Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Tween Reads

Know all the tropes! The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor, by Shaenon K. Garrity/Illustrated by Christopher Baldwin (July 2021. Margaret K. McElderry Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781534460867

Ages 12-16
This hilarious sci-fi/gothic romance novel is perfect for a YA audience. Haley is a high school student who loves gothic romance novels, from the Brontës to Henry James. Her teacher is exasperated: no more castles! No more brooding heroes! Find a different genre to write about! As Haley heads home, she spies someone drowning, and jumps into the river to save him, awakening in a place that seems to hit on a lot of her gothic tropes: stately manor with hermitage. Three brothers, two of whom are broody, and one carefree dilettante. A surly housekeeper. A ghost. She’s in Willowweep, a pocket universe that’s fighting to keep an alien force called The Bile from taking over and entering our own universe! Haley has to call on her own skills – hey, she’s a gothic heroine, right? – to help the three brothers save their universe, and our own!
What starts as a funny story loaded with gothic romance tropes becomes an hilarious sci-fi, gothic romance mashup with steampunk elements and characters you’ll recognize and love. Haley is a heroine who is equal parts smart, funny, and one step ahead of everyone because she knows her gothic tropes. Artwork easily blends science fiction/steampunk devices and glowing ooze with rambling moors, brooding heroes, and… possessed woodland creatures. It’s worth it, I promise you. The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor is great fun for YA fans, and may get them reading that copy of Wuthering Heights a little differently now: hey, it worked for Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies!
Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

A CYBILS graphic novel rundown

I know, being on the CYBILS first round, I can’t give TOO much away about graphic novels I’m reading, but I did have these on my TBR before I was nominated to judge, so… I’ll just talk them up a wee bit. To whet your appetite for what’s coming.

Softies: Stuff That Happens After the World Blows Up, by Kyle Smeallie, (Oct. 2020, Iron Circus Comics), $15, ISBN: 9781945820489

Ages 10-14

This is sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a dose of stuffed animals tossed in for good measure. Earth blows up: kablooey, just like that. But there’s a survivor! Kay, a thirteen-year-old girl, is floating around in space when she’s rescued by Arizona, an alien space-junk collector, and his cybernetic pet Euclid. Arizona looks like a cuddly pink space stuffie that you’d find on the shelves in Target, and Euclid would definitely have his own action figure. There are laughs to be had, especially when Kay explains where she’s from, time and again, to blank faces – we’re not that well-known in the universe after all – and the levels of bureacracy that pop up time and again, as the new friends make their way through space. Softies is comprised of short stories, put together into one volume. The artwork is cartoony and very kid-friendly; the material is probably better suited for higher middle grade to middle school. There are some chuckleworthy moments and some sweet moments as Arizona and Kay try to figure things out together in this new relationship they’re forging. The storytelling has some lags, but overall, kids will get a kick out of it. Good to have for those tough-to-pin-down middle school collections.

 

The Magic Fish, by Trung Le Nguyen, (Oct. 2020 Random House Graphic), $23.99, ISBN: 9780593125298

Ages 12+

Told in parallel narratives between fairy tales and real life, The Magic Fish is the story of Tiến, a Vietnamese teen who loves his family but lives with a secret that he fears will change things. He’s gay, and doesn’t quite know how to come out to them. He shares stories with his parents, particularly his mother, and we can see the story within the story here: each is about suffering, and eventually, rising above difficult circumstances, which mirrors not only Tiến’s life, but his mother’s escape from Vietnam to America and her longing to be with her mother. The artwork itself is breathtaking; the fairy tale scenes are incredible, dreamlike; Tiến’s reality is realistically drawn with fleshed-out characters and expressive body language. Sensitive, beautifully drawn, and perfect for teen collections. The Magic Fish has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and is an Indie Next pick.

Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse, (Sept. 2020, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593119273
Ages 8-12
I LOVED this magical story! Effie is a kid whose mom has passed away, and she’s brought to Brooklyn to live with her aunt, Selimene; a woman she’s never met before. Selimene and her partner, Carlota, are two “herbalists” who just seem plain weird to Effie, until she discovers that the two women are… shhhh… witches. Good witches, to be sure, but witches! And shortly after arriving, Effie discovers her hands start glowing and that she’s a witch, too! Could this day get better? You bet – she makes two great friends in school, and when she arrives home, discovers that her favorite pop star, Tily Shoo, is in her house in need of Selimene and Carlota’s help. Everything is fun about Witches of Brooklyn, which also has wonderful storytelling and statements about family. Great artwork, great character development and storytelling, and  – let’s hope – more to come. Give this to your Lumberjanes readers and while you’re at it, hand them a copy of Emma Steinkellner’s graphic novel, The Okay Witch.
Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, by Maggie Stiefvater/Illustrated by Morgan Beem, (Oct. 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293239
Ages 12+
Twin brothers Alec and Walker Holland are sent off to spend their last summer before college with their rural cousins after catching their father having an affair. Alec, the studious one, buries himself in a lab where he continues working on a project that takes everything in him – a bit literally – to keep going, while Walker hits the social scene. The two brothers find themselves diverging this summer, with tensions and memories forcing their way between the two. And the swamp… well, that’s just waiting for someone, isn’t it? Maggie Stiefvater is an amazing YA writer, and Morgan Beem has a nice list of comics illustration to her credit. She creates an eerie atmosphere with her green and murky artwork, giving Maggie Stiefvater’s creepy storytelling a wonderfully oogie vibe. I’ll be honest, the story dipped for me a few times when Alec gets caught up in his botany discussions, but the overall storytelling is strong and macabre; very American Gothic.
Posted in Uncategorized

Gothic YA: Madeleine Roux’s House of Furies

House of Furies, by Madeleine Roux, (May 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062498618

Recommended for readers 13+

Teenage runaway Louisa Ditton tries to avoid life on the streets in 1800s England, telling fortunes for a the cost of a meal and a night’s lodging, when she’s offered employment as a maid at Coldthistle House, a boarding house in Northern England. She gratefully accepts the offer, but very quickly realizes that Coldthistle House is a strange place; from Mr. Morningside, the owner, down to Mary, a fellow maid who reminds Louisa of someone from her past, everyone is… different. When she discovers that Coldthistle House is more than just a boarding house – it’s a house of judgement, where the staff wield their own judgement on their guests, Louisa decides she needs to act: she’s convinced that Lee, a lodger traveling with his uncle, is an innocent. Is Lee as genuine and blameless as Louisa thinks he is? Can Louisa trust anyone at Coldthistle House? And who are the mysterious Residents?

I gobbled up Madeleine Roux’s Asylum books and was excited to see a new book from her. House of Furies doesn’t disappoint. Louisa is a conflicted Gothic heroine, stuck in a situation she’s terrified of but committed to the friends she’s made there and keeping her potential love interest, Lee, safe from harm. The cast of characters is rich, from the handsome, mysterious Mr. Morningside, to Gram, the crone-turned-head of Coldthistle who rescues Louisa and brings her to the boarding house. Similar to her Asylum series, the author includes photos and excerpts from a supernatural text that figures heavily into the plot. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel open, and while I was left satisfied – not a lot of loose ends dangling – I wanted to find out more about everyone at Coldthistle, and to see what Louisa planned on doing next.

Think Penny Dreadful for this audience: have the graphic novels out; display and booktalk with Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s series and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. There are an incredible number of resources on Pinterest that will help you create gothic displays and give a nice, creepy feel for any events or booktalks you plan for this one. Could be a great summer reading program!

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Add Manga Classics Jane Eyre to your TBR

manga-jane-eyreJane Eyre (Manga Classics), by Charlotte Bronte/adapted by Stacy King, (Jul. 2016, Udon Entertainment/Morpheus Publishing), $19.99, ISBN: 9781927925652

Recommended for ages 12+

I am loving the Manga Classics line from Udon Entertainment. This is my third one; I’ve read The Scarlet Letter and Pride and Prejudice – both books I struggled with in high school – and came away with a better grasp on them. This time, I read Jane Eyre, a book I really enjoy (I’m a Bronte fan), but know that kids tend to struggle with, too.

Jane is an orphan, left in the care of her awful aunt and cousins. She finally gets away and makes her way in the world as a governess, sent to the mysterious Mr. Rochester’s estate, where they fall in love. A dark secret in Mr. Rochester’s past gets in the way. It’s a Gothic novel, which lends itself nicely to a manga adaptation; there’s drama, angst, and enduring love, all of which shine in this visual adaptation.

As with the other books in Udon’s series, this is a nice companion to Bronte’s work; a solid introduction to new and reluctant readers in middle and high school.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Horror, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Of Monsters and Madness – Alternate Historical Fiction, starring Edgar Allan Poe

monsters and madnessOf Monsters and Madness, by Jessica Verday, (Egmont USA) 2014. $17.99, ISBN: 9781606844632

Recommended for ages 14+

Horror and gothic fans will love this book! Annabel Lee – yes, for all intents and purposes of this book, this character is THE Annabel Lee of Edgar Allan Poe fame is a teenage girl, who finds herself moving from Siam to Philadelphia when her mother dies, and she must live with the father she’s never known. Unfamiliar with life and customs in the 1820s United States and confronted with a cold father who keeps her at a distance, Annabel feels left out and pines for her mother and her life in Siam. Her father, once a brilliant surgeon and scientist, now spends most of his time in his laboratory, assisted by Edgar, who unnerves Annabel – yet bears an uncanny resemblance to his cousin, Allan, who Annabel finds herself falling for. Annabel is living in a house full of secrets; when a rash of murders breaks out in Philadelphia, and her father’s strange behavior becomes more erratic, Annabel is determined to unravel the mysteries that consume her life. But finding out answers could put her life in danger.

I loved this book. The idea of making Edgar Allan Poe a character in a gothic mystery, taking place in the United States, is such a great idea – how did no one think of this sooner? We get glimpses of Poe’s writing – he tortures himself over writing The Raven, and bits of The Tell-Tale Heart make an appearance – and the toll that such dark ideas takes on the man. There are some key plot twists that will leave readers staying up all night to finish the book, and then – like me – demand a sequel. Ms. Verday is a New York Times bestselling author, and she knows how to construct a well-paced thriller with smart characters. I’m looking forward to this book hitting shelves in September, and I would recommend it for adults as well as teens.