Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Big Splash - Jack D. Ferraiolo

i've always said i hate mystery stories. can't ever picture myself reading nancy drew or miss marple. however, i've come to the conclusion that the above statement is not entirely true. in fact there are detective stories that i absolutely love love love. patrick neate's "city of tiny lights" would be one of those. i'm also a big fan of blue balliet's smart interactive mystery series. so maybe it just depends on the mystery. one thing i do know is that i do tend to get a kick out of a good hard boiled detective novel. and wasn't i lucky that a couple of authors have published just such a thing in recent months?

first up is "the big splash". this book may very likely end up getting my vote for best kid's book of the year. it is just that brilliant. picture hard boiled detective/mafia gone middle school. sound messed up? it is. and its funny. matt stevens is a middle school private eye dedicated to upholding justice. so when one of vinny biggs' favourite squirt gun assassins is hit, matt finds himself tangled up on the wrong side of playing field as he attempts to solve the mystery. all he knows is that he'd better be careful or he'll end up in the outs, the least popular club in school.

matt stevens is a smart character and the book is full of fabulous gumshoe witticisms. just check out this sample paragraph: "peter kuhn was the least likely kid to do anything criminal. honor society, basketball star, top of his class. on the surface peter was a happy-go-lucky model student, but underneath, he had a dirty little secret: he was a pixy stixer. he'd go through two or three packs a day. he'd even drink soda through them, as if they were ordinary straws. it instantly doubled the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. two pixy juices a day was enough to send most kids over the edge, bouncing off the walls 'til midnight. by the middle of last year peter was hitting the juice six times a day..."

something about that just makes me laugh. in fact i spent a lot of time just chuckling to myself while reading ferraiolo's book. my only concern is that kids won't get it. i mean i know what noir and pulp are. i've seen my fair share of mafia movies. i know that ferriaolo is riffing on much darker stuff when he penned "the big splash". but most kids don't have those sorts of references in place. so my concern with this is that much of the humour may fly right over their heads. but maybe that's not so bad. i'm not sure i want 10 year olds able to pick up on too many of those references anyhow. regardless, i still think it's a great book, even if i'm not entirely convinced it's target audience will get it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle

the third in a series of travelogue-style comics from delisle. basically vignettes of his time spent in burma/myanmar with his wife and young son while on a mission for doctors without borders. i found this one significantly less interesting than his previous offerings of "shenzhen" and "pyongyang". in his previous two books delisle tried to take us into the reality of a couple of places that few westerners ever go. he travelled, and went out and experienced things. because his role on burma is basically relegated to looking after his young son while his wife is on a mission for doctors without borders, his scope is by necessity limited.

this is still a good and interesting book, and delisle of course still manages to get out and experience life in an isolated dictatorship. i just wouldn't recommend it as the place to start if you wanted to read something by delisle for the first time start with "shenzhen" and "pyongyang", and then if you thought those were great definitely read "burma chronicles".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Emiko Superstar - Mariko Tamaki

the penultimate publication of dc comics' ill-fated teen girl imprint, minx. this is sad. i loved minx. i thought the comics published through this imprint were almost always enjoyable, and were definitely suitable for the public library market. for teen girls getting into comics, or those who were already fans of the medium it was a fun accessible line. i'm not quite sure why after only a year and a half minx was given the axe. it likely had everything to do with money. but for crying out loud dc, you could have given it a bit of time!

"the p.l.a.i.n. janes", "re-gifters", and "good as lily" were wonderful indie comics. "emiko superstar" was right up there on my list. emiko is a bored suburban good girl. when her friends abandon her one summer to go on a young executives retreat, emiko starts to question her priorities. a babysitting gig and a chance encounter with an arty punk catalyze a memorable summer. while shopping emiko receives a pamphlet for a performance art venue called "the freak show". blown away by what she sees emiko determines to reinvent herself as a superstar a la warhol's factory. of course she needs to find some sort of medium first, enter the babysitting job. while doing laundry one day emiko finds her employer's diary. it is a detailed sketch of dissatisfied suburban life, and forced adherence to the status quo. take a few great go go girl costumes and you've got the makings of a real superstar.

of course the ending is bittersweet. but isn't that always the way with summers?

Yotsuba&! Volumes 1 - 4 - Kiyohiko Azuma

yotsuba is a strange little green-haired girl who comes from somewhere to the left. it would seem that yotsuba was adopted by mr. koiwai while overseas. though the details of this remain unclear. they lived with koiwai's parents in the country. following his mother's death koiwai used his inheritance to purchase a place in the city, and the manga starts with yotsuba and koiwai moving in. yotsuba is incredibly energetic and amazed by the world around her, and before long she has adopted her neighbours as a extended family and is involving them in her zany adventures. yeah. i used the word 'zany'. so what? this is a sweet and funny manga series that is perfect for young people.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives Volumes 1 & 2 - Ellen Schreiber

raven is back. this time in graphic novel format. following in on the trend of making graphic novel adaptations of popular youth books: artemis fowl, daniel x, young bond, redwall, avalon high, and warriors just to name a few. the "vampire kisses" series of books is vampire romance at its fluffiest. the graphic novel makes it just that much lighter. volume 1 is a particularly insubstantial tome coming in at about 1/3 the length of a typical manga tankobon. if you enjoy the "vampire kisses" series and you like manga you'll probably still get a kick out of seeing how artist rem depicts all of the characters. the goth punk style of clothing is particualrly fun. but i still can't quite figure out the reason for such extreme brevity. perhaps just so they have to spread the series out over more volumes.

but, "what's the story about?" you might ask. and i might well answer. goth girl raven and her vampire boyfriend, alexander, are set upon by alexander's cousin claude and his gang. claude, a half-vampire, is intent on procuring vials of pure vampire blood that his and alexander's grandmother has hidden somewhere on her estate in dullsville. apparently claude's ingestion of these vials will enable him to become a full vampire. of course alexander is set on stopping him, fearing that claude is not capable of handling the powers of pure vampiredom. and so a struggle between to the two sides ensues. check out tripp, claude's geek-chic, cellphone addicted sidekick. stylistically speaking, he's by far my favourite of the newcomers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Generation Dead - Daniel Waters

vampire love stories have been done to death. ahem. werewolves aren't far behind. with all of this recent "twilight" mania sweeping the nation there's one classic monster who i'm sure was starting to feel a little left out. oh, those poor old zombies. zombies are never romantic heroes. zombies never get the girl. zombies always get shot in the head. (or if you take the advice of the zombie survival guide, the head should be severed with a blade, as blades don't need to be reloaded. my kendo sensei would argue that a blade would be problematic however as it would quickly dull. in fact we actually had this discussion at kendo just a few weeks ago.) anyway, the point of the matter is that zombies have been demonized for too long and it's about time someone gave the poor shuffling, moaning corpsicles a break. thank you daniel waters.
here you have it, "generation dead". for some reason american teenagers have been returning from the grave. however, they don't appear to be out for brains, so much as grades. they shuffle back home and attempt to pick up their lives where they were so abruptly cut off. of course, not everyone is happy to have the walking dead hanging around. some of them are abandoned by their families. some are killed again in zombie hate crimes. and some are not allowed to join the high school football team. of course, my calling them zombies would be considered a bit of a faux pas. in "generation dead" there are perfectly good pc terms for these guys: differently biotic or living impaired.
i quite liked this book. basically it is the story of tommy williams a zombie kid at oakvale high and phoebe the goth girl who falls in love with him. because relationships between zombies and "breathers" aren't really accepted this causes no end of problems. there's a love triangle; phoebe's good friend and neighbour, adam, is also in love with her, but is doing his best to support her. phoebe's best friend, the punky pink-haired margi is absolutely terrified of the zombies ever since her friend colette returned from the dead. and there's pete, your typical dumb bigoted football jock who's intent on causing problems for all of them. everything comes to a rather edge of your seat conclusion in the last few pages. my only complaint being that waters never addressed the issue of the somewhat dodgy zombie research facility. are they really good guys? or could they be responsible for a string of zombie deaths across the country?
ah well, nothing's perfect. and perhaps he's saving that for the sequel. it was nice to see the zombies get theirs for a change.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters

alexandria hyatt (*cough* paris hilton *cough*) is a spoiled little rich girl. think the flesh wastes of "my super sweet sixteen" (thank you charlie brooker for that vivid phrase). when she's caught shoplifting, a judge having a bad day decides that her lack of remorse demonstrates an attitude severely in need of adjustment. so he sentences her to a stint in a juvenile detention facility. at the end of the day the prosecution decides that they are willing to make a deal and offer alexandria a choice between serving a term in juvie or going to kenya with an organization called free the children where she will help build school houses. after a brief consideration she chooses the latter figuring it will be easy enough to avoid any real work and come home as if she's just had a vacation.

of course alexandria's pampered lifestyle sets her up for a bit of a reality check when she is faced with only having the bare essential on the compound once she gets to kenya. her fellow volunteers (alexandria is the only one participating against her will) are all so friendly and wholesome and the poverty of the people where they are working really start to get to her. of course she ends up experiencing things and meeting people that will ultimately change her for the better. a bit didactic , and the moral is obvious, but it's still a great read and i had trouble putting it down.