Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat Girl's Day OffDescription: Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.

And Nat? She can talk to cats.

The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 334 pages, First Published by Tu Books, April 2012.

My Rating: 1 Star

The best way I can describe my experience with Cat Girl's Day Off would be that it was like having a bad day. A bad day is when you wake up late, drop your toothbrush on the bathroom floor, can't find the car keys, see some young kid screaming in the grocery store, and don't get the last piece of pizza at dinner. Sure, if any of these individual moments happened on a perfectly normal day it wouldn't really matter overall, but on a bad day it's the way the little things add up and build upon each other that makes it so bad.

With Cat Girl's Day Off the overall picture is actually very pretty. The main character, Natalie Ng, is so likeable that I was rooting for her almost instantly. Her world of superpowers being less-than super is also just a really great concept for a YA novel. The way Natalie's cat communication abilities played into her personality and the plot worked very well. 

Something else I would really praise the book for is the attention paid to the social environment of teenagers. The book acknowledges the popular use of blogging, tweeting, and characters actually calling each other without making it feel like a gimmick or dating itself with references that won't work a year from now. Here we get that acknowledgement as well as incorporation in a natural way that makes the story better for it. 

I would actually compare this book to something like the Mediator series with Shadowland or The Ghost and the Goth books. You have a main character that has this special ability, only here it's cats instead of ghosts, they are then put into a situation where they have to use their secret gift to try and get to the bottom of whatever unnatural event has presented itself at their front door. They are the only one who can help, but they don't necessarily want to stick their neck out. 

Unfortunately, although I am a fan of these sort of novels where Cat Girl's Day Off goes wrong is that it just doesn't give you enough. It needed more world building, it needed more character building, it needed more urgency, it needed some serious editing, and it needed to be a series instead of a stand alone.

Where the book starts off is very promising. We are introduced to Natalie and her family dynamic of being the middle child. She's also half-Chinese, which automaticly earns diversity points and a high five. We then get introduced to her friends Oscar, who is gay/Asian, another high five, and Melly who both seem like very interesting companions. All is going well until the mystery kicks in and every character (aside from Natalie) becomes unrealistic and unbearable. This is where the bad day started.

The characters of Melly and Oscar start off pretty good and go down hill fast. Oscar and Melly just don't seem like they're really Natalie's friends. They treat her like a play thing and it's a little condescending the way they act around her. There was never a moment where it seemed like this group even had anything in common. I never understood why she hung out with them, which is a fatal flaw considering most of the book is based around their friendship.

Oscar took the brunt of my dislike. He's a lot like Jack from Will and Grace, except not over-the-top funny. There were a lot of smaller moments centred around Oscar that left me wondering what the author was trying to accomplish with this guy. And then there's Melly who was almost completely defined by her looks. Any mention of her centred around how pretty she is or how she's using her attractiveness to get something.

This happened on page 40, which was possibly the worst moment in the entire book. Melly is about to use her feminine wiles to distract this guy at the front desk of a hotel so Oscar and Natalie can sneak into the elevator to get to one of the rooms. So, Melly has gone up to this guy who is older then herself with the intent of heavily flirting with him, even though she's only sixteen. This didn't bother me because it's been done before and keeps the plot moving. However, then our Natalie turns around in the middle of her sneaking to make the point that this guy is a "Dirty old man" because he's smiling and laughing at the attention. This bothers Natalie because she says it's clear Melly "doesn't look a day over sixteen". This is followed up on page 43, with "Melly still has that perv talking to her up at the desk". These two quotes bothered me. It bothered me to the point of complete rage... actually on behalf of the guy in this situation.

I'll be the first person to point out when some dude is acting creepy or pervy, screw those guys, but let's establish something here. He is not going up to Melly and initiating this sort of behaviour. As far as Natalie or the reader knows he is not touching her, grabbing her, harassing her, demeaning her, acting suggestively towards her, or in any way behaving inappropriately. All anyone sees him doing is smiling and laughing which makes him a both a "dirty old man" and a "perv". This guy was instantly vilified in a way that wasn't at all necessary in the story. It's true that guys should be respectful, but us girls should be expected to do the same, and I did not like the message this was sending about how it was totally fine for her to flirt with him with the intent to manipulate him, but not fine that he responded to it with anything less than "You shall not pass!". 

Then there were the complete gaps in logic at the climax of the story with unrealistic character behaviour involving a hostage situation and with even more unrealistic excuses in order to drive the plot forward including the way Natalie's older sister plays role in the mystery. (To view spoilers on some specifics of what bothered me, you can check out those in my GR review.)

On top of all that there would also be times when characters would be talking about the present, but using past tense. An example being when Natalie says on page 102 "I really hated that guy" when I believe she's talking about how much she hates him in that moment.  There were also sometimes words that were a letter off, like on page 100, "I snitched some of the pages". Or the way she says that her crush has the "same eyelashes" as his mother. Or the use of little sayings in place of swear words. "monkey poo" and "flagpole sitter" being two examples. Or how the title never plays a  part in the book. Day off from what?! 

All together this made Cat Girl's Day Off into a painful read that I only finished out of the bazaar hope that things would get better. Throughout the entire story I never lost hope that it might win me back because the potential was there! 

To get back to something I said above (before I burst into flames), I mentioned how I think this should have been a series. This may seem confusing since I didn't like the book, but when you look at the Mediator by Meg Cabot as a comparison it starts to make a lot more sense. The Mediator series wouldn't have worked as a stand alone because if Cabot had to tie everything up in a nice little bow at the end of Shadowland that story wouldn't have been as good. By opening it up to be a series it left the story with somewhere to go. Cat Girl's Day Off could have benefited from that. Instead we get the most unearned Happily Ever After that I've seen in a while.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will love this book, from the description I really did think I would be one of them, but even now I can see how this would still be enjoyable for some people. However, my experience did not do the concept justice. I really wish this could have gone better or maybe, more honestly, that I had just avoided it altogether.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you want a preview of the book you can read the first three chapters online on Pauley's website.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Series Review: Lovely*Complex by Aya Nakahara

Love*Com (Lovely*Complex), Volume 1 Description: Risa Koizumi is the tallest girl in class, and the last thing she wants is the humiliation of standing next to Atsushi Otani, the shortest guy. Fate and the whole school have other ideas, and the two find themselves cast as the unwilling stars of a bizarre romantic comedy duo. Rather than bow to the inevitable, Risa and Atsushi join forces to pursue their true objects of affection. But in the quest for love, will their budding friendship become something more complex?

Stats: Young Adult Romance Manga, 17 Volumes, English Editions Published by Viz Media LLC, from 2007 to 2010.

My Overall Rating: 4 Stars 

 Although Lovely*Complex (also known as Love*Com) was only first published in the 2000's it is by far a classic of the shojo genre. For anyone who is interested in romance manga this a must read. I would even venture to say to those who are just beginning to read manga this would be a great series to start with. For me, before I had even began reading Love*Com I had already watched the anime and the live-action Japanese movie adaptation. As I have said before, it was only a matter of time before I finally got around to reading the manga, which I did ... eventually.

Love*Com (Lovely*Complex), Volume 12 The story here is beautifully simple. Both Risa and Otani have a hight complex. A girl who's too tall and a boy who's too short, in both of their cases it has gone from less than desirable to down right troubling, especially as they realize it's becoming an obstacle to getting the true object of their affections. This is only made worse when their classmates keep throwing them together as the bickering comedy duo when their interest in each other is a grand total of zilch. But instead of giving up and just admitting defeat they decide to help each other pursue romance, but things never quite go as planned. With such charming tag lines as "Love Matters, Not Size"; "The Long and the Short of First Love"; and "They put the Comedy back in Complex" you know that Risa and Otani are perfect together, despite the hight difference.

I have to take a moment here to talk about the artwork. Nakahara has done some excellent work in Love*Com with her ability to draw expressions and unique characters. When I think of her design it stands out. From the textures to the cover art, everything worked flawlessly with the tone of the series.

This is the sort of manga I call a "happy and you know it" type. This is not the place to look for emotional depth or crazy fantasy. Over the 17 volumes of Love*Com we get to see the ups and downs of a possible romance in all of its cute RomCom glory.

What really makes this manga work is its characters. Risa is the perfect female lead who is both the awkward teenage girl looking for love and the hilarious wit with just the right amount of attitude. And Otani is perfect as the cute, athletic guy who isn't a jerkface or a douche, but just a normal (although sometimes frustratingly dense) teenage boy. The secondary characters also play their respective roles very well. Most join the cast as ridiculous love rivals, but end up also becoming fun and interesting characters.

A staple of the series is the way random antagonists pop up every volume or so to challenge our young lovers. Although I found it fun to keep track of them all, it can get old rather fast. Over the whole series there is probably one too many and hashing out the same thing over and over doesn't do a lot for dynamic story development. I think the zaniness of these events is what keeps the book going, but the series does dip near the end. Thankfully it does rebounds for the finale, which left me feeling all warm and fuzy. Some people chose to stop at volume 16 since colume 17 is more of an epilogue  but it made me happy to finish the series with such a nice send off so I'd recommend checking 17 out if you haven't already.

While I was reading the series I had a lot of fun writing reviews for each of the volumes as I went with such gems as "Koizumi takes another spin on the Otani: "duur?" roller-coaster. But while Otani is off acting like a space cadet, we get introduced to a brand spankin' new character Mighty!, the newly arrived class co-teacher and substitute basketball coach. He's "Mighty Fine!" - Volume 6. All such reviews can be read on my goodreads, although I would suggest waiting till after you've finished the series or volume in question before joining me in my giggles.

Overall, Love*Com is a series that just leaves you feeling good inside, which is why I recommend it to anyone up for a smile and hopefully some fangirl fun. The only disappointment here is the more of Nakahara isn't widely available for North American readers.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá

DaytripperDescription: What are the most important days of your life? Each day in Brás's life is like a page from a book. Each one reveals the people and things who have made him who he is: his mother and father, his child and his best friend, his first love and the love of his life. And like all great stories, each day has a twist he'll never see coming...

Stats: Graphic Novel, 256 pages, First Published by Vertigo, February 2010.

My Rating: 5 Stars - A Reading Robyn Favourite! 

Daytripper isn't the type of story that I can describe to you with any justice. That's how I started the confessional I wrote in 2011 on Goodreads. When I want to say something about a book I love, but don't have the words to describe it, I call those confessionals. They're a mush of emotions and love that in no way could compare to a real thought. Sometimes, that's the best way to experience a book like Daytripper, emotionally and as fully as possible.

The beauty in this book is truly unbelievable. I've praised many graphic novels for their art before, but Daytripper is by far the best artwork I have ever seen in print. However, this book manages to go well beyond just remarkable art. So often art and story are easy to separate, but in Daytripper one could not exist without the other. Everything about this book is just so rich in imagination and emotional depth. I was lucky enough that this was one of the first graphic novels I ever read. When I first got my hands on it I had no idea of what I was getting myself into, but when you turn that first page you can tell that this is something special. It's one of those graphic novels that embraces the medium so fully that you could not imagine this story being told in any other way.

The story here is about the life story of Brás de Oliva Domingos. He's the son of a famous Brazilian writer, and dreams of one day being a writer himself, however instead he spends his days writing obituaries for the paper. But this is no ordinary life story as with the beginning of each new chapter we also experience an ending. With each new ending the world around Brás changes in drastic and unforeseen ways. This is not the hum-drum of a static life story, one beginning, one middle, one end, but instead a life much more like ours, capable of changing at any moment.

You can probably feel the vagueness of this description, but trust me, the less you know the better off you are. Go into this story with as little information as possible. Let it surprise you! I know I certainly was and that was one of the best parts. Daytripper comes with its own experience, one that personally brought me to tears.

Gabriel Bá may be a familiar name for he has also has done the artwork for the well respected Umbrella Academy series written by Gerard Way. But here he's teaming up with his twin brother, who is also an artist and writer for comics himself. Together they may very well be super-twins! They have posted tons of their art on their website and flickr. For a preview of the amazing art within Daytripper you can also check out some actual pages on their flickr as well.

I can't stress this enough, if you're ever looking for an amazing graphic novel to read, then Daytripper is it. Even though I read this book for the first time over two years ago, I still think about it to this day. A game changer, Daytripper has yet to be topped in my mind and I sometimes doubt if it ever will be.