November 17, 2017

Fathers and sons in America: A Matt Phelan Masterpost

I had said in last week's post that today I'd be writing a Matt Phelan 'masterpost'. Typically this means that I cover 3+ books by a single author (or multiple authors writing together in a series). However, today I'm just going to talk about 2 books because honestly that's all I could get my hands on and so that's all I managed to read. :-) I picked up Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton and The Storm in the Barn with fairly high expectations based on the work I had seen by Phelan in the Comics Squad compilation I read and reviewed not too long ago. On the one hand, I was not at all disappointed. The illustration style is most definitely up my street. He is excellent at drawing evocative expressions on people's faces. I think where I was let down was on the overall reading experience. Let me take each of the books separately so that I can (hopefully) explain what I mean.

I read Bluffton first because it featured a circus and I am all about that circus lifestyle. Firstly, when I grabbed this book I somehow missed the subtitle and therefore was shocked to discover that one of the main characters in this book is that famous star of vaudeville, Buster Keaton. Secondly, I went into this book expecting a rollicking good time and instead got a somewhat borderline depressing narrative of what the childhood of Buster would have entailed since he was a performer from infancy. It's about the expectations that a parent has for their child and how those might be vastly different from the aspirations that the child holds for themselves. It's also about the nature of friendship and jealousy (especially when one of the friends is an itinerant performer). It's a coming of age tale that paints a rather grim picture of child stardom and how the experiences of our youth shape us into the adults that we will one day become.

Then there was The Storm in the Barn which I can only categorize as a Debbie Downer type of book. I'm not sure that this falls under any one genre. It's most certainly historical fiction as it depicts a little boy, his family, and his community as they struggle during the time of the Dust Bowl in Kansas circa 1937. However, it also contains fantasy elements of which I can't really go into without spoiling the plot... It's certainly rooted in reality because Phelan does not shy away from the harsh conditions that these characters face (don't even get me started on the rabbits). He covers bullying from both peers and parents. The protagonist is forced to watch a beloved sister struggle with a possibly fatal illness. The entire plot is fraught with tension and a dark cloud seems to hover over every page. What I'm trying to say is that if you're looking for a light read to send your tots to sleep at night then you should probably keep looking. BUT if you wanted to teach your kids about an era of history that's not usually dwelt upon in the classroom then this might indeed be the right selection for you.

I'd rate both books about the same. In terms of imagery and writing, they're both 10/10. The issue is that I held expectations about these books (as readers do from time to time) and I finished both of these feeling somewhat let down. I understand that not all books are going to be rosy, sweet, and fun. I know that not every book has a happy ending. And yet when these two books delivered hardship, sadness, and loss I was ill prepared and disgruntled. I can't honestly flaw these books and say that from a reviewer's standpoint they were faulty...but I still find it difficult to give them full marks just the same. Does this make sense? I guess my point is that a book can tick off all the boxes and still fall short based on the assumptions of the reader and/or their relative mood when they picked up the book. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now let's take a look at some of the illustrations:

Source: Amazon

Source: YouTube

Source: Amazon

Source: books4school

What's Up Next: Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir by Ingeborg Day

What I'm Currently Reading: Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers by David Stabler

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 11, 2017

Impatient to read the next one

In an effort to expand my repertoire of graphic novels and maybe be more helpful when recommending books to my library patrons I took a trip to the shelves. I came upon a set of 3 books in a series written by Judd Winick and their covers were so eye-catching that I decided to grab all of them to binge. I'm grateful that I did because I breezed right through them and it's left me impatient for book 4 which comes out at the beginning of next year. The series centers around a character called HiLo (arguments could be made that it's written Hilo or HILO) who crash lands onto earth (and into our hearts) with The Boy Who Crashed to Earth. The title pretty much says it, right? HiLo looks like your typical kid except that he's super strong and extremely weird. He doesn't get why clothes are mandatory or that not everyone has superpowers like he does. Luckily, he makes friends with D.J. who is more than happy to show him the ropes and to absolutely have his back...even if that means fighting robots from another dimension. By the second book, Saving the Whole Wide World, their duo has expanded to include Gina who used to be D.J.'s best friend before she moved away. She's struggling with her own identity so it's challenging to try and sort out just what kind of a creature HiLo actually is...and if he's a hero or a villain. The stakes are higher and the danger is 100% real but it doesn't seem like there's anything that HiLo can't defeat...which brings us to the third book titled The Great Big Boom. There are magical warrior cats in this book. I don't think I need to say anything else because MAGICAL WARRIOR CATS. HiLo and his friends are going up against the ultimate baddie and it's only going to get worse which is why I'm practically vibrating with excitement over Waking the Monsters which is set for release on 1/16/18.

These books are full of heart and what it means to be a loyal friend no matter what (even if there are killer robots). The illustrations are 99% of the reason why I love these books. The colors, characters, and layouts are perfectly married to the hilarious, heartwarming prose. This is a solid 10/10 for me and I have been recommending it so much that now we only have book 2 sitting lonely on our shelves (they're going like hotcakes is what I'm saying). So catch up so that like me you can sit in anticipation for the 4th book to hit the shelves!



All images sourced from Penguin Random House

What's Up Next: Matt Phelan Masterpost

What I'm Currently Reading: Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith & I'm rereading Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie because I just saw the film :-D

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 3, 2017

What makes us "real"?


The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold recalls to mind the memory of childhood and the power (danger?) of imagination. The story revolves around Amanda and her best friend named Rudger. They're typical friends that have lots of imaginary play, get into mischief, and share all of their secrets with one another. The only difference is that no one else can see Rudger because he's Amanda's imaginary friend. This book walks a tightrope between fantasy and reality which at times is quite blurred. This is not a fantasy full of giggles and silliness but one fraught with darkness and fear. There is a threat not only to Amanda and Rudger's friendship but to their very lives...and it's getting closer. This is a book about the true meaning of friendship and to what lengths you will go to preserve it. Also, cats. (I genuinely made a note after reading this book that was simply CATS so clearly that's an important aspect of this book.) I must also point out that the narrative was elevated even further by the fantastic illustrations of Emily Gravett. (I liked her work so much that I sought out her picture books.) I've been recommending this to reluctant readers because I think it's a great way to dip your toe into fantasy and the scary element definitely sells it as well. 9/10

Source: Bloomsbury Publishing

Source: books4yourkids.com


What's Up Next: HiLo series books 1-3 by Judd Winick

What I'm Currently Reading: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatues by Aaron Mahnke & Haunted Nights: A Horror Writers Association anthology

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

November 1, 2017

NaNoWriMo starts today!

I was once again contacted by my pals over at Inkitt to let you guys know about a new program that they're launching. The following gives you a taste of what it's all about as well as links to further info on signing up. :-)

Have you ever thought about writing a novel? There are millions of people in the world who have ideas floating around in their heads that they want to write down but never find the time.

Inkitt, the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, will be launching their first ‘Writers Write Program’  on November 1st to help you turn your idea into an original novel. The 30-day program is completely free and filled with special benefits such as:


  • Free, 30 min private sessions with professional writing coaches (including the editor of The Martian)
  • Events and tips with bestselling authors like Andy Weir, Lauren Kate, and Gayle Forman
  • A variety of community features such as the choice to get a writing buddy who you can exchange manuscript feedback with

“Our intention is to enlarge the writing community by encouraging more people to become writers,” said CEO of Inkitt, Ali Albazaz. “The program is completely free so for us this isn’t about making money; it’s about encouraging talented and committed writers to keep going and finish what they started.”


If you are serious about taking on the challenge or want to finish (or start!) a manuscript then make sure to get your spot in the program now. There is less than a week left before it starts.

LEARN MORE



More info about NaNoWriMo can be found here.

October 27, 2017

A palate cleanser

Today's book is radically different from the last couple that I've reviewed. As I've mentioned before, I sometimes just pull random books off of the shelf if the cover tickles my fancy. That's precisely how I ended up reading Comics Squad #3: Detention by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Matt Phelan, Victoria Jamieson, Ben Hatke, Rafael Rosario & Jorge Aguirre, and George O'Connor. (Please excuse me while I take a nap after copying down all of those authors.) As you might have guessed, this is a collection of comics by different authors all centering on the theme of detention. I'm obviously not the right audience for this because 1. I'm too old to get detention and 2. Even when I was old enough for it I never got detention. So while I didn't feel as overwhelmingly into this collection as a typical middle grader I still enjoyed it overall. That being said, there were some that stood out more than others and when I looked back through them I realized they were all by the same artist: Matt Phelan. I immediately added his works to my TRL (look out for that post in the near future). If you're interested in trying out a wide variety of illustrative styles and author's voices then this is a really great way to do that. It's definitely a mixed bag so you'll come away with hopefully at least one author/illustrator that you'll want to check out further. It was a light, fast read that served as somewhat of a palate cleanser after some of the denser books that I read previously. It's a 6/10 for me but I wouldn't say no to more books in this series (which do indeed exist if you didn't guess by #3 in the title).

Source: Twitter

What's Up Next: The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold with illustrations by Emily Gravett

What I'm Currently Reading: The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 20, 2017

A new perspective

Most would agree that Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species created a stir among the scientific and religious communities when it was first published (some could argue it's still wreaking havoc to this day). However, in America the hubbub was less about where God fit into the picture and more how Darwin's theory solidified the stance against slavery. The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation by Randall Fuller explores how this one book helped abolitionists build arguments based on scientific fact while at the same time forcing long-held rigid beliefs to be questioned. (I'm looking at you Bronson Alcott.) Until reading this book, I had never thought about its reception in America in terms of its historical context/proximity to the Civil War. These two events seemed to be separate while in reality they were very much interwoven. Leading authors of the day including Henry David Thoreau were well-known and vocal about ending slavery so they not only endorsed Darwin's theories but went on publicity tours to promote it (and give their own opinions). On the Origin of Species showed that all humans had a common ancestor and thus there was no reason why they should not be treated as equals. (The relevance of this book during this time of sociopolitical upheaval in America right now was not lost on me. It just goes to show that we haven't evolved that much since this book hit the shelves.) I was continually surprised by what I learned by reading this book considering that I studied Darwin while I was working on my Bachelor's degree in Anthropology. Instead of solely focusing on the religious impact (which was still significant) it would have been informative to have learned this as well. I suppose that's why Randall Fuller wrote the book! hahaha If you're like me and eager to learn more (especially in light of the insanity that is 2017) then this book is the one for you. 9/10

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: Comics Squad #3: Detention by Jennifer L. Holm (and others)

What I'm Currently Reading: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

October 17, 2017

Andrew Joyce muses on the joy (and frustration) of creating his short story collection

Today's post wasn't written by me but was instead written by guest poster, Andrew Joyce. Enjoy! :-)


Hello, my name is Andrew Joyce. I have a new book out entitled Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups. It came about because my editor hounded me for two years to put all my short stories into one collection. Actually, it was supposed to be a two-volume set because there was so much material. I fended her off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to do the work of editing all the stories. There were a lot them. But she finally wore me down. Instead of two volumes, I put all the stories into a single book because I wanted to get the whole thing over with. I had other books to write.

Bedtime Stories is made up of fiction and nonfiction stories and some of ’em are about my criminal youth. I must tell you, I never thought any of these stories would see the light of day. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. By the way, there are all sort of genres within its pages, from westerns to detective stories to love stories and just about anything else that you can imagine.
Anyway, here’s one of the shorter fiction stories from the book.

Good-Bye Miami

For the first time in my life, I’m in love. And I think she feels the same about me. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we may have to break up … sort of. Shit happens. Allow me to explain.
Her name is Jill; we met early on a Sunday morning. I was jogging along the beach at the water’s edge one minute, and the next I was splayed out in the sand. I had tripped over a woman’s recumbent body.

After the requisite apologies, we started talking. One thing led to another and we ended up having lunch together. That was eight months ago and we’ve barely been out of each other’s sight since.
Today is another Sunday much like the one when Jill and I met, but things are a little different now.
I’m an FBI agent assigned to the Miami Field Office. I was awakened at five o’clock this morning by an urgent phone call to report in immediately. There was a terrorist threat. Hell, this was the granddaddy of all threats. At 4:00 a.m., a local television station received a call stating that there was a nuclear bomb planted within the city, and at exactly 4:00 p.m., it would be detonated unless certain demands were met. The caller said there was a package sitting in the parking lot of the North Miami office of the FBI that would authenticate the threat.

It turned out to be a small nuclear bomb, which is also known as a suitcase bomb. An attached note informed us it was exactly like the one planted in downtown Miami. It also stated that if there was any effort to evacuate the populace, the bomb would definitely go off the instant word hit the media.
Every law enforcement officer—city, state, and federal—was called in. We were given gadgets that register radiation, and all personnel were assigned grids. Each person would drive his or her grid. If the meter went off, a team would be dispatched with equipment to pinpoint the emanations. Then the eggheads would dismantle the bomb.

That was the plan.

We were ordered to tell no one of the threat, but there were many surreptitious phone calls made that morning, telling family members to drive to West Palm Beach for the day. I made my own call, telling Jill that I had planned a romantic day for the two of us and asked if she would meet me in Boca Raton. I gave her the name of the hotel where I had made a reservation before calling her, and said I’d be there in the early afternoon. She readily agreed, and now I know that she is safe.

So here it is nearing four o’clock and we’ll soon see if it was a hoax or not. The clock on the dashboard reads 3:59 … 4:00 … 4:01 ... 4:02. Nothing! I’ll be damned, the whole thing was a ...





Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups is a jumble of genres—seven hundred pages of fiction and nonfiction … some stories included against the author’s better judgment. If he had known that one day they’d be published, he might not have been as honest when describing his past. Here is a tome of true stories about the author’s criminal and misspent youth, historical accounts of the United States when She was young, and tales of imagination encompassing every conceivable variety—all presented as though the author is sitting next to you at a bar and you’re buying the drinks as long as he keeps coming up with captivating stories to hold your interest.

Comprised of 218,000 words, you’ll have plenty to read for the foreseeable future. This is a book to have on your night table, to sample a story each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep.


Mr. Joyce sincerely hopes that you will enjoy his stories because, as he has stated, “It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.”



Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn't return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors' Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen's Book Reviews.

Joyce now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, Mahoney: An American Story.