Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Already reviewed from Telgemeier, Tamaki(s), Pope, and Smith

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Sometimes you eat too much pizza. Sometimes you review a book on a nominations list that you were planning to write mini reviews on. Sometimes you do both when the mini-reviews are to be written. I already did the work, so you can clicky click to the reviews!

sisterstelgemeier

Sisters

Raina Telgemeier, writer and illustrator

Graphix (Scholastic)

I reviewed it on here!

Excerpt: “Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms. . .”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. Telgemeier is my go-to author for realistic teen comics, and this one is no exception.

RiseofAuroraWest-200x300

The Rise of Aurora West

Paul Pope, Writer

J.T. Petty, Writer

David Rubin, Illustrator

First Second

I reviewed it on No Flying No Tights

Excerpt: “The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of theBattling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come.”

Is it “Great” for teens?:  Yes. I love the adventure, danger and mystery in the world that Pope has created, and Aurora has a complex and emotionally layered story to tell. (Just wish it were in color).

thisonesummertamaki

This One Summer

Jillian Tamaki, illustrator

Mariko Tamaki, writer

First Second

I reviewed it here!

Excerpt: “It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which.”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. I think everyone should read this. It’s gorgeous. Read it. Read it. Read it.

barbarianlord

Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My review is over at No Flying No TightsHere’s a small excerpt:

“Those who come to Barbarian Lord looking for a simple adventure will find their fair share of fights, trolls, political machinations, and swords. However, some readers may be put off by its formal language and sentence construction (e.g. “Your gods are as grim as your land. You should look to Skraal, who flies over your mountain god and must then be his better”). For those who love traditional storytelling and the epic deeds of gods, monsters, and men, there is much to enjoy herein. Barbarian Lord subverts expectations by delivering more than it seems at first to offer—just as Barbarian Lord is more than a brutish warrior beneath the grimace.”

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know! I definitely like it. I can see some teens getting into it. Once more of them read it I’ll get back to you….

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Why Aren’t You Reading… The Tapestry Series by Henry H. Neff?

houndofrowanthesecondsiegethefiendandtheforgethemaelstrom

by Tessa

Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands,  in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?

BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.

There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t  yet heard of it.

Pros:

– Irish mythology!

Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.

Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.

– Totally epic, metal demons

Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009’s Absu:

The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
mountain-lord Enlil

The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room

Nunbarshegunu
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame

I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.

A new kind of adversary

Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) - via Wikipedia

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) – via Wikipedia

Cons:

– The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)

I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.

– The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.

I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.

– His website uses Papyrus as a title font.

 

Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?

Re-Read: The Child Queen & The High Queen

A Review of The Child Queen and The High Queen, by Nancy McKenzie

Del Ray, 1994

By REBECCA, July 27, 2012

The Child Queen Nancy McKenzie  The High Queen Nancy McKenzie

hook

Guinevere lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Elaine in Wales; she’s adventurous and really only wants to ride her horses. Her cousin, Elaine, however, wants nothing more than to be chosen as the bride of the newly-widowed high king—Arthur of Camelot. When a chance encounter places Guinevere in Arthur’s sights, neither girl gets what she wants: Elaine is bitter and bereft, and Guinevere terrified of losing first her freedom and, later, her love for another horse-lover. You guessed it: Lancelot.

why am i re-reading these?

Queen of Camelot Nancy McKenzie I first read these around the time the came out, so I was around 12, and I read them about a million times for the next few years, when I was going through a bit of an Arthur-Guinevere phase. I loved the intricacy of the history/mythology of Arthurian stories and how differently each author would characterize the familiar figures, all of which stemmed from reading these books by Nancy McKenzie, collectively called The Tale Of Guinevere and King Arthur (apparently she doesn’t get an honorific) and re-released in one volume called Queen of Camelot (in which she does). In high school, I was a really big historical fiction fan, among other things, and I think that McKenzie’s books were something of a gateway drug for me: it was the richness of this other world that captivated me, much in the same way that world-building in fantasy or science fiction can transport me. As a result of reading these, I went on to be totally obsessed with all of Sharon Kay Penman‘s books, which I highly recommend for any historical fiction fans out there.

I wanted to re-read this duology because I’m not so much into historical fiction anymore, and in nearly all realms I absolutely couldn’t care less about royalty. So, I wanted to see if this world still worked its magic on me, or whether I was distracted by the . . . romanticization of the mythos of it all.

do the books hold up?

They do, actually. The things that I most appreciated about the books remain untouched by a broader view of the world and literature! Those are:

Gustave Doré Idylls of the King

Gustave Doré’s gorgeous illustration of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King

1. Arthur is an amazing character. Now, I am not swoony about princes/kings in the slightest—in fact, I can think of few things less appealing than being partnered with someone who is not only used to being deferred to all the time but also is licensed to go to war at any moment should others fail to defer. And, granted, Arthur is used to being deferred to, and he does go to war. But, he is a wonderfully complex character driven by a simple trait: pragmatism. I know that may sound kind of boring, but I think the majority of pragmatic characters are portrayed as being in some way lacking in compassion, complexity, desire, or subtlety—as if the only way to maintain a pragmatic worldview is to be devoid of emotion, which I think is totally inaccurate.

Rather, Arthur is the finest version of the character: he had greatness thrust upon him young, and with it came an immense sense of responsibility, the sense (rightly so) that he has the opportunity to change the world. He is even-keeled, passionate, and honest, about both his desires and his expectations. And in this way, McKenzie cuts through the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triad that has always seemed like something of a Gordian knot to me in other renditions: simply put, both Guinevere and Lancelot love and revere Arthur more than they do each other. And, in this telling, that reverence is rightly placed.

2. Extremely deftly-constructed characters with psychologically-complex motivations. My favorite thing about The Child Queen and The High Queen is that McKenzie’s characters are motivated by their own psychologies and, thus, they read into the motivations and actions of other characters in ways that are accurate for their own characters. So, Elaine is childish and selfish, which means that she assumes childishness and selfishness of others; Guinevere knows Elaine is childish and selfish, but she, herself, is mature and stoic, so despite her knowledge of what Elaine is, Guinevere misjudges her in a critical moment. Further, a lot of the discussions between Arthur and his knights and Guinevere involve Guinevere explaining the behavior of Arthur’s perceived foes in ways that he and his knights don’t see, etc. (Of course, there are moments of this that read as your typical “men are warmongers; women show them another way” trope, but it’s realistically done, given the time period and military traditions).

Gandalf

I like to imagine that Merlin and Gandalf are best friends who discourse on the peskiness of humans while playing magical chess across the ages.

3. Freaking Merlin, y’all. Do I believe in fate? No. Do I love the shit out of some wizards, prophesies, curses, and destinies? Hell yes, I do. I’ve always found the relationships between wizards and their chosen mortals really compelling. And kind of hot. They’re such a power struggle, you know? Merlin can see the future, so he thinks he knows what he’s talking about; Arthur knows people and has might, so he thinks he knows what he’s doing. Merlin has ultimate knowledge, but he chooses (?) to use it to keep this really hot, honorable guy safe and make his name live throughout the ages? Arthur is a super strong, charismatic king who can do anything he wants, and he goes practically catatonic with despair when Merlin is harmed or he thinks he dies? It’s hot. Anyhoo, Merlin. Creepy, for sure. And awesome.

4. Mordred! I hope I’m not spoiling the story for anyone, but it turns out that Arthur was tricked into getting a bastard son on his half-sister (it happens, okay?). In many renderings of the story, Mordred is framed as a traitor who ruins Camelot and Arthur’s dream of a united kingdom. In The High Queen, though, Mordred is a super interesting character who is actually kind of a bastion of proto-radicalism in terms of envisioning an actually united kingdom—as in, a kingdom that includes the tribes that other kings have previously thought of as “barbaric.” Mordred wants trade and mutual learning with these tribes rather than war or assimilation, and Guinevere shares his vision. It is this political difference—or perhaps more accurately put, a difference in what Mordred and Arthur believe people are capable of—that finally drives a wedge between father and son. And it’s so well-handled. McKenzie spends a really long time building up their relationship and showing why they have this difference of opinion.

Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton

Accolade, by E.B. Leighton

The most significant difference in my re-reading of The Child Queen and The High Queen was my memory of Guinevere. When I first read the books, like I said, I was 12 and in the books Guinevere is 15 when she marries Arthur, so I felt like we were pretty akin. At the time, I really liked her—I mean, sure, she speaks in an oddly formal way, but, I mean, it’s the 5th century; and, sure, she’s said to be the most beautiful person who ever lived, but she’s not vain or anything. So, when I re-read the books, I imagined to still identify with the compassionate, generous, smart Guinevere I remembered. It was kind of strange, then, to find, at least in The Child Queen, where she’s between 8 and 20, that Guinevere reminded me less of a really together, precocious girl, and more like Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game: kind of preternaturally strategic and able to bury her feelings. I don’t mean this as a bad thing; she simply felt different to me as a 30 year old than she did as a teenager. And, of course, now that I’m an adult, I wanted to sit Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot down and say, “hey, friends, you don’t all have to be miserable, guilt-ridden, and horny all the time; you can just all three be in a relationship together and everybody wins!”

All in all, this was a delight to reread and I’d definitely recommend The Child Queen and The High Queen for anyone who is interested in historical fiction, epic fantasy, or anything to do with Arthuriana.

what are my other favorite re-tellings of the Arthurian legend? i’m so glad you asked

The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1984). Such a totally different vision of the mytho and the characters than McKenzie’s, The Mists of Avalon is told from the perspective of the women who are rarely mentioned in stories that foreground Arthur and the knights of the round table.Okay, I know, I know, it’s obvious, but it really bears reflecting on: this book is so good and magical that a dear friend of mine has read it like 20 times but has still never read the last chapter so that she can believe that it doesn’t end. Done.

The Winter King Bernard Cornwell

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell (1997). Book 1 in the Warlord Chronicles series, The Winter King is all about the military and political aspects of King Arthur’s campaigns. I really like military history and am interested in this era’s military-political history in particular. This is definitely more about Arthur, Lancelot, Mordred, and the other dudes, but what it lacks in characterization it definitely makes up for in plot and action—super exciting.

Excalibur John Boorman

Excalibur, directed by John Boorman (1981). This star-studded cast is only barely outshined by the intense weirdness of this adaptation, which literalizes the magical elements of the myth, such as humans disguising themselves as animals. Pretty freaking delightful.

procured from: my home library

And you, gentle reader? Were you a closet Arthur geek? An out and proud Arthuriana lover? Never quite saw the appeal? What are your favorite versions of the story? Tell us in the comments!

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