This is my third Hoover book in as many months, and I feel the same way about her as I do Ruth Ware, that she is a solid enough writer but not to my taste. After the saccharine It Ends With Us/It Starts With Us, I was ready to tackle this book as I heard it was a departure from her previous romantic books. In one way it was, as this thriller kept me engaged the entire time. But, I had issues throughout the novel- spoilers ahead.
This Jane Eyre-inspired narrative has a novelist, Lowen, who accepts a contract to finish a set of novels that a famous author Verity is too sick to complete. Lowen has a meet-cute (or more accurately meet-horrible) with the author’s husband Jeremy who is a hottie, and then implausibly stays for weeks at the author’s grand house to look thru her manuscripts but finds a scandalous autobiography of the author who is now in a vegetable state. Verity’s autobiography details her lack of love for her three children, the death of her twin girls, and her obsession with her husband. Lowen is torn if she should show this manuscript to Jeremy, who she is falling in love with and she also suspects that Verity is not truly incapacitated.
There were so many times you need to have a suspension of disbelief- how quickly Lowen and Jeremy get involved, how Verity could fool others, plus the plot device of sleepwalking and locks on the doors. But my biggest issue was Jeremy and his amazing dick- that two women would be so infatuated with him because of how good he was in bed. The concluding pages have the requisite twist, throwing everything you assumed about Verity into question. Although I was rolling my eyes at this stage, I do admit that I liked this change-up for it makes you think about the story afterward. Considering the lackluster thrillers I have read recently, I’d rate this above many. Overall, it gets a thumb up by me, but it will probably be my last Hoover book.
Marguerite is a 27-year-old French woman who discovers she has Aspergers (now called Autism Spectrum Disorder) as an adult, and this new knowledge transforms her life.
This memoir-of-sorts is based on author Julie Dachez’s life, as she recounts her experiences through the eyes of Marguerite, in which she struggles at work and has few friends. A two-year relationship is faltering, as her reclusiveness and odd habits prevent her from socializing and engaging in activities her boyfriend would like to participate in. She eventually gets an official diagnosis through an autism center, and with the new knowledge makes changes in her personal life.
I enjoyed how color was utilized in the story, for the narrative begins in black and white with red used to symbolize outside influences that intrude on Marguerite’s fragile shell. Her diagnosis and research help her cope with life, and color is introduced as she blooms- tying into the longer title of the book, “…living a life in full color”.
I won’t lie and say that I agree with everything in the book. While I did find it enlightening for a person with Aspergers to share how the outside world affects them, I thought her too rigid and her diagnosis did seem to be an excuse for her to avoid trying to change in certain ways. I realize it goes both ways, as people who do not have neurodivergent issues need to alter their actions to accommodate those who are different. I have a close family member who recently found out that they have a mild form of autism, and this is just one of many books I am reading to understand it more and to be an ally. I am thankful for this graphic novel and hope that the author and anyone else facing similar issues continue to grow and live their best lives.
At the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, US athletes who had medaled in the 200-meter sprint, raised their hands to protest racial discrimination among their Black brethren. This brave act of activism during a time of Civil Rights unrest catapulted both of them into fame but also caused them great turmoil.
This graphic novel memoir is co-written by Derek Barnes and Tommie Smith, who was one of the two medalists. He chronicles his hardscrabble youth, as one of twelve children of a sharecropping family in Texas. As a child, his family moved to California hoping for better opportunities, and there his athletic talent was discovered. Smith was a triple threat, excelling in football, basketball and track, but he later concentrated on track once he was offered a college scholarship. A star at San Jose State he gets involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and he and Carlos decide to take a stand when they know all eyes will upon them at the Olympics. This was a sacrifice, as both were blacklisted by the white establishment, but heralded as heroes in many other circles. He endured additional discrimination for raising his fist for justice, but his later years and family life was just skimmed over in this narrative. It has only been in recent years that his sacrifice has been honored, with numerous awards and a statue of him and Carlos erected on the San Jose State campus.
The artwork by Dawud Anyabwile was kinetic, perfect for showing Smith’s active lifestyle. Illustrated in black and white, with dot matrix used for shading, the art captured the real-life people and era very well. It was reminiscent of the style used in John Lewis’s memoir March, which I believe has inspired other stories such as this one and George Takei’s, They Called Us Enemy.
As this event occurred before my birth, I was not fully aware of the significance, although I’ve seen the picture before, but didn’t know the full scope of the story. I hope this excellent memoir brings this culturally relevant story to the front of a new generation’s eyes and they can learn of the many painful contributions that others made for them!
“On the Farm all animals were equal…in the Castle some are more equal than others.”
Inspired by the classic novel Animal Farm by George Orwell, Animal Castle takes all humans out of the story and changes up enough details to keep this new narrative fresh. Originally written in French by author Xavier Dorison, this story has a European sensibility to it.
Long ago there was a castle that was abandoned by humans, so a republic was established by the left-behind animals. But years have gone by, and the story begins under the dictatorship of a bull leader, President Silvio and his dog militia who have subjugated all the other animals. Beaten down by work and threats of violence they obey, until the arrival of a traveling rat who will teach them the secrets of civil disobedience. Widowed mother cat Miss B witnesses the political killing of a friend and realizes she can stand back no longer. She tries to rally the oppressed animals but the government reacts with deadly force against those trying to organize. Is putting her and her two kittens lives in danger worth the sacrifice? This fable begs the question if there is a way to victory without violence.
The artist Felix Delep did a lovely job of humanizing the animals- showcasing the bull leader, the dog militia, and a mother cat with her adorable kittens to great effect. A muted earth-tone palette set the scene, as the animals at the castle are under siege and have little color left in their everyday lives which are filled with drudgery. Many small panels per page pushed the action forward, showcasing both whimsy and then chilling violence. Reminiscent of Stray Dogs (which I also loved) the anthropomorphic artwork is juxtaposed against a very serious narrative, and I advocated for this title to make the Top 10 list in my Graphic Novels for Adults committee. It might not have made the final shortlist, but it is on the long list.
This story is thought-provoking in our current political climate, not only here in the US, but also overseas with an obvious parallel to Putin’s attempt to conquer Ukraine. I look forward to the next volume to see what our revolutionary cat and her heroic cohorts will do to overcome their cruel oppressers.
This past year I had the honor of being on the 2022 Best Graphic Novels for Adults Committee!
I had to keep it under wraps because I was made to believe there would be super spies out there who if they knew I was on this American Library Association committee, might want to sway my votes. I took this very seriously and did not blog about any contenders until my term had wrapped in early December. I now miss my fellow committee members but do not miss the time commitment of reading a dozen or more graphic novels a month.
In preparation for the announcement of the Top 10, most of the committee filmed short videos that were added to the YouTube announcement. I show up at the 49-second mark, so tune in and see what 2022 graphic novels my wonderful committee choose as the best of the best!
Stay tuned for reviews on some of these books and others on the long list.
The entire Wastelanders podcast series comes to a close in this final season as Star-Lord, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine and Doctor Doom finally all meet!
Marching Towards the End of the World
We are given a much-needed recap about the previous adventures of the four heroes and Doctor Doom from the preceding podcast seasons. They are finally beginning to converge, with Hawkeye finding Star-Lord as he searches for Kate Bishop, and Natasha the Black Widow finding Wolverine. Doctor Doom reveals himself near Hulkland, bringing him in nearby proximity to Hawkeye and Star-Lord.
Road to Nowhere
Hawkeye and Star-Lord, the two heroes out West, travel through Zemo’s and Kraven’s former kingdoms on their way to find Bishop. Star-Lord is his usual obnoxious self, and is schooled by Hawkeye who counsels him that change needs to come slowly- they are not there for showy heroics. When they arrive at Hulkland they meet Doctor Doom who warns them of an impending crisis and wants to work with them. Should they trust him?
Heroes of Old
Now we get the Black Widow and Wolverine duo in NYC, aided by Iron Man’s Jarvis, battling Judy Stark (the baddie from BW’s season). They unexpectedly meet someone from the past who convinces them to step through a portal that takes them to…
Doom explains to Hawkeye and Star-Lord how Valeria’s unstable hold on the Cosmic Cube could destroy the planet and asks them to go on a suicide mission. They get sent thru a portal themselves, landing in a version of NYC of yesteryear. Black Widow and Wolverine realize that the Iron Man they followed is not who he claims to be, and the two pairings are on the cusp of meeting one another.
The Old Familiar Places
Valeria is determined to keep the heroes in her recreated NYC. Star-Lord is especially gullible (no surprise) because he is promised that the seed of Groot will grow there. Things do not go well.
Hawkeye and Black Widow have a poignant reunion. All four are finally together and assemble in the recreated Avengers mansion to talk strategy. Valeria and Judy Stark continue to be villainous.
The Cube fractures the four heroes into different realities- they each have to face their demons. Black Widows grapples with her guilt over Yelena, Logan grieves the loss of Jean Grey and the students, Hawkeye has to deal with the idea that (for a time) he was the only Avenger left despite him not having the powers of others, and Star-Lord has to reconcile that his Guardians team is gone and that he still wishes to remain relevant.
Star-Lord and Black Widow remain trapped in the cube, so Hawkeye and Wolverine try to extract them. They have to battle against the fake reality that the Cube is using to entice them to stay. Wolverine makes a sacrifice to save them, plus the other people trapped in the fake NYC. Will the plan Doom reveals at the end save them all, or has it just been a long con for him to gain control of the Cosmic Cube once the heroes return?
Star-Lord, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Kate Bishop battle it out with Judy Stark. Due to the reality-warping powers of the Cube, all are able to take on the powers of their fallen comrades. In the meantime, Doctor Doom and Valeria continue to have a battle of wits over who lays claim to the Cube. Doctor Doom seems to prevail in the end, but with only one episode left in the entire series, we surely know a villain will not be able to retain it.
The entire series draws to a close with this episode- which brought it home in a mostly satisfying manner. We have two showdowns- between Doctor Doom and Valeria, and the Avengers crew with Judy Stark. Doom has gained control of the Cosmic Cube, and due to the heroes briefly being trapped there, the Cube has retained their heroic attributes, thus filling Doom with the power of good. He then shares this goodness with Valeria, and they become partners, putting their villainous ways aside. This, and that Judy Stark also sees the error of her ways, was unbelievably contrived, but…I’ll let it go because it put a neat bow on the entire narrative. I was surprised they didn’t bring back to life a certain character, but his sacrifice was more meaningful that way. And of course, in the superhero world, no one remains dead forever.
I started listening to this podcast series two years ago, and I have enjoyed tuning in for each segment. I enjoyed the first two seasons with Star-Lord and Hawkeye the best and found the middle seasons with Black Widow and Wolverine the least satisfying. But the last seasons with Doctor Doom and then this concluding season, wrapped it up nicely. There were a few characters from earlier seasons I would have liked to see in this last season, such as Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde and Sophia, but also realize that may have muddied up the story with too many plot threads when they needed to concentrate on the big five. I have been impressed with many Marvel podcasts such as the two about Wolverine, the Marvels and now this one. I look forward to future podcasts from Marvel!
Written by Mark Waid, Nick Bernardone, and J. Holtham. Directed by Kimberly Senior.
Lewis and Clark…Sacagawea…exploring new lands…meeting new people…the adventure of a lifetime- what could possibly go wrong??? The reimaging of the Lewis and Clark expedition draws to a close as history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together into a unique tale about the Corps of Discovery- taking ten years from the first issue to the last, despite the real expedition only taking two and a half years!
Volume Seven: Talpa Lumbricus & Lepus
The Lewis and Clark expedition finally continues, two years after the last volume came out. I believe the author wishes to speed up the narrative, as volumes five and six had dragged with the motley crew wintering in North Dakota during which time Sacagawea gave birth to her little boy, and in this volume, they break camp and journey quite far towards the Pacific Ocean. Arches always mean danger and indeed that proves true several times, with a tribe of women who become bloodthirsty jackalopes being especially deadly for some foolish men who had other things in mind. Some well-drawn Lovecraftian creatures attack and the crew is winnowed down, but Lewis and Clark adopt a new strategy of just surviving the journey and not putting themselves or the crew in any more danger than necessary. The confusing last pages give us a cliffhanger, but with our current Covid crisis, will this series be once again delayed or even finished? (Review back from 2020)
Volume Eight: Sacrificium & Reditus
Author Chris Dingess brings the story home in this last volume! The sacrifice that has been alluded to the entire series is averted, and the final demon monster they face removes all the other deadly monsters that the Corps of Discovery encountered on their journey. They are finally able to journey back home safely, haunted by what they saw and did. The conclusion was sobering, as it was in real life, with poor Sacagawea and York getting the brunt of misfortune. That Lewis committed suicide a few years after returning, showed the toll the journey took on him. Make sure you read the notes at the end, with letters from Dingess, Roberts and the evocative colorist Owen Gieni. (On a side note- look up the meanings of all the book titles in this series- they are sly ways of hinting at what awaits you in the story!)
I struggled with this series at first, as I found the historical inaccuracies troubling, and I disliked how Sacagawea was sexualized. But I gave it another chance, and from volume two onward, I enjoyed the story (if not the pacing of the narrative). While the story arc might have started out as soldiers on a monster hunting expedition, it was Lewis & Clark, and many of their crew that turned out to be the monsters in how they acted and the choices they made. But to me, it was the art that truly made the series. Matthew Roberts did his research on the era and regions in which they are traveling through. His creatures rival Lovecraft’s with detail and imagination. From the minotaurs, plant zombies, Cthulhu-type frog creatures, Sasquatch, frightful birds and a ghostly conquistador- all were fantastic.
This was an intriguing series, and I am so glad it made it to the finish line. I assume that Dingess and Roberts had other commitments they needed to tend to pay the bills that delayed some of the later volumes, in addition to the Covid crisis. This passion project of theirs was worth the wait, and I will never look at an arch in the same way!
This beautifully written memoir of child loss is gut-wrenching, yet also affirming. The author, Rick Louis, shares the loss of his toddler son to the debilitating and always fatal Tay-Sachs disease.
He and his wife Emily were thrilled at Ronan’s birth, but within a few months, they started to notice that Ronan was not hitting developmental milestones. But it wasn’t until an eye exam, that the truth was revealed, and they discovered there is no cure, with children typically not living beyond their third year. Despite therapy, Roan’s health declined, and sadly, so did Rick and Emily’s marriage. Unfortunately, grief destroys many marriages that undergo the loss of a child, thus this was a double loss to the little family. Ronan’s death is depicted tenderly, and I ached for the parents. Despite being a mother, I actually connected much more with Rick than Emily, although he does his best to be fair to his ex-wife and what she went through.
Artist Lara Antal illustrated the bittersweet narrative in black and white with shades of blue. These colors conveyed the somber mood and gave an accurate depiction of the family. The pictures flowed into one another, using few panels. The illustrations varied from factual to whimsical and spanned the entire gamut of emotions. The art matched the tone of the book, and you can tell great care was taken to share Rick’s story with respect.
After I read the story, I looked up some of the resources listed and found out that Emily has remarried and has another child. I’m unsure if Rick has remarried or had other children, but a quote of his, “Being Ronan’s father was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Sometimes I think taking care of him was the only truly important thing I ever did in my life. If it meant that I could see him just one more time, I would do it all over again. Even knowing I had to lose him”, touched my heart. I admire his honesty in sharing his memories of his sweet Ronan with the world and I hope it was cathartic for him.
We are introduced to an alternative reality in Montreal, Canada. Nine years have passed since a nuclear power plant exploded, leaving the region trapped in a permanent nuclear winter. Flavie is a young woman in her 20s, living with her slacker boyfriend, and is a mail/package courier on a snowmobile who seems more worried about making deliveries than the harsh winters. As Flavie drives around town, we see that many people have developed mutations, some more obvious than others. She gets caught up in drama with the local hottie, and the two have to dodge giant mutants, rabid wildlife and deadly snowflakes.
The art is simple and cartoony, reminiscent of Skottie Young’s (I Hate Fairyland & Middlewest) work. The author and illustrator, Cab, has crafted an appealing heroine, and the sight gags and mutant illustrations will appeal to readers young and old. In addition, I had the added connection of working in a town with two nuclear towers, so this storyline gave me a somewhat whimsical look at what could happen if there ever was a nuclear accident. I’m ready for more adventures with Flavie!
Flavie’s boyfriend is gone, but so is her best friend Léonie, which I found disappointing. While we are introduced to Elsie, Flavie’s spunky younger sister, I don’t know why Léonie had to be booted to make room in the narrative for her. When Marco, the love interest, gets sick Flavie is tasked with finding him the medicine he needs. She discovers that a group of people living in a nearby mountain resort are stealing the medicine before it arrives in Montreal. The two sisters, plus the mutant raccoon from the first book, put an end to that! This story felt a bit off- we get hints that the sister’s father is dead, but then find out he is alive and Flavie just avoids both her divorced parents. That plot thread seemed like a bait & switch- not cool.
The action picks up again in the last volume, with Flavie getting re-involved with her meteorology department at her former university. While the weather has been warmer recently, the research team needs to get readings from various weather stations to determine trends. Marco is half-living with Falvie, but their interests are very different and they seem ill-suited for one another. On the other hand, Alex from her team seems like a great guy and seems to be a better match for her. The team needs to visit the nuclear plant that blew up years prior, and Flavie risks radiation poisoning to get the data that is needed. The last few pages put a neat bow on the story, showing Flavie and her sister leaving Montreal for a much-needed vacation when Alex shows up.
The words that I would use to describe the entire series are cute and light-hearted. Despite this, it actually showed a nuanced view of relationships. Flavie realizes her first boyfriend was no good and then later comes to understand that while Marco wasn’t a bad guy, once the initial appeal of him wore off, she saw that he was using her for what she could do for him and there was no lasting connection between the two. Sometimes you have to go thru some toads to find your prince.
I read the first volume for the January pick for the I Read Comics Books book club on Goodreads, and then quickly read the two following books in the series, once I discovered that I liked the vibe of the first. The French-Canadian artist and author Caroline Breault (aka CAB) created a fun world, and I’m glad it was translated into English for more readers to enjoy!