a new body, but I didn't really get that. Maybe it's the graphic novel format, but I didn't think any of the characters were developed particularly well. Iko, as the main character, should have more personality; unfortunately, her character development seems to rely too much on her arc in TLC... so if you haven't read any of those books, she's probably going to come across as quite dull.

As for the plot... well, there sort of is one, but it cut off at the weirdest place, just after the main conflict had been set up. I don't know if this is a comic book thing or what, but it just seemed weird to me. I'm used to stories having some sort of resolution to the main plot; even if there's a cliffhanger, there are usually other ends that are tied up before the next book. That's not the case here. We're introduced to the main problem (which is pretty much summed up in the blurb for the next volume), and then the book just ends.

I wasn't a fan of the art. It seemed too simplistic, and way too comic-bookish. The onomatopoeia didn't need to be written out as much as it was. The text was difficult to read, even on a 21" monitor, so trying to read this one on an e-book reader would probably be next to impossible. I also didn't like the monochrome palette; it was kind of boring (though I've just come off of two beautifully illustrated, full-colour graphic novels, so that may be colouring my judgment a little).

All in all, this is a series that will probably only appeal to fans of The Lunar Chronicles. If you haven't read any of those books, I'd recommend doing so first before trying this series.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 1/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.13 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review - Fish Girl

Fish Girl
by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
illustrated by David Wiesner
Date: 2017
Publisher: Clarion Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 186
Format: e-book
Source: library

Who is Fish Girl?
What is Fish Girl?

She lives in a tank in a boardwalk aquarium. She is the main attraction, though visitors never get more than a glimpse of her.

She has a tail. She can't walk. She can't speak.

But she can make friends with Livia, an ordinary girl, and yearn for a life that includes yoga and pizza. She can grow stronger and braver. With determination, a touch of magic, and the help of a loyal octopus, she can do anything.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nicely illustrated graphic novel with a sort of fairy tale flair. At first glance, one might think that The Little Mermaid would be the obvious tie-in. But I actually saw more similarities with Disney's Tangled, a "Rapunzel" story. Poor Fish Girl (she doesn't even have a proper name at the beginning of the story) has a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. She's kept in a fanciful aquarium on a boardwalk in an old house that's been converted to display all sorts of marine life. Neptune is her protector... at least at first. But as Fish Girl starts to understand the outside world, she starts to wonder if her protector is really that... or if he's her captor.

The illustrations were really quite lovely, especially when it came to Fish Girl herself. She's realistically drawn and quite pretty, and though she spends much of the book technically naked, she's always strategically covered by her fish friends (making this book completely suitable for younger readers). I liked the whole idea of the house converted into an aquarium; the way it was displayed on the pages was well done. Fish Girl's discovery of the outside world, including things like pizza and yoga, was touching. I really felt for her, and I wanted her to do well as she explored a new side of her life. Despite being naive, she was actually pretty smart... which is refreshing in a world of so many clueless heroines. I was, however, a little confused for the first few pages as I tried to figure out who was telling the story. I'm not sure if that was intentional or not, but I found it a little frustrating. Once I figured it out, though, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the book.

The plot is a little on the light side, and you do have to suspend disbelief a little to go with the events at the climax (I mean, even more than believing mermaids really exist). But, overall, this is a cute, quick read that would probably appeal to fans of graphic novels as well as fairy tales.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review - El Deafo

El Deafo
by Cece Bell
illustrated by Cece Bell & David Lasky
Date: 2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel/memoir
Pages: 248
Format: e-book
Source: library

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful--and very awkward--hearing aid.

The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear--sometimes things she shouldn't--but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become "El Deafo, Listener for All." And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she's longed for.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know how I've gone this long without reading a whole graphic novel, but I have. So I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up this little book at the library. But there was a Newbery Honor sticker on the front, so I figured it might be worth a shot. And guess what? It totally was.

As the author explains in an interesting note at the back of the book, this is a somewhat fictionalized memoir based on her experiences growing up wearing a super-bulky hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. I don't remember ever seeing any kids with this device, but the author is a few years older than me; I guess it was a little before my time. But I can see how having to wear such a thing could be embarrassing, and make a kid feel like they're so different from everyone else... at a time when all they really want to do is belong.

I thought the scenarios that Bell presented were well chosen. And the characters (mostly kids from the ages of 4 to about 10) rang really true. We find out how Cece lost her hearing, and then see her get various hearing aids--including, eventually, the Phonic Ear. We see her struggle to make friends, and the way certain kids treat her because of her deafness, and her feelings as she tries to make sense of it all. Throughout the book, we're treated to the cutest illustrations of anthropomorphized cartoon rabbits who play the roles of Cece, her family and friends, her classmates, and her teachers. We get an idea of what it might've been like to deal with the complications of such a clunky piece of technology, as well as its benefits. As Cece discovers her "superpower", she imagines herself as El Deafo, a superhero with superhuman hearing. The whole thing is sweet and touching, and I found myself really rooting for Cece as I was pulled along through the story. Will her crush talk to her? Will her best friend ever talk to her again? Will that girl stop talking to her in a weird, loud voice?

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for teaching empathy and understanding. It's easy (and quick) to read, but based on the subject matter, I'd probably recommend it for middle grade and up, even though the main character is a bit younger than that.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review - The Pocketbook of Sunshine and Rain

The Pocketbook of Sunshine and Rain
by Nenia Campbell
Date: 2017
Publisher: Nenia Campbell
Reading level: A
Book type: poetry collection
Pages: 59
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

be my sonata, my cantata, my love
sing me something sweet
but not too sweet
(or i may grow deaf to our harmony
as we decrescendo into silence)

This personal book of poetry focuses on that tricky phenomenon that escapes all of us: what it means to be human and alive.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Poetry is hard to review. It's so subjective. I don't read a lot of it, so I'm not sure how qualified I am to critique it. But I do know that I enjoy reading words put together in unique and interesting ways. With poetry, you can use all the lovely words you want without ending up sounding too... well, purple. (I guess that's why the term is "purple prose", not "purple poetry".)

This is a nice little collection that can be read in an afternoon (if you're not excruciatingly slow like I am). I highlighted a few of the poems as I went through, simply because the words struck a chord, or I liked a certain turn of phrase. There weren't any poems I really disliked, although there were a few that I didn't completely understand. (I also came across a few words that didn't seem to make sense. With poetry, though, it's sometimes hard to know if it was intentional and I just missed the point.)

Overall, a nice collection of poems. Lovely words. Lovely thoughts. Worth a look if you enjoy a bit of verse every now and then.

Quotable moment:

out go my words on paper wings
they fly off on their own
and if they do not find their way
will they come limping home?

Plot: n/a
Characters: n/a
Pace: n/a
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.75 out of 5 ladybugs