Monday, May 16, 2005

smith's my brother's passion

A twelve-year-old boy struggles to make sense of the evil that is going on within his small town and within his own family after his older brother goes off to Vietnam. Dave adores his brother Glen, and when Glen leaves, Dave spends his time watching and observing his town “like God,” he says. He’s looking for something, anything, that will bring him closer to his brother while Glen is gone. Dave watches his father lead a strike at the local factory, observes the racism surrounding “that Jew,” and watches his brother’s “passion.” This woman, although never directly labeled as a prostitute, maintains relationships with many of the local men. Dave sees her being raped by his uncle, the man who owns the local factory. Not sure what to do (after all, he is just a kid), Dave keeps silent, but maintains his watch over her. Shortly thereafter, Glen returns from Vietnam, wounded, distant, and inconsolable. Dave cannot understand why visits to his brother’s “passion” can’t seem to bring Glen out of his depression. Smith has written a beautiful and lyrical coming-of-age story. The words paint a soft and subtle landscape around the plot and parallel the internal turmoil that Dave faces. Although the novella is set during the Vietnam War, the book could easily be set in today’s time. The tragedies that Dave faces are timeless.

(This book is currently nominated as a "Best of 2005")

cann's california holiday

On many levels, Rowan’s your typical British teenage girl, just finishing her exams, about to head off to university. She’s sick of her younger brother and tired of the way that her life has been going. What separates her from other girls her age is what she chooses as her summer job; Rowan decides to go to America and be a nanny. Nevermind the fact that she has no nannying experience or that she’s never been to America…Rowan just wants to escape England. She flies to Seattle, where she works as a nanny for a horrible couple and hates every minute. Her only friend is the pet iguana that is kept locked in a cage on the roof. When things get out of control, Rowan enlists the help of her charge’s grandmother and runs away with Iggy, the iguana. She sets off toward San Francisco, but when her bus stops in Sacramento, she meets Landon, who talks her into following him to Truckee. The first half of the story is rather sluggish, but once Rowan meets Landon, the story picks up. Landon’s not the greatest of guys (he’s actually more of a jerk), but he does manage to show Rowan that you can’t run from life. Kate Cann will appeal to readers of Meg Cabot and the first person narration will have readers eagerly turning the pages.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'll have some new book reviews to post after this weekend, but I wanted to mention that you could pick up the latest copy of "School Library Journal" and find six of my reviews in the new graphic novel column.

As Paris Hilton would say, "That's hot."

Monday, May 09, 2005

evanovich's metro girl

A comic misadventure from the start, this mystery is a good combination of light thriller and fast-paced action. Alex Barnaby – Barney – receives a late night call from her brother, Wild Bill, which ends in mid-sentence with a woman screaming in the background. Being the dependable sister that she is, Alex catches the next flight down to Miami to find out what happened to her brother. She soon discovers that her brother has gone missing with a recent Cuban immigrant who may or may not know the location of a warhead and a fortune in gold. Along the way she bumps into your token gay guy, a sexy NASCAR driver, a crazy old lady, and a curvy woman with attitude. Then there are the inept bad guys, of course. Barney cuts them down with her wit and a few well-placed accidental kicks and moves. Sherlock Watson, she’s not. She’s just a concerned sister looking for her big brother. For fans of Evanovich’s well-written Stephanie Plum series, the book is a let-down, as there are moments when one has to suspend disbelief and accept contrived plot twists. Evanovich is better at dialogue than description, which may frustrate some seasoned readers, but the dialogue is what keeps the story moving and what is, ultimately, the book’s saving grace.

ricketts' lazarus jack

Lazarus Jack was an acclaimed Houdini-like escape artist in the 1920s, but he’s now a bedridden nursing home inhabitant plagued by the memories of a black magic incident that cost him his family. When a mysterious stranger approaches Jack with an offer to give Jack his youth back, so that he may search for the members of his missing family, Jack accepts. Of course, Mr. Nemo’s offer comes with a price: Jack embarks on an adventure that sends him time-traveling and brings him into conflict with his family at different points in time. On this journey through fantastic worlds both seduced and devastated by black magic, Jack undergoes disturbing transformations, falls prey to an insane sorcerer, defies zero gravity, and ultimately confronts the demons from his past. Once Jack begins his quest, the action is non-stop and full of adventures that twist and turn. Illustrator Domingues’s panels resemble cartoon cels, with a slickly animated look, and the fresh coloring gives the art life. Ricketts attempts too much in one story – reuniting his hero with long-lost family members, exploring an alternate dimension, fighting treachery – without any one element having the resonance it should. Characters come and go without sufficient explanation or characterization. There are a lot of unexplained elements, but they don’t detract from the story. It doesn’t really seem important to know why there’s an alien lizard-dog that reverses Jack’s age. The suspension of disbelief happens easily enough, as one would expect when reading a tale of black magic and time-traveling. Readers looking for an entertaining action tale will find enough to satisfy them despite the flaws.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

moore's lone

Ravenous zombies have overrun the post-apocalyptic town of Desolation. Sharpshooter Lucy – Luke – and her older brother, Mark, are desperate. Their only hope is to track down and enlist the help of a gunman legendary in the western wasteland, a man known only as Lone. But if they find him, can they trust him? After all, Lone lives by himself in a portion of what used to be Texas that is now a nuclear wasteland. No one else can survive in the wasteland without heavy bio-hazard suits. Luke and Mark run into Cletus, who claims to know Lone, and seems to know more than he’s saying – especially after Luke mentions how the zombies are being controlled by a strange figure that bleeds yellow. And what are “Gunfathers,” anyway? After fighting off radiation-twisted mutants for two weeks, Luke and Mark are ready for answers. Combination science fiction and old-time western, the graphic novel incorporates the best of both worlds. There are genetic mutations that have gone out of control, hi-tech weapons that don’t belong in this world, and a gunslinger spurred by a vigilante sense of justice, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Clint Eastwood. Moore’s story-telling is smooth and his characters well developed. Opeña’s illustrations are full of action and the fresh coloring gives the art life. It would be easy to imagine this story appearing on the Saturday morning line-up of cartoons.

cabot's every boy's got one

Jane’s best friend is eloping in Italy, so Jane buys a travel journal with the intention of documenting the trip so she can give it to her best friend as a wedding present. After writing a few pages, however, Jane realizes that the trip to Italy is about more than just the elopement of her best friend. It’s a chance for her to discover that every boy has one. A heart, that is. Using her own marriage elopement to Italy as a basis for this novel, Cabot presents a charming urban fairytale that pits maid of honor Jane, famous for her Wondercat cartoons, against best man Cal, an international journalist who has never heard of Wonder Cat. As the best-selling author of the young adult series, The Princess Diaries, Cabot is a talented romance writer; her personal epilogue about her own elopement in the Italian countryside adds to the romance of the novel. Cabot captures the rustic charm of Castelfidardo, a small Italian town in the region of Le Marche, which happens to be the accordion-making capital of the world and is full of unpredictable electricity, dubious public restrooms, and bureaucratic snafus that nearly derail the wedding plans. Along the way, we get to meet a diehard Wondercat fan, an ex-Nazi grandmother, and anxious parents. As is typical in a Cabot novel, the story cleverly takes place via email, text messaging, PDA journal entries, travel journals, and weblogs. We experience everything as the characters do, something that teenagers will be able to appreciate in today’s simplicity driven world. Readers looking for a fast read, enriching details about Italy, and a good laugh, will not be disappointed.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

hall's crush

"There are many different types of monsters in the world…and today I have changed into the worst kind of all…an adult." So begins the morning of Liz Mason’s 18th birthday. In a world of subtle and not so subtle horrors (her dad’s abusive and her mom dresses as a prostitute), Liz is about to meet one monster she never counted on -- herself. Liz’s problems are a bit different than that of the normal outcast; she learns that her parents aren’t really her parents and that she seems to be something, well, not quite human. And it appears that, every time she bleeds, she transforms into a brutal monster named Crush. Her savage side swiftly sets about obtaining bone-crunching vengeance against anyone who has ever made Liz’s life miserable. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Liz soon has to deal with a mysterious, deadly, ruthless agent tailing her...with a pack of teenage werewolves. With all of these obstacles in the way, how is Liz ever going to celebrate her birthday? How will she ever learn who, or what, she is? At least she has her best friend, Jen Tanaka, to help her through the process. What at first seems to be a curse may be the one thing that leads her to understand who she truly is. The polished, fresh artwork complements the fast-moving story. Astute readers will notice that, while Liz’s character is drawn more angular and hard in the beginning of the story, as she learns to accept herself, her character appears more soft and rounded.

suzuki's spiral (vol. 3)

After the 2002 release of the American movie "The Ring," a remake of Hideo Nakata’s "Ringu," fans became interested both in the original film and in the novel on which it’s based. Although "Spiral" is volume 3 in "The Ring" series, this psychological, scientific thriller can be read as a standalone book. Much of the plot is similar to the films. Doctor Mitsuo Andoh discovers an encoded message in the autopsy of his old college friend, Ryuji, a philosophy professor who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Andoh must decipher the code if he hopes to understand a strange virus that kills people after watching a video tape. Andoh discovers that there were other, similar deaths that occurred the same night, at approximately the same time. Each autopsy reveals that the cause of death was sudden heart failure. The victims were all young and healthy. What’s more, everyone that died had watched a videotape containing a message that those who watch the video will die in a week. Andoh ends up watching the video, partly out of curiosity, and partly because he knows he shouldn’t. During the course of his research, Andoh traces the video to a smallpox patient and her daughter, Sadako, both of whom died a horrible death after the mother was raped. Andoh discovers that the ring itself is a virus, the product of Sadako’s quest for revenge, with the ability to mutate and be transferred in different ways…even by simply reading about the ring. The story itself is intense and scary. "Spiral" features the masterfully smooth art of Sakura Mizuki, who translates the emotional expressions and tense moments without falling into the pitfall of in-your-face horror.

Friday, May 06, 2005

wood's M.A.R.S. Patrol

In this volume, Dark Horse has gathered the first three issues of “M.A.R.S. Patrol: Total War,” a Gold Key science fiction comic book series from 1965; the three issues are legendary Wally Wood’s total contribution to the series. Known as one of the greatest artists to ever illustrate science fiction comics, Wood did “M.A.R.S. Patrol” in between redesigning Daredevil at Marvel and creating “T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents” for Tower. The plot is simple; invaders of unknown origin appear and attack nearly every country. While we learn that several places on Earth are attacked, most of the action takes place on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. The invaders are swift and brutal, murdering everyone in the way of their total conquest. It’s up to the M.A.R.S. (Marine Attack Rescue Service) Patrol, an elite team of specialists, to stem the tide of invaders and win the day. Pilot Cy Adams is the leader, Russ Stacey is one of the best weapon designers in the country, Joe Stryker is a demolitions expert, and Ken Hiro is a frogman and skilled martial artist. Although created in the 1960s, “M.A.R.S. Patrol: Total War” easily fits into today’s market, in an era where we are constantly aware of the threat of stateless ideologues. The illustrations are well drawn, the action is intense and non-stop. Gold Key’s coloring process wasn’t too spectacular, but even so, the stories and action remain a top-notch testament to the genius of Wally Wood.

vance's the crow: flesh & blood

Federal conservation officer Iris Shaw is murdered in a bombing by a bunch of right-wing extremists in the midst of a rural land-rights struggle. At the time of her death, Iris was pregnant and her killers have no idea that, when they killed Iris, they also killed her unborn child. Although Iris wasn’t sure if she was going to keep the child, she still mourns the fact that she never got to make that decision before she died. With the help of the Crow, Iris returns from the dead in order to avenge not only her own death, but that of her unborn child. Armed with nothing but her anger and a few weapons, Iris hunts down her killers one by one and teaches them what it’s like to suffer and lose your family. Iris also begins to wonder: If exacting ultimate pain is the goal, when does vengeance cross the line to brutality? Once she has killed her killers, what happens next? What is the price to the soul? The graphic novel lacks the original bizarre and captivating artwork of James O'Barr, but Alex Maleev manages to capture the horror and brutality of the original Crow with minimal effort. The story is a trifle predictable, but if you’re a Crow fan, you’ll not want to miss this version.

alden's star wars empire (vol. 3)

Included in this volume are four tales told from the point of view of one of the major villains in “Star Wars.” Longtime fans will gain a new perspective as they read about the trials, fears, and sacrifices that a loyal Stormtrooper, Darth Vader, a young Imperial lieutenant, and a group of captured slaves must face. The first story in the volume features a Stormtrooper -- a clone -- who struggles to come to terms with his background and how it affects his understanding of the war going on around him. The Stormtrooper struggles to track down a Rebel saboteur on board the Death Star before the fateful Rebel attack. On his deathbed, his commander explains that the Imperial Empire may not be all that it appears. In the next story, Darth Vader, the sole survivor of the Death Star explosion, crash lands on a primitive world where savagery is the key to survival. Vader is attacked by a pack of wild animals; in the ensuing chaos, he assumes the role of pack leader after killing the leader of the pack. Vader discovers that being a true leader means taking care of those serving under you. The third story features a young Imperial lieutenant who learns that all service comes at a price when his small company of Stormtroopers is attacked by thousands of angry aliens. In the last story, a group of captured slaves vow revenge on the man responsible for killing their families -- Darth Vader. Ultimately, we come to realize the “bad guys” on the big screen aren’t that different from us; they are no strangers to loyalty, honor, and sacrifice. The artwork has a slick animated look, and the fresh coloring gives the art life.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

milligan's jack fish

A comedic sci-fi satirical look into New York City, Milligan’s first novel brings an operative of the Elders of Atlantis to the “Topworld” to find their enemy and spear him. It’s Jack Fish’s first mission to the topside and he is given three objectives: Learn to Breathe; Find Victor Sargasso; Kill him. Washing ashore at Coney Island, he starts hacking as he realizes that breathing smog is a whole lot different than breathing water. Jack must remain on this webbed toes as the Maltese, the enemies of the Atlanteans, are aware of Jack’s presence topside and will do anything they can with a harpoon to stop him. The only problem? Jack’s not exactly the smartest fish in the sea. As if that weren’t enough, Jack flounders into one mess after another; it’s by pure luck that he stumbles across the truth. Every detail is specific, and everything has a reason, down to the “monthly bulletin” that is printed on the back of a pack of Trident chewing gum. Milligan weaves together a zany, hip, and funny story. New York has never seemed more alive, crazy, and grimy.

carey's john constantine

John Constantine, the trench coat clad sorcerer, is called in by his best friend, Chas, when Chas’s granddaughter, Tricia, falls inexplicably into a coma. To save her, the two men travel from London to Los Angeles, where reports of other comatose children have made the headlines. In their search of the city, Constantine discovers that several demons have decided to create hell on earth by using the children’s souls to provide them with energy. Constnatine learns that one particularly disgusting demon has trapped Tricia inside his the chambers of his heart; if Constantine kills the demon, he also kills the little girl. Readers are given breaks from the demon butt-kicking and running around to learn about Constantine’s personal history. Carey delivers a horrifying glimpse into ancient religions while Manco’s use of dark, bold colors and gritty, grisly details is a perfect complement to any horror novel. Longtime fans and those that have seen the movie “Constantine” will enjoy this read.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

yoshitomi's ray

Ray -- named after the Japanese word for “zero” -- was bred and raised to be a living, breathing organ donor. After her own eyes were taken from her, she is rescued by a stranger who gives her a new set of eyes that come with the gift of x-ray vision. Ten years later, Ray is a nurse in a medical clinic where she moonlights as a surgeon performing off-the-book medical procedures on criminals. Ray’s x-ray vision allows her to pinpoint even the most elusive of medical symptoms, and she quickly gains a reputation as being able to save lives when no one else can. Even though she has a gift of “seeing” things that no else can see, Ray is unable to remember much of her childhood and cannot “see” her rescuer in her mind’s eye. She has no hope of remembering anything until a man is brought into the clinic with a deadly form of fungus trapped in his lungs. Ray recognizes the man as a childhood friend, which triggers some of her childhood memories. Ray begins searching for clues to the organization that stole her childhood and her eyes, leading to a confrontation with her old captors. Writer/artist Yoshitomi supplies a well-drawn and fast-paced novel, showing a flair for sharp action sequences and explicit detail in both the surgical scenes and the sex scenes. By the end of volume one, Ray has emerged as an appealing character and the secrets of her past are alluring enough to keep readers hooked and waiting for the next volume. Part crime noir, part child exploitation, and part medical drama, this new series should appeal to both the horror and medical crime/drama fans.

ikezawa's othello (vol. 2)

What makes this manga -- that focuses on the life and loves of a cute high school girl --different from other teen manga sagas is how quickly the story becomes weird. Ikezawa’s tale of 16-year-old meek Yaya Higuchi is anything but ordinary. In this second volume of the series, Yaya must avoid her backstabbing “friends,” Seri and Moe. It turns out that an accident to her head has caused her alter ego, Nana, to come out and exact justice upon the girls and everyone who has tormented Yaya. As if that weren’t all, Yaya is also involved with a group of cosplay enthusiasts who dress up like their favorite band, Juliet; this allows Yaya to express a more assertive personality. That persona springs to life whenever Yaya bumps her head or looks into a mirror. Yaya develops a crush on Moriyama, the lead singer of a local band. Since Yaya is too shy to deal with her feelings for Moriyama herself, her alter ego, Nana, takes over. Yaya and Moriyama become friends, although Moriyama more than once questions the weird-goings on with Yaya. Nana takes the stage at one of Moriyama’s concerts and Moriyama begins to understand that Yaya has multiple personalities. At the end of the volume, Moriyama’s mysterious adult friend, Shôhei, sets his sights on Nana. He is rumored to have close ties to the music industry, but no one knows what’s really going on in that head of his. Readers are left wondering what Shôhei is going to do, but one thing is for sure -- you can bet that Nana will make sure that no one takes advantage of Yaya! Although the artwork in the manga doesn’t stand out, Ikezawa manages to capture universal teen angst in a very likeable character.