Book Review–The Cute Girl Network


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 05-10-2013

The Cute Girl Network
MK Reed, Greg Means and Joe Flood (Illustrations)
November 2013

Jane’s just moved to town to reboot her life a bit. Jack is a bit of a loser, who well…means well, that mans a Soup cart in the middle of the city. The two meet when Jane wipes out on her skateboard right in front of Jack’s Soup cart! And well one thing leads to another and the two agree to a date. That is…until the “Cute Girl Network,” an information group of local single woman, seek to put a stop to it. You see most of them have dated Jack before and well…he has a rather spotty romantic history. He’s not mean or anything, he’s just not Prince Charming. And Jane is about to learn every detail of Jack’s past dates whether she wants to or not. Will Jack and Jane ever hook up? Or with the Cute Girl Network prevail?

I admit the first time I read this story it didn’t quite catch my fancy.  I mean it was good and I enjoyed it, heck I even got it signed at SPX.  But it took another read through to catch some of what the authors were saying.  That we all have different ideas of what prince or princess charming should be.  The man that maybe a flop for some, is going to be just right for someone else and maybe, just maybe we shouldn’t judge them because they didn’t work out for us.  This is a graphic novel for teens (and adults) that doesn’t play to stereotypes.  Jane rides and skateboard, works at a skateboard shop and is open about her life.  And Jack…well Jack plays the everyman, whose a bit clueless, but means well. And these two characters work great together! And that’s what keeps the story moving, is that you see hope for them regardless of what everyone else thinks.  And Jane is a fantastic role model, because she doesn’t listen to what the network says about Jack.  She trusts what she knows and feels and follows her heart to where it leads her.  And that’s the best thing about this story.

Joe Flood’s character designs for the book are pitch perfect.  He captures that goofy awkwardness and gentle self confidence of Jack easily.  You can look at him in the very first panel and know that while he’s a bit clumsy, he really is a good guy.  And that Jane is one of those kick ass ladies that takes names, but knows what she wants and is sure of herself.  It’s great to have that type of feeling and connection to the characters.  The illustrations remind me a lot of the artwork of Faith Erin Hicks or Stephen McCraine, who does the “Mal and Chad” series.  Nice solid designs, with some nice detail hidden in there, but nothing that overwhelms the reader or makes them lose track of the story.

The one minor issue with the book is that while this would be a great book for teens, it has to be one whose parents are comfortable with the mention of sex and depiction of nudity. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to make me a bit wary about recommending it to some of my normal readers.  Other than that I enjoyed the book and I’d give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina from FirstSecond

Book Review — Lawrence in Arabia


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews | Posted on 02-10-2013

Lawrence in Arabia
Scott Anderson
The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
August 2013
Lawrence of Arabia.  The name conjures a dashing figure that helped change the world, one that is strong, stoic, and full of courage to face challenges head on!  And yet… what is reality?  Would you be able to recognize the real Lawrence, Thomas Edward Lawrence, knowing that he was 5 foot 5 and weighed in at just 135 pounds?  Not quite the dashing figure that we dream of.  But, he still was a force to be reckoned with in the creation of the modern Middle East.In this book, Lawrence in Arabia, Scott Anderson helps us place not only Lawrence’s role in the creation of the modern Middle East, but other figures as well.  Working from years of intensive primary document research, Anderson weaves together the complex story of Lawrence, German scholar-spy Curt Prufer, Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn, and William Yale of Standard Oil.  These four men, waged wars, spied for their homelands, and attempted to do their best to steer the area to a different future…only to watch it fall apart at the hands of others (the British and French on one side, the German and Ottoman on the other).  Anderson does not even need to make a commentary on the mistakes made that helped create the troubles in the Middle East today, instead he only needs to present history in a way that we’ve long ignored and stumbled around.

Even though this is an extremely complex story, and one that would be easy to get lost in as it covers history and politics and so many other areas, Anderson creates an extremely readable and gripping story.  He deftly covers the War from multiple viewpoints of our four main “personas” and gives the reader a solid idea of how each action built to create a force that was beyond their control.

This is a great book for any fan of history or the Middle East.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Book Review–Tune: Still Life (2)


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 28-09-2013

Tune: Still Life (book 2)
Derek Kirk Kim and Les McClaine (artist)
November 2013

This second volume is the series picks up right where the first one left off. Andy, the average guy, who is disillusioned with the lack of jobs, can’t seem to get his art going, and can’t work up the courage to ask out his art school crush has finally found that perfect job. He’s going to work at a zoo!…as an exhibit in an alien dimension. And while all seems great upon signing the contract, he quickly discovers there’s no way home and all of that money he’s making is useless in this dimension. And worst of all the aliens messed up on bringing Yumi, his art school crush, to him so he could say goodbye! Instead, he faces Yumi for an alternate reality…where things are a bit different. What’s a guy to do?

I’ve been following Tune since it came out in webcomic format and it’s quickly become one of my favorite webcomics to keep up with…although it’s on hiatus now pending sales of this book.  So people…go buy this book so we can continue the story!!!  Seriously.  Ahem…. What I like about this book is that for the most part, Andy is your average guy.  He makes mistakes (dropping out of school, not reading the contract that he signs with the aliens), but all in all he means well. And I can see elements of myself in his story, which of course makes me cringe at times (especially when he realizes that Yumi might actually like him) because I’ve made some of the same choices, the same decisions, and my life mirrors Andy in some ways. And that’s what makes this such a great story, that it is easy to relate to Andy. We’ve all mapped out our life and had it veer off into different directions (hopefully no one is an exhibit in a zoo though.) I like the sense of humanity and humility that Derek brings to the characters and I can’t wait to see where he takes them next.

Les McClaine took over the artwork in this volume so that Derek was able to put out the story more often. He has a similar style to Derek’s but he really makes the characters his own and brings a different style to them. For me the characters come to life more with Les than Derek. For one Les has a lighter touch, less of the dark heavy lines that typify Derek’s work and more of a sketch quality that loosely captures the characters movements and the shading that give them a bit of extra vitality. There’s also more of a rounded quality the faces, which does create a bit of sameness to the characters, but at the same time does away with some of the harshness of the earlier versions. Don’t get me wrong I love Derek’s art, but Les brings his own touches to this work and it adds a great deal to it.

This story has a nice blending of sci-fi and real life, which makes it easy for folks to dive into and read. It’s a story that I highly recommend and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Head First HTML5 Progamming


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, HTML5, JavaScript, o'reilly, programming | Posted on 25-09-2013

Head First HTML5 Programming 
Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson 

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I’m looking for a book to help me learn more about a specific programming language, the first place I look is O’Reilly.  And no, I don’t say that because they give me free copies of the books (which I do like).  Instead I look for them because they have series, like the Head First series, that are written for anyone to learn from.  You don’t have to be a master computer programmer to pick up the book and understand how a topic, like HTML5 programming, works.  And that’s one of the great things about the Head First series, is that it’s easy to understand, easy to follow, and lively illustrations make it fun to learn how a new concept works.

This particular book helps walk the reader through some of the new concepts of HTML5 and how it works with JavaScript to provide a more robust and powerful programming language.  Such examples include using the canvas, which allows a user/programmer to create images on the fly, such as repeating circles in a random pattern on a background (the example from the book actually.)  Or utilizing the geolocation API to help figure out data on your users…probably not the best topic to broach with these days, but still could be useful.  This book is not meant to be a complete reference on HTML5 or JavaScript, but a guide to getting started with using the concepts together.

Where this book excels is providing an easy to understand concept of utilizing the new features of HTML5 in conjunction with JavaScript.  The other highlight of the Head First series (and this book is no exception) is that it’s written in a clear easy to understand language, it’s written for the novice programmer–one that’s still learning how programming works and for someone that’s looking for an overview of the language.  In this book the authors give you a specific situation to walk through, such as a client that wants to be able to print customized tshirts, and gives you some exercises to walk through to begin understanding the processes that are needed.  Then, at the end of the chapter, they give you the answers and further explanation if one is needed.  By having a somewhat silly concept, I find that it often helps engage my brain into beginning to think about the specific code that I’ll need.  In addition, they also add in other learning concepts, such as using crossword puzzles or mazes.

The caveat of this book is that like every “Head First” title the illustrations won’t work for everyone.  I find it helps if you’re coming from a nontraditional background or from a more creative bent (left brain.) And even then sometimes the images and graphics can be overwhelming, which is a problem that I find sometimes in this book.  I found that the images, while helpful in the beginning, often start to become overwhelming as you get more and more into the problem being solved and make it a bit difficult at times to concentrate on following the step by step instructions.

Overall though this was an enjoyable book and one that I’ll keep around to help me better understand some of the concepts of HTML5, and even begin working with them to redesign my own webpage.  Even though it’s 600 pages long, it’s an easy read and helps build a good understanding of HTML5 programming.  I give the book 4 out 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book Review–Battling Boy


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 21-09-2013

Battling Boy
Paul Pope
October 2013

On another world, in a universe far away heroes roam the world. They test their mettle and battle skills against monsters and villains across the universe. And when they reach a certain age, they go rambling, to test themselves and discover who they really are. And it Battling Boy’s turn to be a hero…or fall. In the city of Arcopolis, monsters stalk children in the shadows, swallowing them whole. Only one man has ever been able to stand up to them, the great Haggard West. But the monsters have killed him. It is here that Battling Boy will make his stand, against the greatest monsters the world has ever known.

Although I’ve heard his name off and on for the last few years, this is the first time that I’ve had a chance to read any of Paul Pope’s work. And it’s different than anything I’ve encountered before, in a good way. Pope mines the comics of yesteryear, from the Gold and Silver ages of comics to bring to life a more gritty and darker world. One in which children are tossed into battle and the villains play for keeps.  Even though Pope draws from other sources, Battling Boy is a unique creation. Often times with young characters they feel, think, and act like grown ups, never actually letting us see them grow. But that’s one of the great things about this book is that Battling Boy acts like a boy. He’s confused, scared, wants to call on his father to help him, but at the same time he wants to stand on his own. Even better, is that he doesn’t quite know how to act around adults that want to use him for their own purposes. He reacts as a young boy does, throwing things and glaring at them until they back down slightly, I mean he is a super hero after all.  And Pope’s writing, the action, the drama, it keeps you on the edge of your seat just waiting to see what will happen next.  And in this case we’re left with a bit of cliff hanger, waiting to see if Battling Boy and the friend he makes in Arcopolis can make it another day.

It seems as if most comic artists today prefer working with clean straight lines and crisp edges, but Pope’s work deviates from this pattern and goes back to 30+ years ago, with a hint of sketchiness to them, to add a bit of energy and vitality to the work. It reminds me a lot of the early days of Scott McCloud’s comic, Zot. The colors chosen for the characters are fantastic and more on a muted 80’s scheme, which helps add to the feel. My favorite scenes of course are some of the action scenes towards the end of the book where Battling Boy is getting ensnared by the monsters, including one that looks like a cross between walking slime and bubble gum.

This is the start to a great action series and perfect for teens and up and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Boxers and Saints


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 29-08-2013

Boxers & Saints
Gene Luen Yang
September 2013

Even though Boxers & Saints has been published as two separate books, they really do need to be read together to get the complete story.  Which is why I’m reviewing both books together.

The year is 1898.  The place is China.  Once closed off to the rest of the world, foreign missionaries and soldiers have taken to roaming the countryside to bully, rob, and convert the Chinese people.  There are those that wish to stand up to them, but how?  The foreigners have guns and power on their side.  And then…Little Bao stands up.  He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese gods, and he recruits an army of Boxers – common people trained in Kung Fu, who use the power of the ancient gods to free China from those “foreign devils.”  And lo and behold it works! They begin winning violent battles against the foreign soldiers.  But there is a cost to their victory.  Death.  Death of those “foreign devils” and death of Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

On the other side of the coin of the Boxers…are the Saints.  Chinese Christians who want to make a better life for themselves, but are torn between their nation and their faith.  One such Saint is an unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who is never even given a real name by her family.  Instead she finds both a name, Vibiana, and a family with a local Christian missionary.  She begins having visions of Joan of Arc, who attempts to guide her down the path of righteousness.  But the Boxer Rebellion is coming…and Vibiana will soon have to decide whether she will be Chinese or Christian.

Much like in American Born Chinese, Gene Yang weaves two different powerful stories together to create one amazing story.  In this collection, each story represents a different side of the coin.  On one side you have Little Bao and the past traditions of China and it’s culture.  On the other side you have Vibiana and the Chinese Christians, representing a possible future for the country, one that scares many.  When the story begins this coin is doing a delicate balancing act, with neither side overwhelming the other.  But soon…things begin to tip and sway one way and the other.  First the Christian missionaries begin to rob and bully the Chinese around them.  And then the coin swivels and the Boxers appear, ready to take back their own land.  By the end of the book…well you’ll have to read it to see what happens.

What I like about this collection is that the books work well together to form a history of a time period that many in the Western part of the world are probably not familiar with and it’s written for all ages to understand.  Even more so, Gene writes the story so that we understand the horrors committed by both sides of the conflict.  Gene takes care to show that while both sides had valid arguments, their methods and ways of getting what they wanted were becoming increasingly violent and splintered as strong people in each group began adding their own meanings to what they saw.  While this is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, it is necessary to understand the whole of the conflict.  Gene does an excellent job of ensuring that we, as readers, are able to question both sides of the conflict.

Gene brings his typical, wonderful, art style to this collection.  His bright, rich colors, strong lines, and shading create characters that leap off the page, especially in the Boxers book.  This is in particular noticeable when we see the ancient Chinese gods wearing theatrical costumes as they do battle.  It helps make this time period in history come to life a little bit more. What is even more remarkable though about the artwork for these two books is when you contrast Boxers with Saints. Boxers is all about the bright colors. Saints…is more muted. Brown and dust inhabit the pages, except when we see the specters of Joan of Arc who is brightly colored. It presents a very different view of the characters of these two volumes…one that you’ll have to read to see.

My one regret about these two books, is that I would have loved to have an afterward, one that gave a bit more information about the influences of creation of the books.  But that is neither here nor there.  Overall this is an excellent two volume set and I would highly recommend it for all libraries and all ages.  I give both books 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review—Fairy Tale Comics


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 22-08-2013

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists
Ed. Chris Duffy
First Second
September 2013

I’m sure that you’re thinking with so many different fairy tale books out there, why the heck do we need yet another one? Surely there can’t be space for this one? But you’d be wrong. FirstSecond has hit the mark with this book that’s sure to be an instant classic, much like their 2011 book of Nursery Rhyme comics.

FirstSecond has gathered together 17 of the best artists in the world to put their own unique twists on these classic tales. And these aren’t all tales that you’ve heard of. Sure there’s Snow White and Rapunzel, but have you read “The Boy Who Drew Cats” from Japan before? Or “The Prince and The Tortoise” from 1001 nights? I’m betting that there’s at least one new tale in this book for everyone. One thing to note is that the artists have toned down some of the original horror and frightening elements that some readers might be familiar with from the original Brother Grimm tales. So if you’re familiar with the originals you might find this disappointing, but you might want to keep in mind that this is an all ages book. I however, still found the stories to be quite enjoyable.

The talent in this book include Jamie Hernandez, David Mazzucchelli, Craig Thompson, Raina Telgemeir, and more. Each artists takes the text of a classic fairy tale and adds their own unique spin to it. My favorite has to be Raina’s take on “Rapunzel.” In Raina’s version the story begins with Rapunzel’s mother being pregnant and getting cravings for…the Rapunzel planet. Even though her husband has brought her cornichons, stinky cheese, and marshmallow fluff. It’s just such a great little twist to the tale. And the art styles in this book are fantastic! Such a wide range of mediums ranging from computer drawn to charcoal to pastels, each works well with the story chosen.

Each story has something for everyone with the artists bringing their own unique talents and styles to these tales. All of them are absolutely fantastic. This is the perfect book for any age and is sure to put a smile on everyone’s face. I highly recommend this book as a great addition to any shelf. 4 out 5 stars

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review–Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 16-08-2013

Delilah Dirk and Turkish Lieutenant
Tony Cliff
First Second
August 2013 publication

Delilah Dirk has traveled all across the world-Japan, Indonesia, France, even the New World! Delilah is always seeking a new adventure, and her latest has taken her to Constantinople to…relieve the Sultan of certain choice artifacts. While making her escape she picks up a new partner, a Turkish Lieutenant named Selim, who somehow fell onto the wrong side of the Sultan and it isn’t Delilah’s fault at all!  Nope, nothing of the sort…mostly. Together they’ll head off on Delilah’s flying boat onto new adventures and see what waits for them.

One of the great things for me about reading a new graphic novel is finding one that has a strong female character, and that’s what we have here. Delilah is a well rounded character that acts like a real person! Imagine that! A female character that doesn’t have to have a man save her. Shocking I know. Seriously though, Delilah is kinda of a female Indiana Jones. She goes around the world, has adventures, and while she may like company she doesn’t need it. Selim on the other hand is the exact opposite, at least when we first meet him. He’d rather enjoy the simple things in life, like a good cup of tea, and just do his job. But together these two characters have great adventures and both are the better for it. And get this…they don’t have a romance! Tony Cliff goes against all “normal” stereotypes to create a fantastic story, with memorable characters.  This is just such a fun enjoyable read, I can’t believe that I missed it when Tony first started publishing it as a webcomic, but man am I glad to have it now.  It’s one that I’ll enjoy reading again and again.

Tony’s artwork is flat out gorgeous. I’m not sure what Tony uses to create his artwork, but it’s lush, detailed, and beautiful. I mean each and every page feels like something that could be hung up on the wall as art and you wouldn’t get tired of looking at it. The colors are beautiful and the expressive faces just bring the characters to life.  The action sequences are some of my favorites, especially when they’re on the old stone bridge trying not to get blown up.  The way the rubble falls, the smoke, the characters expressions…fantastic. I can’t wait to see more of Tony’s art.

This is a great book and I’d recommend it for teen readers and up. I can’t wait to see if we get more of Delilah and Selim (one can hope.) I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review–March Book One


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, graphic novel | Posted on 14-08-2013

March Book One
John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
TopShelf Productions

Every so often a book will come along that will challenge you, that will make you think, and that will hopefully leave you a bit better after you’ve read it. And this is just one such book.  Yes that seems weird to say about a graphic novel, but trust me…this one deserves such praise.  This is a book that everyone should read, and then reread again.  And then pass on to others to read.  This is a part of history that we should not let die, remember, and honor those that created it.

Congressman John Lewis is an iconic figure within the Civil Rights movement, and the last surviving member of the “big six leadership.” He rose from being the son of sharecropper, to marching with Martin Luther King, and to the halls of Congress.  This first book in a planned trilogy covers John Lewis’s youth in rural Alabama, his first meeting with Martin Luther King, the birth of the Nashville Student movement, and the battle for desegregation on the steps of City Hall.  And it comes to an end all to quickly.  I finished the book saying “but, but…I want more! I need the rest of the story now!”  And that’s such a great way to leave readers, clamoring for the next part of the story.  It’s a powerful and moving story to see a firsthand account of the triumphs and sorrows of being involved in this time period in history.

Now I’m sure the first question many are asking is…why a graphic novel?  Couldn’t this be done in written form and come out just as well.  And the answer would be…no.  It’s one thing to read about the horrors or having water tossed on you, or being beaten, all because of the color of your skin.  It’s a completely different matter to see it illustrated.  The illustrations are masterful and you can imagine the smoke being blown in your face, someone standing over you and spitting upon you, and others throwing water or hot coffee in your face.  It’s a powerful image that you won’t be able to shake.  And one that you won’t be able too, or want to forget.

One of the problems that I normally see with autobiographical stories, is that they often try to give the reader to much information or even sometimes not enough information.  They forget that we aren’t all familiar with the history of an individual.  But this book doesn’t suffer any such problem.  We move expertly between past and present, as John Lewis gives a tour to children from his district and explains his past.  It’s a great way to set up the story.  And more importantly you don’t ever feel like you’re missing out on something.

Nate Powell’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It’s done in his typical grace/style of capturing the human form oh so perfectly and it seems like this time he’s gone even further in his use of shading to give us the beauty of all different types of skin tones, each character’s is unique. His artwork is perfectly suited for this story capturing the range and intensity of emotions–the sorrow, the joy, and the fear that sends chills down your spine. That intensity, that feeling of life that he captures in their faces really makes them come alive.

You can’t help but feel moved by this story and you can’t walk away unchanged. The combination of story and art works perfectly in capturing this event and this time period. I’m predicting this book will be one of the best graphic novels of the year, perhaps even one of the best books of the year.  I started recommending it to my faculty as soon as I heard about it.  And one that I can’t wait for them to teach from.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review–Templar


Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 10-07-2013

Jordan Mechner, LeUeyn Pham, Alex Puvilland
July 2013

The time of the Templar Knights is ending, as the King of France and his servants, have conspired to destroy the order. The Pope, left with little choice, bows to pressure and allows the King to condemn the Templars’ for heresy…and orders them all to be executed. But a handful of the Templar Knights, including Martin, escape and seek to regain the hidden treasure of the Templar Knights and keep it out of the hands of the King. They must band together and fight through sewers, possible romances, and the warriors of the King if they hope to survive. And only time will tell if they will make it.

Even though this is a long book (probably the longest graphic novel I’ve seen in awhile), this is an exciting action packed story. It takes a little bit to get into the story, as the author delves into some of the history of the knights and what happened to the order, but then…then the action starts and the story takes off like a rocket and you don’t want to let go. This is the type of story has a little bit of something for everyone, from romance to adventure to fighting to knights…mostly knights, but still it’s fun.  Mechner does an excellent job of creating characters that we feel proud to know and follow, that we want to know more about, and that we want to see them live to fight another day.

The illustrations in this book are lavish and gorgeous, with beautiful attention to detail.  The texture of the cloth that the knights and others wear, the scruff of their beard, the depth to the buildings of France with the arches and columns…reading this book and looking at the art is like watching a really good animated movie.  Some of my favorite scenes in the book are the action sequences with the galloping of the horses and the knights fighting.  It’s wonderful.

This is an action packed story that high school readers and up will enjoy. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. 

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond