Book Review — Red Handed

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 22-04-2013

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes>
Matt Kindt
First Second
May 2013

Detective Gould is the greatest detective in the world, there’s no crime he can’t solve thanks to his mind and cutting-edge spy technology.  Every criminal in the city of Red Wheelbarrow is caught red handed.  But lately…there have been a series of crimes that while solved, leave Detective Gould stumped as to the why behind them.  Will he discover the connection between the chair thief, the purloined street sign used to create a literary opus, and the photographer of anguished moments?  Or has the great Detective Gould finally met his match?

When I’m sitting down to describe this book the thoughts that pop into my head are old school film noir detective meets a grownup Encyclopedia Brown.  Why Encyclopedia Brown? Well just the way Detective Gould goes about catching his man using the tools at hand and his ability to piece together random clues using his intellect.  Granted he hasn’t pieced together the biggest mystery, but he’ll get there.  Film noir because there’s this great element of old school literary feel to the novel.  This isn’t one of those novels where you just get told the story and you figure it out by page 12…no.  This is one of those books where you’re handed clues and by the time you’re almost done with the story you’re realizing that everything is connected and it wasn’t what you thought it was at all.

Matt weaves together a great literary story, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what the signs have to do with a painting and what all that has to do with chairs being stolen.  It all seems so random and yet by the end you’re almost left wondering if you could have solved it without being told, so you read the story again and discover there were still things that you missed and you kinda of have to conclude that Matt’s story is almost too good to be true.

Matt’s artstyle is…a bit different.  The bulk of the art is done in a soft watercolor palette, almost making it feel like we’re reading a weathered book from the 30’s/40’s when Dick Tracey first patrolled the streets.  And it draws you into the story and doesn’t let you go.  Then there are other parts, the little side stories like “Tess’s True Heart” where we can still see the blue pencil lines from sketching and it seems like the story is unfinished and it throws me off a bit.

Overall though this is a story that will keep you reading and wondering to the very last page.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Astronaut Academy: Re-entry

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 21-04-2013

Astronaut Academy: Re-entry
Dave Roman
FirstSecond
May 2013

This is the second volume in the Astronaut Academy series, and Hakata Soy and gang are back for more fun and adventure in the spring semester at the Academy.  Just when Hakata thinks its safe to wander around the school, a new trouble is unleashed!  Someone….or something is stalking the halls of the academy and impersonating other students!  If that wasn’t bad enough this….creature…is making off with students extra hearts.  Will the students be able to survive and recover their extra hearts…or are they doomed to only have one?

I will openly admit I had trouble with the first book in the series when I read it, in part because I had a hard time putting myself into the mindset of a young kid, which is who this series is aimed for.  But this time around I had a bit of an easier time, perhaps because there’s a nice overarching theme with the mysterious fiend on the loose!  And gosh darn it I wanted to know what the heck happened and how Hakata and the gang were going to stop this creature!  Even though we switched viewpoints every few pages, the overall arching theme made it easy to keep up and I loved that we got to check back in with old friends (and learn more about Hakata in the process!) The storytelling and the artwork both remind me of the cartoon “Kids Next Door,” which is the one of the best compliments I can give to the story since I loved that cartoon.

It’s a romping good adventure if you’re the right age (or have the right mindset) and I’d highly recommend the book.  4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Jerusalem

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 19-04-2013

Jerusalem: A Family Portrait
Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi
FirstSecond
April 2013

*note I owe an apology to FirstSecond for being so slow to get this review out, please don’t hold it against this wonderful book*

The year is 1940. The place is Jerusalem. And there is war all around. Not only is World War II continuing and taking away the men and boys of Israel to fight Hitler’s armies, but Jews and Arabs are fighting once more within Jerusalem. This story follows three generations of the same family, 15 members in total, from 1940-1948, through war, through jail, through faith, and through death. This is a story that will not let you go.

This has been one of the most difficult books for me to review, not only because of the content (which at times draws close to some buried family secrets) but also because of the way the story is told. Boaz is a filmmaker at heart and it shows in how he writes and plots his stories as he moves from one person to the next and then back again to pick up the characters tale. It’s a powerful and interesting way to create a story, but at the same time there were times I got lost and needed a scorecard to keep up with the characters (of which thankfully there was one in the front.)  It took me two read throughs to see the entire story, which is probably more my reading style than that of Boaz’s writing.  That aside though, this is a powerful story and is one that you’ll want to read again and again to see what you might have missed. Although Boaz fictionalized parts of the story, much of it still has the feel of a biography which makes it even more interesting to read.

Nick’s black and white illustrations make it feel like we’re watching one of those old classic black and white films and gives the film a sense of heaviness, of reality that grounds the story and helps keep it real. We watch as the characters grow and change during this 8 year time period and come to life. Although the illustrations are relatively simple, Nick adds details to keep visual interest that will keep the reader looking for visual imagery that enhances the story.

This is one of those books that you need to have a box of tissues next to you and a computer handy so that you can lookup aspects of the history, not to verify anything, but to enhance your understanding of the story and the places discussed. And once you get done…read it again. And then pass the book onto someone else. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review — Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 18-04-2013

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
FirstSecond
May 2013

Even though they they are social opposites, Nate and Charlie have been best best friends since a young age, and together they’ve braved the high school world….until Nate runs for school president to get the money his team needs to go to a robotics competition. And Charlie’s former girlfriend, a cheerleader, has other ideas on where the money can go, and a battle ensues that puts Charlie in the middle of opposing groups, with somewhat disastrous and hysterical results.  When the school’s money is put out of their reach, the two groups must put aside their differences and come together to win the biggest, baddest, robot competition of all time.

This is the first time I’ve read any of Prudence’s work and I’ve got to say I really, really enjoyed it.  In large part because the story focuses on two male friends and there just aren’t that many books out there like this that don’t make it so that the guys are in a competition for romance or have weird plot twists to them (like one of the guys being alien…or a girl.)  This book just captures that sense of being on opposite ends of the social spectrum, but still being able to be friends.  And even more importantly is that even though these guys are on opposite ends, its not made out to be a detriment and we never see anyone making fun of either character for hanging out with the other because one is a jock and the other is a geek.  Overall this was a just a nicely written story with some fun twists to it and excellent robot action.

I really like Faith’s art style and it works well this story, as she just has this way of capturing teenager characters well as illustrated in her own book Friends With Boys.  In this book she again just captures the movements of teenagers well, that slightly cocky, yet unsure of themselves style of walking, talking, and even fighting.  They have a lot of depth to their expressions so that even without the words of the story you can tell what’s going on. Faith also has a way of capturing the feelings and movements of being in high school. That sense of being crowded and all alone at the same time. I especially love the robotic fights, and the expressions on the character’s faces as they battle it out.

I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars, I’d recommend it to the male teenage population in both middle and high school. The story is engaging, fun characters, and best of all a great robot battle at the end.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

Book Review—Primates

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in book reviews, First Second, graphic novel | Posted on 11-04-2013

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks
FirstSecond
June 2013

Prior to 1950 the world knew very little about primates.  While many researchers tried to understand and observe these creatures in their natural habitat, they all failed and came back frustrated and dejected. And then….three women, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, all students of Louis Leaky, changed everything that we knew about primates and changed what we understood about ourselves. While they worked on different continents with different primates at different times, these three women challenged the world and showed us just what we have left to learn. This book weaves a story and introduces the reader to the woman and their work…and leaves us wanting more.

For me Maris Wicks artwork is what sells this book. Don’t get me wrong Ottaviani’s writing and storytelling are par none, but Maris’s art takes this story and makes it special. In fact when I heard she was going to be illustrating this book I couldn’t wait to see it because I love her style.  Not familiar with who she is?  Well check out her illustrations for this book and you’ll see why I love her style so much.  Her character design effortlessly captures the movement of not only the human characters, but the grace of the various primates they studied. It feels like we’re out in the jungle with Jane, Dian, and Birute watching these amazing animals with them.  Maris’s color choices are bright and vibrant and help breathe life into the story making it feel like we can reach out and shakes hands with Jane or brush the fur of a great ape.  If I were to make a comparison of who Maris reminds me of it would be Smile by Raina Telgemeier.

Ottaviani’s writing style is pitch perfect for this type of book and helps the reader feel like we’re a part of the adventure vs. reading a history book.  We’re actively participating in the research and the adventure and learning along with these three women.  What I really like about this book is that he intertwines their stories together to help create one cohesive narrative and flowing story. In fact he leaves me wanting to know more and makes me want to tell other people to go read about these three amazing scientists.

Were parts of the story imagined to make a good story? Yes, but it helps readers better understand these three powerful and free thinking women who challenge preconceived notions on how things should be and helped make the world their own. Ottaviani’s and Maris provide a biography and an explanation of how the book was created to help readers understand what was changed and how they can learn more. I highly recommend this book for all ages and anyone that wants to learn more, not only about primates, but about the three amazing women that helped us begin to understand them.  5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond