Kingsman: The Secret Service (CBR8 #75)

I, like so many other dedicated Cannonball Book Clubbers, am working my way through The Count of Monte Cristo. I have gone abridged, and it is still a long book. In that time, I have also been interspersing my reading with quicker, lighter, fare. Enter, Kingsman.

This is lighter fare if you are a particular kind of reader, or find certain kinds of jokes funny. The first few pages of issue one, where (SPOILER) Mark Hamill gets killed, by accident? Perfection as far as I’m concerned.

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I am vaguely familiar with the work of author Mark Millar. He is perhaps best known for Kick-Ass and Wanted? I’m just not sure, I know that he’s a name in the industry and I’ll hope that you’ll forgive me since comics are a new area for me. I was turned onto this series by the movie that was based on it, which I enjoyed (right up until the very end). The movie and the comics share a lot of the same DNA, with a few changes in the movie which I think were for the better.

The comic builds around the idea of the world’s greatest secret agent – named Jack London – has a punk nephew who he decides should follow in his footsteps in the service. Small problem, he’s on a case trying to discover the link between a series of kidnapped stars. Under Uncle Jack’s supervision, Gary’s spy skills only increase, but solving the celebrity kidnappings isn’t without a price.

While the pacing was a bit hit or miss, the visuals by Dave Gibbons were fantastic. There are parts of the movie version I’ll always enjoy more (Mark Strong and Michael Caine’s parts being two distinct characters instead of one in the comic, more time spent in training, and with *gasp* girls also in the training), but all in all a good read.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (CBR8 #72)

I’ve been pretty open about the idea that comics are still a reading stumbling block for me. My friend Alison loves comics so whenever she comes across something she thinks might do the trick for me, she makes sure to get it into my hands. I sometimes decline her suggestions due to time limitations, but I always try to see what she’s offering. A couple weeks ago she handed me Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey in comic form, and there was no way I wasn’t going to give this one a go – Jane Austen is my jam.

I struggled a bit with Northanger Abbey when I read it for the first time a few years ago, and its one of very few books I have read in my CBR years that I did not review. I struggled to sink into the book on that round, but I think its because I read the academic introduction which preceded it. This time I let myself just float along with the loving adaption of Jane Austen’s most humorous work.

Matching Austen’s satire of Gothic Literature, we follow Catherine Morland’s quest to be the leading lady of her own great romance. Catherine is determined to find the correlations between real life and  the Gothic novels she finds so enchanting. Austen upturns Catherine’s expectations at each turn, and Nancy Butler and illustrator Janet Lee capture the original while making it their own as well. While not my favorite reading experience, I can suggest this to anyone looking for a quick revisit of Austen.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Filmish: A Graphic Journey through Film (CBR8 #70)

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I’m a relatively omnivorous reader. I read a little bit of almost everything (high fantasy, horror,  and poetry seem to be my blind spots). A quick survey of my non-fiction shows that I have an interest in movies, film history, and Classic Hollywood. My podcast listening backs that up as well, being as I follow You Must Remember This and Fighting in the War Room. Through one of my  favorite podcast listens, A Storm of Spoilers, I was introduced to Filmish and immediately put it on my to read, even though I have a spotty history with graphic nonfiction, graphic novels, and comics.

I am pleased to report that this book was awesome. Neil was right.

In Filmish, Ross’s cartoon alter ego serves as tour guide for us through cinematic history (a little like The Great Movie ride at Disney), and he introduces us to some of the stranger and more intriguing concepts at work in the movies. In short, we get the history of film through seven topics: The Eye; The Body; Sets & Architecture; Time; Voice & Language; Power & Ideology; and Technology & Technophobia. Each chapter attacks its concept chronologically, using different movies to fully explore an introduction to film theory. Ross uses many movies which are familiar to the non-connoisseur, and peppers in plenty of lesser known, but influential works to add to your to watch list. This is definitely Film Theory 101, but with the great artwork, the full, but not overstuffed pages, and the detailed end notes which suggest further reading and watching, this is truly a great resource for those looking to be entertained, and a learn a little something along the way.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Hark! A Vagrant (CBR8 #49)

I’m glad I lent crystalclear the Hamilton book when I had it out from the library, or I’d feel in real friend debt, since she has been lending me books all year. This is another delivery from her, and it served as a palate cleanser between Children of God, When a Scot Ties the Knot, and The House of the Spirits. Yes, I have weird reading habits, Casino Royale was in there too for a short time.

Its tough for me to review this book, crystalclear declined to, not being able to figure out how to say “just go read it, the cartoons are funny” in 250 words (did I get that right? I hope I did.) Since I have a rule to review everything, I’m sitting here typing furiously, trying to explain to you why I really liked this book, but I still only gave it three stars.

The problem, as usual, is me.

Comics just are not my thing. I’ve tried a couple different variations on graphic novel type literature and universally my brain just doesn’t process information that way. I also was never a big Sunday comics reader, I’d skim a few when I could pry the section from my parents or grandparents, but not much more.  Beaton, however, is exactly the type of writer who should hit my funny bone, and does, most of the time. Her writing is a wry, delightful, and shows an intelligent wit and her line drawings accomplish so much with so little. It’s no wonder to me at all that so many of you have liked this book a great deal.

If you’re in the mood for the comic version of Texts with Jane Eyre, then this is the book you are most rightly looking for.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Nimona (CBR7 #98)

I really WANTED to fall in love with Nimona. It seemed like such an obvious pairing: Nimona the impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy and Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta. These two setting off to prove the heroes aren’t always heroic? Done. But… I only liked this one and caught myself more than once skipping ahead to “get on with the story”. What were my problems?

Inconsistent backstory and inconsistent characterizations.

From the beginning we learn that while students at the institute, Ballister and his now nemesis Goldenloin jousts. Ballister knocks Goldenloin off his horse, and then Goldenloin uses his modified lance to shoot Ballister, taking his arm off. This sets up their being on opposite sides of any and all battles, as per the Institute, with Goldenloin and his good looks taking the role of “hero” and mutilated Ballister taking on the role of “villain”. Moving forward Ballister is onto the machinations of the Institute. Sometimes he’s out to get them, sometimes he’s trying to expose them, sometimes he hates Goldenloin, and sometimes he is in league with him. There was a vibe that Stevenson was going for; I’m just not sure she hit it all the time.

Also… Nimona’s backstory. It just… didn’t come together for me.

What works? The way Stevenson wrapped up her story in this world, the world itself which has magic and science coexisting beautifully, and the art itself. All of these things were great. I just wish that the story as a whole worked better for me, but I’m in the minority.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Complete Persepolis (CBR7 #66)

This year as I began making my epic list of things to read for Cannonball I asked some of my friends what they would suggest. While having these conversations my coworker mentioned that she hadn’t read Persepolis yet, but kept meaning to, and had I. I had not, so on the list it went, since she’s the mom of two small kiddoes, I could certainly do a little market research for her reading intake. Good news for her and you is that I *really* liked this book.

In case you are unaware, Marjane Satrapi is an artist who grew up in revolutionary Iran. From Goodreads: “Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland.”

Intriguing, yes? I agree. I read the complete version of Persepolis, which contains what had originally been published in two different volumes, each with two parts. I felt that the first half was much more engaging than the second half, but that may because part 2 deals more with effects of the revolution and the personal effects of Satrapi’s time in Austria. Or, I just liked the characters in the first half better. It’s hard to know.

Structurally these are graphic novels, and are perhaps more truly chronological collections of short graphic novellas telling the story of Satrapi and her country in small bursts. My only real complaint about this work is that often each chapter, or mini novella, felt like it ended abruptly, without finishing the thought, or complete making the point. Several different times I flipped back a page to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I can however tell you that the artwork is simply beautiful in its simplicity and ability to translate emotions across the page. I haven’t seen the movie version of Persepolis yet, but it’s on my list now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Jane, the Fox, and Me (CBR7 #55)

My choice to read Jane, the Fox, and Me was influenced by my participation in the Read Harder Challenge. Tasks 19 and 20 are to read a work originally published in another language and a graphic novel, graphic memoir, or collection of comics of any kind. I had some other books picked out for these tasks, and I have every intention of reading them, but when bonnie and the Chancellor’s reviews of this book back in January I knew that this was something I wanted to check out.

I have a tough time with short form fiction. In their way, short stories (no matter the author it seems) and comics have never really been able to hold my attention. I am also usually distracted by the amount of visual stimuli on the page. Thankfully for me, this beautiful hardcover edition of the translation of Jane, the Fox, and Me features large images, often taking up the entire page. This gave my brain a break and let me sink into the intricate but simple artwork accompanying the meaningful text.

In trying to figure out how to encapsulate the story of Helene I think I’ll let Goodreads give you the gist. “This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.” I was bullied a bit as a child and young adult. I had a stutter, and I have always been on the heavy side. There were plenty of people who would use those things to cast me out, or have some fun at the expense of my last name. Thankfully for me I had friends, other likely outcasts, who stuck by me and whom I stuck by and we are lucky enough to call each other friend some 18-24 years later. We are incredibly close and it’s the shared view of the world, the power of literature, and being in the trenches that has done that for us. Jane, the Fox, and Me takes a magnifying glass to those early days when we were finding ourselves and finding each other. This is a book that should not be missed. I hope you read this work and it means something to you, and that it makes you think of your friends who have picked you up along the way.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.