Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Disney Noir: City of Villains

City of Villains, Book 1, by Estelle Laure, (Jan. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368049382

Ages 12+

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior and a police department intern for the Monarch City Police Department. Magic, once part of the populace’s lives, has seemingly left the world and taken countless lives with it, leaving denizens of magical families called The Legacies left to fend for themselves against the up-and-coming Narrows families, who seek to gentrify the neighborhood now known as the Scar.  A victim of horrific loss, Mary Elizabeth is Legacy, as are her friends, many with recognizable names: Mally, the withdrawn teen whose pet raven is the only thing who brings her comfort; Ursula, Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, James and his best friend, Smee. When Legacy teens start disappearing from the Scar, Mary Elizabeth is put on the case, along with detective Bella, but they are in no way ready for what they find once they start digging into what’s really going on in the Scar.

Gritty, with memorable Disney characters and a taut, well-paced storyline, City of Villains is the first in a new YA series that acts as a new origin point for Disney villains. There’s a gritty feel that makes for a perfect noir setting; our favorite villains are goth without being over the top, and I loved every second of their complex backgrounds. The subplot of magical families versus gentrifiers who want magic by association is brilliant fantasy writing that takes storytelling in a fresh direction, and Mary Elizabeth’s traumatic family history sets the stage for bigger reveals in future books. Give this to your teen Disney fans that are ready for some new stories about their favorite villains. Talk this up to any of the teens you’ve been feeding the Twisted Tales books to – they will thank you.

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

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Pulp fiction goes graphic with Head Games

Head Games, by Craig McDonald/Illustrated by Kevin Singles, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596434141

Recommended for readers 18+

This graphic novel adaptation of an Edgar-nominated novel gives us a little Hollywood and a whole lot of pulp fiction. Hector Lassiter is a hard-drinking, hard living novelist in 1957; he thought he was done adventuring, but an offer he can’t refuse drops into his lap: the chance to recover the lost skull of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Villa’s people want the skull, and so does the infamous Yale secret society, Skull & Bones; and they’re all willing to do anything to get it. Lassiter, poet Bud Fiske, and aspiring actress Alicia Vicente take a road trip across the American Southwest as they search for the highest bidder and dodge bullets.

I’ve never read Craig McDonald’s Lassiter books, so this was new to me. If you like pulp, or noir fiction, you’ll dig right into this book. It borders on satire at times; it seems like a send up of the Hollywood studio system, the Feds, and pulp noir. Lassiter is a larger-than-life figure that appears to be popped straight from Hemingway’s mold – and then you discover that Lassiter and Hemingway were contemporaries in this story. Marlena Dietrich is here, and Bud Fiske is so thoroughly written into the story’s mythology that I had to Google him to see if he was a real-life figure (go find out for yourself, I’ll never tell). Two-color yellow and black artwork give this an old-school, faded feel; you know this is a story that’s seen things. Head Games is crazy, over-the-top, and compulsively readable. There’s violence, alcohol abuse, and sex aplenty, so it’s not a graphic novel for the children’s room.

Posted in Fiction

Helsinki Noir – Dark, Hard Hitting Crime Fiction from Finland

helsinki noirHelsinki Noir, edited by James Thompson (2014, Akashic Books) $15.95, ISBN: 9781617752414

Recommended for ages 18+

When I came across the Belfast Noir e-galley on Edelweiss, I also saw Helsinki Noir, from Akashic’s Noir series. Knowing that there’s a huge interest in Scandinavian noir, particularly thanks to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I gave it a shot. Never let it be said I don’t investigate literary trends!

Whoa. Where Belfast Noir was gritty with a touch of morbid Irish humor, Helsinki Noir is brutal, and often bleak. The stories are hard-hitting, often vicious, and leave you feeling wounded when you’re done. Crime fans, gird yourselves – these 14 stories take no prisoners. Split into three parts: Deep Cuts, Broken Blades, and Winds of Violence, each author seeks to peel back the bright surface of Helsinki’s streets to show readers a darker reflection of a city we often hear only the best of: their strong economy, their health care, their low crime rate.

As with Belfast Noir, shelve this with the grown-up books – this one’s not for younger readers. But by all means, shelve it, and look at more of Akashic’s Noir series. Mystery and true crime readers will appreciate the styles from all over the world, and embrace the darkness that every culture shares – no matter how hard they try to hide it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Belfast Noir – Gritty, dark stories from the Emerald Isle

belfast noirBelfast Noir, edited by Adrian McKinty & Stuart Neville (2014, Akashic Books) $15.95, ISBN: 9781617752919

Recommended for ages 18+

Belfast Noir is one of the latest in Akashic Books’ Noir series, spotlighting different cities across the globe. I hadn’t read a good noir story in a while, and I’m always interested in reading a good Irish author, so why not pick up an anthology of Irish noir?

This was my first entrée into Askashic’s noir series, and I was blown away with what I read. The stories, all by Irish writers, all take place in the city of Belfast – a city with a lot of history. That history, particularly the time known as “The Troubles” (the ethnic and nationalist conflict), finds its place here in Belfast Noir, as do other gritty crime stories. Many stories, while dark, are infused with the dark Irish humor I adore. There are 14 short stories in this anthology, including a story from Lee Child, who you may know from the Jack Reacher stories, or his work with Douglas Preston.

This is a great anthology of modern-day noir. The stories are gritty, exploring topics including drug use, brutality, death, and weapons-running. I wouldn’t suggest these for anyone younger than 18, but I do highly suggest them for any adult collection.