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Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide is a famous photographer who was born in Mexico City in 1942. But, she didn’t start out wanting to be one. She wanted to be a writer when she was a girl. However, Graciela was from a wealthy and conservative family, and young girls simply didn’t have careers in the arts. When they grew up, they married, had children, and kept house. Graciela did do that for a time – until her daughter passed away. Then, she turned to the camera and what had before been only a hobby became her life’s work. She travels her home country of Mexico, and abroad to India and the United States, capturing portraits, landscapes, and birds. She looks for symbols, true reality, and death behind her lens. Her work has gone on to receive worldwide recognition and awards… and she’s not done yet.

This is quite an interesting graphic novel. It’s a memoir, a retrospective, a catalog of photographs, and an artist’s biography. Like Iturbide’s photographs, the art is all in black and white. The reason she only photographs black and white is, that’s how she feels reality is captured. Her photographs are a study in value and symbolism. There are a few within the book, and they are marvelous. The artist recreates some in his illustrations, and they are delightfully true to the source material. They are rendered with strong black lines but with gentle washes of grey to give tone.

Iturbide’s work strives toward understanding. Understanding her Mexican culture, the role of women and femininity, the juxtaposition of rural vs. modern life, and much more. Her work is held at many prestigious museums, including the Getty, who published this graphic novel. I hope it is the first of many portraits of modern artists and their work!

– Kathleen

Quintero, Isabel, and Zeke Peña. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. 2018.

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Book Love

Book love- I know it well. If you too love books, then this is the book for you!

Author Debbie Tung has created a relatable book of strips that details how bookworms feel about their beloved books. Drawn in black and white within a simple four panel format, the comic showcases a woman obsessed with books (I assume she is based on the author herself) and her understanding husband. So many of the strips hit home for me, as I have loved books since childhood. Libraries have always felt like home, so it comes as no surprise that I am a librarian, surrounded by what I love.

The premise of the book is all about book love, so there is no plot or characterization, it is ALL about loving books and sometimes avoiding interacting with people in favor of the books. Each strip can stand alone. At times the strips become a bit one-note, yet that is the basis of the book. As I do all the social media for my library, I hope some of these adorable strips become available for re-print (with author credit, of course!) because posts on book love are always a big hit at my library.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy; I just wish it was being published a few weeks earlier, so people could scoop up copies to give to the book lovers in their life. So, if you are a bibliophile, this book of comics is for you, and will be available in January!

-Nancy

Gotham City Garage (Vol. 1)

Far in the future, The Garden is the only place in America that’s worth living. It’s a safe haven… or is it? Lex Luthor created The Garden, and sure, everyone inside is out of the desert elements, living comfortably, and seemingly happy. Buuut that’s probably due to the little chips he implanted in every citizen’s head, and due to the fact that his chief enforcer is none other than the Bat. When Kara Gordon accidentally brushes with the law, she knows she needs to run or die. She escapes into the “freescape”, the world outside The Garden, the lawless world in the desert. There, she meets a group of women who roam the freescape on motorcycles, kicking Lex Luthor and his Garden where it hurts. They ride or die for each other. Kara fits right in, even as she misses her sister Barbara. Inside The Garden, Barbara tries to uncover the truth about Kara and their father – but she works closely with the Bat, and she needs to watch her every step.

Like Bombshells, this arc started originally as a figurine line that got so popular they decided to make a comic from them! This comic is so cool. I’m a sucker for alternate universe arcs, and I really got a Mad Max vibe from this one. The landscapes are really important here, to either convey the twisted security of The Garden or the hot, vast emptiness of the desert freescape. Just enough of this world is explained to keep you in the loop, but just enough is left out to keep you reading and searching for more clues. Most of all, it’s just good fun with all your favorite heroines ;D

-Kathleen

Kelly, Collin, Jackson Lanzing, Biran Ching, Aneke, and Carmen Carnero. Gotham City Garage (Vol. 1). 2018.

SoulCalibur VI

I posted a while back about the announcement and a few character reveals for SoulCalibur VI, which I was super stoked for! It was the first game I’ve preordered and actually bought for myself in a long, long time. Now that I’ve played through it a bit, I’m coming back for a full review!

SoulCalibur VI takes us back to the stage of history – the original stage of history, as chronologically it takes place before/during the first game. We have the original roster back, plus some characters introduced in later games who make sense for a prequel. Geralt from the Witcher series serves as our guest character. I believe this was done because of the negative reception of SoulCalibur V, which introduced mostly new characters who were the children or protégés of main roster characters. The new characters in SoulCalibur V, especially the protagonists, were written poorly and were very one-dimensional. In addition, the story was rushed and much too short.

Both these issues have been addressed here in SoulCalibur VI!

(Heads up: After that last paragraph I’m going to refer to any SoulCalibur game by their abbreciated SCV, SCVI, etc… it’s just so long to type! X,D)

There are two quite beefy story modes for SCVI. One, called “Libra of Soul”, plays like an RPG. You create a character and play through your own SoulCalibur story, making choices that “weigh” your soul on a set of scales. Your scale can tip towards good or evil depending on the choices you make, and affects the story as you go forward. Pretty standard RPG stuff, but we haven’t seen anything like this in a SC game before, and it’s pretty neat! The most comparable would be the “Chronicles of the Sword” mode from SCIII, but that was more of a strategy mode than an RPG (if I remember right!).

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The “Libra of Soul” map.

The second story mode is “Chronicle of Souls,” which is more of a “traditional” SC story mode. You choose a character and play through their story! It is more beefed up than in the past, and laid out in a big timeline so you can see how your favorite characters’ stories overlap and interact within the bigger picture. It’s a nice quality of life feature that I really enjoy.

One thing I don’t like about the new story modes is the lack of cinematic cutscenes. I’ve so far come across none at all in “Libra of Soul” (at about 6 hours of gameplay) and only two in the few “Chronicle of Soul” stories I’ve played. Many of your interactions are only through text, or voiceovers with subtitles, with character profiles or illustrations, even for very dramatic scenes. After most of SCV‘s story mode was conveyed with what looked like unfinished concept art and voiceover with subtitles, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. At least the art used in SCVI is much more polished, which helps. The few cutscenes I’ve seen in both story modes look so good, I can’t help wishing for more.

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A typical dialogue in “Chronicle of Souls” mode, this one between Maxi (left) and Mitsurugi (right).

As far as gameplay goes, it hasn’t changed much. They did add two new features to combat. The first is “Reversal Edge,” in which you hold down R1 (PS4) or RB (XBO) to initiate what is essentially a “Paper, Scissors, Rock” interaction with your opponent. There is a slo-mo moment in combat while you and your opponent choose your attack: Vertical, Horizontal, or Kick. Vertical beats Horizontal, Horizontal beats Kick, and Kick beats Vertical. Guess right, and you deal a bit more damage than normal and look super cool doing it! Guess wrong, and you take a bit more damage than usual. If you’ve played the Injustice games and entered a “Clash,” the mechanics are the same. It’s a way to introduce an element of chance to an otherwise skill-oriented game.

The second new combat feature (they liked doing things in twos this time!) is the “Critical Edge” move. This is a character’s signature super-powerful move. This really isn’t new, as past games have had it, but it is much easier to implement in this game. As you fight, your “Soul Gauge” increases. Once it fills, you press one button to unleash your Critical Edge. In past games, triggering it was a string of button inputs that’s impossible for me to master! I like this game’s execution much better ;D

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A Reversal Edge buildup between Sophitia (left) and Mitsurugi (right).

Visually, the game is stunning. The SoulCalibur series has very real roots in history, but has touches of fantasy that, to me, comes through in the art style. The stages, backgrounds, and characters are life-like but have something of an ethereal quality. No matter the game, each character looks polished and fresh-faced. Each stage looks of this world, and yet not. Maybe from a world like ours, but not our world exactly. This installment in the series is no exception.

I am very much enjoying the game, especially after I was so disappointed with SCV (save the character creation and Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series being the guest character!). My favorite character, Cassandra, is not part of the roster this time around. I surprised myself by choosing her older sister and series staple Sophitia over Talim, who I feel is my second best character, first time I popped in my disk. I’m decent enough with Sophitia in past games – Cassandra’s fighting style is derivative of Sophitia’s, but much faster, and I prefer speed to heavy hitting – but I don’t really go out of my way to play as Sophitia.

Somehow, for some reason, in SCVI, Sophitia just CLICKED for me. I feel like I finally got over a roadblock that had been previously holding me back. I understand her flow now, and I never could before. I had always thought of her style as “not Cassandra”… when really, Cassandra’s style is “not Sophitia”! It genuinely had never occurred to me that Sophitia’s style was her own until this game. I’m curious now to go back to previous games to see if they changed something with her between SCIV and SCVI, or if I truly do understand her style now. I can’t believe it took my favorite character’s absence to realize it! I am hoping Cassandra comes out as a DLC character, but for now… I’m content with my new favorite, Sophitia ❤

– Kathleen

Bandai Namco. SoulCalibur VI. 2018.

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My girl Sophitia! ❤

Of Dust and Blood: The Battle at Little Big Horn

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka Battle of the Greasy Grass, is featured in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel.

The reader is witness to the days preceding the battle, and the battle itself through the eyes of a scout for the 7th Calvary named Greenhaw and a Lakota Sioux warrior named Slow Hawk. Author Jim Berry, hoped to give an equitable viewpoint of the battle in this piece of historical fiction, so he framed the narrative to be from two fictional men from either side, and who interact with the real historical figures of Sitting Bull, General Custer and Crazy Horse. Berry introduces the story with information about how he collected the historical research and how he reached out to the Native American community for translation assistance and fact checking. A map, art gallery and bibliography round out the book.

We first meet Greenhaw, who is penning a letter to his lady love Rose. Many of Custer’s scouts were Native American, or were of mixed ancestry and could translate for him, but that is never addressed in the story. While brave, he just wants to make it out of the battle alive, and be reunited with Rose.  Slow Hawk is a Lakota Sioux, who wishes to avenge the death of his brother and parents. In the panel below we see him replicate his brother’s war paint on himself, in order to honor him. When Crazy Horse gifts a new horse to Slow Hawk, he is ready for battle and will do what ever it takes to win. The chaos of battle is evocatively shown, and you are thrown in the middle of the battlefield, as leaders are making split second decisions that aren’t always the best. You will root for both Greenhaw and Slow Hawk to survive, but in war nothing is certain.

The art is a wonder in this story. Val Mayerik, who has illustrated for other graphic novels such as Conan and is the co-creator of Howard the Duck, completely elevates this story. He should branch out in his art career as the way he depicts war scenes and moving horses was just outstanding! While this story is certainly an abbreviated version of the battle, Mayerik’s art helped tell much of the tale. His strong coloring and care in which he drew the Native Americans and landscapes gave an authenticity to the entire narrative.

As a history fan, as soon as I saw this graphic novel listed on NetGalley I knew that I wanted it. The device of using fictional protagonists worked, as there are other novels about the leaders on either side of the battle, and this format allowed for balanced and sympathetic portrayals of both sides.  However, there were a few choices by the author that I questioned. In the introduction, a casual mention is made of a Native American descendant of Custer, as oral tradition says that Custer had a child with a Cheyenne woman – yet this fact is disputed, so giving a small explanation should have been included for those who are not aware of the story. I applaud that the Lakota language was used in the narrative, but a dying soldier speaking Italian with no translation was also shown, to jarring effect. I came away knowing that the author really did his research and wanted to give an accurate portrayal of this controversial battle. I recommend this book, both for the historic representation and the gorgeous art!

-Nancy

LeVar Burton Reads: Season One

Ever since I discovered LeVar Burton Reads, which is an outstanding podcast showcasing short stories, I have listened to LeVar’s melodious voice on a weekly basis, and kept track of the stories through my Goodreads account. Now that I have finished season one, I am ready to share!

Kin by Bruce McAllister

Kin is a short story that builds momentum as you suddenly see how the title relates to the relationship between an Earth boy and an assassin alien. Young Kim contacts an Antalou alien and convinces him to prevent the forced abortion of his yet-to-be-born sister. At first you will wonder why this alien follows through on the boy’s request, but this quietly menacing story will show you how the mercenary alien recognizes that the two share a kinship of character. Evil can put on an innocent face and the alien knows Kim’s true nature will soon reveal itself.

The Lighthouse Keeper by Daisy Johnson

This magical realism short story tells of a solitary woman who is a lighthouse keeper. One night while swimming in the ocean she comes across a unique fish and becomes entranced with it. Worried that the local fisherman will catch it, she tries to protect it, although many townspeople think her actions strange. While the tale was poetic and filled with symbolism, I did not connect with the woman or the narrative in a larger sense.

Empty Places by Richard Parks

Empty Places, a high fantasy short story about a wizard and a rogue, started slow but ended quite satisfactorily. The wizard employs a thief to put an unknown package in the nursery of the newborn prince. The thief, having some morals, asks if the package will hurt the child and the two have a battle of wits as they journey towards the castle. While you might assume the wizard is up to no good, there was a surprising and poignant ending.

What It Means When a Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Author Lesley Nneka Arimah quickly world builds and establishes believable characters in this short story. This story is an interesting mix of magical realism, sci-fi and even folk lore with the idea that “grief counselors” can use advanced math equations to take away people’s grief. But as the story advances we learn that taking on other’s people sadness is too heavy a burden and there are repercussions. This tale is layered and you will think of the metaphors in the story long after you finished it.

Graham Greene by Percival Everett

The short story Graham Greene is refreshing, not only in how it’s told but that it is set on a Wyoming Arapaho reservation. The story subverts your expectations and details a story about Roberta, an 102 year old woman, who is looking for her son before her death. She claims she has not seen him in decades and entreats Jack, who had worked on a water project on the reservation years ago, to find him. Given a picture, but few additional details, Jack goes out into the community to search for him. Not only does Jack make some assumptions about the son, but so do people who see the picture he has (hence the name of the story). The ending is bittersweet and you will think back to Roberta’s motivation for the favor and why she specifically asked Jack to do it.

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman

This short story was sweet- no more, no less. A British matron finds an interesting chalice in a local thrift sale only to discover it is the mythical Holy Grail when Sir Galaad comes to her door in search of it. Mrs. Whitaker lives a quiet peaceful life, so her reaction to a knight requesting this holy relic is surprisingly subdued. She puts him off as she is fond of the chalice on her mantle piece- not because she is hoping for some great power for owning it. Sir Galaad persists and offers her several rewards, but she ends up giving it to him more out of kindness than any desire for what he is offering her in return. She is content in simple pleasures while he wants a grand adventure, but ultimately both are chivalrous to one another and both are happy with the end result.

The Second Bakery Attack by Haruki Murakami

The Second Bakery Attack is a short story that details an unusual robbery by newlyweds. This odd tale has a husband and wife wake up in the middle of the night ravenously hungry, and while they search their apartment fruitlessly for food, the husband shares that he once robbed a bakery store with a friend back in his college days. The wife believes they must rob another bakery store to break the curse of their hunger, but they end up robbing a Tokyo McDonalds of 30 hamburgers instead. Mysteriously the wife has a sawed-off shotgun that her husband knew nothing about, so you begin to wonder how well this married couple truly know one another.

1,000 Year Old Ghosts by Laura Chow Reeve

A bittersweet short story about how a family tried repressing memories to avoid pain, but the practice has long term consequences for the women. The story is told from the granddaughter’s perspective, and she recounts how her grandmother taught her how to remove her bad memories and pickle them in jars. The Chinese grandmother and granddaughter share a kinship, while the mother disapproved of the practice, and soon you see why. By removing the bad memories, gaps are left and the entire memory becomes corrupted. The good memories left become hazy, with no corresponding bad memories to balance them. A coping mechanism started in one generation ends up affecting future generations, and you hope that the granddaughter will stop this practice and appreciate and cope with the life she is living now.

Navigators by Mike Meginnis

This short story grew on me, as you start to realize how the title of the story ties in with the narrative. Joshua is a young boy living with his newly divorced father who bond over the RPG Legend of Silence they play together every day. The twist in the game is not to level up, but for the heroine to lose her power by the end of the game. This parallels their lives, as father and son are living in diminished circumstances, with unpaid bills and food rationing. You hurt for this little family, for as they pour their attention into navigating the game, they are not navigating real life well. Joshua’s mother is not in the story, yet her presence is felt, and you hope that once they reach the conclusion of the game, the father will find some stability for them both.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

Bi-racial Jack is a young boy who is comforted by his Chinese mother one night after a nightmare as she folds him an origami collection of paper animals. She breathes life into them and the small menagerie become Jack’s favorite play toys. But as Jack grows up, he becomes embarrassed by his mother in his American neighborhood, and tries to fit in with his peers by rejecting her language and customs. His mother becomes silent, stung by his exclusion, and his origami animals are forgotten. During his college years, Jack’s mother is dying of cancer, and only after her death does he receive a letter from her in one of the origami animals that explains how she came to be a mail-order bride to Jack’s white father. The tale of her youth was heartbreaking and explained so much, but it was too late for Jack to rectify their relationship. The excellent story about identity brought into sharp focus how some mistakes can not be fixed, and how becoming Americanized can sadly lead to rejection of one’s culture and heritage.

No Man’s Guns by Elmore Leonard

Author Elmore Leonard is known for his Western tales and crime/thrillers, some of which have been adapted to screen- Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma and Jackie Brown. In one of his earlier Western short stories, No Man’s Gun, a newly-discharged soldier runs into trouble on his journey home, and he must fight for his innocence in a case of mistaken identity. He has to convince a group that he is not an outlaw as to avoid a lynching. He narrowly avoids the quick frontier justice by out smarting someone who was trying to double-cross him, and there is a hint he will ride off into the sunset with a woman he recently met on the trail. If you are a fan of westerns, this short tale will interest you.

Goat by James McBride

When a 12 year old boy shows a talent for running, which could lead to scholarships and further schooling opportunities, a well-meaning teacher tracks down the family of her student, nicknamed Goat. She finds out the family has more needs than she ever envisioned, but she is determined to do right by the family, and helps them with paperwork that will help Goat at school and for an older brother to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. The story seems to be going in one direction, when the birth certificate twist at the conclusion of the story changes everything and puts a pall on the entire story.  That ending…no, just no.

These twelve episodes were a varied lot- different genres included magical realism, western, sci-fi, fantasy and realistic fiction. I will absolutely be listening to further episodes, as LeVar sucks you into the story no matter if you think you’ll like the story or not. Check out the podcast LeVar Burton Reads yourself, “but you don’t have to take my word for it.”

-Nancy

Hey, Kiddo

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of children’s books as Good night, Monkey Boy and the Lunch Lady series, reflects upon his childhood and family life in his graphic memoir. As a young child, Ja (as he’s known to his family) goes to live with his grandparents. He loves them, but he wants to live with his mom, like he always has. His father isn’t an option – he isn’t in the picture. The grown-ups explain that his mom had to go away for a while, but that she’ll be back soon. So Shirley and Joseph, Ja’s maternal grandparents, take on a toddler as their own children – Ja’s aunts and uncles – are finishing high school and going off to college. Ja grows up raised by his grandparents and writing letters to his mother, exchanging hand-drawn cards and replicas of cartoon characters by post. Shirley and Joe reveal to Ja after a few years go by that his mom isn’t coming back. She’s a heroin addict and she’s in jail. As Ja grows up and grows more absorbed in his art, he uses it to escape his feelings, his anger. How can he accept his mother? His family?

As someone whose family situation was similar to Jarrett’s growing up, this one hit me a little hard. As a life-long illustrator, Krosoczka’s art perfectly conveys the palpable love and pain in the pages. Loose, squiggly lines suggest tumultuous movement and a child-like innocence. The colors are somber, however. The entire book is rendered in grey scale, except for differing tones of a deep, burnt orange, at times bordering on red, for emphasizing important parts. The author’s note at the back confirm my suspicion that the mediums used were ink and Conte crayon ;D He used a mix of digital and traditional media, but I was totally fooled until I read the notes on the art: I thought it was all pen and paper. This was my first experience with his work, and I can safely say Krosoczka is, without a doubt, a master illustrator.

What makes this memoir especially unique and an intimate experience for the reader are the family artifacts used through the book. Each chapter has a title page with scans of letters, photos, Krosoczka’s childhood drawings, and even his grandparents’ wedding invitation. The vulnerability and trust it must have took to share these is monumental. Seeing these reminds the readers that this is a very real story, which makes it at once heartbreaking and inspirational. Here, Krosoczka is sharing his story, a story that many people would keep hidden out of shame or embarrassment. It may convince others to come forward and share their experiences with family addiction.

Though this is a book by a children’s author, it is not a children’s book. There are adult themes and strong language. The youngest reader I’d give this to would be a 7th or 8th grader, depending heavily on the maturity of the child. It would probably do well in teen collections. A heartfelt and masterfully illustrated memoir.

– Kathleen

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction. 2018.

The Sleeper and The Spindle

A reimagined fairytale combining parts of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into one story, that because of the author Neil Gaiman, you know will be a dark and whimsical tale.

Snow White is about to have her wedding and her happily ever after, but she’s really not into her Prince and would rather have an adventure without him. She kisses him goodbye and heads off with three dwarfs to look into a sleeping sickness she heard about in the kingdom over. You are already off-kilter from that start, and the rest of the story follows suit. When she arrives at the castle you assume you are about to meet Sleeping Beauty, and are half expecting a romance to develop between the two women. But that’s not where Gaiman goes, and the surprise ending elevates this short story.

The book is more a novella with lots of illustrations, too long and mature in theme to be a children or even a junior book, but not quite a teen book or a graphic novel either. I enjoyed the twist ending but it is really Chris Riddell’s illustrations in black and white with gold leaf that pushes the book beyond a simple fractured fairytale. His illustrations are lush and detailed, with the gold touches used to great affect. This story is worth a read, especially if your like your fairy tales a bit on the creepy side.

-Nancy

Gaiman, Neil & Chris Riddell. The Sleeper and the Spindle. 2014.

I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything.

As a mother, I feel bad and doubt myself every flippin’ day. Not a day goes by that I at least once (and up to 100+ times) ponder how I am messing up. So when this book popped up on my Goodreads suggestions list, I tracked it down.

Orli Auslander is a mum who shares her worries and regrets in 100 sketches of how exactly she feels bad. She opens the book with an introduction of how after she had her first child she began to journal and draw how she felt guilty in her daily life. In this collection she shares her worries on her parenting, sexuality, religious beliefs, extended family and the greater world around her.

(In my case it would be reversed, with me boring my family with my Star Trek thoughts)

At times she seems to over share, but the point of the book is for her to be brutally honest, and for readers to find situations in which they can relate to. I actually applaud her for showcasing her anxieties for it takes courage to admit in our social media obsessed world that we are not perfect. There are only a few people in my life I will share the REAL me with.

Auslander’s illustrations have been compared to Roz Chast’s, and I can see why. She captures the essence of the moment in a seemingly simple sketch, while letting her neurosis shine through. Her ink drawings have a distinctive feel, for she depicts expressive large eyes, and gives her pictures a swirling layered look.

As I do not watch a lot of television, I did not realize a new NBC comedy is based off this book, when I first picked it up.  I watched the pilot this morning and thought the diverse cast did a nice job with the source material. So, for anyone looking for a book on the realities of parenthood and adult life, give this collection of strips a read, and realize you are not alone!

-Nancy

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