Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: Dingo by Charles de Lint

Description: High school senior Miguel's life is turned upside down when he meets new girl Lainey, whose family has just moved from Australia. With her tumbled red-gold hair, her instant understanding of who he is, and her unusual dog a real Australian dingo, she's unforgettable. And, as he quickly learns, she is on the run from an ancient bargain made by her ancestors. There's no question that Miguel will do whatever he can to help her, but what price will each of them have to pay?

Stats: Young Adult Fantasy, 213 pages, First Published by Firebird, March 2008.

My Rating: 1.5 STARS

I was surprised by this book, very negatively surprised. Charles de Lint is a writer that knows how to write for Young Adult readers without sacrificing good storytelling. He has years upon years of writing experience, his short stories are down right enchanting, and he is the author I deem responsible in making me into a reader again with his book The Blue Girl. But Dingo feels like an entirely different writer, which has me incredibly disappointed and a little angry with this book.

Right off the bat I was a little confused, you see Dingo is not set in Newford. This book is set in a town, as the description says, "close to his beloved, invented city of Newford." Confusing? Yes. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to setting it outside of Newford, but still counting it in the Newford universe.

The story centres around Miguel. He works at the comic book/record store his dad owns even though he isn't all that into comics or records. That's where he meets Lainey, an Australian girl, who has just moved to their sea-side town. However, things get complicated when Miguel learns the secret behind Lianey's oddness and gets tangled up in an ancient bargain that threatens his life and hers (and also her dog's.)

What bothers me the most is that de Lint can do so, so much better then this. The best word I can come up with to describe the level of writing in Dingo this is not masterful, or magical, or wonderful, but stumbling. There was no real flow to the events, there was info-dumping, insane amounts of insta-love, and two manic pixie dream girls.

I really tried to love this book. I tried so hard that I was willing to be in denial and just focus on the good, but I feel let down. When things started to go bad, I hoped that it would get turned around. Maybe, just maybe, it was possible for me to still find something to enjoy in this and then the worst of it hit me.

Miguel reminds me a little of Bella. Yes, Twilight's Bella, that Bella. Miguel started off pretty well, he felt like a real teenage boy, with a very promising foundation for his character. Then he falls head over heels for a girl and essentially promises to marry her after meeting with her just five times and actually considers it. He completely shuns common sense in favour of making out on the beach. I was shocked.

The most well developed character is Miguel's dad. He was awesome, I felt like I knew him. However, the rest of the characters, the ones you're actually suppose to care about, are incredibly underwritten and undeveloped. Miguel didn't even feel like the protagonist by the end of the book, instead it felt like Johnny had taken centre stage.

Even the magical elements didn't impress. The concept was very unique with a Australian mythology twist, but the execution made it feel empty. I can't even explain it in more detail without feeling like I'm spoiling the entire book and that is not a good thing. The reveal of magic isn't a solid central idea, it's the story of the magic, the consequence of magic that make urban fantasy books interesting and engaging.

Don't even get me started on how they get out of the deadly ancient bargain thing. It was one of those things where I wonder how NO ONE THOUGHT OF IT SOONER. Seriously, the big bad had been stuck in limbo for forever and a day and it just never crossed his mind this easy little fix. I mean, come on.

I think part of the reason I'm so disappointed in this is that I champion de Lint's writing. I recommend The Blue Girl any chance I get. Now when I recommend his work I'm going to have to tack on "except for Dingo". I'm just incredibly disappointed and I feel that anyone else who is familiar with his writing will be as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: Runaways, #1: Pride and Joy by Brian K. Vaughan & Adrian Alphona

Description: All young people believe their parents are evil ... but what if they really are? Meet Alex, Karolina, Gert, Chase, Molly and Nico - whose lives are about to take an unexpected turn. When these six young friends discover their parents are all secretly super-powered villains, the shocked teens find strength in one another. Together, they run away from home and straight into the adventure of their lives - vowing to turn the tables on their evil legacy.

Stats: Superhero Comic YA Series, Volume 1, 144 pages, First Published by Marvel, April 2004.

My Rating: 4 STARS

A lot of people these days cringe when they hear the words "origin story" and I can't blame them. There's only so many times you can be told about Superman's fall to earth or how Spider-Man gets those fancy web-slingers. When it comes to the guys that have been around longer then I've been around I think it's safe to say we get the point. Despite this though, I have always had a thing for origins, especially when something new finally comes along.

Runaways has such an amazing story concept. Six kids find out that their parents are part of a very evil looking secret society and it turns out they've been keeping all sorts of secrets from their children, from superpowers to murder. Despite how awesome this all sounds, the odds that it would all work perfectly had me a little wary of Runaways. The success of an origin story has everything to do with establishing character and motive. What worried me initially was just how many introductions needed to be crammed into 144 pages. I mean, we're talking twelve parents and six kids in total. That's a lot of information on top of establishing the plot.

For the start of a series, this book actually surprised me. Not only did it manage to pull of the general introductions (although sometimes a little messily, which I can forgive) it also managed to create a sense of suspense and mystery that I wasn't expecting.

The way each teenager has their own distinct powers and personality made things really interesting. I mean, they've got it all in the stereotypical one from every click sort of way, yet they're not forcing their differences onto the reader. In this first volume the writing does a great job of making it clear that they're all in the same boat here. The only thing that bugged me about the characterization was the parents. Since they are the main antagonists I would have liked to have had more of an introduction to who they are so I could better understand their reaction to their teens going rogue.

My only other true complaint about the book would be the cover art on the paperback edition. Although I love the art inside, with it's vivid colouring and great character designs, the art on the cover makes me want to tack on a "I swear it's good.". It just doesn't do the art any sort of justice! I very much prefer the hardcover editions, which are a much better reflection of the characters and story. The paperback edition make them look more like cartoons meant for toy packaging.

Paperback Edition Cover
Runaways: Pride & Joy Premiere HC (Runaways)
Hardcover Edition Cover

Just look at the difference in tone and style! The cover on the right is much more like the art inside the book then the cover on the left. Which one would you be more likely to pick up off the shelf?

On the more positive side, and I almost hate to say this, but this is the book you should give to teenagers in their welcome to teenager-hood package. As a lot of reviewers have said before me, a large amount of the appeal is it's a question of "What would I do?" At the perfect time just when you're starting to doubt everything you've been told about life and where you fit in it, BOOM! Turns out it really was all lies! You don't only have hormones, but you have superpowers, you're parents really are evil, and now you have to deal with the consequences!

This volume one really was a promising start. I'm not only super excited to keep reading, but I want to know more about these characters, about just what is going to happen next and that note near the end filled me with glee. This is definitely going to be an interesting series!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

11389398Description: After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It's pretty terrifying. Maggie's big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn't been the same. Besides her brothers, Maggie's never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don't have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures. 

Missing mothers...distant brothers...high friends... It's a lot to deal with. But there's just one more thing.


Stats: YA Graphic Novel, 220 pages, First Published by First Second, February 2012.

My Rating: 5 STARS, A Reading Robyn Favourite. 

If you're interested in reading Friends With Boys and would like a free preview you can read the first 20 pages on the official website.

I'll just come out and say it, Friends With Boys is my favourite graphic novel I've read this year. Every graphic novel I read after this will have some stiff competition for my love. I honestly don't know if it can be done. 

Hick's is one hell of an interesting storyteller and a lot of that has to do with her artistic talent. The story itself is pretty simple. Maggie is about to make the big transition from homeschooling to her the first day of high school and with this she's going to have to get use to change. Also, there's this ghost women stalking her. All very straightforward, normal things. Where the story really comes to life is through the characters. The best sort of graphic novels are the ones where expressions say more than words. A look, a turn, a motion, all tell you everything you need to know and when paired with the perfect words it makes the story. It's a critical part of conversation and in the case of Friends With Boys it's the art that makes it stand out.

Needless to say, Hick's has quickly become my favourite person, so imagine my happiness when I realize she's done the art for Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong written by Prudence Shen. Like Friends With Boys, the praise for Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong caught my attention so much so that I've already put out a hold for it. I'm pretty sure I should just add everything First Second publishes to my to-read list. I don't normally have favourite publishers, but these people are super stars with everything from Anya's Ghost to everything Gene Luen Yang.  

In my search for everything Faith Erin Hicks I also discovered that she has a handful of webcomics, including the completed Demonology 101 and the incomplete The Adventures of Superhero Girl. You can see the full list on her official author website.

Now with all this new material to read and things to add to my list I realize I haven't talked much about the actual book I'm gushing over. 

Friends With Boys has this way of making a coming of age story both special (there's that mysterious ghost lady that I'm just going to continue to ignore) and yet also very grounded that it leaves you feeling like you know these people. You can feel the love Maggie has for her family and golly do you leave this story feeling the love. 

Each character has a stand out moment in the book, which means I want to talk about every single one of them, so here goes nothing. Everyone has their own history, which means their story doesn't start the same day Maggie's does. There is an unspoken history that everyone is dealing with. It's the way the characters weave together that brings each one of them to the forefront in a meaningful way. Aside from that they're all just adorable. From hiding behind tree's in shame, to zombie Shakespeare, to manly hugs. All I wanted to do was snuggle them. 

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a lovely read with the best possible artwork. And yes, I'm going to finish this review not talking about the ghost because really this book isn't about her... although I do seriously love her hair. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Description: Famously referred to as one of the "Axis of Evil" countries, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. In early 2001 cartoonist Guy Delisle became one of the few Westerners to be allowed access to the fortress-like country. While living in the nation's capital for two months on a work visa for a French film animation company, Delisle observed what he was allowed to see of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered; his findings form the basis of this graphic novel.

Stats: Non-Fiction Graphic Novel, 192 pages, Edition Published by Drawn and Quarterly, September 2005.

My Rating: 3 STARS

When I think of North Korea I find it incredibly difficult to wrap my head around. There are a lot of How's? and Why's? attached to it and I always leave my search for answers with more questions. One being shown on the cover of Guy Delisle's, 'Pyongyang'. When I think of North Korea I think of a country staged for a performance to the entire outside world. Sometimes it's a performance of threat and danger and other times it's a performance of perfection. Either way, what I see is something rather confusing and scary even.

In Guy Delisle's graphic novel we get a look inside of North Korea unlike most others. As a foreigner, Guy is staying in Pyongyang for two months working as an animator for a French company. This alone was fascinating. When asking the question: "Who is traveling to North Korea?" Animators wasn't among the answers I was expecting. He is given a guide and a translator that follow his every move and spends most of his time working or seeing the tourist sights.

This graphic novel is very much about the bubble he lived in as someone visiting the country. We don't get a look at North Korea overall and we don't get to see much behind the curtain of the North Korean production as Guy walks within the strict perimeters he's given. It's a different perspective then what I was expecting, but a worthwhile read for the experience of Guy's day to day life in this unseen world.  

The art in this book is a very important part of the narrative. The expressiveness and movement of the people tells you a lot about their individual character. From the foreigner friends Guy makes to the North Koreans who act as his co-workers and his guides. Although every person has an important part in the story of Guy's experiences, we don't get to know a whole lot about them. You have to rely a lot on the character design to tell you things that aren't shared in the narrative.

Speaking of character design the only let down in the art would be the design of Guy himself. This being a memoir of sorts, he has to have his own image in the story. Unfortunately, despite the fact that much of the graphic novel is about his reactions and opinions, his character was stark, simple, paired back compared to other characters, and most of the time drawn without a mouth taking away much of his facial expressions. This as a creative decision doesn't make sense to me considering the tone of the book. But the time and detail spent on the backgrounds and formatting still made the book very visually appealing.

French edition cover
What I appreciated most about Pyongyang was that as a graphic novel it was an easier read for me then if I were to sit down and attempt a 300 page novel about the country. Although it lacked the detail I hoped for about North Korea overall, it has inspired me to look into reading more about the country, especially paying consideration to the aid workers that are given more freedom and see more of the country then people in Guy's position.

Overall, I would recommend it for the curious. It was certainly an interesting introduction to the country and perfect for the graphic novel form. I'll definitely be looking to read more of Guy's travel graphic novels and maybe even more in the travel genre itself.