#Review – The Zodiac Legacy: Tiger Island by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore and P. H. Marcondes #YALit #Comics #GraphicNovel

Today I am delighted to offer a review for another title that I read and reviewed for work, The Zodiac Legacy: Tiger Island. This is the first instalment in a relatively new series by the legendary Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, and is most definitely a graphic novel created for YA readers. It’s great to see Stan Lee still creating, and to engage with some exciting new comics characters!


zodiacTitle: The Zodiac Legacy: Tiger Island

Author: Stan Lee and Stuart Moore

Illustrated ByP. H. Marcondes

Publisher: Papercutz

Publication Date: September 29, 2015

Genre: YA Fiction, Comics, Graphic Novel

Themes: Friendship, Loyalty, Good vs. Evil, Superheroes, Superpowers

Features: N/A


My Rating: 3.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

When twelve magical superpowers are unleashed on the world, a Chinese-American teenager named Steven will be thrown into the middle of an epic global chase. He’ll have to master strange powers, outrun super-powered mercenaries, and unlock the mysterious powers of the Zodiac.


My Review

This is another title that I checked out from the public library to read and review for work, as we need a stronger collection of comics and graphic novels in our school library. And while I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, there were a number of things that just didn’t sit right – especially when looking at gendered representations and stereotypes. Ultimately, I was really torn in giving this book a 3.5 because 1) I adore Stan Lee and 2) there is so much that is, and could be, amazing.

As the start to a new series, the introduction is absolutely ace. The backstory is clear and engaging, each character is presented with their powers and stories being clearly defined, and the teams of good vs. evil have a obvious distinction in age, style, and appearance. What’s better yet, is that with such a broad cast of characters, is then whenever a character re-enters the story, their powers and association are included – which acts as a handy little sign-post to help readers keep track of who’s who.

The vocabulary too, is very youth friendly. Whenever complex words and concepts are introduced they are always accompanied by an explanation or definition. Regardless of whether this book is being read by teens or adults, this format helps to promote the expansion of vocabulary, and indeed a greta number of the words presented even appear on the American SATs!

The subject matter also reflects a respect for YA readers maturity levels and ability to comprehend and engage with complex concepts. Tiger Island tackles some heavy hitters such as race and ethnicity, the judgement and appearance of blended families, the emotional challenges of immigration, emotionally distant parents and/ or unreasonable expectations on teens, and even the vulnerable need that young adults have for their family and parents after they have struck out on their own. All of these issues were handled with a tact and diplomacy that never once trivialized the subjects, and often prompted readers to consider their own situations, behaviours, and societal norms.

Marcondes’ art work is absolutely outstanding as well. With the cast of the young Vanguards taking on a very Archie-esque appearance with clean lines, bold colours, and ambiguously relatable appearances. Kim is blonde like Betty, Steven is like Archie, and so on and so forth. The Zodiacs are equally distinct in their appearance, featuring more complicated line work and costumes, a darker colour palette, and more mature bodies and often highly sexualized depictions of the female characters. But, the colours are engaging, the layout easy to follow, and the mood is clearly defined from moment to moment which creates an awesome reading experience.

Where I struggled the most was with the stereotyping and gendering of characters. For example, with the Zodiacs the Snake/ Monkey dichotomy was really difficult to read through – with the female Snake sporting the classic comics tit-window, and preferring to be cunning and use her feminine wiles to achieve her goals whilst the very male Monkey shows a district lack of intellect and prefers to use brute force to achieve his objectives. This division of male/ female roles extends to all characters with female characters taking on ‘softer’ roles and powers such as being able to move people our of harms way, screaming really loud (really?), and playing the nurse or saviour while the male characters revolve around diving in head first, brute strength, and their fighting prowess. Even in the leadership roles, the female characters are subjugated – as Jasmine is meant to the leader as she is the Dragon of her team, yet young Steven takes centre stage. And while there is an even split in male/ female characters, and it’s clear that the creators have been intentional in creating a diverse cast, the reliance on gender stereotypes to carry the story came across a trite, common, and unoriginal.

Ultimately, I am left with mixed feelings on this one! It is beautifully crafted, well organized, and offers a bounty of visual and textual aids to readers make their way through the story. The art is clean and simple, and the traditional reading pattern makes this text easy to follow for both seasoned and emergent comics readers. The storyline is interesting, and it’s clear that there is lots of action to come, which promises an exciting series. But, and this is a giant but, I feel that the character construction falls back on the misogynist structures that gave the comics industry a bad rap in the first place!

Would I recommend this book? After all I’ve said above, the answer is still a yes. I think that young readers will be interested in the storyline and able to relate to the characters. I think too, that it is an excellent tool to start conversations about gender stereotyping and how to combat it. This one where I would say read it and judge for yourself.

Advertisements

#Excerpt #BookTrailer: Atlantis by Carol Roberts @authorRobertsC

Today I am delighted to offer something a little different, with a mini excerpt and book trailer for Carol Roberts’ mythological mystery Atlantis.


atlantis


Synopsis

When Alanthea, high-priestess of Atlantis, connects to a woman in her dreams, she becomes haunted by a mystery. Compelled to trace the other woman’s life she finds coded poems that hold clues to the predicament of her people. Now she has to venture ever farther into forbidden territory to link past and present, and understand the real danger threatening Atlantis.

Arakon always thought of himself as an orphan, a loner without any real belonging. But after a strange encounter his life changes, and he is drawn into events beyond his control.

They move parallel in their search for answers until their destinies converge, and the weave unravels. Yet what they finally uncover lies deep at the heart of collective evolution, and what has been set in motion cannot be undone.

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0777J2MC8/


Mini Excerpt 

Time shifted as Arakon carefully turned and dug his heels into the horse’s side. A good horse, a strong horse, just like the old man’s had been. The shade of the trees embraced him, and the sound of the water came closer. Would he still find the track? Was there a track? Time shifted further, and he felt an eerie sensation between his shoulder blades. The forest was too quiet, the water overly loud. Gideon started to slip, and he reined the stallion in even further.

The filtered light threw strange patterns onto the ground, and when the moment came, he let go of the reins and let Gideon run. Leaves slapped him in the face, and as the noise became deafening, he could see the glistening spray which lay like a shimmering web ahead of him. Gideon shied but could not stop. They raced on until the tree-line opened up, and he could see the gorge falling away in front of him like a black, open mouth.


Book Trailer


Author Information 

Carol Roberts is a free lance writer with particular interest in cultural myth. Originally from Vienna, she has spent all of her adult life in the Far North of New Zealand. Her work took her to several different countries, where she indulged her fascination with stories, particularly those dealing with the creation of man.  ‘Atlantis’ is her first full length novel; speculating on concepts of the human condition, the meaning of individual and collective destiny, and the choices within that. Her second novel ‘Tower of Babel’ is also complete.

Newsletterhttps://www.smore.com/app/pages/preview/nj9mg

Twitter link: https://twitter.com/authorRobertsC


Many thanks to Carol Roberts for providing and excerpt and link, despite my incredibly slow response rate as of late.

#Review: The Fisherman’s Daughter by Melinda Sue Sanchez @authormelinda1

Today I have the pleasure of sharing a 4.5* review for Melinda Sue Sanchez’s outstanding WWII romance The Fisherman’s Daughter. With equal parts character development, resistance, romance, and action this is a beautifully balanced book that explores the boundaries of commitment and fortitude.


daughterTitle: The Fisherman’s Daughter

Author: Melinda Sue Sanchez

Publisher: Covenant Communications

Publication Date: January 1, 2018

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction, General Fiction

Themes: WWII, Romance, Survival, Friendship, Italy, Resistance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Eighteen-year-old Marianna De’Angelis has grown up on her father’s fishing boat off the picturesque coast of Sicily, Italy. She traverses the nearby countryside on horseback and bicycle and works alongside her mother selling fish at market. It is a simple, happy life. But when WWII erupts and the Nazis overtake the country, Marianna’s peaceful world is shattered.

In the midst of chaos, Marianna encounters a handsome, young Italian soldier named Massimo Scalvone. Though she tries to keep her distance, Marianna finds herself powerfully drawn to Massimo. Yet all the while, the man she is growing to love conceals a deadly secret—a secret that ensures that in a world now ruled by politics and greed, Massimo is not free to give his heart. Devastated, Marianna immerses herself in helping her family and neighbors survive the war. But soon, merely helping is not enough, and the young woman undertakes increasingly dangerous missions for the resistance. Although Marianna and Massimo each harbor secrets, their only hope of survival is to trust each other with the truth of who they really are.


My Review

The German occupation of Italy during WWII is an area that I don’t know much about, which meant that I was able to sit back, relax, and enjoy this book as a beautiful work of fiction. The details and the imagery transport you back in time, and the story itself reads like a war time Romeo and Juliet – and lets face it, who doesn’t love a good story with some star-crossed lovers?

I really enjoyed Marianna’s spunk and her country can-do attitude. I was pleased to see her join the resistance, especially after so much talk about it early on in the book, and I was genuinely touched by the relationship that she had with her family. I found myself more drawn to those scenes where she was on the fishing boat with her father, helping in the kitchen, or running the market stall than those with Massimo as I felt that they revealed more about her character. But, I am willing the chalk this feeling up to the way in which young lovers are know to get caught up in one another, and thus cease to be individuals – something I hate to say is entirely relatable!

Massimo too, is an interesting character. Initially I was desperate to know more about why he thought Marianna was a danger to pursue, but in retrospect I’m happy that this information was held until later in the story. It created a tension and drama that moved the plot through some of the sections that were more focused on character building and setting the scene. Although I was a bit prickly towards him in the beginning, he’s definitely one of the characters that grows on you over time.

And can we talk about the food?! Seriously, I think I gained a good ten pounds reading this sucker because all I wanted to do was eat pasta and almond cake! The descriptions are so vivid and flavourful that your mouth is constantly watering and when it comes dinner time you can only think of salad and spaghetti. Now add in the fact that kitchen is truly the heart of the D’Angelis home and bam! you’re wrapped up in a sense of nostalgia that brings you back to Nonna’s house and those pizelles!

The alternating view points, even though they weren’t evenly distributed or in any particular order, did a wonderful job of telling the story of this romance from both perspectives. It was fun to see where assumptions wrecked havoc, where missed communications caused issues, and how closely tied yet so far apart to individuals can be. The writing is evocative of a different time and place, and the intensity creeps up on you ever so slowly and then refuses to let go.

The only thing that I could have wanted more of, was to know what illness ailed Marianna’s father. Although the scarcity of doctors during this time is entirely believable, the vagueness regarding his ill health left a little to be desired. Beyond this though, the cast of characters is jam packed with variety – strong and weak, male and female, horrible and heroic. There is a little something for everyone in there, but definitely a touch more for the (empowered) romantic.

Would I recommend this book? A hands down yes! War can be such a dark and challenging topic to engage with that it too easy to forget the great romances that can come out of such scenarios. Sanchez blends perfectly the trials and tribulations of occupation and the possibility for the future. Lovers of WWII and historical fiction – this is one that you don’t want to miss out on!


Many thanks to Melinda Sue Sanchez and Covenant Communications for providing a copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

#Review: Cici’s Journal by Joris Chamblain #GraphicNovel #ChildrensLit

I do a lot of reading for collection development in my school, and this week I’m in the mood of working smarter not harder – there just ain’t enough time to read and review all of the things that I want to! So, I have decided to start working some of the titles the read  for work into the blog. First up is Joris Chamblain’s beautiful graphic novel Cici’s Journal, which follows a young and aspiring writer as she investigates the mysterious people in her neighbourhood.


ciciTitle: Cici’s Journal

Author: Joris Chamblain

Publisher: First Second

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade Fiction, Children’s Fiction

Themes: Friendship, Family

Features: Writing exercises, Drawing exercises.


My Rating: 4.5 / 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Cici dreams of being a novelist. Her favorite subject: people, especially adults. She’s been watching them and taking notes. Everybody has one special secret, Cici figures, and if you want to write about people, you need to understand what’s hiding inside them. But now she’s discovered something truly strange: an old man who disappears into the forest every Sunday with huge pots of paint in all sorts of colors. What is he up to? Why does he look so sad when he comes back?

In a graphic novel interwoven with journal notes, scrapbook pieces, and doodles, Cici assembles clues about the odd and wonderful people she’s uncovered, even as she struggles to understand the mundane: her family and friends.


My Review

I have a confession to make before I start this review – I initially requested this title from NetGalley, was turned down, and then shamelessly waited until it was purchased by the public library so that I could borrow it. I REALLY wanted to read it. You see, within our district we have bee having a debate about children’s journal/ diary books (Big Nate, Dear Dumb Diary, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, etc.) and whether or not they appeal to the lowest common (read crass and bawdy) denominator, or if they can have more value than being lumped in the class of ‘at lest they get kids reading’. With journal in the title, I was convinced that Cici’s Journal was going to be another text to enter this fray. Thankfully I was wrong.

Instead of being met with a book that plays on cheap jokes, stereotypes and crude humour we are presented with a story that is deep, insightful, and encourages readers to consider the impact of their actions on others. Our three leading ladies are complex and entirely individual, and all have distinct passions, talents, and ambitions. They all have different family dynamics, and how these circumstances impact behaviour and development is subtly explored.

I was initially struck by the blended delivery, with large portions of the book taking the form of a traditional text narrative relayed in notes, on journal pages, and even as simple back story as opposed to being a straight up graphic novel. The transition between the two mediums is always at an appropriate time, like when details are needed to the carry the story or set up the plot, and the transition between textual and visual representations just seem to flow. The switching back and forth between text and comic creates a dynamic reading experiences, and forces you to be engaged and observant, rather than simply along for the ride or there for the pictures.

On that note, the artwork itself is absolutely beautiful. The colours are vivid, there is a clear distinction between what is Cici’s voice and what is story telling, and the panel layout is easy to follow. The full page spreads are expressive and tend to focus on thinking or emotional moments rather than action, and the use of light and dark is is incredibly effective in setting moods. I was absolutely floored by Michael’s artwork in part one, and would go so far as to describe it as cinematically gorgeous.

In part one, The Petrified Zoo, readers are introduced to some lofty concepts like memory and nostalgia, loss of community icons, communicating the thoughts and feelings that are hardest to verbalize, and finding the courage to try new things. Now add in the fact that the story revolves around the children of a community banding together to help an old man and I’m 100% on board. Part two, Hector’s Book was just as good! It tackled subjects including the loss of loved ones, PTSD, toxic friendships, and navigating the transition from elementary to middle school. With topics likes these, I have to say that I’m impressed – especially when the target age group starts around 10. Comics or not, this ain’t no cotton candy reading!

However, when reading The Petrified Zoo I made note that I was uncomfortable with how easily and frequently Cici intentionally deceived her mother. And more to that, how often she expected her friends to participate in the deception. But, I was pleased to see this issue wholly addressed in part two with some pretty serious and realistic consequences. While I don’t necessarily agree with lying being part of our heroines identifying character traits, I do think that it is good character building and provides many impactful and teachable moments.

Finally, I absolutely loved the creative writing tips and techniques embedded throughout the stories. Everything from the imagination games to the character development cards, to the research and daily journalling can all be easily applied in practice. Whether readers are engaging in these activities on their own, or they are being lead through the book in a class, all of the prompts are fun and easily enacted. I can see curriculum connections in a great many areas – Language Arts, Health, Social Studies – and genuinely think that this would be an interesting book to consider for course inclusion.

Would I recommend this book? A million times yes! And not just for teachers, but for kids too – it’s so good! This is definitely one of the more sophisticated graphic novels on the market for children right now. Whether or not this is a book for seasoned readers or for those branching out from comics into more textually based works, Cici’s Journal is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. I am curious to see what further instalments have in store, especially with regards to the relation between the girls and the unfolding drama between Cici’s mom and Ms. Flores.

#BlogTour #Review: The Betrayal by Anne Allen @rararesources @AnneAllen21

The Betrayal Banner

Today I am delighted to host a stop on the blog tour for Anne Allen’s latest instalment in The Guernsey Novels – The Betrayal. Falling somewhere between a cozy mystery and full blown historical fiction, Fiona and Leo’s stories will draw you in and hold on tight until the very end.


Synopsis

The Betrayal Cover LARGE EBOOK (1) Treachery and theft lead to death – and love

1940 – Teresa Bichard and her baby are sent by her beloved husband, Leo, to England as the Germans draw closer to Guernsey. Days later they invade…

1942 – Leo, of Jewish descent, is betrayed to the Germans and is sent to a concentration camp, never to return.

1945 – Teresa returns to find Leo did not survive and the family’s valuable art collection, including a Renoir, is missing. Heartbroken, she returns to England.

2011 – Nigel and his twin Fiona buy a long-established antique shop in Guernsey and during a refit, find a hidden stash of paintings, including what appears to be a Renoir. Days later, Fiona finds Nigel dead, an apparent suicide. Refusing to accept the verdict, a distraught Fiona employs a detective to help her discover the truth…

Searching for the true owner of the painting brings Fiona close to someone who opens a chink in her broken heart. Can she answer some crucial questions before laying her brother’s ghost to rest?

Who betrayed Leo?

Who knew about the stolen Renoir?

And are they prepared to kill – again?

Purchase Link – http://myBook.to/TheBetrayal

3D Cover x 6.small

A Triple Celebration and a Price Reduction!
 
For this week only, until 18th February, the price of books 2-6 of The Guernsey Novels is only £1.99/$2.99, with book 1, ‘Dangerous Waters, remaining at 99p/99c
 
This is in celebration of Anne Allen’s birthday, the 6th anniversary of the publication of ‘Dangerous Waters’ and the recent publication of book 6, ‘The Betrayal’.

Review 

When I first came across the blurb for this book, I just knew that I had to read it and that it wouldn’t sit long on my TBR pile. With a modern murder mystery rolled together with the WWII occupation of Guernsey, it looked like my dream book – I wasn’t disappointed!

The opening scene with Nigel’s murder, and the subsequent introduction of the Renoir, is one that certainly catches the attention. I was instantly drawn in to the mystery, curious about how the Renoir got there, and desperate to know how Fiona’s evaluation went in London. I was curious too, as to why someone would have known about the Renoir but never moved to claim it before the business sold and things got complicated.

The tension created between the parallel plots – Nigel’s murder, locating the Renoir’s owners, and learning Leo’s fate – ensured that the book moved along at a breakneck pace. And, while I am not normally a fan of too much romance mixed in with my murder, the relationship between Fiona and Michael provided some much needed relief from what would have otherwise been an oppressively dark and saddening tale.

I enjoyed John’s character immensely, and think that it was a smart move to have a different ‘investigator’ for each plot – Fiona for the Renoir, John for Nigel and Leo, and the detective for Nigel specifically. This meant that each element was able to receive the attention that it deserved and it never felt like anything was getting left behind. I was initially hesitant about Nigel’s involvement a la ghost form in the initial stages of the book, but the reality is that we all process grief differently and sometimes people do have experiences like this. Whether you take him as an actual ghost or lean towards considering his presence and subconscious manifestation while processing information, the nub and jib of it is that his continued presence in the story genuinely works!

On the other hand, I was expecting a little more action when it came to actually taking down Nigel’s murderer. After all of the lead up, the trap itself felt far too brief! I was hoping for some big reveal, giant plot twist, or massive action scene and instead we were given something perfectly realistic! I can’t be too upset with the neat and tidy ending though, because it’s actually great. I’m just a little salty and don’t like it when things are wrapped up all perfect. It’s actually the perfect book for when you want a a little drama but still want to be lifted up at then end.

I really appreciated how much attention was given to depicting life on Guernsey, both past and present, as it truly instilled a sense for the people and pace of of life on the island. Given that I’m from Alberta, where a 3 hour drive to the next nearest city is pretty common, I really enjoyed the sense I got for how small Guernsey is and one’s ability to navigate the entire island with with relative speed and ease. Now add in all the talk of architecture, historical villas, beaches and cliff sides and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the imagery.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It deals with some of my favourite topics, is incredibly well written, and somehow manages to remain light and approachable while dealing with some pretty weighty themes. Well researched and fast paced, The Betrayal is sure to have a little something for everyone.


Author Information 

Iphoto for email Anne Allen lives in Devon, by her beloved sea. She has three children, and her daughter and two grandchildren live nearby.  Her restless spirit has meant a number of moves which included Spain for a couple of years. The longest stay was in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns.

By profession, Anne was a psychotherapist, but long had the itch to write. Now a full-time writer, she has written The Guernsey Novels, six having been published and the seventh, The Inheritance, is due out in 2018.

Social Media Links

 Website: www.anneallen.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Anne-Allen-Author-176883759173475/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnneAllen21


Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for organizing this tour, and to Anne Allen for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.