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December 2016

The Name of the Game & A Family Matter

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Awhile back I read the classic The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner, which is considered among the first graphic novels written. A fellow blogger, Joshua @ White Tower Musings, read my post and suggested several other Eisner novels for me to read. As I enjoy his thoughtful and well written posts about “the significance of various works of literature, the authors that create them, and some effort to understand correlations between great writing and contemporary events”, I searched out these lesser known works, based off his recommendations.  I’m glad I did.

I gobbled up The Name of the Game, as I was quickly swept into the inter-generational family saga that spanned 100 years. Supposedly based off Eisner’s wife’s family, the story shows how class and appearances trump love and common decency. The Arnheim family, who are of German-Jewish descent, establish themselves in New York City and are considered a leading family in the social establishment soon after the Civil War.  As such they feel they need to further their personal and business connections by making a good marriage for their eldest son Conrad, the heir apparent to the clothing empire. Looking outside the city, they settle on the daughter of a well respected Ohio banking family, and arrange for her to meet their son. While she is smitten, he is not, and the resulting marriage is an unhappy one due to his wandering eye. The marriage ends when she dies in childbirth, and their daughter is sent  to live with her Ohio grandparents. Conrad them marries a much younger woman who is very glamorous, but their marriage is based on lies, and ends up being for show only. While they eventually have a daughter themselves, the family is only worried about appearances. The family name buffers their finances through the Depression, and others fall by the wayside due to Conrad’s ruthless ways, and the Arnheim’s continue to build their wealth. Conrad’s second daughter Rosie grows to adulthood in the counter culture 60’s and rejects the status of her family, and marries a struggling poet. Her husband Aron’s parents are thrilled to be related by marriage to the powerful Arnheim’s, and their status increases due to this connection. While Rosie felt she was breaking out of the confine’s of her upbringing, and embraces her more religious in-laws, Aron ends up joining Conrad’s firm and drags her back into the society she was anxious to escape from. Eisner’s compelling book show how class and culture can mix into a toxic sludge, and the length people go to keep up appearances can strangle out the best of intentions.

A Family Matter was a compact book, and painted a dysfunctional family with broad strokes. It had the misfortune of being read last, so to me it felt like a retread of past stories. Five adult siblings gather to celebrate their father’s 90th birthday, but we find that all of them have their own interests at heart, or have warped relationships with their father and each other. We are introduced to all the siblings in their home environments and also see vignettes of their younger lives and their troubled interactions with their father. Incest, blackmail, marital cheating, abandonment and embezzlement all come into effect in this morality play. The story had a timeless feel, so a panel with a cell phone was jarring, as much of his work is evocative of the 50’s era.  The term “A family matter” is hammered in, as to show the familial ties that bind these flawed relatives together. No one has any truly redeeming qualities, and as for the inheritance and status they seek, it is overshadowed by their greed and jealousy. The ending came as no surprise, and the narrative pauses as you know their base instincts will take over, once the shock wears off.

While Eisner can rightly be considered a giant in the comics industry, his work is not without some criticisms. After reading these books, plus A Contract With God, I noticed he has some “types” that he falls back on again and again. There are few to no regular looking characters, for women are either the seductress, the plump mothering type or the the sour matriarch. Men are the good looking blonde never-do-well, the bearded ethnic older man or the bumbling and balding portly man. Families are hard to ascertain by physical similarities, for they go straight from young and thin to old and matronly, and parents and children look nothing alike. I’ve also noticed continuity errors when he spans many years such as when the ages of the characters and what has transpired don’t match. I do have to wonder about his own personal family dynamics, as many of his stories center around maladjusted and broken families.

There are more books by Eisner that I hope to read in the future such as The Plot and The Spirit. Eisner was a pioneer in the graphic novels world, and his timeless pieces show that he was a master storyteller.

-Nancy

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Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Vol. 3

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Willingham, Bill, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Tony Akins, and Jimmy Palmiotti. Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Vol. 3. 2011.

Spring is finally arriving in New York. However, a storm is coming for Fabletown – one no one is sure they’ll survive. A spy has been uncovered by a covert agent of Bigby’s. They have been smuggling information about Fabletown’s defenses and provisions back to the Homelands, to the Adversary himself. This operation has been completely hush-hush, but it would have been forgotten anyway, with the miraculous return of a Fable from the Homelands. No one has ever escaped the Homelands since the Exodus. Around the same time, strangers in black suits and sunglasses have shown up, gathering weapons… could they be related? Could the last refuge of the Fables become their burial ground after all these years?

The first issue especially refers back to TWAU and ties up some loose ends the game left. This volume was particularly riveting: first we get some spy work, then a miraculous return laced with mistrust, and an epic battle. There is a beautiful two-page spread of the battleground. The artists did a fantastic job with both the battle shots, and with the dynamic panel layouts to keep the action moving. I’m as enthralled as ever.

– Kathleen

Also read: Book One & Book Two

March: Book Three

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Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell. March: Book Three. 2016.

The conclusion of the March trilogy of books took me longer to read than expected- but I felt that was a good thing, for I was able to truly enjoy and understand the message more fully. There were many times during my reading of the three books that I would stop and do some additional research on the person or situation described in the book, and that to me is always a good sign of a non-fiction book…I want to know MORE.

The second book ended with the tragic bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham AL in 1963, and the third books picks up there to give us a tableau of the destruction that killed four innocent girls. I appreciated that an effort was made to highlight other everyday heroes of that time period, plus share other lesser know casualties such as the two boys who lost their lives following the chaos of the Birmingham bombing. They all deserve the respect of having their stories shared and their names remembered.

Representative Lewis is honest in admitting that their was a significant amount of infighting among members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) as different agendas were presented and voted on, in how the groups could further the Civil Rights Movement. There were so many injustices being inflicted on Blacks all across the nation, especially in the south, thus there were many different perspectives on ways to combat these issues. Lewis chooses to concentrate on voting rights, although his wishes and actions don’t always match the stated goals of the SNCC. The narrative does a full circle in this book, as the undated march across the bridge in the first book is clarified in the third as being the pivotal Selma AL march to demonstrate the need for voting rights.  The march and the media attention it garnered helped push through legislation for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

As with any memoir, all recollections are those of the author and are prone to their spin on the events. While an effort is made to be fair and partial, some bias still seeps through the narrative.  John Lewis clearly aligns himself with the non-violence philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr, and throws some (mild) shade at some of his former SNCC co-leaders who took another path in the Civil Rights Movement. No matter, he is still a giant of the movement, and others can stand tall because of their different but still significant contributions.

I feel I have not given enough credit in the past two reviews to the co-author Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell. Aydin helped Lewis organize his recollections and put it together in a cohesive story. The books were originally his idea, and he masterfully connects the story arcs and did extensive research. Powell helps the books come alive, and makes the narrative flow through his powerful black and white illustrations. His work is historically accurate and he faithfully duplicates what many real people looked like, for as I did further research on some of the people, real photographs show that he captured their essence. This book series would not have been half as excellent if not for their collaboration with Representative Lewis.

While this book is the stated conclusion to the series, there remains a possibility of further stories. Who is calling on the last page and why? I’ll pick up any additional books from the amazing trio of Lewis, Aydin and Powell!

-Nancy

Review of March:Book Two can be found here.

Review of March: Book One can be found here.

Hype or Like Friday: Best Reads of 2016

So many good reads this year- some brand new series, or some that were new to us! This also marks a year that we have been blogging- as we created this blog for a school project we were working on in November 2015, and truly started adding content in December and early January. It has been quite a fun journey, and a lesson in time management to meet our (self-imposed) deadlines of posting! We’ve made friends with other bloggers, and found our tribe at WordPress!

We are connecting our best books of the year with a meme we are trying for the first time- Hype or Like Friday that we discovered on Goodreads. This meme was created by Jillian, Larkin and Britt who are book bloggers that want to share their opinions about overly hyped books.

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Nancy: My reading highlight was the Locke & Key series, written by Joe Hill and beautifully illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. Such an epic story- it had complex characters, moral dilemmas, a malevolent evil and an atmospheric setting that sucks you in.

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Kathleen: My favorite thing that I started reading this year was Fables (Vol. 1 of the Deluxe Edition). Timeless fairy tale figures living in modern New York City – what more could you ask for? The characterization is excellent, the plot twisting and riveting, and though I don’t normally like the art to vary too much, they really pick artists who fit the style of the story at any given time. Absolutely a must-read.

 

Revival

Nancy: Another series that I found outstanding was Revival, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton.  It was an atypical living dead story, in which a handful of dead suddenly came back to life. They quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. Seven of the planned eight volumes are out, and I eagerly look forward to the finale of the series early next year.

 

 

61kihhzxy3l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Kathleen: George Perez’s Wonder Woman (review coming soon!) is the acclaimed 1980’s reboot of your favorite heroine. It’s a great origin story for first time readers of Wonder Woman, as it’s easy to follow and heavily borrows the mythology from her Greek roots, which is always fascinating. The art is richly detailed, colorful, and full of light, as befitting the Amazon princess. Plus, cheesy ’80s dialogue galore! =P

 

 

 

The Outside Circle

Nancy: The Outside Circle, written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings,  tells the fictional tale of a Canadian First Nations man that comes to terms with his heritage and who begins to take responsibility for his life. The story is based on the reality that many Native people face (in Canada and the US), for the government took away thousands of children from their families over the years, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore.

 

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Kathleen: Seconds is not your typical coming-of-age story. Yeah, Katie is a 20-something who struggles with owning her own business, making friends, and with letting go of her ex… but she also gets a rare opportunity to start over by eating a magic mushroom. Soon, she starts eating one every night, but the more she tries to fix, the more she messes up. And the more she makes the house spirit angry with her. Rounded forms and warm colors belie the serious message within.

 

 

Kingdom Come

Nancy: Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross was praised by IGN with the statement, “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time”, and they were not far off the mark. I am typically more a Marvel fan, but this DC story was fantastic for the moralistic debate story line. The artwork is top notch, with a distinctive photo-realism look and holds up 20 years after first being published. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to the team’s familiarity with the history of all the superheroes!  As such, the Epilogue was a perfect ending.

 

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Kathleen: High-fantasy readers, rejoice, for there is a comic out there just for you. Kurt Busiek’s The Autumnlands takes us to a world where animals speak, weave magic, and build cities in the sky. When their magic starts disappearing, the collective of wizards casts one last spell to bring a savior to their world – but the cost is too great, sending their city plummeting to the plains below. Can they survive what horrors await them in the night? Can their champion really save them? Features gorgeous, richly detailed art and beautiful writing.

 

 

invincibleNancy: The book Invincible took me by surprise this year, for it is overshadowed by writer Robert Kirkman’s more well known project (The Walking Dead) but I felt the world building in this one volume was as strong as DC & Marvel’s superhero worlds. We meet Mark, a new superhero, who is the son of Omni-Man. Later his world is turned upside down, with a twist that will surprise you, and his life changes forever with this new knowledge. This new development is a game changer and sets up endless stories for the future. Sadly, this series is drawing to a close soon, but I will enjoy binge reading the rest of the books soon.

 

 

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Kathleen: My last one was a toss-up between Birds of Prey and Bombshells… and Birds of Prey won. I know! Strike me down where I stand!!! They both feature a wide and varied cast of female superheroes, which I love, but Birds of Prey has the core three whom you can’t help rooting for. It has been wonderful to see how Barbara, Dinah, and Helena come together and become a family despite their differences. Exotic locales, action-packed stories, and hilarious dialogue have made this series near and dear to my heart.

 

There you have it – our ten best books/series of 2016. Thank you for all the support, comments, and friendship that you’ve all given us. We are so happy to have you all with us =D Happy holidays!!! ❤

– Nancy & Kathleen

Rogue One movie review

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This movie has given my love for The Force Awakens a run for its money! Despite no Luke (♥), Leia or Han Solo it tugged at my heartstrings and made me love it too. Warning- some spoilers ahead.

Rogue One is the first atypical Star Wars movie, that isn’t part of the existing numbered series; but yet, it does better than that, it FITS into the series seamlessly. It ties up loose ends that didn’t quite make sense before, and connects the various movie and tv series together.

The movie starts by showing Jyn Erso, as a girl witnessing her mother’s death, and her father’s kidnapping by the Emperor’s troops. She is saved by a Rebel maverick who raises her for many years until it becomes too dangerous for him to do so, as she is known to be the daughter of the lead engineer of the Death Star, which put a heavy price on her head. Through some dicey interactions, she becomes entangled with some Rebels and a defector from the Death Star who knew her father. Jyn is swept into a plot that uses her connection to her father as bait to help the Rebel Alliance. A true motley group of men (see my later criticism of this) head out to get plans that will help destroy the planet killer. There are several epic battle scenes and many difficult sacrifices are made.

That the movie ends on a tragic note, is realistic. The war phrase “All gave some, but some gave all” is the sad reality of a rebellion. Yet, they make sure that connects in with another phrase used in the film, “Rebellions are built on hope”. There is a nugget of hope built into the satisfying but sad conclusion, and that then leads us into the original movie, A New Hope.

Easter eggs abound in the movie- and I adored trying to find them all. From the blue milk in the beginning, to the Rebels connections such as showing The Ghost ship, an intercom page for General Syndulla and showing the droid Chopper, and the use of the bacta tank for a certain someone. I personally was okay with the digitally recreated actor and actress used in the film, the old footage used, and for some characters to be recast or brought in again to make connections between the films. It was done well, and made sense in furthering the plot.

For all my fangirling, this movie is not perfect. Despite Jyn being absolutely kick ass, there was a dearth of other female characters. Two major ways in which the movie failed to represent was with the rebel fighters, and what the hell, why were there no female scientists on the Death Star?! There was little character development and/or background on many of the main characters, but I will give that a relative pass, due to the stand alone nature of the film.

Overall, this movie showed that Disney can do the proper research in connecting Star Wars canon together. I hate when series have major loop holes or blatantly go against what was previously said (such as when Leia says she remembers her mother, but then a “later” movie shows Padmé dying after giving birth…but I digress) so that the writers and director showed proper respect to a legion of fans who notice these kind of details in the Star Wars universe. Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi and K-2SO (loved him) were fantastic additions to the Star Wars cast and if this storytelling continues, Disney will have handled the buyout of Star Wars beautifully.

So my Star Wars friends, remember, “I’m one with the force, the force is with me”!

-Nancy

Wonder Woman (III, Vol. 3): The Circle

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Simone, Gail, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson, Ron Randall, and Bernard Chang. Wonder Woman (III, Vol. 3): The Circle. 2008.

This is the start of Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman run, the last volume of which I accidentally read first and reviewed here.

Everyone knows how Wonder Woman was born. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta, sculpted a baby out of clay and the gods blessed it to make it come to life. All the Amazons rejoiced – or did they? A select few Amazons known only as The Circle were not so happy at her birth, but why? Why are they trying to hurt her now? Is there something Diana should know about her origins?

My favorite heroine in the hands of Gail Simone is just… asldf;j. Beautiful. This is one of the best incarnations of Wonder Woman I’ve read. She’s deadly, yet diplomatic and compassionate. She seeks truth, shows her enemies mercy, and is unafraid of her future and her possible origins. She is beautiful. This is who Wonder Woman should be and what she should be written like. I can’t wait for more.

– Kathleen

The Complete Persepolis

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Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. 2007.

I first read this  intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture, and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it, and should be read widely for the message it conveys.

The first half is about Majane Satrapi’s childhood. She is the only child of elite, well-to-do parents who have progressive ideals.  The book balances the innocence of her childhood with the greater social-political unrest that was swirling around her. As a child she did not understand all that was happening and only knew of the Iran of her present circumstances than the more liberal Iran of the past. But yet, she was aware of friends and loved ones being taken away, and sometimes killed by the Islamic Revolutionists, because of their different political beliefs.

As she became a teen, Marjane’s upbringing led her to start questioning and rebelling against the fundamentalism of the era. This put her and her family in peril, due to her lack of restraint. The last pages show her parents sending her to Europe to further her education, for her safety and theirs. While she needed to escape, for her rebellious attitude certainly would have brought ruin to her family, sending her away to boarding school in another country was heartbreaking to the whole family.

The second half of the book covers her teen years through her early 20’s. Marjane wasn’t always likable and made some terrible choices in Austria, some of her own doing, and some due to lack of an adult support system there. Eventually, she heads back to Iran after her schooling. Having felt unmoored away from home, Marjane is glad to be back home, although her time there is still tenuous due to the continuing political climate. She immerses herself back into her family and culture, and at this time collects the stories she will share in the book, Embroideries, about the secret lives of women in Iran. She has an unhappy first marriage while home, and knows that her future will need to be elsewhere if she is to lead an authentic and safe life as an adult.

I was interested in Marjane’s childhood and her teen years, as they correlate roughly to the time I was growing up. As a mother myself now, I was also interested in the perspective she had of her mother and father, for the book seemed to be a valentine to her parents and culture.  The black and white illustrations are deceptively simple, but convey so much feeling, mood and history to the reader. Bravo to the author who shared this beautiful memoir about her beloved family and society with the outside world.

-Nancy

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Top 5 Wednesday: Series That Got Worse With Each Book/Season

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Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. This week’s topic is: series that got worse with each book/season. Unfortunately, I knew immediately what I would write about!

Old Man Logan was an awesome way of restarting Wolverine’s story, and a movie based on the series will be coming out in 2017. The first book had an intriguing line up of past and future heroes and villains, and I liked the dusty western-like feel to the illustrations. But going forward, the books had an author and illustrator change, and it is now in the Secret Wars/Warzones series, and that absolutely kills it for me. This new planet in the Marvel Universe where anything goes, rubs me the wrong way. It’s sloppy storytelling, where continuity doesn’t matter and because of that, I no longer am interested in reading the rest of the series.

Marvel 1602 was penned by the famous Neil Gaiman and I loved it. I again had the problem of the artist changing in future volumes, and the rest of the series looked amateurish to me. Kathleen recently read 1602: Witch Hunter Angela and liked it, but it is now in the Secret Wars/Warzones series, which as I stated, I hate. Done.

The X Files tv series was an absolute favorite of mine for many years. Dana Scully was a tough, smart professional who was beautiful, but that attribute was secondary, for she was all business. Fox Mulder was the believer, who was good looking enough for me to appreciate, but he also was a professional that wanted to solve the mysterious cases. Their relationship was realistic, with witty banter, and a touch of romantic tension between them. I usually liked the stand alone episodes the best, because the mythology of the series started to become unwieldy. When David Duchovny left the series for awhile and two other actors were brought in, the quality went down, way down. But I refused to give up on it. I’ve watched all the movies, and I enjoyed the recent reboot. True believers never gave up on Scully and Mulder!

The YA book, Life As We Knew It, was a solid dystopian novel about if the moon got knocked off orbit and how our weather would change drastically, which led to chaos. The main character was likable, the plot was realistic and I imagined what I would do under the same circumstances. The next two books in the series continued with the same family but also introduced another family into the mix. The quality declined, but still a good trilogy. Then the author decided to tack on another book, The Shade of the Moon, and ruined the whole series for me. Read my scathing Goodreads review to understand why.

Another example of a how a fourth book undermines the earlier books, is The Giver series. The first in the series is a classic, and for good reason. The village and moral dilemmas are fully fleshed out, and youth connect with the message of the novel. The second and third books deal with other people and villages, and it doesn’t seem as if they all reside in the same world. The fourth book, makes mention of a few earlier characters from the previous three books, but is very disjointed and rambling. Just read the first in the series, and leave it at that.

So readers, do you agree with my choices? What are your thoughts on the books and series I mentioned?

-Nancy

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Fables (The Deluxe Edition): Volume 2

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Willingham, Bill, Lan Medina, Craig Hamilton, Bryan Talbot, Linda Medley, Steve Leialoha, and P. Craig Russell. Fables: The Deluxe Edition (Book Two). 2010.

Honestly I can’t read these fast enough!!! XD The first half of the book had the entire last half of the first book, which I thought was strange. Since I’d read it, I skipped ahead.

After the incident at the Farm, Rose Red is running it, and Snow White is recovering nicely from her injury. Goldilocks has escaped, but no one can find her. Turns out she’s shacking up with Bluebeard, and they can’t risk anyone finding out. Bluebeard puts Snow and Bigby under a spell and gives them instructions. They wake up in a tent the middle of nowhere, not knowing where they are or how they got there. They set off to find civilization, but something – or someone – is stalking them…

After the Storybook Love arc, the story continues with little oneshots of different Fable stories. It’s really fun to see how things are rearranged and different Fables interact. At the end there was even the written story of the first time Snow and Bigby met, complete with black and white illustrations that look like woodcuts.

This volume gave a little more insight into Bigby and Snow’s relationship, especially before the Fables relocated to the Mundy world. It also explains why Bigby smokes so much, if you played TWAU and were curious about it =P I normally don’t like when too many artists work in the same book, but in this instance, it works. I think they did a really good job of picking artists whose style reflects the particular arc or story they’re working on. Can’t wait for more!

– Kathleen

Also read: Book One & Book Three

 

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