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Graphic Novelty²

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Nancy

I'm a busy mom and teen librarian! I manage to fit in some time to be the co-writer of the blog Graphic Novelty².

One Soul

Eighteen different lives- one soul.

This ambitious book weaves together eighteen different lives, spread out through the centuries to tell a singular tale. Each page has nine panels, with the neighboring page having the other nine, thus you see eighteen lives at once, all in a similar time period of their lives. Author and illustrator Ray Fawkes created a unique mosaic, the small stories coming together to tell a grander one.

How you choose to read the story can vary, and quite honestly can be frustrating, until you find a system that works for you. After flipping through the book to get an idea of the structure, I ended up starting at the beginning and choosing one life to concentrate on and then proceeding chronologically through the book, eighteen times over. One life ends early, the panels going black to symbolize their death, with the other lives ending as various times, with one woman being the longest-lived. As you flip through the book, even if only concentrating on one panel at a time, you will start to notice patterns and themes in all eighteen lives as they proceed through life. My advice is to read this book in several different sittings, it will blur if you try to read it in one fell swoop.

The stories take place all over the world in all different eras. We start with a hunter and gatherer and end with a modern-day individual- with sad and happy stories, some people finding happiness while others endure brutal ends. They all start as innocent babies and due to circumstances and/or choices they all diverge and travel different paths until their lives end. The narrative becomes poetic, even more so when I decided to read some stories backward.

The black and white drawings were simplistic, but captured enough of the different time periods to give their stories an essence. At times the faces seem contorted and misshapen, and I found drawings of the hands to be especially blocky. Perspectives shift in the panels, sometimes to good effect, other times it seemed off. Names, locations and years are not given but you can surmise enough information to understand.

While religion was not touched on deeply, the title makes you think about the universality of life. While the eighteen lives here were all different, the goals of finding love and fulfillment are ubiquitous to all. This is a challenging book to read, and might not be to everyone’s liking, but I found the concept interesting enough to persevere.

-Nancy

18 different panels- 18 different lives

Jupiter’s Legacy

When I saw a picture of hunky Josh Duhamel dressed as a superhero in a long grey wig, I was intrigued with this new series he was going to star in. Then I heard it was based off a Mark Millar graphic novel (which could be wonderful or terrible- there is no in-between) I wanted to give the source material a read before I committed to this series that premiers today on Netflix. It starts with a common trope- can the next generation of superheroes live up to the original heroes?

Book One

Starting in 1932, we are given a brief origin story, drawn as a throw back to the pulp-style comics that were churned out in the 1920’s & 1930’s with a vibe similar to Doc Savage, The Spirit or The Phantom. This sepia-toned introduction then contrasts sharply with the brightly colored modern day, filled with jaded Millennials who are second-generation heroes, who are all children from the original six. Chloe and Brandon, the young adult children of Utopian and Lady Liberty, are bored and resentful and absolutely not living up to their potential. Utopian’s brother Walter, who has amazing powers himself, starts to slyly convince his nephew Brandon that he should overthrow his parents and the entire world government. Leaving Chloe in the dark about his evil plans, Brandon convinces his fellow super-powered assholes they should take control and then they all do terrible terrible things.

Secretly pregnant, Chloe escapes and hides out with her boyfriend Hutch, who is the son of a former villian. Their son Jason turns out to have epic powers that they try to hide, but when Brandon’s leadership proves to be a disaster (no big surprise) this little family begins to make plans when they are discovered.

The art by Frank Quitely is very strong- capably going between the different time periods and showcasing the two generations and the many characters. He has a distinctive sketchy style for faces. Most pages have a four or five panel layout with only a few splash pages per chapter. This universe stands alone- it’s not a copycat of Marvel or DC- and was fully fleshed out.

This first book was a great introduction to the characters and story and I’m ready for more!

Book Two

Chloe, Hutch and Jason are on a quest- to find or rescue so-called former villains, who are actually good compared to the super-powered “heroes” in charge now. This book moves fast through the adventures of assembling a team and Hutch finding an additional surprising ally. Brandon and Walter continue their evil ways, and finally its showdown time. Chloe comes face to face with her brother and exacts revenge in regards to what he did to their parents.

This story arc was rushed, there were threads in the narrative that were left hanging and some character’s powers were either too much or too little with no consistency. There were some interesting aspects of the story that could have been expanded such as the alien connection, but a feel-good bow was added to the conclusion to wrap up everything. However, I was a fan of how Chloe, Hutch and Jason all picked up the mantles of family members they wanted to honor, and are planning a better future for themselves and the world.

The art remained a strength- I enjoyed all the varied costumes and some interesting backgrounds were drawn in. The cat and unicorn panel was a stand-out in the story, it was unexpected and fun. Plus, I liked the ongoing joke that simply wearing glasses was an adequate disguise (hello Clark Kent!).

This two-volume series definitely has me interested in following the Netflix series. In fact, I picked up the prequels, Jupiter’s Circle, and look forward to the sequel Jupiter’s Requiem coming out soon.

-Nancy

Covid Chronicles

“True stories from the front lines of Covid-19” is the tagline for this somber but excellent collection of ten short stories about the current pandemic.

Published in December of 2020 (before another graphic novel with the same name and more contributors in February of 2021), these timely vignettes utilize the stories that NBC News used online that visualized life for front line and essential workers early in the pandemic.

These personal accounts span the globe, giving us intimate looks at people affected by this terrible world-wide crisis. Often times people become numb to mass suffering (which I first noticed during the 2004 tsunami) but connect with individual stories. Paul Slovic, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, explains: When numbers simply can’t convey the costs, there’s an infuriating paradox at play. Slovic calls it psychic numbing. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two. (Vox.com, September 5, 2017– written well before this pandemic)

The book begins with a foreword by actress and activist Alyssa Milano who warns that we will not “enjoy” these stories, instead they are to be “experienced”. And that proved to be very true- they were difficult but necessary stories that showed humanity in the midst of sorrow. The following ten accounts were interviews that Ethan Sacks the comic book author, and former journalist for the New York Daily News, conducted with acquaintances and then branched out to other people willing to share their stories and photos for the artist Dalibor Talajić to refer to when creating his evocative illustrations. The art was deceptively simple, yet conveyed great emotion.

The ten stories varied in locale (US, China, Mexico, Canada, Italy) with a mix of stories about medical staff, patients and researchers. There was an opera singer in Italy that went viral (check YouTube video at end of post), a man visiting family in Wuhan and having to stay for four months vs a few days, a street medic helping during BLM protests in Tulsa (I found the behind-the-scenes prep very inspiring), a journalist who finds out during the interview that the mother doesn’t know her adult son just died, doctors making tough calls and scientists tracking the early spread of the disease.

As the foreword warned, I did not enjoy this book, yet I am so glad I read it. It brought back memories of my anguish of having my mother hospitalized twice last summer (not with Covid) and not being able to visit her in the hospital. But it also reminded me of the kind healthcare workers who helped me speak to her daily with phone and video calls. There is a lot of kindness in the world, and this book shines a light on people who have stepped up to help during this terrible time.

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season Eight

I love being introduced to new authors by LeVar’s podcast, and then serendipitously finding that author in other works and books soon after. This podcast has really expanded my reading boundaries and I look forward to listening to a new story weekly for several months at a time while each season lasts.

Silver Door Diner by Bishop Garrison

A young boy stops in a diner and is taken under the wing of a waitress there. Thinking he is a runaway she tries to get a few answers from him, but the conversation goes sideways when he reveals he is an alien observing Earth before a nuclear war happens and a time loop occurs. Their conversation is sweet and the ending reveals that perhaps there is a chance for Earth after all.

The Takeback Tango by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse crafted an excellent layered story set in space about a crime heist but also went deeper about the evils of Imperialism and the fight against cultural appropriation. A young woman who survived a slaughter of her people on her home planet, and then later of her adopted family, wants to take back cultural artifacts from the invaders. She meets a young man at the gala she has infiltrated and while it is predictable that he will become an ally (and maybe something more) their banter was delightful. I really enjoyed this short story.

Daddy by Damion Wilson

Daddy, a short speculative fiction story, deftly combined the melancholy of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s with teleportation. The story begins grounded in the reality of a woman whose mother and sister are dead, with her recent divorce and her father’s declining mental capabilities weighing on her. When he starts appearing at locations far away from his assisted living home, she is confused. The fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the conclusion tie in nicely to this well-written tale.

Alluvial Deposits by Percival Everett

Everett is an evocative writer, he makes a town and its inhabitants come alive, so the town itself becomes a character. Robert, a Black hydrologist, needs to take water measurements in a small Utah town but runs across a racist older woman who runs him off her property but not before hurling racist insults at him. There are the required quirky small-town residents at the diner he frequents, and in the end, when he goes back with a sheriff to gain access to the property he has some compassion for the old bigot when he sees what a small life she lives. Healing and reconciliation are the themes of this short story gem.

The Regression Test by Wole Talabi

A regression test “is defined as a type of software testing to confirm that a recent program or code change has not adversely affected existing features”, and in this story, an elderly woman is asked to test some new software that is based on the mind of her mother, who was considered a genius during her lifetime. As she asks this AI some probing questions, she realizes there must be some glitches, and then the story takes a hard turn. Author Wole Talabi is also an engineer, and I like how he combined his skill set with a sci-fi twist.

Flyboys by Tobias Wolff

Flyboys was such a poignant coming-of-age story about the changing nature of friendships. Two boys are creating an elaborate airplane and realize they need a key component that a third boy has in his family barn. The boys head over to the third boy’s house, and the narrator shares that he used to be good friends with this third boy but had recently drifted away from him as he didn’t know how to handle that his friend had some medical problems and that his big brother had died. Instead of being there for his friend, he took the easy way out and befriended the rich boy, but that new friendship wasn’t balanced. The three boys work well together and the first two head back home with the part they need. What will happen next? Will the two let the third into their project and social circle? Or will they remain a twosome, excluding the third, as he was only good for what they could get from him? This story really made me look back at friendships from my youth. There were times I felt left out and discarded, but I also know there were times I did the same to others. Friendships ebb and flow, but a sudden ending of a friendship can be heartbreaking, and this story really brings that message home.

Killer of Kings by Anjali Sachdeva

This fantasy frames the real author John Milton who wrote Paradise Lost, as being inspired by an angel who becomes his muse. The angel inadvertently reveals some doubts about God’s infallibility, which works itself into his writings, and is later replaced by another angel to Milton’s dismay. This short story is solid, but I myself was not moved by it.

An Equal Share of the Bone by Karen Osborne

An Equal Share of the Bone was a melancholy sci-fi short story that grabbed me by my heart and didn’t let go. A trio of space sailors are on the hunt to kill a theriida, a type of space whale, filled with plasm that could make them rich. When they successfully capture one and begin the harvest, things go terribly awry, and hard decisions are made. Greed, loss and regret are capably shown, but a small nugget of hope remains at the end of the tale.

Salt by Rosemary Melchior

Sigga is a teen who has been banished to a penal colony on an icy island because her community declared her a witch when she spoke out against some injustices she witnessed. But her quiet determination hints that she is not to be underestimated as she leaves the relative safety of the penal settlement and heads northward towards her goal. What she is seeking to obtain revenge against those who wronged her was the perfect twist in this evocative story.

Getaway by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In this Groundhog-inspired tale, a heist goes very wrong, and the five women are caught in a never-ending time loop. The getaway driver tries hundreds of different scenarios but the outcome is always the same. But slowly as she learns from her mistakes, she realizes the loop is expanding to include more time, so perhaps sometime far in the future she will escape the loop, so she just learns to live with what she is given in the here and now.

Vaccine Season by Hannu Rajaniemi

A young boy visits his estranged grandfather in this speculative fiction tale, in hopes of giving him a vaccine that would help him in the post-pandemic world. His grandfather resists and shares some poignant back-story to explain why. In a moment of danger, the grandfather has to make a split-second decision in regards to his grandson. While it had a hopeful and thought-provoking ending, I did feel a choice was forced upon him unfairly.

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk

A sapphic love story about a teen who finds out that the magic she uses to help her girlfriend comes at a cost. The tale has fairy-tale underpinnings as Theresa Anne was given to her mother as a first-born price paid by some anonymous couple who wanted some wish granted, similar to Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. She and her mother are witches aided by magical bees with sacrifices and destiny tied up into this melancholy short story.

This was an enjoyable season with Flyboys, Salt, and The Takeback Tango being my favorites stories. Try listening to the podcast yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it”. Plus, now that the season is over, give LeVar what he wants- the Jeopardy hosting gig!

-Nancy

Ready Player Two

I adored Ready Player One, but began the sequel with trepidation. The author, Ernest Cline, had captured lightning in a bottle with the first novel as it was a perfect mix of action, adventure and nostalgia. Would the sequel live up to my expectations?

Ready Player Two takes place a few years after the conclusion of the first book. Wade Watts, the plucky teen who persevered in winning the quests and thus became the owner of the OASIS with his friends, has fallen into a funk and is quite frankly a petulant man-child. 100 pages is spent world-building and explaining what has transpired in the years since winning, for soon after winning the contest he discovers that Halliday has left him some life-changing technology. He shows the ONI suit, which is a headset that connects into your brain to give the user a fully immersive experience within the online OASIS universe, to his friends Shoto and Aech and girlfriend Art3mis. They vote if the ONI suits should be released to the public, with Art3mis being the lone dissenter and who breaks up with Wade over their differences. Wade is destroyed by this, and tries to distract himself with a new quest that has been discovered within the OASIS. But this quest has some dark underpinnings, with a rogue AI that Halliday created in his image. Halliday had an unhealthy obsession with Kira, the deceased wife of his childhood friend and co-founder Ogden, and the quest has the group searching for the Seven Shards of the Siren’s Soul. But the avatar of Halliday has turned evil and enlists the help of the villain Nolan from the last book, and puts all ONI users in danger to make Wade and his friends find the shards in one day. And so the adventure begins!

The book dives deep into certain fandoms with some of the quests centered around John Hughes movies (especially Pretty in Pink and Weird Science), the singer Prince and the Lord of the Rings universe by J.R.R. Tolkien. The story doesn’t end with the completion of the seven shards needed and there is a rather lengthy conclusion about the sanctity of life. I didn’t connect as much with the characters this time as Wade was whiny and Shoto and Aech were essentially cameos that didn’t make an impact except for their trash talking. Art3mis was the most relatable, as she alone is the voice of reason on how this new technology can alter society for the worse. The villains were ridiculous, with Nolan not needed and just thrown in the story for kicks.

As a child of the 80s, I enjoyed the nostalgia he shared in both books, but it begins to completely overload the narrative and I felt it became a vomit-fest of facts and trivia. It actually began to upset me, as there was so much emphasis put on the past and the experiences of Halliday, Og and Kira with toxic levels of nostalgia. Five years have gone by since I read RP1 and since then I have had a shift of perspectives. While I do think the 80s were a fantastic decade to grow up, who is to say that it should be lionized? Why are a few people’s past experiences better than others? This prevents others from living a full and authentic life in the here and now. I hate when people turn to the internet for all their entertainment and social contacts- they aren’t living their lives, instead they are looking to others, often celebrities, for how they think life should be lived. Before this becomes a rant on how the youth of today aren’t living right (because every single generation thinks this of a the younger ones), I do realize that everyone brings their experiences into a book and that absolutely colors their perception of it.

While this review will come across as negative, it was far from a bad book for it still had the fun elements of the first. But, I believe Cline wanted this book to have more of a message than the previous one, and he forced readers to think about how we are living too much of our lives online, and he succeeded in that. And as a side note- Wil Wheaton beautifully narrated the audio edition as he had for RP1!

-Nancy

The Department of Truth

The world is flat. The moon landing was faked. Reptilian Illuminati rule the world. Most people don’t believe these wild conspiracy theories, but what if they became real because collective belief could turn these theories into reality? That’s where the secret Department of Truth steps in.

Cole Turner, an FBI teacher who teaches about conspiracy theories at Quantico, is attending a Flat Earth conference when he is convinced to get into a plane that takes him and flat earth believers to the end of the world where he sees that, indeed, the world is flat. Astounded by this, he disembarks with the others just to have everyone gunned down but him. He is taken to a bunker where he is interrogated about what he saw. There is some insightful conversation about why wild theories take hold, often it is about a loss of control in someone’s life, and the wish for them to come up with explanations that make them feel important and justified. The director (whose name will be familiar to you) reveals he and the other agents are from the Department of Truth and recruit him to to their organization.

But the secrets go deeper than keeping fringe theories from becoming fact. Since outcomes can branch off into many different scenarios, agents need to make split-second decisions that don’t always tidy up neatly. A heartbreaking example is shown of a single mother whose child was killed in a school shooting, who begins to doubt her reality when she goes down the rabbit hole of internet rantings. She begins to believe her son was part of a “crisis-actors” set up, and he is being held hostage by shadowy officials. More theories are brought up- what if modern day presidents have been puppets with their lives manipulated- including the Bushes, Clinton, Obama and Trump, all for some grand scheme?

The artwork is sketchy, abstract, and frankly, messy at times. While it is apropos that this shadowy tale also has shadowy panels, I found it overkill at times. There were some full page spreads that had overlays of other graphics in a collage format that gave it an interesting stylistic look. The colors are muted, except for some splashes of red and the mysterious woman in a crimson dress who always wears sunglasses.

The graphic novel ends on a cliffhanger as Turner is confronted with yet another secret society, and the question begs, who is telling the truth? Who decides which secrets need to never see the light, and which should be revealed? Why was Turner recruited and who is the woman with the strange eyes that follows him? This was a promising, yet convoluted story with an X-Files vibe, that could go either way in the next volume.

-Nancy

School Library Journal reviews, part 3

I have been reviewing YA books and graphic novels for the School Library Journal magazine since 2018. I enjoy getting a sneak peek at some titles that will be coming out, as I order both genres for my library.  Reviewing is different than writing for my personal blog, as I am limited to 200-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. The magazine wishes to be transparent with descriptions regarding race, so people don’t default to thinking characters are white, so any physical descriptions of characters are now required in the review. I’ve now reviewed eighteen books for them- here are my first six and my second set of six.

Junk Boy by Tony Abbott

Gr 9 Up–Bobby Lang lives on the edge of town in a dilapidated house with his father, who is disabled and continuously drunk. The kids at school call Bobby Junk, a cruel reminder of the junk-filled property he lives on, and he tries to be invisible at school to avoid the bullying. His story is told in free verse and readers are privy to his thoughts as he ruminates on his lonely life. By accident, he witnesses a moment of violence against his classmate Rachel when her mother discovers her with her girlfriend. Bobby and Rachel bond over their outsider status, and her friendship gives him hope where earlier he felt none. Seasoned YA author Abbott crafts a nuanced story about an unlikely but desperately needed friendship between two outsiders. Both Bobby and Rachel are dealing with weak and abusive parental bonds and the damage this does to them is capably shown. Readers will cringe over what Rachel’s mother tries to force on her daughter because of her sexuality, and will hopefully be pushed to think critically about how words and actions affect others. The narrative also respectfully shows positive aspects of religion and getting mental health assistance.

VERDICT This novel-in-verse has an engaging male POV, and would be a good read-alike for those who enjoyed Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down. The message of breaking through barriers to reach out for help and being an empathetic friend are important themes for teens to understand, and makes this a definite buy for YA collections.

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder

Gr 8 Up–Newt is a young miner, described early on as “not a boy nor yet a wimmin,” who lives and works in a mine named Bearmouth. All the boys and men there are trapped by low wages, cruel management, and a draconian religion, thus dooming them to a life of servitude. The miners develop a family underground with Newt being especially close to Thomas, who is teaching the young miner to read. When a new worker named Devlin is added to their crew, Newt is wary yet drawn to him. Devlin begins to plant seeds of revolution in Newt’s mind, so when a secret is revealed and their way of life is challenged, Newt’s eyes are opened to how very trapped they all are. Debut author Hyder gives Newt a distinctive voice. The prose is written phonetically, as if Newt is sharing the story with what little knowledge of writing they have. It’s a challenge to get into the rhythm of this writing style, which may be off putting to readers, but the world-building is strong, as life in the claustrophobic mines seems to be a cross between a dystopian future and the Victorian era. There is a scene with the threat of sexual assault. Physical appearance isn’t often described, though Devlin is white and Thomas has brown skin.

VERDICT A unique story that will take readers a while to get used to. This book might be a hard sell to teens, but for those who are ready for a fresh narrative, this gripping story of hope, friendship, and revolution will be worth it.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Gr 8 Up–Amelia and Jenna, best friends since middle school, attend a literary festival after graduation, since they share a passion for “The Orman Chronicles,” a series written by the young and enigmatic N.E. Endsley. While there, curly-haired Jenna meets the author—but Amelia doesn’t, driving a wedge between the two friends just as Jenna leaves for a trip to Ireland before they start college together in the fall. While overseas, Jenna dies in a car accident, leaving her parents and Amelia grief-stricken. Soon afterward, Amelia receives a rare copy of “The Orman Chronicles” in the mail, and she is sure Jenna is behind it. She tracks the book down to an eclectic bookstore in Michigan, where she meets the elusive author, who goes by Nolan. Schumacher’s lovely debut will have romantics swooning over blonde-haired, blue-eyed Amelia and black-haired Nolan’s love story. These two teens have endured loss and family trauma, but both have found acceptance and family elsewhere, and bring out the best in each other. The novel is also an ode to the love of reading and how books can provide the magic and comfort needed during difficult times.

VERDICT Recommended for all YA collections. Readers will root for these resilient protagonists who face heartbreak and must make tough choices.

The Salt in our Blood by Ava Morgyn

Gr 8 Up–The summer before her senior year, Catia discovers that her grandmother Moony, who has been raising her, has died in her sleep. With nowhere else to turn, Cat reluctantly reaches out to her estranged mother, Mary, who brings her daughter back to her apartment in New Orleans. Her mother has been grappling with bipolar disorder for years, with extreme highs and lows that made parenting Cat impossible. A mixture of gritty realism and fantasy are intertwined unevenly as Cat moves between solving the mystery of her mother’s past and interacting with other-worldly beings. Cat begins a healthy romance with a multi-racial young man who proves to be a good balance to her dysfunctional family dynamic. Tarot cards, mysticism, and religion tie in together as Cat unearths a secret from Mary’s past that explains some of her behaviors and sets Cat on her own path of discovery. Morgyn creates an atmospheric narrative that tackles some facets of mental illness and how some youths end up taking a parental role in their relationship with a mother or father. An author’s note explains Morgyn’s connection with Mary’s secret and includes the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Cat and her family are white.

VERDICT This magical realism story would be a good addition to larger collections and might prove welcome to those who do not have traditional households.

She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard

Gr 9 Up–In this thriller, Mick, a blonde junior on the high school swim team and on the outs with her mother, begrudgingly attends a party with a friend and meets Veronica, a Chicana photographer with an edge. The two girls quickly hit it off, with Veronica taking a photograph of Mick immediately after their first kiss that becomes a sensation on Instagram, allowing her to break into the art world. Veronica introduces Mick to her best friend Nico, a 20-year-old brunette who creates subversive art in their San Diego region, and the two teens become willing participants in his illegal art installations. However, soon they are in over their heads as several murders and a raging fire occur and they become pawns in a larger scheme. Heard capably explores the tipping point in which a group can move from righteous anger to destruction when they let the adrenaline of the moment overtake reason. At what level do you go from political activist to eco-terrorist? Heard also captures the extreme highs and lows of teen romance. The imbalance in Veronica and Mick’s relationship could push teens to explore where they would draw the line on romantic boundaries and consent.

VERDICT This psychological thriller is sure to be popular with teens. A sapphic romance with elements of art, danger, and obsession, it is recommended for all YA library collections.

Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize by Margo Rabb

Gr 9 Up–Lucy Clark, a 16-year-old junior in boarding school in Texas, is mourning the loss of the grandmother who raised her, as her parents’ globe-trotting life has prevented Lucy from ever living with them. Alone and bereft, she becomes best friends with Dyna, but when the girls are involved in an altercation with some bullies, Lucy is suspended from school and sent to New York City to live with a cousin and work for an elderly woman named Edith. Lucy is immediately swept up in a mystery as Edith believes someone is trying to kill her. An eccentric group of suspects is revealed, and, in an implausible twist, Dyna joins Lucy in New York and the girls piece together the clues of who is trying to kill Edith. This story feels more like a cozy mystery for adults that was modified to fit a YA audience. The theme of creating a family of choice versus a family of origin is certainly worthwhile, but the trope of absentee parents in YA novels is taken to an extreme here. While the whimsical tone and the multigenerational connections are a plus, the mystery is far-fetched. Little description of Lucy and Dyna’s appearances is given in the narrative.

VERDICT This mystery might take some hand-selling by librarians but would be a good fit for teens who feel misunderstood and yearn to be heard.

It is a pleasure reviewing for this librarian’s magazine, and I hope to continue doing so in the future!

-Nancy

The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View

I love Star Wars! I love short stories! Together this second collection was a win-win for me, as I also loved the previous book Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View.

Forty authors celebrated forty years since The Empire Strikes Back was released by contributing a story of background or supporting characters from the ending of A New Hope to the ending of  TESB movie. What I especially like about short stories is you can read an entire story in bite-sized portions, perfect for when you are a full-time working mom like myself who has limited reading time but loves to read!  There are a few spoilers, but I did my best not to give it all away!

Eyes of the Empire by Kiersten White 4/5

An Empire soldier who is tasked with watching video feed from traveling droids around the universe clues in that the Rebels are on Hoth and alerts the command. When she realizes her intel led to much death and destruction, she lets some data from Dagobah go unreported…

Hunger by Mark Oshiro 4/5

The Wampa on Hoth that attacked Luke gets some poignant backstory. He just wanted to feed his family!

Ion Control by Emily Skrutskie 3.5/5

A Rebel soldier on Hoth helps transport her fellow soldiers off planet when the Empire finds their base.  Persevering while the base falls apart, she is determined to get as many to safety as she can.

A Good Kiss by C.B. Lee 4/5

Not every soldier gets to shine, behind-the-scenes drudge work is a necessity to keep troops fed and safe. But one soldier finally does get his turn to be a hero when his knowledge of the back tunnels proves invaluable. Plus, his crush returns his affections as they escape to safety.

She Will Keep Them Warm by Deliah S. Dawson 3.5/5

A mother Tauntaun who is used by the Rebels as transport has her own feelings about how her family herd is being utilized, but you know she will make the ultimate sacrifice to keep a certain someone warm.

Heroes of the Rebellion by Amy Ratcliffe 3/5

A reporter stationed on Hoth hopes to get exciting stories from Luke, Leia and Han as they are recognized heroes but realizes there are so many more heroic stories out there from everyday soldiers and civilians.

Rogue Two by Gary Whitta 3/5

A pilot who hates the cold worries that Han and Luke won’t make it back alive when they are caught outside at night and is the one who radios back that he found them the next morning.

Kendal by Charles Yu 4/5

Admiral Kendal Ozzel ruminates on the path that got him to the point where he is being Force-choked by Lord Vader. As he dies he realizes he made horrible choices that led to him joining the Empire vs the Rebels that his former-fiancé wanted to join. But before all that, he was just a child who loved his mother’s cooking.

Against All Odds by R.F. Kuang 4/5

Dak is a gunner for Luke, and views it as the highest honor, as both men work well together. But even the most experienced and competent soldiers can run into bad luck.

Beyond Hope by Michale Moreci 4/5

A soldier whose home planet was taken over by the Empire is looking for revenge and joins the Rebels. But this story is the opposite of the one before, as this soldier survives, less due to talent, but because of luck.

The Truest Duty by Christie Golden 4/5

General Veers of the Empire reveals he fed Admiral Ozzel some incorrect data which resulted in him making a bad move which brought down the wrath of Vader upon him. Now Veers has been promoted and will not let Vader down.

A Naturalist on Hoth by Hank Green 5/5

A dedicated scientist studying the flora and fauna of Hoth makes a radical decision when the base is attacked. This was a weird little tale, but I loved it.

The Dragonsnake Saves R2 by Katie Cook 3/5

A one-page cutesy cartoon about how the swimming alien on the planet Dagobah saved R2 from the swamp that he and Luke crash-landed on.

For The Last Time by Beth Revis 3/5

Admiral Piett of the Empire also stays true to Vader after witnessing Ozzel’s death.

Rendezvous Point by Jason Fry 5/5

This longer story highlights Wedge Antilles, a respected pilot from A New Hope who flew with Luke against the first Death Star. A new squadron needs to be assembled and he helps pull together new pilots. Many are rookies and he puts them through simulators but they need to fly out on a mission soon, and he needs to make hard decisions as he knows some won’t survive. This was an important story that shows the nitty-gritty of war.

The Final Order by Seth Dickinson 4/5

Captain Tian and Commander Canonhaus serve together on the Imperial ship Ultimatum and have a fraught conversation, as neither trusts the motives of the other. How depressing, one can never ever let their guard down as betrayals are common among them.

Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Pilot Survival (Probably) by Django Wexler 5/5

We are introduced to a likable TIE pilot who has rules for herself so she stays alive. But she breaks them when she starts to fall for another pilot.  New recruits = “cloudflies” was dark humor at its best.

The First Lesson by Jim Zub 4/5

Yoda’s thoughts when he meets impetuous Luke for the first time.

Disturbance by Mike Chen 3.5/5

Emperor Palpatine feels a great disturbance in the Force and sees a possible future play out in his mind before he summons Vader to his chambers.

This Is No Cave by Catherynne M. Valente 2/5

This is another creature POV story, this time it’s about the animal found in the asteroid belt that the Millennium Falcon needed to escape from. While I found The Baptist by Nnedi Okorafor in the previous book and Hunger by Mark Oshiro in this book solid, this was a miss for me.

Lord Vader Will See You Now by John Jackson Miller 4/5

When a story deeply centers on a minor character, it’s a clue that this person is found in non-canon Star Wars books and graphic novels. Such was the case with Rae Sloane who needs to explain her actions first to Admiral Piett then to Vader. Her instincts prove to be correct.

Vergence by Tracy Deonn 2/5

The cave that Luke was tested in on Dagobah now has a POV too. Whatever.

Tooth and Claw by Michael Kogge 3/5

The reptilian bounty-hunter Bossk has it out for Chewbacca. I’ve always thought Chewbacca should have been more developed, but this story was just about how emo Bossk is.

STETI by Daniel Jose Older 2.5/5

A story trying too hard to be clever- this is written as if it were an edited article for the Galactic Digest from a journalist who is much too close to his news source during a bloody feud in a diner.

Wait for It by Zoraida Cordova 4/5

Boba Fett is summoned by Vader along with some other bounty hunters to capture Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. He now lays in wait for his mark.

Standard Imperial Procedure by Sarwat Chadda 4.5/5

Ashon is an Imperial janitor, who was a former engineer who had a dramatic fall from grace. When he spots something that Boba Fett wants, his fate is sealed. This was a great story, but that ending…

There is Always Another by Mackenzi Lee 5/5

Obi-Wan Kenobi even in death regrets many of his past choices with Anakin. His thoughts on Yoda’s martyrdom and choice to reside of Dagobah made me laugh. When he tries to help Yoda talk Luke out of leaving his Jedi training, he compares Luke to his father and it pains him. This really humanized Obi-Wan and I loved it.

Fake It Till You Make It by Cavon Scott 3/5

Jaxxon, a rabbit-type smuggler tries to talk Lando into a shady deal on Cloud City, but Lando has other things on his mind. This scoundrel has a redeeming moment at the end, and turns out he is a character from older Star Wars graphic novels.

But What Does He Eat? by S.A. Chakraborty 3.5/5

Lando is trying to impress Vader and calls in his acclaimed head chef to cook a meal for him and the other Imperial guards. The chef does her best, but does Vader actually eat?

Beyond the Clouds by Lilliam Rivera 3/5

Isabalia is a lackluster newbie bounty hunter based out of Cloud City, but pivots when given a chance to join a new rebel movement.

No Time for Poetry by Austin Walker 3/5

Droid assassin IG-88 and bounty hunter Dengar form an unlikely partnership when hunting for Han Solo.

Bespin Escape by Martha Wells 3.5/5

A clan of alien Ugnaughts scramble to find a ship to get safety off Cloud City when the Imperial forces arrive.

Faith in an Old Friend by Brittany N. Williams 4/5

Piloting droid LS-37, last seen in the movie Solo, is now part of the Millennium Falcon’s circuitry. She still has a crush on Lando and helps get them to safety. It was nice to have a story about this droid that we got to know in a movie, and who I felt had an ignoble end there.

Due on Batuu by Rob Hart 3/5

Two Cloud City residents see an opportunity to escape with a package that could give them some coin if put in the right hands.

Into the Clouds by Karen Strong 3.5/5

A poor little rich girl and handsome pilot escape from Cloud City together- perhaps into a happily ever after.  This was a bit of a romance story that was just loosely tied to Star Wars, but I found it more appealing than I thought I would.

The Witness by Adam Christopher 4/5

Another story that gives an Imperial soldier some humanity. Deena, Stormtrooper TK-27342, has had enough and decides to desert at the siege on Cloud City. By accident she witnesses some of the battle between Vader and Luke. I was rooting for her.

The Man Who Built Cloud City by Alexander Freed 2/5

A delusional man who believes he is king of Cloud City is helped to safety by a security guard. So the guard put his own loved ones in danger to rescue this man??

The Backup Backup Plan by Anne Toole 3/5

This longer story was about the residents left behind on Cloud City who didn’t escape and how they skirt around the new Imperial law. Sure this took place in the Star Wars universe, but it didn’t relate to the movie.

Right-Hand Man by Lydia Kang 4.5/5

A medical droid completes the surgery on Luke to give him a new right cybernetic hand and has some surprisingly poignant and wise words for Luke. Clever title.

The Whills Strike Back by Tom Angleberger 5/5

Another amusing entry about how the Whills scholars decide on what to include in the word scroll in the introduction of each movie.  Loved the sly reference to Life Day! The author Angleberger did the same for the first book, and I hope he closes out the next book too.

This collection was strong and evolved from the first anthology, with less clunkers. It fleshed out some characters believably and added some diversity with some LGBTQ+ romances. My only criticisms there are too many creature POVs and Luke was shown inconsistently from story to story. Sometimes he was a wise God-like hero other times a petulant hothead. But all in all, a fun read for all Star Wars fans and I look forward to the next 40-year anniversary book for Return of the Jedi.

-Nancy

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Norma Bates

March is Women’s History Month, and both of us here at Graphic Novelty² have joined forces for the third year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series title of: Fiction’s Fearless Females! During this month, we will have six bloggers sharing who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and we will share each entry of the series on our blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full, a superb blog centered on the horror genre. 

One thing worth noting about the horror genre is that it produces images that resist quick mental erasure.  From the statuesque model who turns into a decrepit, decaying old woman in the infamous shower scene of The Shining to the bloody womb hanging limply outside the skin of Nola Carveth in The Brood, horror does nothing if not supply us with grotesque images of often monstrous women.  Psycho’s Norma Bates, then, is no exception.  In Hitchcock’s original film, Psycho, we see Norma not as a mommy so much as a stereotypical mummy; all that is left of her is a skeletal, eyeless frame and some tousled hair pulled back in a bun. We hear her character, and therefore understand her character, only through Marion Crane’s ears as the delusional Norman voices her from afar in the antiquated Victorian house on the hill outside Bates Motel.  But Norma is a famous mummy, and a famous mommy, to be sure, one who lingers in the mind of the viewer long after the theater lights go on, and one who has lingered in the cultural imagination now for sixty-one years and counting.  Significantly, Norma Bates didn’t get to speak for herself until 2013, when the hit TV show Bates Motel rescued and re-invented her character through Vera Farmiga’s portrayal of her as Norman’s mildly cooky but vivacious and loving mom.  As a woman who navigates an excruciating past, a corrupt, drug-infested city, and a psychotic son with surprising sangfroid, Norma Bates in Bates Motel is who I choose to feature this year for the annual Fiction’s Fearless Females blogathon. 

Continue reading “Fiction’s Fearless Females: Norma Bates”

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