Book Review: Smooth Criminals, Vol. 1 by Kiwi Smith & Kurt Lustgarten

Smooth Criminals, Vol. 1 by Kiwi Smith & Kurt Lustgarten
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed

When a bit of hacking goes wrong, geeky Brenda accidentally unfreezes Mia, a master cat burglar from the 1960s. Together, they work to pull off a heist bigger than either of them could have dreamed…and solve the mystery of Mia’s cold storage in the proc

When Brenda, geeky hacker extraordinaire, accidentally awakened Mia, an international jewel thief frozen in the 1960s, she wasn’t sure what to expect…but it surely wasn’t a new partner in crime! With their powers combined, they decide to pull off the heist of the century and with fifty years of catching up to do, Mia already has a target in mind. Writers Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith (Legally Blonde) and Kurt Lustgarten (Misfit City) and illustrator Leisha Riddel swing into action and steal the show with this daring and hilarious caper of time-melding suspense.

I found this graphic novel in the new releases section at my library and couldn’t pass it up! I love the concept of a thief frozen in time and accidentally set free by a hacker.

The first volume of this series is a lot of fun, and the action kept me really engaged throughout the four issues. The storyline definitely moves along with one thing happening after another, but one problem I had was that every issue basically just ends with no resolution. I’m left wondering what the heck is going to happen next, and since the next four issues aren’t out yet, I assume I’ll be waiting a while to find out what Brenda and Mia will get up to.

I think that this series has a lot of promise, but it might be better to wait until at least the second volume is out before picking it up.


Have you read Smooth Criminals? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
Source: Purchased

Killing and Dying is a stunning showcase of the possibilities of the graphic novel medium and a wry exploration of loss, creative ambition, identity, and family dynamics. With this work, Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings, Scenes from an Impending Marriage) reaffirms his place not only as one of the most significant creators of contemporary comics but as one of the great voices of modern American literature. His gift for capturing emotion and intellect resonates here: the weight of love and its absence, the pride and disappointment of family, the anxiety and hopefulness of being alive in the twenty-first century.

“Amber Sweet” shows the disastrous impact of mistaken identity in a hyper-connected world; “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture” details the invention and destruction of a vital new art form in short comic strips; “Translated, from the Japanese” is a lush, full-color display of storytelling through still images; the title story, “Killing and Dying”, centers on parenthood, mortality, and stand-up comedy. In six interconnected, darkly funny stories, Tomine forms a quietly moving portrait of contemporary life.

Tomine is a master of the small gesture, equally deft at signaling emotion via a subtle change of expression or writ large across landscapes illustrated in full color. Killing and Dying is a fraught, realist masterpiece. 

I found this book for $2.00 at my library’s annual used book sale. Being someone who generally enjoys graphic novels, I thought I didn’t really have a lot to lose by buying it. It took me a little bit of time to get around to reading it, but I finally read it over a couple lunches at work.

When I first started this one, I really enjoyed it. I liked “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture,” mostly because I liked the twist at the end. It really did not end in a way that I expected, and I appreciated that. I also really enjoyed “Amber Sweet” and the more or less unexpected ending that one had as well.

The other four stories, though? I was not a huge fan. I don’t know if I’d really call them “darkly funny” like the synopsis promises. I didn’t find them particularly emotional, and, in fact, really felt very little of anything as I was reading them.

In the end, I’m not mad that I bought this, but it’ll be going to a Little Free Library or back to the used bookstore with me one of these days.


Have you read Killing and Dying? Have you enjoyed any great graphic novels recently?
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Book Review: The Mental Load by Emma

The Mental Load by Emma
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 26, 2018
Source: Borrowed

In her first book of comic strips, French artist Emma reflects on social and feminist issues by means of simple line drawings, dissecting the mental load, ie all that invisible and unpaid organizing, list-making and planning women do to manage their lives, and the lives of their family members. Most of us carry some form of mental load – about our work, household responsibilities, financial obligations and personal life; but what makes up that burden and how it’s distributed within households and understood in offices is not always equal or fair. 

In her strips Emma deals with themes ranging from maternity leave (it is not a vacation!), domestic violence, the clitoris, the violence of the medical world on women during childbirth, and other feminist issues, and she does so in a straightforward way that is both hilarious and deadly serious. If you’re not laughing, you’re probably crying in recognition. Emma’s comics also address the everyday outrages and absurdities of immigrant rights, income equality, and police violence. 

I guess I should start off this review by saying that before I stumbled upon this book in a local bookstore, I had never heard of Emma or her blog. I think this will be a fairly short review because I don’t have a ton of thoughts about this book — I appreciate what it’s aiming to do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a groundbreaking piece of work.

The thing is, the people that are going to pick up this book are likely people who already agree with the author. I can’t imagine many people who are anti-feminist picking up a book that literally says “a feminist comic” on the front cover. I didn’t find much in this book that was new to me, despite the fact that I don’t necessarily consider myself well-read when it comes to feminist theory.

I think my favorite section of this book, and the one that was most interesting to me, was the one titled “You Should Have Asked.” This is where Emma brings up the mental load — the extra work that women in heterosexual relationships stereotypically have to do. I found myself nodding along as I read, recognizing behavior from past relationships and finally realizing what had been wrong that I hadn’t been able to put into words.

Aside from that, the book is mostly a collection of the author’s thoughts on several highly political topics. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. I wasn’t really pulled in by the art style and the font could be pretty hard to read at times, so I got distracted a lot while reading about the topics that I wasn’t terribly interested in.

Still, if you’re looking for an accessible primer for feminism, this graphic novel would be a great place to start.


Have you read The Mental Load? Can you recommend any good books dealing with feminism?
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Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Borrowed

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

Five mysterious, spine-tingling stories follow journeys into (and out of?) the eerie abyss.

These chilling tales spring from the macabre imagination of acclaimed and award-winning comic creator Emily Carroll.

Come take a walk in the woods and see what awaits you there…

When I first checked out this book from the library, I didn’t really expect it to be spooky. I don’t know what I really expected, honestly. Maybe just something a little weird. This book, though? SPOOKY. It’s made up of five short stories, all of which I enjoyed.

Our Neighbor’s House: The first short story is my second favorite in the book. Three sisters are left home alone in the winter while their father goes out. One by one, they disappear. This was such an unsettling story!

A Lady’s Cold Hands: This is probably the spookiest story in this book and it gave me some Tell-Tale Heart vibes mixed with a great revenge story.

His Face All Red: This one was kind of a classic story of jealousy and resentment with a twist at the end.

My Friend Janna: If I had to name a least favorite from this book, this would be it. There was nothing overtly terrible about it, but there was nothing amazing about it either.

The Nesting Place: This one was definitely my favorite. It was so spooky and creepy and gross.

All in all, this was a great collection of short stories. I loved the art and the colors and the writing style. If you’re looking for a dark, spooky graphic novel, I don’t know that you can do much better than this one.


Have you read Through the Woods? Have you enjoyed any spooky graphic novels recently?
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Mini-Review: Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver

Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 22, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Noah Van Sciver’s latest graphic novella drops in on the life of the self-styled, aspiring young writer, Fante Bukowski, as he delusively makes his way to literary fame and fortune, one drink at a time. Living in a cheap hotel, consorting with the debased and downtrodden, searching for that golden idea that will rocket him to the success he yearns for as the great American novelist, and to get respect from his father once and for all. But, there’s just one problem: Fante Bukowski has no talent for writing.

If I had to describe the plot of this book in one sentence, it would be “an entitled man thinks the world should fawn over his terrible writing.” This is going to be a pretty short review because this is a pretty short book and I don’t have a ton of feelings about it. I think it’s one of those things you’re either going to like or you’re not.

I enjoyed this one at the beginning when it was really satirizing its subject matter, but as the book went on, I was just annoyed. I was annoyed by Fante’s attitude and his entitlement and all of the cliches.

At least I laughed exactly three times while I was reading it.


Have you read Fante Bukowski? Have you read any very strange books recently?
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Book Review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Laura Dean, the most popular girl in high school, was Frederica Riley’s dream girl: charming, confident, and SO cute. There’s just one problem: Laura Dean is maybe not the greatest girlfriend.

Reeling from her latest break up, Freddy’s best friend, Doodle, introduces her to the Seek-Her, a mysterious medium, who leaves Freddy some cryptic parting words: break up with her. But Laura Dean keeps coming back, and as their relationship spirals further out of her control, Freddy has to wonder if it’s really Laura Dean that’s the problem. Maybe it’s Freddy, who is rapidly losing her friends, including Doodle, who needs her now more than ever. Fortunately for Freddy, there are new friends, and the insight of advice columnists like Anna Vice to help her through being a teenager in love.

Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell bring to life a sweet and spirited tale of young love that asks us to consider what happens when we ditch the toxic relationships we crave to embrace the healthy ones we need.
 

I’m not sure what it was that drew me to Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. It might have been the cover. It might have been the catchy title. It might have been the references to a toxic relationship and strong friendship from the synopsis. Whatever it was, this book ended up being one of my most anticipated of 2019.

I’m usually a little bit scared to read my most anticipated books, but I got an email from my library that this was due back in three days, and when I went to renew it, I saw that there were already four more holds on it. I ended up reading it all in one sitting and loving it so, so, so much. I’m not sure that there was anything about this graphic novel that I did not love.

Let’s start with the characters.

Freddy could be any teenage girl. She’s in a relationship with a really popular, really cool girl. She can’t believe that she’s captured Laura Dean’s attention, so she just kind of goes along with the poor treatment she receives in the relationship. Regardless of what else is going on in her life, she’s expected to be there when Laura Dean wants her, but she’s also expected to be okay with it when Laura Dean decides, yet again, that the relationship isn’t quite doing it for her and she wants to break up. Freddy doesn’t necessarily like it that Laura Dean treats her like this, but she also isn’t necessarily looking for more from life.

Laura Dean is, as you might think, kind of self-centered and seemingly oblivious to the fact that she’s treating Freddy really unfairly. She’s very popular with a lot of friends, yet she’ll call Freddy in a panic asking her to come over because she’s found herself alone for ten minutes. I almost felt bad for her at some points in the book, but then I remembered that I’ve been the Freddy in that situation and lost all sympathy for her.

There are some great side characters as well, particularly Freddy’s best friend, Doodle. Doodle and Freddy struggle a bit with their friendship throughout the course of the book as Freddy abandons Doodle over and over again so that she can spend more time with Laura Dean. Their friendship, though, was one of my favorite things about this book. I loved how it showed that despite arguments and people behaving badly and whatever other drama is going on in their life, your true friends will be there for you when you need them.

On to the actual story.

The truth is, there isn’t a ton of plot in this graphic novel. It’s mostly about Freddy’s relationships, both with Laura Dean and with Doodle. Freddy is addressing an advice columnist for a lot of the book, which I thought was a really fun and interesting way to frame the story. I often find myself bored when I read a character-driven story like this, but in this case, it really worked.

The last thing to mention, since this is a graphic novel, is the art.

I loved the art. I think I need to find everything Rosemary Valero-O’Connell has ever illustrated and read it because everything, from the art style to the way the panels were framed to the color palette, was amazing. This was probably one of the best-illustrated graphic novels I’ve ever read, and I just want to read more books like this.

In the end, would I recommend this? 100% yes.


Have you read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me? What’s the last book that lived up to your (high) expectations? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
Series: Early Earth
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: December 20, 2016
Source: Purchased

In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, a beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world.

In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle–and Cherry.

But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.

As intricate and richly imagined as the works of Chris Ware, and leavened with a dry wit that rivals Kate Beaton’s in Hark! A Vagrant, Isabel Greenberg’s One Hundred Nights of Hero will capture readers’ hearts and minds, taking them through a magical medieval world. 

You might remember me reviewing The Encyclopedia of Early Earth not too long ago. I ended up buying The One Hundred Nights of Hero since I enjoyed both the art style and the subtle humor in The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, and I was not disappointed.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero is the story of a young woman, Cherry, who is married to an evil man, Jerome, who bets a friend that he can’t seduce Cherry while Jerome is away. If his friend, Manfred, succeeds in seducing Cherry, Jerome is willing to give him both his castle and his wife. When Cherry finds out about the wager, she knows that Manfred will do everything in his power to sleep with her, including by force if necessary. Luckily, her maid, friend, and lover Hero is a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers and weaves stories, night after night, to keep Manfred distracted from the seduction.

I loved the larger story here, including the positive portrayal of a f/f relationship in a time when that was not accepted, but what I really adored were Hero’s stories. The stories were empowering, fantastical, and whimsical. The stories could be a bit quirky and a bit sassy at times, but everything balanced so well that I don’t really have any complaints.

I had initially thought I’d rate this four stars, but looking back… there’s nothing I didn’t like, so it turns out it’s a five.

#mm19: through the years


Have you read The One Hundred Nights of Hero? What about The Encyclopedia of Early Earth? Let’s talk in the comments!

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