"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} wonder-full

Just in time for a baby shower gift, one of my favorites (I have a print on my wall) came out with a new book: not that I wouldn’t have gifted the recently released board book version of Dream Animals (my review).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin 

Random House, 2015.

Emily Windfield Martin’s latest opens with:

When I look at you

And you look at me,

I wonder what wonderful

Things you will be.

before the narrator begins to speculate what this new child will be. Later in the book, the reader will wonder aloud as to what the child will do:

This is the first time

There has ever been a you,*

So I wonder what wonderful things

You will do.

There are some things that will go without wondering. There are some things the narrator knows about the child, can anticipate.

I know you’ll be kind…

and clever…

The sentiments are more than wonderful and I had a customer (an aunt buying for a niece) admit to becoming verklempt before hugging it to her chest and walking toward the registers with it. Natalya is still in a stage of deep-sighing when I hand her sentimental things like this to read. Fortunately, there is humor; also, she has a fondness for Martin’s art as well.

I love love love the words and pictures on the spread where a boy sitting at a sewing machine holds up tiny pants for a squirrel. Natalya recommends the one below, the one with the band (which Martin admits is a favorite).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a page that reads:

When nights are black and

When days are gray—

You’ll be brave and be bright

So no shadows can stay.

The image is a girl in a red coat, hood back, contemplating the red balloon stuck in the branches of a tree at the edge of a wood.

I think the endpapers are pretty sweet, too.

I mentioned the male tailor, but Martin always features a diverse population unusual to most picture books. I adore the details and I love the charmingly peculiar she includes in her books, though it makes sense if you consider successfully writing for an audience with such charming peculiarities within their own imaginations. Martin is well-suited to picture book creating.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a lovely, serious yet playful addition to the family library. You can’t start too young with this one, nor can you out-grow it.

——

of note: Martin fans will recognize and smile at the appearance of the Kitten Bandit among others. also, fans, check out RandomHouse’s cool little option to send e-cards!

If I’d done some real planning, I would have hunted down a red/white striped footie-pjs to pair with the book.

*a line reminiscent of Nancy Tillman books of the same genre. I’m pleased to have word-choice and image aesthetic options in these books.

{All images are Emily Winfield Martin’s; do check out her work at ‘the black apple’. You can see great spreads of the book here.}

 

"review" · cinema · recommend · Uncategorized

{film} John Wick?

The tagline: Don’t Set Him Off!

When I tell you how fantastic I found director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick (2014), you’ll likely question my sanity because it really shouldn’t be all that good.

I seriously questioned my decision to not disappear up the stairs while Sean watched a film that, upon first press, reads like a Steven Seagal film of old(er times). I’d grown up on those revenge-action-thrillers. More recently, Keanu Reeves’ role as John Wick would’ve been cast with Liam Neeson or Jason Statham and I rarely sit through a one of them. The dialog, typical plot, blood-letting and tire-squealing action of these genre films rarely find me amused. I was at the edge of my seat, giddy in amusement with John Wick. Its a film that is self-aware, its tongue planted firmly in cheek, unrepentant and playful within its genre.

I was intrigued by the premise: instead of some relative (usually the wife) of a retired uber mensch being brutally murdered, Sean told me that the revenge plot stems from the brutal murder of John Wick’s dog. That was all we knew. The unfolding of just who John Wick is was worth the ignorance. It earns you that immense pleasure in the exchange between Aurelio (John Leguizamo) and Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). John Wick won me over at Tarasov’s “…Oh.”

The non-linear movement through time, the shifts, begin to stabilize chronologically as the film progresses. Disintegration takes on a new form as the violence ups its ante (think South Korean action films). There is a righteous meting out of justice for that sweet little puppy (whose death is handled as delicately as possible). There are beautiful cars, choreography, gun-reloading and martial arts. And there are quality actors.

As the film progresses, the surprising cast was one revelation after another–even as Reeves proves all the more perfect for his role. His age really works for him as John Wick, and I think he actually emotes (which was admittedly awkward for me). I am going to pause for a moment to also admire the bad-assery that is Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins). But is she punished for being a bit too greedy and a full-measure too bold in her breaking of the (male dominated) rules? Little is fair in the film, but what does one expect from a revenge-action film. One certainly doesn’t expect that ending, though we should’ve anticipated it (shouldn’t we’ave?).

Familiarity with John Wick’s predecessors add to the entertainment factor; it certainly reads like redemption for years/hours spent in the genre. However, I don’t think you need a history. What you will need is a sense of humor–and a fairly strong stomach.

——————

Director: Chad Stahelski, Screenplay:Derek Kolstad, Starring: Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Alfie Allen (Iosef Trasov), Willem Defoe (Marcus), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Bridget Moynahan (Bridget), and Ian McShane (Winston).

Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Running Time: 101 Minutes

"review" · comics/graphic novels · juvenile lit · recommend · Uncategorized

{comics} el deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell.

Amulet Books 2014.

Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend? —Publisher’s comments.

Besides making many of last year’s Best-Of lists, Cece Bell’s El Deafo has also been picking up significant Honors and Awards. You’ll hear it described as important, and the insight Bell is able to share from her childhood is, indeed, valuable. I love just how familiar the character Cece is, despite her bunny-like appearance. Cece is flawed and more than occasionally frustrated and frustrating.

Many will find Cece humorous; and likely charming when she begins to identify with Batman and creates a super-heroic identity all her own in El Deafo. I think I either under- or over-identified with her earnestness to be normal and befriended. The angst felt stretched and I desired a few chapters fewer. When we tell our children that it may take time, trial and error to find a good friend, we usually hope for and suggest the BFF will show up within two errors. However, it really does take a while to learn how to communicate, to read others’ lips (words/actions) and to articulate for ourselves.

 

El Deafo is really well thought-out. It wasn’t an easy read for me, entertainment-wise, but I could immediately appreciate just how well-crafted it is, how coherent it continues to be into second and third readings. I loathe to fall into the fallacy of guessing authorial intent, but the immovable yellow box of text manning the upper edges of panels had to make sense of itself. It otherwise needed to move. (And if you find it difficult to deal with in the first half, you’ll learn to adjust to it in the end.) I questioned the choice of a bunny and the adorable-ness of the artwork in a book I wanted to pitch to the upper-grade-schoolers reading Raina Teglemeier’s Smile and Sisters. I understand the genius behind choosing an animal that is all about their ears in a book about hearing. I can get how seeing yourself as different could manifest in a decision to use an ‘other.’ For readers who are moving away from perceived childishness, it reminds us that one thing that transcends childhood is fear of isolation and loneliness. Okay, that was depressing—and the book is not depressing. El Deafo is just quite realistic and in need of the anthropomorphic.

El Deafo is going to be educational. El Deafo is going to remind people that graphic novels make for great literature for young people—especially the young grade-schoolers who won’t mind this becoming a part of their summer reading lists. It is going to make us all more thoughtful about what and how we communicate with one another. We can get creative and imagine the ways and means to cope with difficult situations.

Spoilers: Cece does find a healthy friendship by novel’s end. She learns a great deal about herself and others along the way. She’s pretty special as characters go, because she is so incredibly (painfully, at times) normal.

——

Of note: “A Note from the Author” is excellent reading as well, so do not forgo it.

recommended: for readers of Teglemeier Smile and Sisters, Hatke’s Zita Spacegirl, and Gownley’s Amelia Rules!  It will likely appeal more to readers of issue-driven books like Wonder (Palacio), Out of My Mind (Draper), and Mango-Shaped Space (Mass), but I wouldn’t eliminate those leaning toward Fantasy.

{images are Cece Bell’s}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

{comics} IRL

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

First Second (2014)

 Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

In Real Life is a perceptive and high-stakes look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture clash. –jacket copy

irl B1sFeN9CYAAeuKx

You could pick this one up for the Introduction alone. Cory Doctorow lays the ground work for Anda’s finest impulse: to affect change in the face of a social injustice. “This is a book about games and economics,” Doctorow begins. And he closes with the reminder that it is “risk” to “change the world for the better,” but there are “principled people” (like Anda) who prove willing–and able. Like the novel itself, Doctorow’s Introduction educates and inspires with plain-speaking and zero condescension. A young Anda isn’t the only one who thinks that maybe she could try to make another’s circumstances better.

You could also pick this one up based on that cover. That Jen Wang is a talented artist is evident. But it is Anda’s real life-likeness that has me enamored and intrigued. Wang sets the visual tone as to what is real. She grounds Anda, but not in order to create a dramatic contrast with the fantasy of the on-line gaming world and the avatar there-in. Anda may strengthen her self-esteem via her gaming/community (love the red-hair dye), but her ferocity stems from a compassion and intellect. In Real Life draws two worlds that bleed into the other, not in a singular direction; note how little, if at all, the color palette shifts between worlds. Anda’s avatar is not a wholly separate entity formed completely as an other (despite the design options). And neither are the other players. Anda interacts with other gamers through a variety of avenues (classroom visit, voice, chat, skype, mediating avatars). In Real Life reminds us that life exists in/on multiple platforms.

irl page-24-of-in-real-life

We need to see some of the real life implications of gaming–for the negative and positive–and In Real Life delivers. “Coarsegold Online” has upsides and downs. The upside is argued by Anda to her concerned mother. Not everyone is a perv and connecting globally broadens horizons. A downside that the novel focuses on is in the gold farming and the desire for some of the gamers to enjoy their time without a complication of ethics. Our heroine finds camaraderie in a space that also generates millions of dollars from abusive labor conditions—I’m referring to the online game-scape, but the same is said of her life back home (e.g. Anda’s school, media), as well as our very own real life comic and gaming cultures. The very spaces that can liberate can oppress, and vice versa; the comic panel and its composition… Wang’s verisimilitude in the rendering of Anda does not go unnoticed.

In Real Life is worth the complication of the female character. So Anda can look like a waif or no, go by Anda or no, and still essentially be her self. I dig how females can be both competitive and cooperative, blood-thirsty and compassionate, a leader and follower.

The online gaming world isn’t only this ‘other’ place where real people say they play pretend. Similarly, Anda’s avatar is just another visual representation of who she really is: a resourceful young woman capable of a complex range of emotion and action. Her only limitations in the imagined setting are rules or expectations imposed by her self or others. …Hmm, sounds like real life.

Anda finds success, but not without error and conflict. What sets her apart, where she finds connection on-line, is in knowing a person exists beyond the avatar/game. Liza is real to her. Raymond also becomes real. She is real. Her father evidences a connection to an event spoken about on television. Life is illustrated in the connections made between the differing realities of media.

irl 11875504

Like most good “serious” or “important” books, the creator knows how to tell a story first and foremost. First: the choice of form. Comics are a great medium for discussing gaming, and not just for the visual familiarity, but a cultural one. Girls in comics and gaming share a conversation. Comics and gaming share a counter culture and overlap in followers.

Second: Wang is excellent in her craft. A random page-flip…6 & 7. On page 7, Liza, the game-recruiter is outside of a box (panel). Page 6: human hands direct/interact with what happens on the screen. Pages 70 & 71 wordlessly seats Anda in a classroom with maps, connecting bubbles of information on a projector, and a clock. We see her considering the time difference with China, both settings connected by a centrally located smart phone operated by thumbs. On 71, Anda begins to research gold farming, not relying on just one source of information (“Sarge”). She is curious and has/uses her resources (education, technology, peers, adults).

Just as Anda’s online persona informs her physical one, the interdependence formed and flawlessly expressed between the Writer (Cory Doctorow) and Artist (Jen Wang) of In Real Life demonstrates how the plural can inhabit a single narrative. As Anda is inspired by both physical and online situations equally, learning from both to aid her in either world, In Real Life is inspired textually and visually.

I swear that In Real Life is an accessible, entertaining graphic novel with beautiful art and an engaging story. It’s just that it is also really smart and unusual that it can’t help but be talked about in some depth. Anda digs deep. She takes risks and inspires others to do the same. She moves beyond the superficial, in perception of self and others. Maybe that is one of the things I like about Anda and In Real Life, both can be fun and serious. Both can be complicated in important and entertaining ways.

{images are Jen Wang’s}

"review" · arc · fiction · series

{book} a new(er) Flavia de Luce

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 7

By Alan Bradley

ARC via NetGalley w/ gratitude to Delacorte Press*

Release Date January 6, 2015.

“Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

“No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.”–Publisher’s Comments

I hadn’t expected another Flavia de Luce novel so soon, if at all. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte 2014) closed the overarching mystery of Flavia’s mother and suggested closure for Flavia’s antics in Bishop Lacey, thus relieving the small English village of more dead bodies. I’m not complaining. In fact, I was quite giddy to see As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust show up on NetGalley. While there was no expectation we would get a glimpse of Flavia’s new situation (as suggested in The Dead), there was a curiosity of how life at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy would go. It goes well…that is, the story goes well.

One of the things I appreciate most about Alan Bradley and this series of his is his consistency of character. Sure, Flavia has grown over the course of several books, she is essentially a self that never fails to saturate the narrative in that lovely singularly dark way of hers. As it is, Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust opens with one of the most delicious Prologues ever. Bradley excels at opening a novel. The atmospheric arrives in the first sentence and settles in for the long haul. Where first person narratives splinter into multiple voices for set descriptions and the like, the de Luce novel never shifts from Flavia’s macabre and chemistry-obsessed point of view—which can be frustrating at times. She gets distracted by life-things instead of focusing solely on the case at hand. Neither is her distraction a complaint. The novels are character driven and if you’ve haven’t a fondness for Flavia near the beginning of the series, you are not going to be reading Chimney Sweepers.

We may think we have an inkling of the how the mystery will be solved, tracing the evidence as Flavia observes (straightforwardly or obliquely), Flavia will eventually withhold a conclusion. You’d think I’d tire of this formula, but I’m much too pleased that Bradley only withholds in a believable way and doesn’t cut corners by resolving the mystery in a leap even too imaginative for the clever heroine he’s constructed. No, much of the mystery of how the case will be solved is in the unpredictable nature of those life-things I mentioned. Flavia has a want to like people and belong. She requires sleep and emotions and the personalities of other characters. Bradley creates some interesting characters in Chimney Sweepers, many of whom are of Flavia’s ilk, defining Flavia’s difference in a newer way. We get a novel launching a query into whom Flavia really is and is to become. How much is she like her elder female relatives? What boundaries will she risk?

How much can one year change?

Bradley leaves some loose ends; relationships are still troubled; uncertainties still linger—some, anyway. What Bradley certainly does do is demonstrate an exhilarating ability maintain a good mystery in his heroine and her adventures. You can leave off at The Dead in their Vaulted Arches if you like and imagine the what-comes-next, or you can extend the anticipation another book, because I wasn’t expecting the way the what-comes-next is framed by this new conclusion in the Flavia de Luce series.

I really am curious: How much will one year change?

—————

*I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair review and nothing more.

 

Uncategorized

{comics} exquisite corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

originally: Cadavre exquis (Gallimard 2010)

ARC via Netgalley w/ free and fairly regarded gratitude to First Second Books. Anticipate their English translation (by Alexis Siegel): May 2015.

Zoe isn’t exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn’t recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment…and into his life.

Zoe doesn’t know Balzac from Batman, but she’s going to have to wise up fast…because Rocher has a terrible secret, and now Zoe is sitting on the literary scandal of the century.–Publisher’s copy.

Zoe is an amusing protagonist because she is atypical in literature; which is to say, she is strikingly familiar.

The translation from the French is good—not only of text, but of situation. Zoe is appropriately rendered as the wide-eyed young woman who desires more for her life. She is objectified on the job and lives with a loser of a man/lover. What she lacks in education/sophistication, she makes up for it in fortunate meetings. Two cute-meets later, Zoe finds herself where she couldn’t have imagined, yet proving she has the wiles to pull it off.

The rhythm or lack of artful transitions took some adjustment, but it suits the no-nonsense characterization; melodramatics are foiled. The brief leaps through time and the presence of those life-changing (plot-turning) meetings support the multiple meaning of the title. You’ve corpse (the dead) that is multiply “exquisite” (see OED), and you’ve “exquisite corpse:” a story created collectively. Perhaps you’ve played the game where, say, I would begin the story, the next person would add, and the third, and the fourth around a circle or in a zig-zag… Exquisite corpse is a form that removes the notion of storytelling as being a solitary act. Exquisite Corpse reminds us of the same. The publishing world involves critics and publicists and editors and readers/consumers, cover designers, the muse, etc. A book/story becomes the property of more than one individual person.

Where the “dead” writer is not without ego, Zoe actually is—she cannot afford one. Okay, there is the confidence of her youth and sexuality. Her “not exactly an intellectual type” antics makes her difficult to deal with at first, but her earnestness wins over the end. Yet however sassy and daring she is established as, is she ever more than just a body with its bundle of desires and desirability? A device… and is this a bad thing at all for the protagonist to be (can they be anything else?). I digress into my degree. I was as wonderfully entertained in a lighter reading; Bagieu’s work is capable of a great deal.

The bold color palette and black inked line work is placed in basic panel-layouts. Exquisite Corpse is deceptively simple (not unlike its protagonist and the relationships therein). Cool ghostly tones mark Zoe’s initial interactions with Tom. Is he a ghost? Yet as we learn more about Tom, the cool tones remark upon his characterization in another way.

Exquisite Corpse is accessible comic work. And I had to appreciate the decision to tell this particular tale in the comic medium versus the short story. The novel is a conversation on the high brow versus low (as well as privilege, choice, selfish desire, economics). And it is (all) couched in a humorous story I feel the Europeans really excel in telling. This European novel’s sensibility, sense of humor, and its twist are well suited for American audiences.

Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse is both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the end, I suppose I should just say Exquisite Corpse is quite the provocative graphic novel for readers of comics or no.

—————–

recommendations: Lit majors/literati; it is for those frustrated with the celebration/privilege of the Dead White Guy in Literature; it is also for those interested in a nice female graphic-fiction departure from the memoir.

"review" · cinema

{film} horns

55943

“In the aftermath of his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a young man awakens to strange horns sprouting from his temples.”–IMDb

I wasn’t sure what to expect with director Alexandre Aja’s Horns (2013), but when it opened with artful, tidy shooting, I became hopeful for more than an impressive American accent from British actor Daniel Radcliffe (Ig Perrish). Add the transitions via the logging, the biblical references, and top it all with a cinematographic color schema (high chromas and deep shadowing) and setting that calls to mind fable-creator Guillermo del Toro and I’m giddy.

Just about the time Iggy embraces the devil with a tongue-in-cheek flair, the film begins to embrace the B-rated Horror flick—except, it keeps its not-low-budget sensibilities. I hope they paid that sound-editor (Rob Bertola) handsomely. I had my eyes closed but struggled to block out the ambient sound of breaking bones and squish and gush of bodily fluids.

Horns Movie Picture (6)

The pacing begins to lag beneath an extended Trainspotting sequence. Otherwise the mystery unfolds rather nicely, if not predictably. I say predictably, but the viewer will know better than Ig and company not to underestimate the villian’s tenacity for, well, evil. The non-linear narrative is ideal, and while I found the voice-over a bit too cheesy for my palette, Sean felt I was a bit sensitive. Regardless, Ig’s disembodied moments were necessity.

Outside of the nauseating sainthood of the flattened sexy red-headed girlfriend*(Merrin Williams played by Juno Temple), the film is entertaining. It rolls the eyes and snickers. It is also kinda gross. It is a bit raunchy for the young teen (sorry Natalya), and a bit sexy. The sarcasm is lovely, and the question of wielding vengeance on behalf of the innocent is provocative.

Put yourself in good humor (especially if devoutly religious) and enjoy the inventiveness behind this modern day devil-origin story.**

————————

*sexual and manipulative, and yet wrings nobility out of it nonetheless (a statement in itself?). The town also lacks subtlety. But the narrative is driven by singular points of view.

**There is an intriguing left-turn discussion of: the Devil (Satan) as accuser. People are compelled to share the ugliness and act on it.

——-Horns (2013)——-

Director: Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Keith Bunin. Based on the novel by Joe Hill. Produced by Aja, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland and Cathy Schulman. Music by Robin Coudert. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes. Edited by Baxter. Production: Red Granite Picture, Mandalay Pictures. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Ig Perrish), Joe Anderson (Terry Perrish), Merrin Williams (Juno Temple), Max Minghella (Lee Torneau) and David Morse (Dale Williams).

Running Time 120 Minutes. Rated R for “sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.”