Early Review: Poe: Stories and Poems – A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds

I’m a sucker for Graphic Novels, and this adaptation of Poe’s classic works was absolutely spot on. Hinds’ experience and expertise in adapting the classic really shone through and the result was a text that will hopefully inspire a new generation of horror readers.


poeTitle: Poe: Stories and Poems – A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Author: Edgar Allen Poe

Illustrator: Gareth Hinds

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Poetry, Horror, Classics

Themes: Darkness, Death, Disease

Features: Annotations and Supplementary Information, Biographical Information


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

In a thrilling adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe s best-known works, acclaimed artist-adapter Gareth Hinds translates Poe’s dark genius into graphic-novel format.

It is true that I am nervous. But why will you say that I am mad?

In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a man exacts revenge on a disloyal friend at carnival, luring him into catacombs below the city. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” a prince shielding himself from plague hosts a doomed party inside his abbey stronghold. A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, faced with a swinging blade and swarming rats, can t see his tormentors in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a milky eye and a deafening heartbeat reveal the effects of conscience and creeping madness. Alongside these tales are visual interpretations of three poems “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and Poe s poignant elegy to lost love, “Annabel Lee.”

The seven concise graphic narratives, keyed to thematic icons, amplify and honor the timeless legacy of a master of gothic horror.


My Review

I loved this book, so much. Which says something because Poe always gave me nightmares growing up! Hinds adaptation is the perfect blend of classical horror with a modern medium. And, seeing as Poe’s works are still on most Canadian school curriculum, I seriously want to find a way to get class sets into every school library – especially since it includes annotations and supplementary materials!

The only complaint that I have about this text is that I would have preferred for more of the dialogue to be incorporated into graphics as it would have really enhanced the graphic novel experience. Regardless, the artwork is beautifully rendered with vibrant colours, exceptional expression, and really serves to heighten the narrative. I enjoyed the variety of styles and colour palettes between the stories from the pencil sketches to the watercolours, and from those in varied palettes to monochrome. The distinct style of each story really served to establish the mood making each story or poem distinct from one another.

The structure itself is very word specific, with Poe’s original texts accompanying the illustrations. It reads a little like an exceptionally mature picture book, but the art is so wonderful and expressive that I could have followed Poe’s stories and understood the horror even without his words. The panels are arranged with a logical flow, and enough action happens in the gutter that the eye is drawn from one panel to the next while the imagination in constantly firing. Further, Hinds does a fantastic job of capturing the invisible realm of sense and emotions through the variation in letting styles for the sounds represented, the encapsulation of movements, and the externalization of fears.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not only is it a perfect read for those who enjoy Poe and graphic novels, but it is also the kind of book that could easily find a home in a school library. Poe’s language is so far removed from our current vernacular that the  skillful illustrations create a beautiful and seamless reading experience that brings these classic stories to life.


Many thanks to Gareth Hinds and Candlewick Press for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Early Review: Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn by Elizabeth Kiem

I seem to be on a bit of a Cold War kick as of late, so requesting Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn via NetGalley happened entirely on a whim. I didn’t even realize that this was the last book in the Dukovskaya series until the authors notes at the end, and I have to say that it was a truly captivating read. Kiem creates an immersive experience that can be enjoyed by teen and adult readers alike, and especially by those who love ballet Cold War era Russia!


orphanTitle: Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

Author: Elizabeth Kiem

Publisher: Soho Teen

Publication Date: August 22, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Themes: Cold War, Espionage, Orphans, Family, Spies, Ballet

Features: Character guide, glossary of terms, recommended reading


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The year is 1958, and sixteen-year-old Svetlana is stuck in a Moscow orphanage designated for the unwanted children of Stalin’s enemies. Ballet is her obsession and salvation, her only hope at shedding a tainted family past. Sveta’s dream is to make a new life as a dancer.

Her dream comes true: she’s invited to join The Bolshoi Ballet, whose power as a symbol of Soviet prowess is unmatched—except perhaps by the dreaded KGB secret police. Sveta is stunned when officers show up at her door. Inexplicably, they know about a fainting spell she once had: a trance she slipped into. Something like a vision.

Some very powerful people believe Sveta is capable of serving the regime as much more than a dancer. They want to enlist her against the West as a psychic spy. She must explore this other talent if she is to erase the sins of her family, if she is to dance on the world stage for the Motherland—if she is to survive.

 


My Review

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn has a lot going for it from the integration of Russian words and phrases to the incorporation of meticulously researched historical fact, and from the beautiful imagery to a complicated love story that could have entertained on it’s own. But what I love the most about this book is how strong and prominent the female characters are – very rarely do we see a damsel in distress, and the only mention of hormones comes from the protagonist herself in a completely understandable situation. While I absolutely loved this aspect of the book, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there may a narrower audience of readers than some other YA espionage reads, but that’s absolutely ok!

I really enjoyed how the narrative was divided into four distinct sections, which really gave a sense of organic growth and development and helped to establish Svetlana’s degree of involvement with the KGB. It mirrored nicely the rise and fall of the Soviet leaders mentioned throughout the text, and didn’t downplay the harsh realities and endings that faced many who existed behind the iron curtain. The interweaving of memory and the story within a story created some beautifully emotional, as well as exceptionally effective, transitions between periods. In this was, time jumps of several years and many major events seemed very natural and I was never left feeling like there was a hole in the plot.

I struggled bit, however, with the love triangle between Svetlana, Gosha, and Viktor. Admittedly, it did get a little bit more exciting at the very end, but I felt that the good boy/ bad boy/ prima ballerina thing has been done a few too many times. But, and here’s the big thing, it’s still fun and will very likely not be met with the same degree of ‘oh that’s cliche’ from the intended target audience! And, truth be told, given that the text is filled with echoes of classical ballets such as Swan Lake, The Firebird, and Romeo and Juliet the choice of this particular plot device is completely understandable.

Now, onto the asymmetrical warfare aspects of the book – I loved this concept! At first I did a little double take, but I ended up really enjoying the twist that it put on the Cold War as perceived through pop culture. It was interesting to watch how perceptions of not only self, but also actions, shifted and developed as Svetlana matured. Despite significant fictional liberties being taken, the ability to connect to a universal mind or tap into others memories and feelings really forces introspection and the consideration of multiple narratives – which I think are fantastic elements in YA reads! And seriously, who doesn’t love the idea that dance can course of history…

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves later in August as I have a whole host of little ballerinas that I think will absolutely love it! I loved Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn as a stand alone text as it was easy to follow, but I have no doubts that I will be tracking down the first two texts in the series ASAP. If you love Ballet, the Cold War, and the KGB and their alternative warfare this might just be the book for you!

 

 


Many thanks to Elizabeth Kiem and Soho Teen for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Loyalty: Secrets by David Wiltcher

Lately I have been taking a few gambles on the books that request via NetGalley, and hot dang, I was not disappointed by Loyalty: Secrets! Filled with action, suspense, wit, and perfectly timed snark from a strong female lead this novel hits in all the right places.


loyaltyTitle: Loyalty: Secrets

Author: David Wiltcher

Publisher: Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd

Publication Date: January 31, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Cold War, Espionage, Orphans, Family, Spies

Features: Historical timeline


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Kathy, an orphaned and feisty child and young woman, instinctively rebellious, drawn to challenges, a chancer but an idealist, is compelled to confront these issues, making choices and commitments that have major political and personal impacts on herself and others who are drawn to her.

The story follows her journey from quiet East Anglia to the growing nightmare of 1930s Berlin, meeting an inspirational agent, thenfighting her way out and across Europe to confront new challenges and dangers in wartime and post-war London. Here she discovers her true identity, a name change, and is compelled into an ideological choice of allegiance.

These are worlds of dreadful violence and hatreds, of nationalisms and developing Cold War conflicts, of treachery, paranoia and endless intrigue, of secrecy and deadly ideological rivalries, times of lethal danger.


My Review

There isn’t much about this book that I don’t love. After having read a good number of texts lately that have alternating perspectives, following a single character from childhood through to maturity was as refreshing as it was beautifully executed. The mixture of memory and event creates a believable balance and you really get the sense of who Kathy is and why she does what she does. I love her bold, bolshy, attitude and found myself laughing at the spectacle of this precocious girl saying exactly what aggravates the most.

Loyalty: Secrets had all of the elements that you come to expect from a WWII novel – persecution, loss, a daring escape and the depravity of many of those in power, as well as all of the key elements of a Cold War espionage adventure – subtle recruiting, corporate and government infiltration, a touch of poison, and more than a few clandestine meetings. Although either could have a been a stand alone tale on it’s own, these two elements are perfectly married through the tale of orphan Kathy, his discovery and loss of her family, and the exploration of the moments that defined her life. I really appreciated the subtle interweaving of major historical events such as crucial radio broadcasts, key newspaper articles, and the trickle-down reporting and even the tactful misrepresentation of certain events. The inclusion of a historical timeline was a really nice touch as it helps to contextualize the tumultuous atmosphere in which Kathy was raised.

And, just as this book had all of the elements that you would expect given the time frame, it also had enough twists and turns that I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages. Trying to avoid spoilers, but man! Wiltcher got me right in the feels more than I thought he would. I was ready for so horrible concentration camp/ captured spy torture, and instead I found myself bawling when Hanne wasn’t a drunk, broken after the passage through the mountains, and furious with the American in the Foreign Office. I was shocked, I was angry, and ultimately I was thrilled with how everything turned out.

I loved the writing style and found it easy to engage with. The vocabulary was playful and had a beautiful and challenging variety that I haven’t come across often enough. I enjoyed how difficult concepts and word were introduced as it allows for readers to learn alongside Kathy if they are unfamiliar with the concepts, as well as humour, innuendo, and abounding personality and snark. I particularly loved the use of the word ‘bolshy’, the prevalence of dictionaries and definitions (they make my librarian heart sing!), and subtle message that all news should viewed through a critical lens and with constant questioning.

Would I recommend this book? Oh, heck yes! I have already ordered a few copies to give as gifts to family and friends. Loyalty: Secrets is the perfect marriage of historical facts, espionage, and feminism. For anyone who loves WWII, Cold War spies, or even just lovers of strong female leads this book is an absolute must read.


Many thanks to David Wiltcher and Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

I read this book right after it came out, and picked it up again just recently after seeing one of my friend’s daughters toting it about. Normally I don’t a like a book as much the second time around, but I am delighted to say that I loved El Deafo just as much on round two! Funny, heartfelt, and beautifully written and drawn this graphic novel is one that will appeal to parents and children alike.


el deafoTitle: El Deafo

Author: Cece Bell

Publisher: Amulet Books

Publication Date: September 2, 2014

Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels, Memoir, Autobiography

Themes: Friendship, School, Family, Self Acceptance, Deafness

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.


My Review

Where do I begin? I LOVED everything about this graphic novel from being semi autobiographical to the difficulties of friendship in the face of being different, from the arrangement of the panels to the bold and almost innocent nature of the artwork. My inner librarian screams absolute triumph when I see children with this book in their hands because it is absolutely wonderful to see younger souls taking an interest in memoirs, but more importantly it is amazing to see that a memoir has been created that appeals to children. And when all of the elements of this book come together they create a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

I must mention though that I relate to Bell’s narrative on a personal level as my mother is hard of hearing and came to be so later in life. As a child it was confusing to watch how friends and acquaintances changed their treatment of my mother despite knowing who she was as a person before her viral infection. The simple misinterpretations, forced/ bad sign language, and even isolation were all spot on! I think too, that it is important to acknowledge that acts of isolation can be innocent misunderstandings. Bell’s graphic novel does a beautiful job of capturing these moments and really encourages readers to consider situations beyond the self, and to think more deeply about how actions might impact others as well as what might have been the motivation behind them.

When considering a younger audience, I think that this text is perfect for teaching social interaction and helping to understand factors in group dynamics. Tt does a wonderful job depicting bullying, peer pressure, and the ins and outs of school atmospheres. There is so much that can be related to that El Deafo is sure to appeal to wide audience, and has much to offer older readers as well. I love that Cece is real, that her reactions are plausible, and that the character is both honest and vulnerable. What’s more though, is the emphasis placed on finding one good friend and finding your inner super hero to get through the tough spots – we all need one of those every now and then!

Finally, I can’t review a graphic novel without touching on the art. At first I was little disappointed in overly simplistic nature of the panels, and dare I say even bored. But, in time I really grew to appreciated how everything worked together. The simple cartoon-like drawings, block colours, and animalistic characters really brought out the innocent nature of the narrative. At the same time, the lack of detail and human characteristics beyond emotions and actions really worked to make the characters more relatable and universal. Panel composition was clear and easy to follow, even for those who are new to the genre, and just enough closure takes place in the gutters to ignite the imagination. Also, I really loved the representations of sound in visual mediums – from the way words were broken down to represent speech patterns, text was faded or bolded to show malfunction with the phonic ear, and even everyday sounds – all created a reading experience where you could imagine both hearing and feeling just as Cece might. Whatever initial misgivings I might have had have since been completely dispelled!

Would I recommend this book? In a heart beat! Buy it, borrow it, take it out from the library – and be sure to share it with friends and family along the way. I look forward to seeing not only more of Bell’s work, but also some more graphic memoirs that kids can’t wait to sink their teeth into!