Category Archives: reviews

The Bad Beginning Review

ASOUE_1The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist

HarperCollins, 1999. 978-0064407663

Synopsis: When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are suddenly orphaned when their parents are killed in a house fire, they are sent to live with their next living relative: a mysterious and cruel man named Count Olaf. The Count is intent upon stealing the children’s substantial fortune and has made no secret of wanting to do away with the children after he has acquired their money.

Why I picked it up: I wanted some context before I dove into the Neflix series, which I have been told by friends is pretty good.

Why I finished it: As promised on the cover, this is indeed not a happy tale or even a tale with a happy ending. Then again, a series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events can’t necessarily have a terrible lot of positive things happening to the characters. The Baudelaire siblings seem to be heading down a path of obvious troubles and yet, the children can only rely on their wits, cunning, and each other if they are going to be able to escape from Count Olaf. The Count is clearly unfamiliar with child-rearing in any way, shape, or form, as is evidenced by the fact that the three siblings are given only one bed and a pile of rocks to play with. He also has a somewhat villan-ish appearance and manner, evidenced by the numerous references to his shiny eyes, greasy hair, and his house full of unsettling eyes. I was also somewhat disturbed by the lengths to which the Count is willing to go in order to keep the children living in fear, at one point leaving baby Sunny locked in a cage at the top tower of the house. Snicket has a rather unsettling gift for the macabre, and I have to admit that I was a little bit creeped out; yet, that’s part of the idea. We read about the unfortunate orphans and perhaps begin to think that our lives are not so bad, being as most readers’ parents are still living and they live in a nice house with a clean bed and lots of toys to play with. But as I said before, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are extremely clever children and so we have to hope that they will be able to find a better life away from Count Olaf and that despite the unfortunate things that happen to them, they have each other. I’d probably give it to a reluctant reader, those who are fans of a good ghost story, or readers that enjoy a mystery.

Other related materials: The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Acedemy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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Feature Presentation: The Secret Life of Pets

the_secret_life_of_petsThe Secret Life of Pets starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, and Sandra Echeverria

Universal Entertainment/Illumination Pictures, 2016. Rated PG

Synopsis: Max has the perfect life with his owner Emily until one day she brings home Duke, a dog from the pound. When the two dogs get lost in the city and are on the run from animal control and a homicidal former magician’s rabbit named Snowball and his army of abandoned pets, they are going to have to rely on each other if they are going to get home to their owner.

Having grown up with pets (dogs, to be specific), I won’t deny there were times when I wondered what they did while I was at school or at work. I don’t think my dogs did anything nearly as epic as getting recruited by a gang of former pets dwelling in the city sewers or breaking into a sausage factory to find food. But that isn’t to say that pets don’t have adventures while their humans are away. What I liked about the film is the realistic personalities of each animal, especially the dogs. I also loved the blasé attitude of Chole the cat, who unwittingly gets dragged along on a mission to rescue Max and Duke. I was thoroughly amused by the fact that in almost every scene when she is in an apartment, she is sitting in some container – a box, a bowl, etc. I also appreciated the initial rivalry between Max and Duke, the former of whom feels threatened when Emily first brings home Duke. Max is so used to being the only dog in the house and the notion of having to share his space, his toys, and his human is absurd. But what Max learns over the course of his adventures with Duke is that the larger dog has also had his share of difficulties that have left an impression on him. The compassion the dogs eventually develop for each other and for Snowball and his gang leave the viewer with a warm fuzzy feeling that will have them wanting to give their own pets some love. It’s a fun family film that will delight pet lovers of all ages.

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Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

explorer_1Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Harry N. Abrams, 2012. 978-1419700095

Synopsis: Funny, fantastic, spooky, and suspenseful, each of these unique and beautifully illustrated short graphic works revolves around a central theme: a mysterious box and the marvels—or mayhem—inside. Artists include middle school favorites Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier (Smile), and Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy), as well as Jason Caffoe, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte, Rad Sechrist (all contributors to the groundbreaking comics anthology series Flight), and upcoming artist Emily Carroll. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I love a good anthology of short stories.

Why I finished it: What I love about short stories is that the author/artist only has a few pages to craft a complete universe with well-rounded characters and an engaging plot. The storytellers in this collection take the theme of mystery boxes and make it their own. All of the stories have a distinct fantasy and mythology feel that will take the reader into outer space, magical lands filled with strange monsters, and even into the kitchen with crazy superstitious grandmothers. Carroll’s story is arguably the creepiest (for me, anyway), creating a mash-up between a traditional and modern ghost story that had chills going down my spine. Most of the rest of the stories have a lighter feel to them, though they are no less dramatic. I appreciated the differences in the art and storytelling styles because it gives the reader a wider spectrum of material to enjoy. Kibuishi has put together a fun and engaging collection of stories and I am eager to read the other books to see what other author/illustrators I might need to check out.

Other related materials: The Lost Islands (Explorer #2) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; The Hidden Doors (Explorer #3) edited by Kazu Kibuishi; Flight Explorer edited by Kazu Kibuishi Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Copper by Kazu Kibuishi; The Legend of Korra graphic novels  by Michael Dante DiMartino, illustrated Irene Koh; Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke; Mighty Jack series by Ben Hatke; Missle Mouse books by Jake Parker; Bad Island by Doug TenNapel; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; Bone series by Jeff Smith

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The Thief and the Sword Review

cleopatra_in_space_2The Thief and the Sword (Cleopatra in Space, Book 2) by Mike Maihack

Graphix, 2015. 978-0545528443

Synopsis: A mysterious thief has stolen the ancient sword Cleo recovered in Book One: Target Practice, and she’s determined to get it back. But her teachers at Yasiro Academy forbid her from risking her life, so she’s stuck at school, trying to adjust to her newfound popularity and responsibility. And when she learns more about the prophecy that names her the savior of the galaxy, she must go on a dangerous journey to find the time tablets that could decide her fate… before they fall into the wrong hands! – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I was eager to read more about Cleo’s adventures.

Why I finished it: Cleo has certainly turned into one of the popular kids at Yasiro Academy, which on the one hand is pretty cool, but on the other it means there’s more pressure for her to perform; being a show-off both is and isn’t Cleo’s thing. Plus, it seems like she’s sort of over this story about her being the one that will save the galaxy. Maihack is doing more character building in this volume, continuing to flesh out our heroine and her friends; plus, this is our first peek at Octavian, the evil dictator that Cleo will eventually have to battle. The reader gets a little bit more background about Cleo’s friend and roommate Akila. What I liked about Akila’s story is that not only is she trying to prove herself just like Cleo, but because she grew up with stories of the prophecy, she seems to be fully invested in helping her friend reach her full savior potential. Zaid still seems to be sort of a wild card and I have yet to figure out if he has a larger role to play; he and Cleo seem to have bonded on their outcast status so I have a feeling we will be seeing more of him. There is a mention of the fact that all archives and current data are either in the process of being converted or are in a paper format, which obviously contrasts from the rest of the highly technological tools that are used in the far future. This book takes us into the library for the first time and Cleo gets a glimpse at books that hold all of the recovered knowledge that was almost lost. I like to think that perhaps this is a reference to the debate of paper versus e-books and possibly Maihack’s belief that paper books will always have a place and a use. The colors in this volume continue to be fun and bright, even in the red palate Maihack uses to define Octavian’s lair. There’s a unique palate for each setting in the book that helps the reader be able to define the different parts of the academy and the galaxy. It’s another fast-paced adventure that will have you eager for more.

Other related materials: Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, Book 1) by Mike Maihack; Secret of the Time Tablets (Cleopatra in Space, Book 3) by Mike Maihack; The Golden Lion (Cleopatra in Space, Book 4) by Mike Maihack; Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke; Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke; The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Phoebe and Her Unicorn books by Dana Simpson; Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson; Explorer books by Kazu Kibuishi; CatStronauts series by Drew Brockington

 

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Feature Presentation: A Wrinkle in Time

a_wrinkle_in_timeA Wrinkle in Time starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifinakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, and Rowan Blanchard

Walt Disney Pictures/Whitaker Entertainment, 2018. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Following the discovery of a new form of space travel as well as Meg’s father’s disappearance, she, her brother, and her friend must join three magical beings – Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which – to travel across the universe to rescue him from a terrible evil. – from IMDB

I’ll be honest, I wanted to be excited about this movie. The novel has several stunning visual elements that I felt would have transitioned nicely to the screen. Sadly, that was not the case. Fans of the book will notice that there are some characters missing from the movie: her twin brothers Sandy and Dennys, and Aunt Beast (who is mentioned in passing, but does not play a role in the film). The Happy Medium is male rather than being female; Calvin is no longer a 14-year-old high school junior with a large family and a cantankerous mother; in the film, Mr. Murry has been gone for four years as opposed to months; Mrs. Whatsit is actually a centaur-like creature (as are the other Missus). It became more apparent to when I was watching the movie just how whiny and unlikable Meg is as a protagonist and a heroine. I understand the theme of learning to understand our faults and embrace them rather than conforming to an idea of what society thinks we should be, but it feels poorly executed. There is a scene in which the Missus show the children the effects of the Darkness on Earth – hate, jealousy, fear, and the like – that conveys humanity’s struggle with their own mortality and that we all fall prey to societal expectations. It’s wonderful, but the director fails to tie it into the rest of the plot. Yes, Meg could use a lesson in compassion, but it doesn’t seem to propel the story forward as it should. The relationships are somewhat awkward as well. Calvin and Meg’s crush on each other was more stilted that it needed to be, Calvin being portrayed as more of a doe-eyed love interest due to his popularity at school rather than the diplomat that will help the group navigate through the web of IT’s lies (for lack of a better phrase). The one bit I did like was that the Drs Murry adopted their children and gives support to the notion of belonging and love being the strongest of emotions. While the film is visually stimulating, the plot fails to hold the viewer’s interest and tell an engaging story, resulting in a movie that left me bored more than entertained.

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Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood Review

NHHT_4Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #4) by Nathan Hale

Amulet Books, 2014. 978-1-4197-0808-4

Synopsis: World War I set the tone for the 20th century and introduced a new type of warfare: global, mechanical, and brutal. Nathan Hale has gathered some of the most fascinating true-life tales from the war and given them his inimitable Hazardous Tales twist. Easy to understand, funny, informative, and lively, this series is the best way to be introduced to some of the most well-known battles (and little-known secrets) of the infamous war. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I’m enjoying how engaging this series is!

Why I finished it: The events leading up to, during, and after the first world war are (for the most part) common knowledge, so really there isn’t anything I can spoil for the potential reader. Called ‘The War to End All Wars’ and ‘The Great War’, World War I (WWI) ravaged Europe and was responsible for the deaths of over 9 million people – both solider and civilian – which was the only great thing about the war and really that part isn’t so awesome. It was the first modern war of the 20th century, combining old tactics with new weapons and vice versa, some of which were improved upon and re-used once the second World War started in the late 1930s/early 1940s. I won’t bore you with an extended history lesson in this review because you’ll get that when you read the book. I will say that I thought it was clever of Hale (per the Hangman’s suggestion) to have each of the world countries participating in the war be represented by an animal. A little bit of a sacrilege, but it was helpful for me as a reader to be able to keep the countries and their key players straight. Seriously, so much similarity in the facial hair…. Obviously, not everything is included in this particular narrative, but Hale sticks to most of the main battles so that the reader has a general overview of the war’s progression. There’s not too much about the Christmas Armistice of 1914, which is a personal favorite, but it is touched upon in passing. Hale chose a palate of oranges and reds to highlight the black and white drawings in this volume, and it feels appropriate given the content. He’s done his research about trench warfare and the conditions on the front lines and it really shows up in the faces of each of the soldiers. The story may be told with animals, but he’s done a great job of humanizing each of the contrasting views of the countries and their motivations. It’s perhaps not the most interesting bits of history and the facts can get convoluted, but WWI definitely set the stage for modern warfare in the 20th century and became the fuel that lit the fire of renewed tensions in Europe leading to World War II – but that is a different story.  Fans of this series will definitely enjoy the book and will more than likely be enjoyed by a few history and non-history buffs as well.

Other related materials: The Red Baron: A Graphic History of Richthofen’s Flying Circus and the Air War in WWI by Wayne Vansant; World War One: 1914-1918 by Alan Cowsill, illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma; Simple History: A Simple Guide to World War I by Daniel Turner; Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale; Big Bad Ironclad! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #2)  by Nathan Hale; Donner Dinner Party (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #3) by Nathan Hale; The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale About Harriet Tubman (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #5) by Nathan Hale; Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #6) by Nathan Hale; Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #7) by Nathan Hale; One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale; Guys Read: True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

 

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A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel Review

wrinkle_in_time_graphic_novel

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Madeline L’Engle; adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 978-0374386153

Note: The original novel A Wrinkle in Time bears the honor of being the 1963 John Newbery Medal recipient. Any discrepancies between the graphic novel and the original work are the interpretation of the artist who adapted the work.

Synopsis: Meg Murry and the rest of her family have been eagerly awaiting news about their father, who disappeared and has been gone for what feels like forever. Then, three otherworldly women – who have befriended Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace – tell the siblings that they must rescue their father from the clutches of a Darkness that is threatening to take over the universe. Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe are transported via tesseract – a wrinkle in the fabric of time – to rescue Mr. Murry and bring him home.

Why I picked it up: I loved this story when I was in elementary school and I wanted to re-read it before I went to see the movie.

Why I finished it: There have been several classics that have been adapted into graphic novels and this is the first that I picked up. I love that artists are branching out and adapting their favorite childhood stories so that the newer generations can continue to enjoy the novels in a new way. What I love about Larson’s adaptation is the obvious care she took to include as many elements and plot nuances from L’Engle’s book because of its enormous popularity. I remember when I first read the book in elementary school, I was completely captivated by the notion of time travel and the magic of being whisked away to new and exciting places. IT was, and still is, a truly conniving and disconcerting villain, taking over all semblance of a population’s free will. As humans, we exercise our free will almost constantly during the day and the idea that we could be mentally and physically controlled is truly a terrifying thought. Of course, I had also forgotten that tesseract is a geometry term and doesn’t in fact refer exclusively to the glowing box from the first ‘Avengers’ film. If you want to read more about the tesseract and time travel, check out a couple of interesting articles found here and here. Larson’s art has an element of realism, but it is not so realistic that it takes away from the magic and the fantasy of the story. The contrast between the shades of blue to the black and white of the lines and backgrounds gives the story a sort of soft tone despite the dramatic scenes that occur during the novel’s climax. It is a wonderful introduction or re-introduction to this classic science fiction/fantasy book that will continue to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Other related materials: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle; A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle; A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle; Many Waters by Madeline L’Engle; An Acceptable Time by Madeline L’Engle; Intergalactic P.S. 3: A Wrinkle in Time Story by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Becoming Madeline: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy; The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel by Jeanne DuPrau, adapted by Dallas Middaugh, illustrated by Niklas Asker; The Wild Robot by Peter Brown; The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown; The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; The Outlaws of Time series by N.D Wilson

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