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Best Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again! Here we’ve compiled our list of the ten best books we’ve read in 2018, and their consequent reviews, in no particular order. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Best Reads of 2018”

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The Massive: Black Pacific

Earth has suffered several catastrophic environmental disasters in the space of a year, resulting in mass deaths and a new political order. Two marine conservation boats, part of the group Ninth Wave, survive the chaos but become separated from one another.

Text in yellow boxes detail the many ruinous events that led to environmental and societal collapse. In fact some events truly changed the landscape with coastlines and islands being especially hard hit. In the face of this, Captain Callum Israel of the trawler Kapital searches for sister ship The Massive.  Along with Israel there is mercenary Mag, mysterious Mary and other idealistic but weary crew members. This small crew of hardy environmentalists question if they can keep to their no-violence pledge in the midst of attacks from pirates, assassins and the dangers of changed ecosystems.

To be honest, not a lot happened in this first volume. Author Brian Wood, whom I’ve been reading a lot of, is busy world building so the Kapital just seems to aimlessly travel around the world looking for any clues of The Massive’s location. Just when they seem to have found a signal from the ship, nope, they’re wrong. The repetitiveness got old and I’m questioning Mary’s origins. She seems too good to be true, and her background knowledge and ability to survive catastrophes seems suspicious.

The artwork has an extremely muted color palette, symbolizing the postapocalyptic new world, and has certain color schemes that represent the time shifts in the narrative.  The stylized ways the characters were drawn took some getting used to, but I soon came to appreciate the design format and wondered why I found it problematic at first. There was welcome diversity in the crew and in the ports they visited, with a hipster vibe throughout.

While not bad, this story was underwhelming. Although I liked how Wood made this world seem plausible (except for Mary) and presented real ethical dilemmas, it didn’t grab my attention like much of his other work has. I don’t believe I will continue with this series.

-Nancy

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Wood, Brian, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown & Dave Stewert. The Massive. 2013.

Rebels: These Free and Independent States

I am having a love affair with Brian Wood this year! Having discovered Briggs Land last year, this year I have devoured it’s sequel Lone Wolves, volumes one-three of his Viking saga Northlanders, the first Rebels about the Revolutionary War, and now this companion piece about the War of 1812.

In the first volume A Well Regulated Militia, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war. This second historical fiction graphic novel follows suit.

These Free and Independent States

In this continuation, we revisit Vermont to find that Seth’s son John is a boat-making savant. Spanning the years from 1786 to 1816, John comes to age as the new nation faces several threats and a new Navy is commissioned. John’s parents discover he has a fascination and an aptitude for building ships. Nowadays we might call these traits autism, but despite having no name for it, Seth and Mercy recognize his gifts and apprentice him to a master ship builder out of Boston. His careful work is integral when building the USS Constitution, which was later nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. His work is so all consuming he is oblivious to Alice, a young woman he has known since childhood, who has taken a fancy to him. When the ship goes to sea he signs up to be a soldier on it, just so he can remain on the ship he has claimed as his own. His obsession proves to be his downfall, but luckily he has some allies who remain dedicated to him. The story ends with an improbable conclusion.

Image result for rebels these free and independent statesThe Virginian

A short story about George Washington when he was a Lieutenant Colonel and his actions in the Ohio River Valley in 1753. This portrayal shows him an an impulsive young soldier, who was worried about how he would be depicted, and how he was not always a man of his word. This representation certainly does not show him in a good light, as his foolhardy actions don’t match his later reputation as one of our founding fathers and the nation’s first president.

Brooklyn Heights

An orphaned brother and sister cling to their New York homestead from 1777-1783. These two plucky siblings discover a secret stash of gold that the British lost and offer it to the leaders at Valley Forge.The ending with it’s time jump defied logic. I wanted to like this story but couldn’t.

The Green Mountain Boys

Captain Ethan Allen gets the spotlight in this last short story. In 1775 he petitions the Continental Congress for recognition and funds for the soldiers he leads.  But the Battle of Fort Ticonderoga proved the Green Mountain Boys were worth every penny that the government reluctantly gave them.

The artwork throughout the entire novel is strong, although you can tell different artists are utilized in the last two stories. The drawing is sketchy, with a light green and yellow color palette. You can tell much research went into the panels to depict colonial life with impressive details of the ships in the first story. This is yet another example of the excellent historical work that I have come to expect from Wood and his team of artists.  I will absolutely pick up whatever he puts out next in any of the series I mentioned in this post!

-Nancy

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Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

“A historical epic of America’s founding” is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel with it’s window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s.

Divided into six chapters, author Brian Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.

A Well-Regulated Militia

We first meet Seth in 1768 as a boy with a gruff father in the New Hampshire (later to become Vermont) wilderness, eking out a homestead.  English soldiers in the region are hated by the settlers, who are there under the New Hampshire grants.  Skipping ahead to 1775, seventeen year old Seth marries teen-aged Mercy after her father is forced off his land by the redcoats. The young couple establish their own household, but local Ethan Allen easily convinces him to join his militia regiment. At first fighting for their region’s independence, he then is willing to fight for the entire colonies’ independence. He ends up being away from his wife for seven years, and while certainly in danger during battles, Seth views his time with the militia as a grand adventure with his best friend Ezekiel, a fellow soldier. In 1783 Seth finally comes home to Mercy discovering a son, as he had been unaware his wife was pregnant when he left.

This narrative was a fascinating look into an average farmer’s life and the threats they faced from the British and the local Loyalists. The battles that Seth participated in and the living conditions of the soldiers were shown in detail, and you could feel the backbreaking labor and fear they lived with. It also showed a nuanced view of the women left behind, as Mercy suffered just as much while being forced to fend for herself in an unforgiving wilderness.

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Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican

Ever hear of the iconic folklore story of Molly Pitcher who stepped into battle to keep the canon shooting when her husband was shot? This story focuses on fictional Sarah Hull who in 1777 was the Battle of Saratoga’s “Molly Pitcher”. In later years her dying husband makes a plea for the government to give her a soldier’s pension for the work she provided. How her effort is disregarded by the representatives ties in with how sometimes women of today are also treated with indifference for their invaluable contributions.

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Liberty’s Daughter

Silence Bright, a young woman of mixed race, is caught printing and distributing leaflets in Boston that criticize the British in 1768. Thrown into Newgate Prison she is unbowed and the awesome quotes that I shall take to heart- “beware the bookish woman” and “hold fast” are used as she defiantly refuses to submit.

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Occupation

In 1775 we are given a brief glimpse of Seth Abbott again in NYC as he holed up in an attic with free black Clayton Freeman. Seth can not understand why Clayton is a Loyalist, and fighting for a corrupt regime for he tries to convince Clayton that he should be fighting for the freedom of the colonies. What he doesn’t understand is that “freedom” will not come for all, and that many blacks made the hard choice of fighting for the Crown that promised them freedom and passage away from the colonies. This vignette made me think of our current president, especially with the quote “…how were the lies of King George (Trump) at all appealing? Was there something we were missing?”

Stone Hoof

A young Shawnee brave, Stone Hoof, helps soldiers build Fort Stalwart in the Ohio River Valley in 1750 and befriends Will Henderson. As his tribe are migrants, he is in and out of the region over the years until 1757 when his tribe attacks the fort, as they have aligned with the French who are fighting the British for this territory.  As both he and Henderson survive the battle, they meet for one last time, and each try to understand why the other believes what they do.

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Bloody Backs

In 1769 a young man in a London is given a choice- go to prison or head to the colonies as a British soldier. He clings to his idealism and loyalty to the Crown as he miserably slogs  through battle after battle. He meets an ignoble end by a Green Mountain Boy at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, never having achieved a rank higher than a lowly private, and for what- glory?

Image result for rebels brian wood bloody backs

The artwork throughout all the stories is superb. Several artists contributed to the six stories, and all convey an authentic feel to this era and region. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. I want to give a special shout out to artist Tula Lotay, who created each chapter’s cover art. Each page she creates is a beautiful homage to the coming story. In addition the extras at the end give some insight to the making of the book with some great essays by the author and some of the artists.

With this book, plus his outstanding Briggs Land,  Wood has vaulted onto the list of my top ten favorite authors of graphic novels! I will absolutely be checking out Wood’s Viking saga Northlanders and will pick up all future work in this series.

-Nancy

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves

“Secure the perimeter. Protect the land. Preserve the family.”

When I first read Briggs Land (V1) I said it was an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. So, would the second volume deliver following such a strong start? I’m glad to report- yes!

In this second volume an unsuspecting couple wander too far while hiking and inadvertently wander onto Briggs land from the southern border of Canada. They run into Grace’s youngest  son, Issac, a former soldier who panics that the couple will tell authorities that he is hiding out. While he doesn’t harm them, he locks them in a cabin and then consults with his mother and brothers Caleb and Noah on what to do.

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My husband and I hike a lot, so I couldn’t help but imagine us accidentally trespassing on someone’s land!

When the local media start to  piece together the missing hikers with the Briggs family, law enforcement jump at the chance to surround the compound and lay siege to the armed community. As we learned in the first volume, don’t underestimate Grace. She has an effective plan for dealing with the law and the locked up hikers.

In the midst of all this jailed patriarch Jim Briggs, furious that he has been supplanted by his wife as leader, plots revenge. He still has strong ties and allegiances within the village, and plans a way to hurt Grace and regain power. But we are given a poignant flashback as to how Jim had callously used his son Noah as a cover when he attempted to assassinate the president twenty years ago, and we see why Grace’s sons and many in the community have sided with her. We also get some additional plot threads about Grace’s daughters-in-law. We learn some of the reasons they joined the family and discover their mettle in dealing with authorities and outsiders.

Several illustrators are credited with the art, and as such, sometimes the style can change significantly from one chapter to another. This is somewhat distracting,  but the earth toned color palette throughout gives it enough consistency. I loved the guest artists that did the variant art and enjoyed their interpretations of the characters. I’ve read enough graphic novels by now, that often at first glance I can recognize an artist’s style and know who drew it before I even see their credit.

This series is a perfect read in our current polarized world, with all the outcry about guns and the NRA. While I am a strong proponent of gun control, I can still enjoy this nuanced view of a militaristic family and the morally grey area in which they lead their lives.

-Nancy

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Wood, Brain, Mack Chater & Lee Loughridge. Briggs Land: Lone Wolves. 2018.

Best Reads of 2017

As we did last year, we went through all the graphic novels we read and reviewed this year to give you a Top 10 list – the best of the best!

RoughneckNancy: Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

 

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Kathleen: A review of this book is upcoming, but last week I read this graphic memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow . The illustrations were all drawn by hand by the author, who suffered from anorexia when she was younger. This is the story of her recovery, and all the difficulties and choices that came with it. I don’t want to spoil my own review (edit-added link!), but suffice it to say for now that the illustrations are among the most beautiful and effective that I’ve seen this year.

 

Nancy: This graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a ground breaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of Dana’s (the main character) experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

 

 

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Kathleen: Beauty is an adult fairy tale in graphic novel form. It tells the story of Coddie, a fishmonger, who wants nothing more than to be beautiful so she’ll stop being the laughingstock of her small village. When a fairy grants her wish, however, she quickly learns that she can now have whatever she wants – at a steep price. The child-like art belies the serious messages and themes within. The figures are loose and almost caricature-like. The writing is phenomenal, with unconventional characters and fairy tale tropes turned slightly askew. If you like your fairy tales with more of a brothers Grimm than Disney flavor, this is perfect for you.

 

Nancy: Although the Superman: American Alien has Superman in the title, it is really Clark Kent stories. The seven stories are chronological and fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes Superman. The seven stories are all excellent, and they flow and connect into one another, to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

 

5820769-21Kathleen: Unfortunately, DC Rebirth has been a hit or miss for me, but the one story that I’ve consistently loved is Wonder Woman. Bringing Greg Rucka back to her title was the best decision they could have made! After discovering that she’s been tricked into thinking she could return to Themyscira at will, Diana sets out to discover the truth of herself and who has deceived her once and for all. She is vulnerable and human here, and I’ve cried shamelessly as she struggles to figure out the truth – her own truth, the truth of who she is. Greg Rucka is without a doubt one of the best writers of Wonder Woman. The art is nothing to sneeze at, either, beautifully detailed as it is!

 

Nancy: Vision- Little Worse Than A Man is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. I feel some in our country have embraced a bullying rhetoric, and turn a blind eye to facts and justice for all.

 

 

 

 

91epsqx38slKathleen: The memories of her childhood ice-skating days became the subject of Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir called Spinning. The uncertainty of moving to a new city, starting middle school, and discovering her body and her sexuality make Tillie’s ice-skating routine comforting to her – until she starts questioning that, as well. The art is fantastic: only purples and yellows are used, and yellow quite sparingly, to highlight important parts of the story. Great blocks of deep purple around a single figure illustrate Tillie’s loneliness and uncertainty more than her words could.

 

 

Nancy: Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering. The second volume is scheduled to be released in late January, and I dearly hope it stays as strong as it’s debut volume was.

 

 

gunslinger-rebornKathleen: Like the rebel that I am, I read the graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower series titled The Gunslinger Born before I started the books. But let me tell you, it left me desperate for more and started my new-found obsession. The young Roland sets out with his two best friends to Mejis, where they are sent by their fathers to stay out of trouble. What they find in that sleepy little town is a conspiracy loyal to the Crimson King – and Roland’s true love, Susan, who may doom them all. I can’t say enough about the art in this book. I was in love with the stark contrasts and the way the figure’s faces were usually in shadow, leaving the reader to guess at their true intents. If the seven book series scares you, try reading the graphic novel first and seeing how fast you devour the books after that 😉

And there you’ve got your must-reads of 2017! We spanned several genres and publishers, and each of us had a DC and Marvel choice. Surprisingly Image didn’t make the cut. Here’s hoping 2018 brings us many more excellent graphic novels… we don’t think they made it hard enough for us to choose ;D

– Nancy and Kathleen

Briggs Land: State of Grace

Briggs Land is an absolutely riveting new series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within it’s fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Patriarch Jim Briggs, who is currently serving a life sentence for attempting to assassinate the president, has been leading the sect and still making orders with the assistance of his wife Grace, who visits him weekly in jail. Dismayed by his corruption, Grace decides to make a power play for leadership in the community, despite her three adult sons being valid potential leaders themselves.  Eldest son Caleb is a businessman and white extremist who feels he is being passed over, Noah is the muscle of the family with a reckless intensity and Isaac is the recently returned soldier who may prove to be a wild card.

Grace proves to be a worthy adversary in this patriarchal society, and literally survives a power coup by those that resent a woman taking the lead of Briggs Land. She has a steely resolve, but shows a love for her family and compassion for those in need. However, although she seems to want to rehabilitate the compound and honor the original intent of this secessionist group, she is also willing to manipulate others, including the FBI agents that are investigating the family. Don’t assume anything about Grace.

The artwork by Mack Chater is spot on for the gritty story and establishes the atmosphere of a trashy military compound. Sketchy with an earth toned color palette, the layout reminds me of storyboards, which is apropos as the series is being developed for TV on the AMC network. The Briggs family and the village as a whole are drawn realistically, with varied looks for these armed right wingers.  The only misstep is an oddly colored front cover to the graphic novel in which Grace is colored in blue with other family members in red. Lately I’ve seen the cover for the first issue used more often (picture with this post) which is more appropriate for the mood and frankly, just more attractive.

The world building in this story is superb, with this thinly fictionalized narrative being quite plausible in our current polarized world. There was also a short one-shot story in the back of the Avatar issue from Free Comic Book Day which adds another real world issue of meth dealership to the compound. Both stories make me anxious to find out what Grace and her complex family’s next moves will be in this fascinating crime saga.  Highly recommended!

-Nancy

Athena Voltaire Compendium

I discovered this one while ordering books for one of my libraries. Have I mentioned lately how much I love being a librarian??? 8D XD

Meet Athena Voltaire: a beautiful aviatrix with a penchant for whiskey and bourbon and not taking anyone’s crap. She’s the daughter of a magician and was once in an air circus – and a land one! She’s put herself out for hire as a pilot, and she gets some pretty strange jobs. The Nazis are gathering ancient and mythical artifacts of great power that they can use to win the war. Athena somehow ends up in the middle of foiling their plans. Join Athena and her friends for all the non-stop supernatural Nazi butt-kicking you could ask for!

The comic recalled Indiana Jones as I was reading it, but you get a really cool heroine instead of Harrison Ford… and it never gets weird like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did. This is a fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s non-stop action, no romantic subplot AT ALL (!!!!!!!! I’M STILL YELLING ABOUT IT), dynamic art, and great characters. Athena herself is witty, resourceful, talented, and remains skeptical about supernatural powers and beings despite all she’s seen. One of my favorite parts was how many places of the world she visits: Hong Kong, Tibet, South America, and much more. Awesome heroine kicking Nazi, vampire, and zombie butt with non-stop action and ABSOLUTELY NO romance? What more could you ask for in a comic??? Highly recommended ❤

– Kathleen

Bryant, Steve. Athena Voltair Compendium. 2015.

Heart Transplant

heart-transplant
Vachss, Andrew & Frank Caruso. Heart Transplant. 2010.

I am partcipating in the timely #AntiBullyReads 2016 readathon that runs from November 14-20th. This Readathon is created and run by Sarah Churchill with the aim to start discussions about bullying and our bid to stand up for those who need it and never be a bystander. Check out this Goodreads page for more info. Earlier in the week I re-read Eleanor & Park, and had a guest post on The Green Onion about it, so I wanted to find a graphic novel that also dealt with bullying, which led me to Heart Transplant.

We first meet Sean as a nine year old, who lives a marginalized existence with a single mother who is more interested in her current boyfriend and her bottle of booze than her own child. When he discovers his mother and her boyfriend murdered, he is saved by Pops who is the father of the drug dealing boyfriend, whom takes him in and raises him. Despite the new stability, Sean is still bullied and an outsider at school. Pops tries some old-school methods of making Sean a man and taking him to a boxing gym to teach Sean skills to fight his bullies. Next we see Sean as a college student who learns some truths about Pops and the lessons he taught him when he was a child.

This coffee table sized book is quite clearly a “message” book, that didn’t quite hit it’s intentions as stated by the author on the inside flap or in the afterwards written by a social worker. Bullying is often supported by a society that does nothing to stop it, for when aggressors go unchecked, it becomes culturally acceptable (Trump!!). While the author’s lesson is worthy, the story narrative did not match. Pop encourages or turns a blind eye to Sean’s theft, provides liquor to a minor on several occasions, and teaches him to fight back physically instead of teaching other coping mechanisms. While I am not opposed to learning how to defend yourself ( I actually think it’s a good idea), it does not match the author’s intended purpose of changing the greater bullying culture.

I came away from this book feeling dissatisfied. I liked the purpose and the sketchy dark hued illustrations that were evocative of a rough edged childhood, but it fell flat for me. I can see merit in teachers reading it, but I could not truly recommend it to older youth for the mixed messages it presented.

-Nancy

antibullyingreadathon

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