Boo!

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic, 2016. 9780545540612.

Guest review by Robert in San Diego.

The Allende-Delmer family is moving away from sunny southern California (and their favorite regional fast food chain) to Bahia de la Luna, a fog-shrouded coastal northern California town. Older sister Cat knows she’s leaving her friends (including boyfriend Ari) not just because her Dad’s got a new job there, but because the moist salt air will help her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis.

No single world adequately describes Bahia de la Luna. Nearby neighbor boy Carlos is self employed as a ghost tour guide. The whole town takes their ghosts seriously, especially when the dead come back in their proper shapes (not their usual drifting formless shades) for the annual Dia de los Muertos party!

Cat’s nonplussed when her first new friend at her new school confesses the really cute boy she dances with has been dead for about a century. Cat doesn’t want to meet the disembodied locals. Maya, on the other hand, wants to meet ghosts. No matter how positive her outlook is (and she is very positive), she has a pressing need to know what happens when people die. The ghosts try to take some breath from Maya, not knowing she needs all she’s got. This leads to a hospital trip. The ghosts regret their error, but that mistake reinforces Cat’s defensive tendency towards her sister.

That’s not the only regret. Cat and Maya’s Mom regrets the estrangement between herself as a teen and her own mother. “I never even learned to speak fluent Spanish.” Even one of the ghosts, who Cat briefly thinks might be her grandmother, sadly confesses “No hay familia.” (“I don’t have a family.”)
Estrangement and its resolutions are the theme of Ghosts. The devoted sisters have a falling out when the almost entirely housebound Maya learns Cat hasn’t even mentioned her to Cat’s new friends. Cat and Carlos, on the outs after Maya’s hospital trip, make up thanks to traditional Mexican pastries. And Maya does finally get to question a ghost.

Pissy Primates

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang (siblings). Random House Children’s Books, 2018. 9780553537864.

Jim Panzee is having a bad day, so he’s grumpy. But Jim denies it. Some other animals teach him how not to look grumpy, but that doesn’t change how he feels. So then they try to show him how to enjoy the day. And this is the high point of the book for me — animals talking about what they enjoy. Snake (wrapped around an alarmed rabbit): “You should hug someone!” Hyena (next to a fly-ridden pile of yuck): “You should eat old meat!” Max Lang’s drawings are absolutely hilarious, especially when he gives the animals bug eyes.

Monkey Brother by Adam Auerbach. Henry Holt, 2017. 9781627796002.

A kid has a monkey for a little brother, who follows him/her everywhere, including into the bathroom. (Where, I might add, the kid is sitting on the pot reading a dinosaur picture book. Which I guess is good?) The little monkey always copies him/her, too. Irritating? Yep. But there’s a happy ending, and the drawings are totally fun. The best two-page spread is of a monkey-filled birthday party. And it all ends on a happy, natural note about little siblings (especially those with prehensile tails).

Ring My Bell

Injection Volume One by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey. Image, 2015. 9781632154798. Contains Injection #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Sarah: The pitch for Injection. (Although you sorta don’t find out ’till halfway through the book what the premise is…)
Gene: I know! But you have to have the pitch.
S: I would make someone promise: you have to read the book if I tell them why, but then they have to forget before they read the book. So: wait six months after reading this…
G: Or, like me, put it on hold at the library and then fail to remember why.
S: So a small group of people from different backgrounds in government and computing and folklore and magic get together and ask, what is the path of the future? What’s going to happen next? And what they see is a flatline. After all of this huge technological and cultural change, we’re going to go into this big lull. They try to find out how to change the world so that that doesn’t happen. And they come up with this awesome horrible idea, to combine artificial intelligence with magic with computer learning…
G: They animate an AI but they use magic, and then they release it into the internet.
S: And all of a sudden, things are happening!
G: And it turns out it can warp reality.
S: Oops. They call it the Injection. And not many people outside these folks know what’s going on.
G: Whatever it does looks like magic. Continue reading “Ring My Bell”

“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair…”

Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel adapted by Mariah Marsden and illustrated by Brenna Thummler. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017. 9781449479602. 230pp.

I’ve tried to read the original novel by L.M. Montgomery a few times — it’s a favorite of my friend Liz and her family — but it’s never hooked me. But this relentlessly colorful graphic novel finally did the trick.

Anne Shirley is a red headed orphan girl sent to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm. (It’s in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, but I don’t think that’s mentioned.) The Cuthberts wanted a boy to help out, and seem about to return Anne to the orphanage when her chattiness and sunny disposition gets the better of them, and they keep her. She falls in love with her new home, charms Matthew Cuthbert in particular, and makes a friend, all while having hilarious misadventures. The summers are green, the falls have spectacular colors, and her competition and interactions with fellow student Gilbert Blythe speak of their relationship to come.

Temps de l’Aventure

France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud’homme and Katie Pratt.  Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500519073. 208 pp.

Julia Child was a California girl who knew nothing about France and its cuisine when she and her new husband, Paul, took up residence there. She claimed she was astounded by the flavors of French food and was also shocked to be drinking wine during lunch. When Julia found out she and Paul were going to be living there a good while, she began cooking lessons to bridge her personal cultural divide. This anthology is filled with beautiful black and white photographs of the young couple, of French landmarks, and of course, of Julia teaching students how to master French cuisine. It is apparent through these pictures that Paul and Julia were very much in love with both one another and with their lifestyle.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Star Wars Darth Vader Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado. Marvel, 2016. 9781302901950. Originally published as Darth Vader #1 – #12. Publisher’s Rating: T

Gillen is an amazing storyteller, Larocca a great artist, and Delgado’s colors make every page sing. I have to confess that I’m not a huge Darth Vader fan, but the story caught my attention with its conflicts and quality, and with the fact that it’s expanding the space between stories from the movies that I already know without endlessly repeating the tropes established by the films.

The story opens after the destruction of the first Death Star (and after events in the first new Star Wars graphic novel put out by Marvel, which is also great), with Vader on Tatooine visiting Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Vader has failed his Emperor, the Empire is besieged, and a deal must be struck with the Hutt and other crime lords. Vader chafes under the command of Grand General Tagge, who assigns men to watch over him, which is a problem because Vader has his own agenda: finding the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and finding out about a man who is engaged in secret work for the Emperor. Gillen makes a few noteworthy additions to the Star Wars universe: Doctor Aphra, a young rogue archaeologist who reactivates decommissioned weapons for profit, homicidal versions of C3PO and R2D2, and a cadre of lightsaber-wielding warriors vying for Vader’s spot at the Emperor’s side. When will Vader do away with Aphra? Will the Emperor or his agents discover Vader’s personal agenda, or can he manage to hide it from Imperial investigators?

In its best moments, this graphic novel feels like a great heist movie. I’m hoping Tarantino will one day direct a film about the killer droids.

Gene & Sarah

George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl. Touchstone, 2017. 9781501162893. 288 pp.

Gene: This is George and Lizzy by Nancy Pearl.
Sarah: Who we’ve both met and both like.
G: Who I would say is a buddy of mine.
S: I own her action figure and the T-shirt that you made of her.
G: She’s awesome. I ran into her husband at my local library in September — they live close to me — when Nancy was on her book launch tour. He teaches a meditation class I need to take.
S: I feel like the few things I know about her I noticed reflected in the book, and there are probably going to be more, and the meditation class is one of them.
G: Oh my god, I didn’t think about that. So, give me your pitch for this.
S: Lizzie, when she was in high school, well her friend came up with this idea that she thought was great…her friend dropped out because this idea was insane but Lizzie did it anyway.
G: What was the idea?
S: To sleep with every member of the high school football team. Well, not every member, but the starters. And they were going to divide the starters between them, which was 11 boys each, and then they’d flip for the last one…
G: The kicker.
S: …but because her friend dropped out Lizzie decided she would do all the starters. And it’s never totally clear why she does this except she’s super pissed off at her parents and maybe kind of hopes this will shock them into caring about her.
Continue reading “Gene & Sarah”