March: Book One (CBR9 #60)

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I have long loved Representative Lewis since studying about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and their role in the sit-ins, freedom rides, and the 1963 March on Washington. While the March on Washington is most remembered today as the location of Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, earlier that day in his role as National Chairman of SNCC John Lewis spoke, giving an inflammatory speech that nearly had other speakers pulling out of the March.

When I heard last year that Representative Lewis had collaborated on a series of graphic novels recounting his time with SNCC through to Selma I put them on my to read list. The world angers me more often than not these days, so I thought now would be social justice through nonviolence.

What I wasn’t expecting was to fall in love with both the artistry of Nate Powell and the young John Lewis. Representative Lewis started his life wanting to be a preacher, ministering to his flock of chickens. Mr. Lewis had a love of school and learning, and eventually those pursuits put him in the orbit of the SCLC and Dr. King.

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This first book chronicles those early stories, placed against the backdrop of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, through the initial sit ins Lewis participated in and helped organize. Then as now Representative Lewis was a man on a mission, and I am looking forward to reading the next two volumes to follow his story in his own words in this highly accessible telling.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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This One Summer (CBR9 #53)

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Each year, I try to read a frequently challenged or banned book during Banned Books Week (September 24-30). I have very particular feelings about the concept of banning or suppressing works of fiction because they do not fit into a particular worldview (I’m staunchly against it). Do I think every book should have an audience and be read? Probably not. However, I do believe in our ability to choose for ourselves what we should read, and that banning or challenging books which only serve to widen our understanding of the world and people around us is shameful.

For the life of me, I’m not sure why this was the most challenged book last year. Yes, it has some sexual content (a character becomes pregnant and 16, and another character is not handling it well), and there is some foul language (usually in reference to said pregnancy) but otherwise this incredibly detailed and beautiful book is exactly in line with the wide variety of YA that lines bookstore and library shelves.

To the book itself: This graphic novel, a Printz and Caldecott winner, is at its heart a short story about two early teen girls whose families both visit Awago Beach, Ontario each summer. The girls are roughly 18 months apart, but share the kind of friendship born of many hours spent together in a vacuum.  Rose is an only child whose parents seem rather ordinary. Windy is an adopted only child who goes to the beach with her mother and grandmother who are definitely on the “hippie” end of the spectrum. It is a “coming of age” story where these preteens/early teens are figuring out how to be more mature and what it means to leave the trappings of childhood behind.

I found the dynamic of these two different only children and the varieties of their familial interactions to be the most interesting part of the narrative. I also am in love with the art in this book. Jillian Tamaki is a flat out genius and her duo chromatic work (purples and blacks) leaves you with the uneasy feeling of a healing bruise, while also perfectly capturing the aesthetic of a large lake.

I really enjoyed this quick read, and hope you will as well.

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.