Book Review: In Real Life

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-02-2015

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Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.44.29 PMIn Real Life
Corey Doctrow, Jen Wang
First Second
October 2014

Anda is still getting used to being in a new town, and a slightly (just slightly) colder climate than she’s used to. And she’s still looking for something that she can own, that she can be…well herself in. Then she gets introduced to Caorsegold Online, a massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she is a fighter, a leader…a hero. She’s part of an all girl gaming group and although she’s a probie, she’s begun to prove how valuable she is. Everything is going so well…and then…she befriends a gold farmer, a poor Chinese kid whose only goal is to illegally collect and sell valuable objects. And while this is against the rules of Coarsegold and what she has been fighting against, Anda soon realizes that the lines between right and wrong are blurred when real life shows up to play.

Lately the book world has been clamoring, begging, for more diversity in characters and more of a look at, well real world topics. And here “In Real Life” delivers both in spades. Not only do we have strong female characters in this book that are smart, intelligent, kickass gamers, they don’t leave who they are in the digital world. They take it into the real world with them, to stand up for what they believe in. In this book Anda comes to that point in life where she starts to question and realize that just because there is a difference between right and wrong, that they are not always black and white. That there are shades of a spectrum and there are reasons for everything, even if we don’t always like them. So then the question becomes…what do we do about it? And that’s the question that Cory and Anda answer, or attempt to answer. Even better though is that Anda doesn’t just make these changes in the gaming world…in the real world to she stands up for what she believes in and grows as a character as we read. Throughout the book, beginning, middle, end, Anda is a character to look up to and admire…and maybe even emulate.

I do think that it says something that Anda chooses an avatar that is almost opposite of her: white, red haired, and slimmed. What it says…well I’m not sure that I’m the best person to answer that question, but Jen Wang does not make such choices in character design lightly. Nor is she one to make such a choice to encourage this is what all gamers do. I think she’s making a subtle, but powerful statement of her own about what we do and how we live, both in the digital world and the real world. And when the traits of the two start to merge…maybe things are bound to change. Jen Wang’s artwork is beautiful, rich and textured. She creates two distinct palettes with one being reserved for “the real world” which is muted and somewhat somber and the gamer world which is bright and vivid. I’ve loved Jen’s work since “Koko Be Good” and she’s only gotten better since then and really shines here. But I love, love the character design and the way the character’s move on the page. They are vibrant and animated in battle, in dance, or in just standing up for themselves whether to other players, their parents, or themselves.

Given everything that has gone on in gamer world recently this is an important book and Anda is a great character to look up to. Cory and Jen have created a work that should be on every library’s shelf and be handed out for everyone to read, about gaming, about reality, about life whether young or old or somewhere in between. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: The Wrenchies

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-02-2015

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Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.05.03 PMThe Wrenchies
Farel Dalrymple
First Second
July 2014

Hollis is an unhappy young boy. Alone, bullied, and alienated, he finds a totem that gives him access to a parallel world. That of the Wrenchies. They’re strong, powerful, and take no gruff from anyone. And only one thing scares them…growing up. Because in their world, the Shadowsmen take them, and turn them into twisted, nightmares who are lost forever. But Hollis finds his home in this world. But soon…the two worlds are merging together, real and fantasy, and things are getting very, very scary.

I’m torn with this book. Farel Dalrymple has clearly built a world that rivals that of Middle Earth, among others. And it’s a complex, twisted, emotionally gripping, story. But the story…the story I became somewhat lost in. The Shadowsmen grabbed hold of me a couple of times and I had to fight my way out and then start the book over again to try to get a good sense of the story so that I could write this review. And it became a challenge to do so. Farel has built such a complex world, two worlds to be honest, that at times it became hard for me to keep the characters straight as we moved in and out of the worlds and as they merged together it became even more confusing. And by the end, I needed to reread it a couple of times to see if I could follow what had actually been said. The strength of the book to me though, was where we were in The Wrenchies world. Solely their world and we got to see them inhabit and fight in it. It’s a fantastic steampunkish, dark moorish, out of this world landscape that is so different you want to know more about it where the characters kick butt and take no gruff from anyone and I wanted to follow them to the ends of their world. But then we went back to the “real world,” where things started blurring together and I became somewhat lost. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good story, a complex and powerful one that will leave you thinking and fighting with Shadowsmen…but it is one that you may have to read a few times to fully follow the story. And one to read in the light, less the Shadowsmen grab you.

The part that I enjoyed the most of this book was Farel’s artwork, which are gorgeous, lush watercolors. I had the chance to hear him speak and he talked about using Crayola paints, you know those cheap things that you get in school? Yeah…talk about having talent out the wazoo to be able to create such a gorgeous worlds, with those things. Farel’s style though captures the fading and decaying nature of The Wrenchies world with ease and little details will jump out at you as you reread the book. Layers, upon layers that build and create the world and make it slightly off putting, slightly strange, and slightly out of touch with reality, capture the essence of what the story is. And maybe because I relate more to the art this didn’t bother me as much as the written words did, but I had an easier time reading the art alone, than trying to read the story with it.

Overall this is a complex book, one that I’m going to have to come back to a few more times I think and ponder over. I would recommend the book to fans of Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, and Lord of the Rings fans. And I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at First Second

Book Review: Ares: Bringer of War

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 01-02-2015

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ARES BlogTour

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 6.53.04 AMAres: Bringer of War
George O’Connor
First Second
January 2015

Ares.  The god of war. And some would say the god of destruction and chaos.  But no, he is more than that.  When the best laid plans of war go awry, when Athena’s logic has left the playing field, that is when Ares enters into the playing field.  He brings forth blood lust, discord and strife.  But more than that, when all seems lost and your enemies about to overwhelm you, Ares gives his power and strength to let you make one last stand.  That is Ares.

In this, the seventh entry into the Olympians series, George O’Connor breaks his traditional story telling method again to tell the story of Ares through one work alone, The Iliad.  But it is full of rich and powerful stories to draw from and O’Connor uses it to again force us to challenge our own preconceived notions of what the god of War is like.  To show us that Ares is not an uncaring, blood thirsty god, but one full of greater things.  And that likes his fellow gods he does care about his sons and daughters in his own way, but being the god of War he has a hard time showing it.

O’Connor has always been a strong storyteller and Ares is one of his best stories yet.  O’Connor sets the stage beautifully in the first few pages of this book, mixing simple phrases with powerful images to show us just how fearful, and powerful, the god of war really is, and how powerful his compatriots are.  In just a few short panels we meet, Eris the goddess of strife and discord, and his sons Demios and Phobios…fear and panic.  And we get a true sense of just how deadly Ares really is.  That he is not just  a harbinger of war, but that he rides with a host of others as well.  O’Connor though shows off his true storytelling talents, by building on the previous volumes of this series.  Although each work is stand alone, there is an interwoven thread that connects them all together, and shows that there is a greater story at work, one that we are only just beginning to discover.  More importantly though, he shows that the gods are all part of the same bickering, chaotic family, and that even though they have great phenomenal powers, they are much like our own in many ways.

I’ve always enjoyed O’Connor’s artwork in these books with his great use of shadows and bold colors, makes the characters and the story come to life, and Ares is no exception.  In this book O’Connor uses tones of dark red, steel gray, and browns that highlight Ares world.  The rich textures of armor and earth and blood that make up war, with the clanging of metal against metal that encompass the world.  It creates a varied and powerful work.  More importantly though, is that I love that O’Connor depicts the gods as close to human like as possible.  They may have phenomenal cosmic powers, but by and large they could look like each and every one of us.  I think that, more than anything else, helps viewers connect with the gods that we’re reading about and see them in as something other than powerful cosmic beings.  This humanity of the gods really shows well in the action sequences in the book, where Ares and others are in full battle mode.  The way they move and interact with others, while imbued with the strength of their powers, shows their humanity in how they move…much like we do.  They also betray their humanity with the emotions on their faces, where we can see their confusion their hurt, anger, and passion. It takes a skilled artist to be able to pull that off and O’Connor is able to capture it in the nuances of the characters expressions with a raised eyebrow and a slight tilt to the head. It really helps make the characters come to life.

One of the great features of this series, is at the end O’Connor has a section that talks about the different characters, who they are, and other details to help learn more about the Greek world. This is the perfect companion for people that have been enjoying the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and want to know more about the Greek/Roman gods and how they work. It would be ok for elementary school age (3rd and above) but they would probably need to read it with a parent. But this would be an excellent book for a middle or high schooler (or even adult) that wants to learn more about the world of Greek mythology. I can’t wait to read the next volume. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

You can find my reviews for books 3-6 and the collected set here.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond