Books read in October

Rupert Can DanceRupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always loved Feiffer’s artwork and the story in this book is so cute. Rupert just wants to dance his own way and he doesn’t want anyone to see him dance. But one night his owner wakes up and catches him. Can Rupert ever bring himself to dance again?

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very sweet book and a very quick read. It’s funny but I tend to not like these kinds of stories, but Zevin’s writing was very accessible and it was just the right length.

Perfect gift for the book-snob in your life with lots of references to literature and popular culture in the current book world.

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We EatRed Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating look at a little known medical epidemic, pellagra, which hit the United States south very hard in the early 1900s. The target audience is definitely middle school and up, but honestly this book is perfect for anyone with a passing interest in the subject. I learned a LOT about that time in US history along with why we eat the way we do today.

The Shadow HeroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Extra star for being inspired by a forgotten comic from the 1940s which featured the first Chinese-American superhero. (well, if you believe the rumors).

But even without this, this is a fantastic graphic novel and original origin story.

Adventure Time Vol. 5Adventure Time Vol. 5 by Ryan North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strong addition to the ‘Adventure Time’ comic book series, lots of fun with POV. And the “narrator” was extra hilarious.

HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

5/5 for style but minus lots of points for just being your cliche horror story. I think this might have worked better as a short story. I know the main idea was to make a book that physically looked like the IKEA catalog, with products advertised at the start of each chapter, but the charm wears off pretty quick. I forced myself to speed read to the end last night and was left underwhelmed.

A Perfectly Messed-Up StoryA Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very cute, reminded me a lot of Battle Bunny. (though the librarian in me was cringing at the thought of food getting stuck in my picture books and what would grow inside…)

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you can LISTEN TO THIS BOOK. Having Wil Wheaton read this out loud may be the best thing that could have happened to this story. It is definitely written by a geek for a geek. If you grew up during the 80s or have a passion for classic video games, 80s movies, and geek culture, you will love this book. Otherwise, you might just be mildly amused by it.

The story itself is the usual hero story, the poor, uncool kid who manages to rise up against the evil empire. There’s a reason we see that story all the time though – it works. It speaks to us. And it is SO satisfying when it all ends, even if you knew it had to end the way it did. The journey is so much fun.

book thoughts: Chew, Volume 1: Taster’s Choice (2009)

Taster's Choice (Chew, Vol. 1)Taster’s Choice by John Layman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I devoured this trade in one sitting *harharhar*

When I picked it up, I knew the basic plot – that Agent Chu could eat something and tell you it’s past, so when a body shows up murdered he ends up having to “chew” on them.  But what I didn’t know was the weird, alternate world he existed in, where a bird flu epidemic caused poultry prohibition, elevating the F.D.A. from paper-pushers to enforcers.

Rob Guillory’s stylized artwork makes some of the nastier bits more bearable to see, and the great mix of mystery and humor in the writing kept me reading into the late hours of the night.  Like any good “pilot episode”, the story appears simple enough on the surface, but by the last few pages, you start to learn about the bigger conspiracy that will keep Chu working – and you reading – for many more issues.

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book thoughts: Superman: Earth One (2010)

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  I’ve always had a soft spot for Superman.  Yes, he can be the Uber-Boy Scout, doing what’s right, always, everyday.  But there’s something more.  I think it’s that question of why.  Why would someone with super powers come to Earth and decide to be it’s savior?

J. Michael Straczynski’s retelling of origin of Superman sets out to answer those questions.  He shows Clark Kent setting off for Metropolis and trying to find his place.  Does he use his powers for celebrity?  Use his inherited knowledge of advanced science to get ahead in business?  There isn’t much money in saving the world, why would he choose that path?  And, at the core of the story, there is the loneliness.  The story of a man who must always hold back, on some level, and the story of how he begins to make peace with that issue.

Honestly, I picked up this book because the cover looked badass and, as I said, I have a Superman weakness.  I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would, reading it in a single evening.  Shane Davis’ artwork has a very modern comic look to it, so it made this Superman feel even more relevant (though his Lois Lane looked a bit too much like Jennifer Carpenter…so much so that I’m convinced Davis has a crush on her). 

I’m very curious to see where this series goes…like Buffy, I find the most fascinating stories for superheroes is looking inside their minds, the one place they can be hurt. 

This comic is definitely worth a look if you have any interest in Superman or superhero reboots, in general, because I think it is done very well.  It manages to be both familiar and new at the same time. 

book thoughts: Ex Machina Vol. 8 Dirty Tricks & Vol. 9 Ring Out the Old

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   Ex Machina by Brian K Vaughan is another comic book series that sounds ridiclous when you spell it out on paper.  Mitch Hundred is an ex-superhero.  On 9/11, when he was flying around as “The Great Machine”, he managed to stop the second plane from crashing into the tower with his power to talk to machines.  A few years later, he ran for mayor of New York City and won.  The comic book series flashes back and forth between his political and superhero career. 

In ‘Dirty Tricks’, the 8th trade paperback collection in the series, contains 2 one-shot stories and a 4 issue arc.  In the first story, ‘The Race’, Hundred attempt to convince Wylie to run for office.  There is a somewhat cheesy poltergeist story mixed in but it’s designed to make the reader think about race and politics more than function as a story.  ‘Dirty Tricks’ is a 4 issue arc that focused on a crazed Great Machine fan who threatens the 2004 GOP visit to NYC.  ‘Masquerade’ is a Halloween issue, flashing back to before Hundred was the Great Machine, and just the days when he was recovering from his injury that created his powers. 

‘Ring Out the Old’ is the 9th volume of the series.  It opens with a stand alone issue with a guest appearance by Brian K Vaughan and artist Tony Harris.  Instead of just being a silly interlude, the issue felt like a personal statement from BKV about 9/11 and what inspired him to write the story.  As ‘Ex Machina’ draws to a close (The series ended earlier in 2010 and the final collected issue will be out in November), Vaughan begins to wrap up the story of Hundred.  In the next issue, Hundred pushes for windpower, but also brings up some interesting points about how green our society can ever be.  And the final collection is the begining of the end.  Hundred announces that he does not plan on running for re-election and he begins to suspect that his powers were not just the result of an accident.

I will be so very sad to see this series go, but one of the reasons that BKV manages to have such a solid catalog is because he knows when to wrap it up.  Y The Last Man and Ex Machina have always had end dates that were not so far off and I think that helped keep the story focused.  I’m sure however the story of Mitch Hundred ends, it will be just as satisfying as the final installment of Y. 

 

 

book thoughts: The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa (2003/2009)

In rural Korea, some time ago, young Ehwa lived with her widowed mother.  She is an innocent child, believing everything she is told by her friends and many days she wanders home, deep in thought about their stories.  But soon her mother sets her straight, the rain comes, and Ehwa feels a little older.

The easiest way to describe the story of ‘The Color of the Earth’ would be to say it is the Gilmore Girls in rural Korea.  Ehwa and her mother have this beautiful relationship and while the book mostly focuses on Ehwa’s coming-of-age story, there is a large part devoted to her mother and her life as a widow in a small town. 

But there is a lot more to it than that, as I found by reading last few pages of the U.S. edition.  Originally published in Korea in 2003, Color of the Earth was a groundbreaking manhwa (Korean for graphic novel) because of its focus telling the story of being a woman through female characters, a very feminist comic in a genre that tended to focus on the masculine world. 

The artwork is gorgeous, and it helps that the book is about the size of a normal hardback so the images have plenty of room to breathe.  One page might have a quick succession of panels, the next might be a two page spread of Ehwa wandering through a field with peach blossoms dancing around her in the wind. 

This is the first book in a trilogy – The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven are the next two volumes.  I cannot wait to read the other two stories to see where life takes Ehwa as she matures from child to adult. 

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