(Grade 7 and up) Walker’s brother Noah died two months ago, and he and his mother are struggling to cope with their loss. Walker prays for a way to help his mom…and that’s when Jesus shows up. Jesus isn’t like he is in the Bible though. He’s a lot more laid back, and as he goes with Walker to help out at the nursing home his mom runs, get a dog, and watch basketball, they talk about Noah. Talking to Jesus isn’t always easy—he has a way of reminding Walker of things he’d rather forget. But Walker ends up talking about Noah anyway, and remembering why he both loved and hated his brother might just be the first step toward letting him go.
Somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed this novel in verse. I think that anyone who reads this book is going to come to it with some preconceived notions. But Coaltown Jesus isn’t about how important religion is, or how you should believe in Jesus: it’s about how important love is, and how all of us need to try and take care of each other. So even if you’re not Christian, you might come away from this book with a different perspective on Jesus. Whatever your opinion of him as a deity, as a character in this book, Jesus seemed like a pretty nice guy. (4 out of 5 stars)
- Hardcover: 128 pages
- Publisher: Candlewick (October 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0763662283
- ISBN-13: 978-0763662288 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
(Grade 5 and up) Lumpy Space Princess decides to organize a surprise party…for herself. When the other princesses arrive, she admits that she just wanted to hang out with all of them, but given that none of them (except Turtle Princess) actually want to be there, LSP isn’t sure she even wants to be a princess anymore! BMO, on the other hand, totally wants to be a princess—and when he makes a wish to be just that, LSP, Turtle Princess, Muscle Princess, Breakfast Princess, Embryo Princess, and Skeleton Princess end up in a digital battle inside of BMO, and each of them will have to win a game before they can escape. But will each princess be able to save herself before BMO’s batteries die?!
I really love Adventure Time—it’s hilarious, quirky, and oddly subversive at times. In this volume of the black and white graphic novel series, you have princesses saving themselves in a video game world where they’re the heroes, and one of them is called Embryo Princess, which is interesting and could potentially inspire all kinds of reactions in readers…but really, she’s just a smart, funny princess. So if you like the other Adventure Time books, read this one too, which shines the spotlight on Lumpy Space Princess and other more obscure princesses in the land of Ooo. (4 out of 5 stars)
- Series: Adventure Time (Book 2)
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Boom Entertainment; Original edition (December 10, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1608863298
- ISBN-13: 978-1608863297 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
(Grade 8 and up) Wonder Woman’s quest to protect Zola has led to a conflict with Hades, and when she and Hermes journey to hell to save their friend, Hades decrees that Zola can go free…if Wonder Woman marries him! Later, Diana finds herself battling Apollo and Artemis, who believe that Zola’s baby may fulfill a prophecy that could mean the fall of Olympus. When Apollo claims Zeus’s throne as his own, what will it mean for Hera, queen of the gods? And when Zola’s baby finally arrives, Diana strikes a bargain with Apollo to protect the child, but a surprising betrayal will force her to begin a new journey…
Though I enjoyed the first volume of this series, this is the book where I really fell in love with Wonder Woman. In the past, I think my problem with Wonder Woman was that I thought I was expected to like her. (I did this with Harry Potter too—yes, I can be unnecessarily stubborn at times.) The truth is though, people like Wonder Woman because she’s awesome, and her glowing reputation in the New 52 is well-deserved.
The story here is fascinating, the art is fantastic, and Wonder Woman is a great heroine. As she discovers her new family, she struggles to protect her friends and understand her place in the world, both as an individual and as the child of a god. (I had a hard time remembering the origin of Lennox, as well as Diana’s relationship to the other gods, but that’s only because it’s been a while since I read volume one.) This series is now one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to catch up and start reading current issues. (4.5 out of 5 stars)
- Series: The New 52 (Book 2)
- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: DC Comics (September 17, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1401238106
- ISBN-13: 978-1401238100 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Hi everyone! This week’s first Graphic Pick (I had last Friday off :)) is Before Watchmen. Released last year, this series was as fascinating as it was controversial. I read most of the comics collected in the three graphic novels in this series as they were released, but today, I’ll mostly be focusing on my favorite volume, which collected Minutemen and Silk Spectre. Before Watchmen features a lot of adult themes and situations, most of which are depicted in a stylized way, but there’s also some pretty graphic violence here too, so I’d recommend these books to older high school students and above.
If you don’t read a lot of comics, then you might not know that Watchmen is one of the most critically acclaimed series ever. Instead of summarizing it, I’ll just say that if you haven’t read it and you’re interested in comics, then you probably should. It’s a dark deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero, set in a rather dystopian alternate America of 1985, and if you’ve ever wondered about how superheroes (and supervillians) might fare in a world more like our own than the ones you see in most comics, Watchmen will show you just that in disturbing detail. (Watchmen is excellent, but it’s definitely disturbing too.)
The Minutemen/Silk Spectre volume of Before Watchmen is my favorite because it expanded on the histories of some of the characters that I liked best in Watchmen and who I wanted to learn more about. Of course, part of the reason that this series is so controversial is that Alan Moore didn’t write it; the stories are from the creators’ imaginations, and as such, they sometimes contradict certain elements of the original series (and the Watchmen movie—the first issue of Comedian is the main one that comes to mind, but I’m sure that other fans have spotted discrepancies of their own.) However, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner are two of my favorite writers and artists out there, and I felt that the stories they told did these characters justice.
The Minutemen were the superheros that preceded the Watchmen, and their rise to fame during the 1940s, as well as their subsequent deaths and retirements, are the focus of this series. This was something I always wanted to know more about after reading Watchmen, because for the most part, we’re only given tantalizing clues about what the Minutemen were like at the height of their popularity. In Watchmen, most of the original members are dead, and the only survivors that readers encounter—Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl, and Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre—offer fond and regretful recollections in equal measure.
The framing device for this story is that after retiring, Hollis writes a tell-all book about his experiences as Night Owl…only the book that’s eventually published doesn’t really tell all. After writing the book, Hollis shows it to his surviving comrades, and none of their reactions are especially positive. In the end, the truth that Hollis tells as he reflects on his career as a superhero, and the truth revealed in his memoir are very different. The changes he ultimately makes to his book are mostly meant to protect his friends, but Hollis has a secret too.
One thing I really loved was seeing the propaganda created about the Minutemen—how patriotic they were, what good friends they all were—versus the more complicated realities of their personal lives, their true motivations for becoming superheroes, and the rivalries within the group. Ultimately, this team of heroes is as believably complex as their successors, and I really enjoyed Darwyn Cooke’s work on this series.
I love Amanda Conner’s work—I really hope I get to see her again at C2E2 this year, because she’s a great writer, a great artist, and exactly the kind of creator to explore Laurie Juspeczyk’s early days of fighting crime. Seeing more of Laurie’s past made it clear why her relationship with her mother was so strained. Here’s a good example of their dynamic:
Silk Spectre is about a lot of things: it’s about how Laurie took up her mother’s mantle—not just because of the training her mother put her through, but for her own reasons—but it’s also a story about the admiration and antipathy that exists between mothers and daughters, the risks and rewards of pursuing independence, and what it can be like to be a superheroine in the boys’ club that is your average superhero team. Silk Spectre and Minutemen are both entertaining, heartbreaking, and uplifting in equal measure; I’d recommend this volume of Before Watchmen to any fan of graphic novels.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again on Friday!
(Grade 9 and up) Shaun Mason hasn’t been the same since his sister Georgia died—by his hand—after being infected with the Kellis-Amberlee virus over a year ago. But the strange thing is, even though he was the one who shot her, Shaun now hears George’s voice in his head. Shaun knows he’s crazy, and so do his coworkers at After the End Times, but if it would mean losing what little of George he has left, Shaun wouldn’t want to be sane anyway.
When Dr. Kelly Connolly of the CDC shows up in the news site’s office with a story, life itself rapidly becomes even crazier than Shaun. A huge outbreak occurs in Oakland; a trip to a scientist’s secret lab raises more questions than it answers; and the CDC is clearly hiding information about the true nature of Kellis-Amberlee. Shaun and his team are determined to uncover the truth, even if if kills them, but is it zombies or humans that really pose the greatest threat?
I really love the Newsflesh trilogy, and I can’t to read the final book (especially after reading a sample at the end of Deadline.) Shaun, like Georgia before him, is a fascinating narrator, but whereas George’s stated agenda was uncovering the truth, in Deadline, Shaun is still reeling from George’s death. For much of the book, the only thing he’s living for is the hope of finishing what she started and taking down the conspiracy that killed her.
The fact that George is still a character, albeit as a voice in Shaun’s head, really made me sympathize with both characters more—because even though the Georgia we get to know here isn’t exactly real, even as a hallucination, she has a role to play in helping Shaun try to keep his team together, and alive. Though this series is rather light on zombie-related gore, it’s full of great medical and psychological details about a world where the undead are a constant danger, and the quiet moments between characters make the inevitable deaths of friends and colleagues that much more powerful. If you’re a fan of zombies or humans who fight to survive them, read this. (4.5 out of 5 stars)
- Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
- Publisher: Orbit; Reissue edition (June 1, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031608106X
- ISBN-13: 978-0316081061 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
(Grade 8 and up) It’s not easy to make a living on the edge of the ‘verse when you’ve got passengers on the run from the Alliance. For Malcolm Reynolds, work isn’t always easy to come by, legal or otherwise, but he needs to keep his crew fed and his ship flying…and Inara, who has decided to leave Serenity, needs to get to her destination. After a job goes wrong on Constance, Badger gives Mal and his crew a new lead: recovering a lost treasure from the site of the Battle of Sturges. But when they arrive, Mal, Zoe and Jayne find something very different than a much-needed financial windfall waiting for them: a man named Dobson wants Mal dead. And two Alliance contractors mean to help him, if that means getting to River Tam…
This short and sweet graphic novel reminds me of everything I love and miss about Firefly. The art here is beautiful, and the story, though only three chapters long, is packed with action, humor, and great moments between characters that I’m looking forward to reading more about in other graphic novels. (The new Serenity: Leaves on the Wind comic is very shiny, by the way.) If you’re a fan of the TV series and movie (and assuming that, like me, for some reason, you’re only just now getting around to this series), read this graphic novel—I can’t wait to check out the two volumes that follow it. (4 out of 5 stars)
- Hardcover: 96 pages
- Publisher: Dark Horse Comics (November 7, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1593078463
- ISBN-13: 978-1593078461 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Hi everyone! Today’s second Graphic Pick actually includes several books, and all of them are perfectly suited to keep you busy (and inside) during the upcoming snowy (I assume) weekend. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been entertaining the reading (and eventually viewing) public since 1887, and with four novels and 56 stories, to say nothing of all the books, movies, plays, and TV shows they’ve inspired since, it’s clear that Sherlock Holmes is one of the world’s most beloved fictional characters. So if you’ve never read anything about him before, or you want to know more about where his legend began, why not start at the beginning?
I’d recommend the original Sherlock Holmes stories to anyone age thirteen and up; there’s the occasional bit of violence and drug use (and some racism/sexism that’s as annoying as it is prevalent in books written in the 19th and early 20th century), but the mysteries are interesting, and the language is accessible to most readers.
(Image: Sherlock Holmes by Rochelle Donald on Flickr)
There are countless different editions of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, and hundreds (or more likely thousands) of other novels and stories have been written about the great detective over the past century. The first Sherlock Holmes book I ever read was The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. My copy was used, and old—I couldn’t find a picture online, so here’s a pretty one:
Of course—SPOILER ALERT!!!—this is the book where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes:
As it happened though, the character was so popular by then that people hassled Doyle for years, and eventually, he brought Holmes back, writing two more novels and two more collections of stories originally published in the Strand magazine, where all those illustrations of Holmes wearing a deerstalker cap come from—Doyle never mentioned that hat in any of the Holmes stories.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for this picture of Sidney Paget, the illustrator, wearing a deerstalker.) Anyway, Holmes “dying” at the end of the first book I read about him only made me want to read more. So I bought this one next:
Then I read volume 2, and then I wrote my senior thesis about Sherlock Holmes, and then I watched lots of movies/TV shows about him, and…yeah. Maybe it goes without saying that I highly recommend Doyle’s Holmes stories. I also feel the need to mention Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, which is historical fiction about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle working to solve a mystery himself:
In addition, I highly recommend Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series. The subsequent books were fun too, but with the first one in particular, I couldn’t read it fast enough:
The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon, is really interesting too:
In fact, I’d venture to guess that there are as many Sherlock Holmes books out there as there are mystery lovers. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!
Hi everyone! Once again, things came up last Friday, so you get two Graphic Picks today—for real this time. Today’s first Graphic Pick is a book I really loved: Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake. I’d say that this series is fine for anyone age 8 and up, though younger (and older) readers would enjoy it too.
This post is going to be full of beautiful art, because though this limited series was only six issues long, tons of great covers were created for it—which is true for Adventure Time comics in general, but some especially great covers came out of this series:
Basically, if you know nothing about Adventure Time, all you need to know is that in the TV series and ongoing comic series, Jake is a dog and Finn is a human, and together, they have amazing adventures in the land of Ooo. Fionna (a human) and Cake (a cat) are heroines in a slightly different land of Ooo, where every male character in Finn and Jake’s world is a girl, and every girl character is a guy.
The book starts with Fionna and Cake rescuing some baby fire lions from the rain of monsoon season—and Ice Queen. Then Ice Queen puts some kind of weird gem into the fire boy who was trying to protect the lion cubs. He gets frozen, and Fionna saves him…only to later find that he too has turned into a baby fire lion! (Luckily, he speaks cat, so Cake can understand him.) Then, much to Cake’s annoyance, Marshall Lee shows up.
Marshall Lee and Prince Gumball were having boys’ night when Gumball got trapped in a dungeon! (In a giant flan, actually, but the flan was in a dungeon.) So Fionna and Cake rush to save him, which involves fighting a bunch of creepy but delicious undead candy people (which unnerves Marshall Lee)…and then Fionna finally finds out why she wasn’t invited to boy’s night.
Later, Lumpy Space Prince steals Fionna’s new wand and wishes to be super crazy beautiful. (This doesn’t end well.) Then, after Fionna gets her wand back, she meets the fire boy again—Gumball and Cake have managed to fix him up a bit, and Ice Queen has agreed to release the fire cubs she kidnapped in exchange for a dinner date with “Flame Prince.” (AKA the fire boy). But Fionna and Cake—in a fire lion disguise—only have until midnight to remove the salt crystal that Ice Queen put in his chest before! How will Fionna defeat Ice Queen? And what will happen when her hair gets set on fire?!
As I hope the covers above have already proven, this series is adorable. Fionna and Cake are wonderfully unique heroines—they like cute boots and the various princes they hang out with, but they also have to rescue those same princes, fight bad guys, and occasionally devour skeletal candy people. Basically, they’re a delightful mix of ideas about what girls and heroes are “supposed” to be, and they demonstrate that many notions about what’s masculine and what’s feminine are ridiculously out of date. When I was a little girl, I would have loved to read a comic about a girl and her cat best friend who had amazing adventures, helped princes in distress, and loved food. (Swords made out of kitty litter not so much though.)
Even Ice Queen, though ostensibly the villain here, is a really interesting character. Unlike her counterpart in the regular Adventure Time universe, Ice King, she’s not sexist and creepy. At the end of this book, it’s clear that she’s actually got some sort of agenda involving magic and the salt crystal she put into flame boy. She and Fionna and Cake have some really cool fight scenes, and though I wasn’t sure how I felt about #6 the first time I read it, now I’m hoping that it sets the stage for another Fionna & Cake series! (Here’s hoping…)
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to any fan of Adventure Time, or just comics in general, no matter how old you are. Thanks for reading!