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July 2019

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 6)

Amir’s former tribe, the Halgals, have fallen upon hard times. They had needed to get Amir back to marry her to another tribe to expand their grazing lands. Because her new family wouldn’t give her up, they now have no new grazing land, and their livestock are suffering. Amir’s father, Berkhrat, strikes a bargain with their distant cousins, the Badan clan. They will attack the Eihon village and take their grazing lands for themselves. The Badan are in possession of guns and cannons they’ve purchased from the Russians, so it should be an easy fight. Amir’s older brother, Azel, is uneasy with the eagerness with which his father accepted the bargain, and is concerned for the life of his sister, as are their cousins Joruk and Baimat. When the time comes for battle, will these 3 young men follow their elders as they are expected to?

This volume is considerably faster-paced than the manga has been so far. Mori shows versatility with both her writing and drawing here. The small, intricate details are toned down in this volume, to showcase the speed and urgency of battle, though I never found it lacking in the signature atmosphere of the series. The layout and paneling are much tighter and follow a more traditional “comic book” format, to also highlight the action.

Though of course the writing is tighter and more action-oriented as well, we still are on a close, personal level with the characters. We experience the battle from more than one vantage point, allowing us to see the whole story, and see exactly what each character is experiencing. I’m impressed that she pulled off what is essentially a character study within a battle story. If I had any doubts about her writing ability before, I certainly don’t any longer!

– Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 6). 2014.

Star Trek Discovery: Season Two

I have a secret…although I profess my love for Star Trek, I have had a hard time following this new series, and have only very recently finished the second season although the finale came out months ago. In theory, I DO like this series, as I’ve shared in the posts I wrote about the beginning of Season One and then when I finished it. But each season I’ve had some time constraints that popped up mid-season and I had to put my watching on hold, and then I struggled with finishing the final episodes.

The first season was atypical to what most Star Trek series have been like, and I came to think of it as more Star Trek-inspired than truly a Trek show. With a mid-season break, the creators seemed to do a bit of course correction and tried to hew the last few episodes of season one towards established canon. Captain Pike, the predecessor of the Enterprise’s Captain Kirk, was introduced and it seemed as if season two might try to actually be more Treky. They even cast a new Spock to be introduced as a pivotal character as the foster brother to Michael Burnham, the lead of this series. I truly enjoyed the four Short Treks that started off the season as teasers for the regular episodes to come. But alas, season two went off the rails with an extremely convoluted storyline.

*Spoiler alert* At the end of season one, Discovery meets up with Enterprise that had been on a faraway mission and sat out the recent war with the Klingons. With Captain Lorca no longer with the ship, Captain Pike is sent over to captain the USS Discovery as the USS Enterprise is docked for repairs. This sets us up to meet a young Spock who is in the midst of a mental breakdown and not anything like what we expect from TOS. Spock and Michael are brother and sister as Spock’s parents took in an orphaned Michael as a child and their connection is forced and ridiculous. There is a huge absurd storyline about a Red Angel visiting at pivotal battles to help and it ends up with the two of them needing to save ALL HUMANITY with a time-traveling space suit. In the midst of all this,  a character is brought back from the dead and my favorite character Tilly has to fight the most annoying alien ever. Three of the Short Treks tie into the narrative at the conclusion, and in the end, the crew splits up, with some of them having to go to the future with the USS Discovery.

It doesn’t bode well that many of my favorite characters were left behind in their present-day, while Michael and many of the younger crew members were sent to the future. I assume that’s not to say we will never see them again, cause come on its Star Trek; but I will miss Captain Pike, young Spock, Number One, love-struck Ash, Klingon Chancellor L’Rell and mirror-universe Georgiou. Michael was really grating on my nerves, with way too much focus on her and her earnestness, so more of her next season is not appealing. This turned out to be a pretty negative review of Discovery, but I’m not ready to give it up yet. The recently announced new Short Treks look promising and I will be all in for the new Picard series next year!

Live long and prosper, my friends!

-Nancy

The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars

I have long read and admired the blog tours that Shannon of R&R Blog Tours puts together, but typically the books didn’t match the type of blog that Kathleen and I write- until now! When Shannon let me know a manga book was in her wheelhouse, I happily accepted a spot on this blog tour. Read on to find out my thoughts on this manga novella!

The Serpent-Bearer

Welcome to The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars blog tour! Read on to learn more about this beautifully illustrated graphic novel by C.S. Johnson, and a chance to win a copy for yourself!

The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars

Publication Date: November 7th, 2018

Genre: Manga Style/ Graphic Novel

Length: 30 Pages

A tiresome task.
A deceptive dragon.
A prince that changes everything.

Ophiuchus is a celebrated warrior of the Celestial Kingdom and a warrior among the Stars. He has been always been a dutiful servant of the Prince of Stars. So when the prince asks him to watch over the crafty serpent, Naga, Ophiuchus agrees. But as time passes and discouragement—both from Naga and others—Ophiuchus wonders if the Prince of Stars was right in asking him to take on the burdens of his task.

Will Ophiuchus honor his duty, or give in to his heart’s weariness?

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My thoughts:

This short manga packed quite a punch in its allegorical tale.  Ophiuchus is a warrior that has been tasked with keeping the devious dragon Naga in line. The two have been battling for a millennium and Ophiuchus is weary and feels even the Zodiac creatures do not support him. When the two are inviting to a party by the Prince of Stars, Naga tries to plant doubt in Ophiuchus’s mind about his duty and the nature of the dragon. In a moment of weakness Ophiuchus believes Naga’s claims, but when the Prince meets with Ophiuchus he is given clarity and strength to once again take up the burden of fighting Naga.  This fable about good vs evil is clear and has Christian overtones that strengthen this novella.

The black and white art was drawn in anime style with tight panels that did not show much background. The animals and fantastic creatures of the Zodiac were well drawn with extra care to make Naga both beautiful but deadly. An opening scene showed a castle, and I would have liked to see more world-building in the scenes as the art was lovely and would have added to the story.

I enjoyed this manga, and I would recommend it to readers who are struggling and might find strength in the story. This dialogue-heavy tale could lead to deep discussions if shared with others concerning the nature of our burdens and the help we can find in our friends and in our faith.

Excerpt

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Available on Amazon!

About the Author

Author Pic

C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me

CS Johnson | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

For a chance to win your own copy of The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars, click the link below!

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The Serpent-Bearer

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R&R Book Tours

Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods

A pantheon of terrible Dark Gods has come to Earth, bringing with them death and destruction. People everywhere are renouncing their own faith in favor of the Dark Gods’, causing riots and worse. The Justice League was supposed to be their cavalry, but with their defeat, Diana and Jason are on their own. The Star Sapphires summon Wonder Woman to help them conquer their own threat, and Jason is left truly alone. Diana is left with no choice but to help the Star Sapphires, while praying Jason can hold out against the dark deities until her return…

Mostly I found myself confused with this volume. It’s now becoming painfully obvious to me that I have to read Dark Nights: Metal before I can read any further, so I can understand not only everything that has done on here, but in previous volumes as well. As I was laying on the beach reading this though, it really didn’t bother me as I went through =P The writing otherwise was still pretty solid, and it was an interesting ride for sure. The entire world embracing darker values over light, and the ensuing consequences, certainly gave me a lot to mull over. It was also fun to see Wonder Woman make a return to the Star Sapphires; she hasn’t done so since Blackest Night!

Without giving too much away, and not knowing how this plot point relates to Dark Nights: Metal (I’m sure it does somehow), I’m even more annoyed by Jason than ever. A plot point occurred to grant him potentially greater powers than Wonder Woman, or at the very least a much wider variety that he is able to access with ease. He’s starting to feel overpowered, and in a cheap way at that. His character arc is really starting to undermine years and years of history and hard work that Diana’s creators, and Diana herself, have done. As long as Jason is a part of Wonder Woman’s story, well, sorry… but I’m just not that interested.

– Kathleen

Robinson, James, Stephen Segova, and Jesus Merino. Wonder Woman (Rebirth, Vol. 8): Dark Gods. 2019.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

This true-crime graphic novel about Gary Ridgway aka the Green River Killer was surprisingly tender and an unapologetic love letter from the author to his father who was one of the lead detectives on the case. Author Jeff Jensen’s father, Detective Tom Jensen, worked the Green River case for two decades and once Ridgway was caught, he was on the task force that interviewed him for details on his crimes. Having a real-life connection to the case, similar in a way to My Friend Dahmer, made the narrative obviously more authentic and poignant.

The story begins in 1965 when a teenaged Ridgway attempts to kill a young boy just for the joy of killing. While unsuccessful, while serving in Vietnam a few years later, he begins his unhealthy fascination with prostitutes and brings that sickness home to Seattle. It is after his second divorce that he goes on his crime spree, killing most of his victims from 1982-84, although he would periodically kill for years afterward. Almost all of his dozens of victims were young prostitutes that were killed after he raped them and were dumped near the Green River.

We are introduced to Tom Jensen, who was also a soldier and joins the police force afterward, eventually becoming a respected detective. He begins investigating the case along with a large group of other detectives, but after the crimes drop off and many of the detectives are re-assigned he doggedly continues with the case. New advances in technology link several victims with a swab that was taken from Ridgway earlier, as he had been an early suspect, and he is apprehended in late 2001.

The chronology skips around in the narrative showing both Jensen and Ridgway on parallel tracks, both former soldiers and fathers, but who are polar opposites with their morality. This fresh take on the tired trope of a manhunt for a serial killer showcases Jensen’s life and work on the case, so it is more the man than the hunt we end up caring about.  It is also Jonathan Case’s artwork that brings the story into focus. Done in black and white, Case’s linework is excellent, and his moody panels expertly bring you in and out of different eras in Jensen’s and Ridgway’s lives. He captures the look of Seattle with its outlying woods and the realistic aging of the characters.

While a sobering subject matter, the book was a quick read. The author is upfront that the story is not truly non-fiction as details were changed to preserve privacy for some, and it is more a story about his father than a true recounting of Ridgway’s crimes. While there is certainly graphic content and no shying away from the horror of the killings, the story is more about good persevering in the midst of evil. For a unique take on true-crime, this book can’t be beaten.

-Nancy

Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale

Fifteen-year-old Selina Kyle has been through a lot in life already. Her mom, a waitress, has had a string of boyfriends, each crueler than the last. Dernell, the latest, tops them all. Selina reaches her breaking point and leaves home, striking out on her own and living on the streets. Her street smarts and quick, sticky fingers ensure she doesn’t go hungry or get hurt, even by the so-called Gotham Growler that’s been prowling the streets at night. When she meets Ojo, a parkour expert and fellow street kid like her, he offers her a place in his found family, and the next heist they’re planning. Selina refuses, believing she doesn’t need anyone. But maybe even lone cats need a family, every once in a while.

There was a lot going on in this one. At the forefront is Selina herself: her struggles with her home life, her feelings of hopelessness and despair, and her determination to never rely on anyone again. This is a Selina perfect for a young adult audience. Perhaps teens who read this will also be grappling their own broken homes and horrible feelings associated with it. As Selina shows us, it’s okay to open up and accept help every once in a while from those loved ones who offer it.

The review I read before it was published made it sound like the Gotham Growler was going to be a prominent part of the story, but it was very minimal. We don’t even find out who he is or why he’s attacking people in the end, which was pretty disappointing. And even though there is a thieving element, it is played down as well, to allow Selina and the tentative relationships she forges with the other street kids (and renews with one Bruce Wayne) to come forward.

Author Lauren Myracle is no stranger to teenage feelings and situations in her work (she’s written the ttyl books), but I was very surprised artist Isaac Goodhart is a relatively new face. His CV consists of a bare half-dozen titles, and this is his first DC title. Given his short career, I was amazed at the quality of his work. The whole book is in hues of deep, moody blues and purples, with pale yellow accents. His linework is precise, yet expressive. The audience will appreciate that writer nor artist held back with the deep and hurtful stuff.

As an adult, I found some plot points to be too convenient, but overall this DC Ink title will satisfy the intended YA audience. This dynamic duo pull no punches in this imagining of Selina Kyle’s teenage years. Though the story is hard, Selina’s inner strength and determination will be what stays with readers. I will be watching for more of Goodhart’s work, and I sure hope he and Myracle team up again in the future!

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale. 2019.

Home After Dark

Home After Dark by David Small is an evocative coming of age graphic novel about the dark side of the American Dream in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, which juxtaposes this supposed golden era with the realities that many faced.

Covering two years, the book starts in Ohio as thirteen year old Russell’s mother runs away with another man,  leaving him and his father alone. His morose hard-drinking father packs the two of them up and heads to California for a new start. However, the state of golden opportunities does not shine for them, and they settle in a non-descript inland town where his father gets a job working at the San Quentin jail. The two briefly rent rooms from a Chinese couple, the Mah’s, before moving into a small tract home the father buys using money from the GI Bill, as he is a Korean War veteran. Russell befriends Willie and Kurt in his neighborhood, who offer him a toxic view of masculinity, and ruins any chance he has to develop a friendship with school mate Warren, who is struggling with his identity also. During their second summer in California, his father abandons him, leaving him essentially an orphan. While the Mah’s take him in, Russell betrays them in addition to Warren, to Russell’s great regret. While you have great sympathy towards Russell, he is far from a likable character, and this haunting tale will make you look at the nostalgia of yesteryear with a different lens.

Small’s artwork is done in black and white with a grey overwash. His often wordless panels flow well throughout the chapters. Closeups of faces convey emotions effectively, as do the shadowy dream sequences. Despite the excellent art found in the book, I believe the cover picture does the novel a disservice. A distorted picture of Russell does not convey what the book is about, and might actually turn people off. I bought it for my library’s graphic novel collection because I thought so highly of Small’s earlier memoir Stiches, and although I have it displayed outward for our patrons to pick up, it has not circulated at all. I’ve seen another cover available, and I wish I had that one at my library, but this was the only cover I saw at the time I ordered it.

This disquieting book was a melancholy read and doesn’t wrap up things neatly. While you have a clue of the choice Russell will make, you know he has a tough road ahead of him no matter what.

-Nancy

Small, David. Home After Dark. 2018.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel

Offred is a Handmaid living in the service of the Commander and his wife in the Republic of Gilead. She is not allowed to read, write, hold a job or make money, nor even have any friends. Her sole duty is to bear the Commander’s children. Offred remembers a time before, when she was a free woman. The mere thought is treasonous, but she holds onto the memories like her own precious secret. When the Commander decides to indulge Offred in activities that are forbidden – playing board games, looking at magazines – she realizes that if she plays her cards right, she could be playing for her freedom.

I’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s novel, nor watched the popular TV adaptation. But I was blown away by this graphic novel adaptation by Renée Nault. I was sucked in, compelled morbidly and revoltingly to keep going, and could not put it down until the very last page. Even then I had to set it aside, savor it some more, and most importantly, think, and we all know how I love books that make me think ;D

Having not read the original novel, I’m not sure how much was omitted to pare it down to graphic novel form. I was able to figure most things out on my own, but it could have done with another few pages of exposition when it came to the nuclear fallout and the forming of the Republic of Gilead. There was mention of countries outside North America at one point, and expansion on that would have been welcome too. If these existed in the first place, they must have been edited out. I’m sure it did Atwood’s novel justice.

Nault’s artwork was incredible. It appears to have been done in ink and watercolor, in thin washes and with thin, slightly wobbly lines, echoing the uncertain and tumultuous nature of the story. Even the font was wiggly! There is an airy and yet foreboding quality in the art, as if you’re in a dream that could very quickly and easily turn into a nightmare. I was stunned by the skill and quality of Nault’s work, and will be seeking out more from her!

This graphic novel by turns repulsed and fascinated me, as I’m sure the print book will. The production of this adaptation was magnificent, and I look forward to comparing it to the original novel.

– Kathleen

Atwood, Margaret. Adapted by Renée Nault. The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel. 2019.

Surviving the City

This is a short but powerful graphic novel about two young First Nations women in Canada that face the perils of being Indigenous in the city together.

Best friends at school, Miikwan is Anishinaabe, while Dez is Inninew.  The two high schoolers bond is so tight that they completed a berry fast together, which is a rite of womanhood in their tribes. Despite their close friendship, they have each faced great trauma in their lives. Miikwan’s mother is missing and presumed dead, while Dez lives with her elderly grandmother who is facing health problems, and social services is planning on moving her into foster care.

Dez briefly runs away as Miikwan gets involved in a protest to bring attention to the crisis of stolen sisters. What makes this story especially poignant was the effective use of showing dead Native women as spirits surrounding their loved ones, and dark alien type creatures besides men that wish these woman harm. While the girls could not see these unearthly creatures, the readers could, and it ramped up the tension as you desperately hoped the girls would avoid the evil that seemed to be near them often on the city streets.

The artwork was well done, showcasing the diversity of Indigenous tribes, and spotlighting that not all tribe members live on reservations. The color palate was in warn earthen tones, and the panels flowed well on the pages, with some lovely imagery. As a stated above, the unseen presences surrounding the girls elevated the story, and drew you into their world. It also clearly showed the pride and connection they each felt about their cultural heritage, which was a direct message from the author and illustrator, who both have Native ancestry.

An afterward explained some information about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and gave some excellent statistics and further reading suggestions. I do wish this afterward had included even more information. While I have some knowledge of berry fasts and two-spirit people, I really don’t think many people outside the Indigenous community will be familiar with these terms. Some explanation within the preceding narrative text, or in the afterwards should have been added. For two other well done graphic novels about other aspects of modern Indigenous life, read The Outside Circle and Roughneck.

I applaud this book for the awareness it brings to the plight of Indigenous women and the families they leave behind. Please do further research on the crisis they face, for this situation is also present in the United States, and needs to be acknowledged.

-Nancy

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