Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: More Non-Fiction Comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these comics by clicking here.

This is the last of the batch!!! I’ll be posting my picks for Top Ten next week… what would yours be?

Also: HAPPY 3RD ANNIVERSARY, Crunchings & Munchings! Rebecca registered us on WordPress 3 years ago.

masterful-marks

Masterful Marks. Cartoonists Who Changed the World – 16 Graphic Biographies

Monte Beauchamp, editor

Simon & Schuster

Anticipation/expectation level: Picking up the book and flipping through it made me anticipate the act of reading it, because of the wonderful variety of drawing styles, many of them in the style of the artist that they are profiling. But an email discussion about the book pointed out some issues that I hoped wouldn’t be so prominent (spoiler alert: they were).

My Reality: Beauchamp has selected 16 figures who he thinks influenced comics history. The biographies are drawn by a wide range of artists and written by Beauchamp and others. I’m going to quote the publisher’s copy about the book to give you a better idea of the idea:

In a first-of-its-kind collection, award-winning illustrators celebrate the lives of the visionary artists who created the world of comic art and altered pop culture forever.

Sixteen Graphic Novel Biographies of:
• Walt Disney • Dr. Seuss • Charles Schulz • The Creators of Superman • R. Crumb • Jack Kirby • Winsor McCay • Hergé • Osamu Tezuka • MAD creator, Harvey Kurtzman • Al Hirschfeld • Edward Gorey • Chas Addams • Rodolphe Töpffer • Lynd Ward • Hugh Hefner

The story of cartoons—the multibillion-dollar industry that has affected all corners of our culture, from high to low—is ultimately the story of the visionary icons who pioneered the form.
But no one has told the story of comic art in its own medium—until now.

In Masterful Marks, top illustrators—including Drew Friedman, Nora Krug, Denis Kitchen, and Peter Kuper—reveal how sixteen visionary cartoonists overcame massive financial, political, and personal challenges to create a new form of art that now defines our world.

So, according to that, these are the figures that created comics – obviously not true. This is also not the first book that tells comics history in the comics form – there’s the Comic Book History of Comics,  comicbookhistorywhich is longer and more expansive, and might even include women! Actually, I’m not sure about that. But Masterful Marks definitely does not include women. It does manage to include Hugh Hefner, who was an amateur cartoonist and a publisher of comics artist. But it does not not an actual woman who creates comics or publishes comics. No Francoise Mouly. No Lynda Barry or Trina Robbins or Alison Bechdel or Tove Jansson or Jackie Ormes. Masterful Marks is narrowly focused because its editor is narrowly focused.

The comics themselves are lovely. But they are short. There is a lot of information to get into 16 pages or whatever, and so many of them have panels that are too crowded with narration, or panels that just have the biographical figure listing facts about themselves with no arc to the comic. The Walt Disney comic is just 2 anthropomorphic animals roaming the countryside – there is no point to that one being a comic at all.

Some of them are really great! Drew Friedman draws a personal story about how he knows Harvey Kurtzman, and because it has a personal connection that frames the story, it works. It doesn’t try to encompass the man’s entire life.

But not enough of them are great to make this book work. I would love to see full length, even 48 page comic biographies using this conceit, but the collection isn’t coherent enough to be even a rough history of comics, and the comics themselves are hamstrung by the length limitation.

Will teens like it?: I can see teens missing out on a lot of information trying to use this as a resource for a paper.

Is it “great” for teens?: No.

Art Taste:

masterful-marks-rcrumb

masterful-marks-addams

09-Shuster

dreamless dead

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics.

Chris Duffy, editor

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: Chris Duffy puts together some really excellent collections of comics adaptations of prose works for First Second, so I figured this had a good chance of being great.

My Reality: The poems and the art in this collection work so, so well together, better than I ever thought they would. The panels of the comics let the reader slow down and not rush through the poetry. It’s a treat to see how each artist tackles and interprets the pieces they have chosen/are assigned. Above the Dreamless Dead is a wonderful book to think about history, visual literacy, and poetry. And a great companion to read with Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood! The artists include Luke Pearson, Eddie Campbell, Anders Nilsen, Danica Novgorodoff and Hannah Berry, among others.

Will teens like it?: They’d be lucky to come across this book.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

dreamlessdead1 dreamlessdead2 dreamlessdead3 dreamlessdead4

MADISON-SQ-TRAGEDYcover

A Treasury of XXth Century Murder:  Madison Square Tragedy – The Murder of Stanford White  

Rick Geary, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/expectation level: I like Rick Geary’s historical murder books. They are usually well-researched, with a well-balanced structure of plot, art, and historical context/facts.

My Reality: I was especially interested to read this because of the Pittsburgh connection – the murderer was Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh. As this book shows, he was a real jerk and suffered from a combination of mental illness and wealth that allowed him to shoot a man in the face, beat and emotionally abuse his wife, and feel like it was his right to do so, and suffer barely any consequences for it. Stanford White sounds like a creep, too, but that doesn’t mean he should have been shot in the face. And poor Evelyn Nesbit. This is really her story, and it’s not a happy one.

I think a good comic book about history gives a full story and makes the reader want to dive more into the subject, and Madison Square Tragedy had exactly that effect on me. I closed the book and started looking up Thaw’s home in Pittsburgh, hoping it was still standing (it’s not – but the carriage house was on the market for over a million dollars a couple years back, and that’s a Pittsburgh valuation, which means it would sell for much more in any other city). I did find articles about Thaw’s home and his trial in the New York Times database, and they were fascinating. And I want to know more about Evelyn.

Will teens like it?: I always wonder if the “old timey” stylization of Geary’s art is a barrier for teens – I think that teens who are into true crime stories could get past it, but I don’t think these books, however worthy, are ever going to be shelf-jumpers in the teen section (I just made that term up).

Is it “great” for teens?: I still think it’s great.

Art Taste:

gearypreview

strangefruit

Strange Fruit – Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

Joel Christian Gill, writer and artist

Fulcrum Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: The title certainly got me interested!

My Reality: As Gill’s first collection of comics, it shows a progression from competent to assured – you can see him relying on a similar format for story and panels for the first couple stories, then starting to branch out and become more comfortable with using his writing with his art. Consequently, the book gets more powerful as it goes along. Gill starts out with Henry “Box” Brown – the slave who shipped himself to freedom. That is the most well-known of Gill’s subjects – as promised, these are heretofore uncelebrated narratives in Black history, and I love that he has found them and started the celebration.

Will teens like it?: Yes, especially teens looking for subjects for their Black History Month projects.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

strangefruit41

colonial comics

Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750

Jason Rodriguez, editor

Fulcrum Publishing

I’m still on hold for this, wah waaah. The cover has such lovely colors!

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A Review of Made of Stars, by Kelley York

Entangled Teen, 2013

Made of Stars by Kelley York

by REBECCA, September 23, 2013

Hunter and his half-sister Ashlin have spent nearly every summer since they were kids at their dad’s house in Maine, with their best friend, Chance, the impulsive, whimsical, and mysterious boy they met at the creek. But after their cop father was shot and needed time to recover, it’s been a while since they were back, and since they’ve seen Chance. Now, in the winter after they graduate high school, both Hunter and Ashlin have put college or future plans on hold to return to their father’s house and take some time to figure things out. Since Chance always had a million excuses why they couldn’t talk on the phone or email, Hunter and Ashlin can’t tell him they’re coming to town, and both are desperate to see him, finally.

When they show up on his doorstep in November, a place they’ve never been allowed to go, they find that the stories Chance has always told them—about his parents’ frequent travel, their nice home, and his life—are lies. His parents’ trailer is run-down, his father violent, and his mother neglectful. How could they never have noticed the signs before? But when they finally catch up with Chance, he’s as captivating as ever and the three fall back into their familiar habits of spending every day together. Indeed, Chance nearly lives at their house. When Hunter’s girlfriend comes to visit for Christmas, though, Hunter has to confront the idea that maybe Chance has always meant more to him than just a friend—and that may mean more than he’s willing to admit.

Made of Stars is a near-perfect story: it’s simple, resonant, and beautifully characterized, and I loved every minute of it. The narrative shifts between Hunter and Ashlin’s perspectives, and it’s through their adoring eyes that we see Chance. Now that they’re eighteen, what was once a sibling closeness takes on a more adult intimacy, and Kelley York does a bang-up job of evoking the tension in this triangle. Chance is like a puppy—easily affectionate, loyal, and sensitive—and Hunter and Ashlin have different reactions to him. Ash realizes that she’s attracted to Chance and wants him to trust her. Hunter realizes that what he’d always taken for friendship may actually be love, and he wants desperately to protect Chance.

The contrast between the warm, familial scenes in Hunter and Ash’s father’s house and the hell that Hunter and Ash suddenly realize Chance has grown up in is gutting. It’s also lovely to see a half-sibling relationship in YA lit that’s close and supportive rather than competitive. Hunter and Ash live with their mothers across the country from each other, and they live for the summers when they get to be together, and with Chance. The idea that both Hunter and Ash have been unable to decide what to do with their lives after high school until they can get back to Maine and see Chance again runs subtly through Made of Stars.

After Hunter and Ash realize that Chance has hidden major things about his life, he’s recontextualized in their eyes, and they want to help him. Chance, however, just wants to forget about his life when Hunter and Ash aren’t around, and to enjoy the time they have together. When Chance’s mother is murdered, though, and Chance becomes a suspect, that becomes impossible. The helplessness that Hunter and Ash feel is tangible on the page, and is a beautiful counterpart to the joy they feel when Chance is around.

Hushed by Kelley YorkThe one critique I have of Made of Stars is simply that Ash and Hunter’s voices are never quite distinct enough, so when the perspective shifted, I often found myself looking back to see who was narrating.

As with the first book of hers that I read (and LOVED—see full review HERE), HushedMade of Stars is a book about relationships, and the interplay of the characters is the drama. It’s beautifully understated while still leaving me desperate to turn the page and find out what was going to happen next.

readalikes

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie (2012). Twins Andrew and Andrea have always been the best of friends. When a new kid moves to their school from Texas, and Andrew realizes that his feelings for him may go beyond friendship, it changes his relationship with Andrea dramatically. My full review is HERE.

Stick by Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of the really wonderful Stick is HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Made of Stars, by Kelley York, will be available October 1st.

Best Friend 4-Ever: Paper Valentine

A Review of Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff 

Razorbill, 2013

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, August 12, 2013

Hannah’s best friend Lillian has been dead for six months, but for Hannah, she’s always around. And now Lillian is helping her investigate a string of murders that have been committed against teenaged girls in their town—murders connected by paper valentines left at the scene. As if that weren’t enough, Hannah finds herself drawn to Finny Boone, a boy who seems to shoplift more than he goes to school. Can Hannah solve the murders, or will she become the next victim?

Brenna Yovanoff’s Paper Valentine is about a serial killer, sure, but it’s at its most interesting when it’s exploring the territory of friendship and the ways that style and taste both express our personalities and exert control over them.

Lillian was the queen bee of her and Hannah’s group of friends, and she set their agenda:

“It was Lillian who decided . . . that there was room for only one really enviable group in school, and we were going to be that group. . . . The kind where when a band gets big or a movie comes out, everyone checks to see how you feel about it before they can decide if they like it, and if you come to class with neon crackle nail polish or colored eyeliner, they all have to . . . get it too, but they never forgot that you wore it first.

That was what Lillian wanted . . . we’d be the girls you could never confuse with anyone else. The girls who invented the colors and started the trends . . . The biggest requirement of Lillian’s fashion philosophy was to always wear it—whatever it was—like you meant it. Like no one in the world could inhabit that exact outfit but you.” (50-51).”

The girls make their own clothes, sewing one thing into another and adding whimsical decorations, Lillian always the arbiter of taste and Hannah her best friend. When vibrant Lillian dies from anorexia, though, Hannah is left feeling uncertain of herself. Lillian’s ghost has stuck around, though, and only Hannah can see her. Little by little, they realize that they have information about the murders that are terrifying their suburban town, and Hannah puts the pieces together.

Paper Valentine by Brenna YovanoffThe atmosphere of Paper Valentine is spot-on: spooky in a heat-dazed, summer-tranced kind of way. In the mornings, Hannah walks her little sister, Ariel,  to music camp, where she runs into Finny Boone, who’s there for summer school. Hannah’s known Finny since elementary school, but never really spoken to him—he has a reputation for being a bit of a delinquent. Once, though, Finny stuck up for Hannah and she’s never forgotten it. She finds herself drawn to him, and he turns out to be a sweetheart. Plus, it’s super convenient to have a very tall/strong boyfriend when there’s a serial killer on the loose, amiright?

Paper Valentine does pretty well in terms of its component parts. The scenes of Hannah and Lillian’s friendship, and their clique, are perfectly-pitched psychodrama; the scenes of Hannah and Finny’s burgeoning friendship and romance are touching; and the throughline of the serial killer mystery is fairly satisfying. It’s just that there are a LOT of them and, for me, the book felt like it didn’t go quite deep enough into any of them to fully inhabit them. Hannah and Lillian’s friendship isn’t actually anything you’ve not seen before; Finny is your quintessential gentle giant character; and the murder mystery element, while dramatic, felt more like backdrop than narrative backbone.

I felt like Paper Valentine itself was the ghost of a few different books combined and it couldn’t decide what should be in the foreground and what in the background: are the serial murders just a backdrop against which to tell the story of Hannah’s recovery from a trauma? Or, is Hannah’s grief the backdrop against which the murders spur her to start a new relationship? It isn’t really clear, and, as such, I wasn’t quite sure what the stakes were. I enjoyed the book—Yovanoff is a solid writer, and the world she built is evocative and interesting—but each element gets about the same amount of development, and the result is a competent book that feels like a bit of a flatline. If one or two of these elements could have fallen to the background, leaving room for more development of one or two others, it would have had the peaks and valleys I craved by the end.

Lillian is the most vivid character and she haunts Paper Valentine as she does Hannah. I like the idea (if this was intentional), but the effect is still that Hannah seems lackluster. And, as in Pretty Little Liars, I’m left wondering what’s to like about these control-freak-mean-girls. I didn’t mind that there’s never really an explanation of whether ghosts are, like, a thing in the world of this book, or if it’s just Lillian, but it’s definitely one more thing the story skates on the surface of. Overall, I enjoyed the book as it unfolded, but found myself unable to remember much about it besides the outfits when it was over.

received from: the library

5 Reasons You Should Watch Hemlock Grove!

A Review of Hemlock Grove, Season 1, created by Eli Roth & based on the book by Brian McGreevy

Netflix, 2012

Hemlock GroveNetflix debuted its third original series on Friday: Hemlock Grove, a tale of a small town with big secrets. Now, nearly every news outlet and reviewer has panned Hemlock Grove. However, lest you find yourselves without my opinion on the matter, here it is: I TOTALLY ENJOYED IT!

Hemlock Grove is set in a small Pennsylvania town where girl has just been violently murdered—torn apart by . . . is it an animal? a crazed killer? We don’t know. But, in the crosshairs of the rumor mill surrounding the murder are the newly-arrived Peter and Lynda Rumancek, a Romani mother and son who the suspicious town calls filthy gypsies, and the Godfrey family, most notably to-the-manor-born Roman, who uses his beauty to get what he wants (and, when that doesn’t work, his gaze, which compels obedience), his mother, Olivia, the “most beautiful and hated woman” in Hemlock Grove, and his sister, Shelley, a lurching, seven-foot-tall girl who can’t speak and glows with strong feeling. The first murder, of course, is no isolated incident; they are occurring every full moon, giving rise to rumors that it’s a werewolf committing them—and that Peter is the werewolf.

Is Hemlock Grove the smartest, least misogynist, most disciplined, least derivative, and most sex-positive show that’s ever aired? Em, no. But it has a totally awesome opening credits sequence. And here are five reasons why I think Hemlock Grove is totally worth watching.

1. Genre Feast! If you’ve ever read Crunchings and Munchings or met me (or, really, talked to me for, like, two minutes) then you know I am a fool for genre; especially interesting combinations of genre. Well, Hemlock Grove has . . . all of them, really. Its main genre is a kind of horror-light supernatural mystery. It’s a werewolf story, complete with its own set of werewolf lore, from a Romani perspective, and what is probably my new favorite human-to-wolf transformation method. Hemlock GroveIt’s gross and cool and the effects are done really well. Then, there’s the small-town gothic, one of my favorite genres. Hemlock Grove is a creepy place, complete with secrets, cliques, only one high school (which we all know can tip any show into horror!), and an eerie combination of woodland and broken-down industrial wasteland. In addition, there are definite notes of the fairy tale, the 18th-century novel (hello, Shelley, anyone? p.s., she lives in the attic . . .), and good, old-fashioned camp. There is also a bit of a science fiction twist: Godfrey tower, the town’s only skyscraper, houses secret medical experiments, run by the sociopathic Dr. Pryce (yet another nod to classic horror). This storyline is less developed, presumably to keep our interest for season two . . .

2. Binge! Netflix has gotten a mixed response to their experiment of releasing all the episodes of their original programs at once—folks seemed to love what it did for House of Cards and hate what it did for Hemlock Grove. Well, I say, bless you, Netflix, for finally acting on the behalf of people like me who would rather wait a year to be able to watch a whole season of a show at once, rather than wait around week-to-week and watch one episode at a time. Now, the critiques of this strategy are that without the necessity to compel an audience to come back each week, Hemlock Grove writers and producers were not nearly as disciplined with their cliffhangers and structure as they would otherwise need to be. But I really liked the feeling of chugging through all at once, not just because I am a binger, but because many episodes picked up exactly where the last left off, giving it a novelistic  or filmic feeling. Also, it allowed them to avoid one of my all-time pet peeves of serial tv: when the “previously on” recap totally gives away what’s going to happen in the episode based on what clips from previous episodes they show. WHY, for the love of god, has no one solved this problem, yet, I ask you!? But Hemlock Grove doesn’t need to do this, so I was never taken out of the story. It uses flashbacks where necessary, which aren’t the most graceful thing ever, in terms of filmmaking, but totally serve their purpose. And, at thirteen episodes, it was the perfect length for a weekend binge (#don’tjudgeme).

Hemlock Grove3. Depressed Industrial Town! Hemlock Grove‘s setting is a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be home to a booming steel industry, a downturn in which threw the town into a depression, only saved by Roman’s late father, who turned to the biotech industry, but in the process laid off many people in town. This made the Godfrey family many enemies and resulted in huge, abandoned factories and broken-down machinery for bored teenagers to smoke in, have sex near, and search for bodies in. It also created a stark disparity of wealth between the Godfreys and nearly every other family in town, especially the Rumanceks. Roman wears tailored overcoats, does a lot of drugs, drives a fancy sports car, and has perfectly coiffed hair while Peter is scruffy, with long fingernails, vaguely dirty hair, persistent two-day stubble, and grimy jeans. Class, then, is always subtext in Hemlock Grove, and while the show does a shitty job with gender, it’s more savvy in terms of economy. Plus, abandoned industrial shit is awesome-looking.

4. Wacky Casting! One thing that amused me about Hemlock Grove was the fact that its casting directors clearly didn’t give a good goddamn about realism in terms of casting, so the show is kind of accent soup. But it really worked out well (except for Famke Janssen who plays Olivia Godfrey, doing a British accent like she was barely even trying). Peter, played by Landon Liboirin, is charming and not smarmy and doesn’t overdo things, for the most part. I do not know what is in the water over in Sweden, but Roman is played by Bill Skarsgård, another in the seemingly endless line of extremely beautiful children sired by Stellan Hemlock GroveSkarsgård. Like, seriously, I’m starting to think that every time I clap my hands a Skarsgård cheekbone sharpens. Anyhoo, Roman is totally delightful as the mercurial heir apparent: he’s fucked up for sure, and you can see exactly how he got that way. He also does my favorite thing a character can do, which is that he sometimes makes really terrible decisions and sometimes makes really good ones. Because, you know, that’s what people do. Also delightful is first-timer Nicole Boivin as Shelley, who is expressive when not speaking, but also really touching and funny in her voice-overs as she writes Jane-Austen-inspired emails to her uncle (Dougray Scott!). But the you’re-awesome-why-weren’t-you-in-every-scene award goes to the always-amazing Lili Taylor, who plays Peter’s mother. Ah well; maybe next season.

Hemlock Grove Brian McGreevy5. A Real, Season-Long Plot! Hemlock Grove is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, who also wrote some of the episodes. As such, the whole season was already plotted out for the creators/writers. This is such a good thing, I think, because with so many elements at play (genres, mystery, murder, relationships), Hemlock Grove is a mixture that could quickly have gotten out of hand and turned crazy. And if there’s one thing I will argue to anyone about the show it’s that it does not go off the rails, plot-wise. There are definitely things that aren’t tied up completely or explained fully—possibly because we’ll get more about them in the next season, if they make one—but for the most part, this is a well-plotted show. It’s not particularly tight, which has been a critique of the show but which I found thoroughly enjoyable: this is a show that sits back and stretches its legs, sure the next thing will happen pretty soon, not a show that chases every speck of dust. It’s not particularly invested in action, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. There is; it comes from having a mysterious plot instead of trying to building a cliffhanger before every commercial break. So, for me, the fact that the show was confident in where its material was going allowed for it to take the long way, something that gave the show texture and mood, even if it didn’t make every second count. I was never bored and I felt like I got the time to get to know the characters.

So, there you have it: five reasons I really enjoyed Hemlock Grove! There are, of course, negatives as well, and it will likely come as no surprise that they’re nearly all to do with misogyny. The show—and I don’t know if this is the book or creator Eli Roth—just can not stop punishing women for having sexual desire, so that’s a total bummer. There is a plot point (no spoilers) that goes Hemlock Grovetotally unacknowledged, but which makes me feel wretched for still liking Roman. Olivia Godfrey/Famke Janssen is a “strong and beautiful woman,” which apparently now is synonymous with a cold borderline sociopath with incestuous tendencies where her son is concerned. I’m so deathly sick of this character (and Famke Janssen seems to play her in 4/5 of her movies). I haven’t read the novel that Hemlock Grove is based on in order to know how much of that is the show’s interpretation of the character. Either way, I want to go on record as providing future novelists/tv and film creators with the following cheat sheet:

It is possibly for women to be strong without being evil; it is possible for women to be evil without being sociopaths; it is possible for women to be strong and evil in ways that are not fixated on their children!

SO, have you watched Hemlock Grove? What did you think? Are you going to watch it? Why or why not? 

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Secrets: Sketchy

A Review of Sketchy (Bea Catcher Chronicles #1) by Olivia Samms

Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013

Sketchy Olivia Samms

by REBECCA, April 3, 2013

characters

Bea: 3 months sober, and with her sobriety has come the rather disturbing ability to draw what people see

Chris: Bea’s bestie at her new school, he’s sweet and accepts Bea, creepy powers and all

Willa: she was recently raped but won’t pursue charges for fear of having her own secrets exposed

hook

Bea is the oddball new girl in school, an outsider because of her reputation, her style choices, her addiction, and—oh, yeah—her power to draw whatever truths people are thinking. Girls in Ann Arbor are being attacked and the one who survived goes to Bea’s new school. Can Bea use her gift to draw the truth out of Willa? Will anyone believe her even if she can? And why is Bea so hell-bent on solving this case, anyway . . . ?

worldview

Ann ArborOk, so I can’t lie—my primary motivation in reading Sketchy was that it’s set in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I grew up! And I’m really glad I did, because it was definitely a fun read. Sketchy finds Bea three months sober and dealing with her newfound gift as she starts Packard High School, a big change from the private, all-girls school she’d attended before rehab.

Since I grew up in A2, I couldn’t help but try and figure out where everything was taking place. It’s mentioned that Bea’s house is on the edge of University of Michigan’s campus, so I thought Packard High must be modelled on Pioneer High School; besides, Pioneer is close to Packard Road. The novel opens, however, with some boys finding Willa’s body when they go to smoke pot at the creek near school, which reminds me so much of Huron River Ratswandering across the street from Huron High School to the river . . . so, you know, I could be wrong. Further suggesting it may be modelled on Huron is that students call Packard High Packrat High, and Huron’s mascot is the River Rat, chosen, for anyone who’s interested, by a landslide write-in vote when Huron first opened. It was a reclamation of the term, originally derogatorily flung at those students who lived near the Huron River but were forced to attend Pioneer High because there wasn’t yet a second high school in town. Or, at least, that’s the story I always heard. I went to Huron, in case you were wondering. (Which is it, Olivia Samms; I need to know!)

Anyhoosier, Sketchy is set in a realist world—except for Bea’s power, of course. For anyone from A2, you’ll recognize landmarks like the Arboretum, North Campus, and frat row. But if you’re not from Ann Arbor, you’ll probably enjoy Sketchy anyway. Olivia Samms manages to get in a bit of the grittiness of addiction while still keeping it realistic in a teenage, college town context. We learn how Bea got into drugs in well-paced flashbacks, and we learn what her connection is to the current spate of girls who are taken, raped, and then killed. Well, killed except for one—Willa, who was left for dead—who crosses Bea’s path at Packard High.

Sketchy Olivia SammsBea is a talented artist (even when she’s not drawing the truth out of people), daughter of two artist parents, and seems like a pretty cool person when she’s sober and not extracting your deepest secrets. She sticks up for Chris when he’s bullied for being gay, and she honestly wants to help catch whoever is hurting people (and is willing to go to great lengths to do so). Sketchy is fast-paced, so we don’t get huge insight into Bea, despite her being our narrator, but I anticipate more of that as the series continues. I don’t mean that she isn’t a fleshed-out character—she is. It’s just that her narrative isn’t really about her; she’s the camera we see through.

The background of Bea’s family was particularly interesting—and it seems pretty clear that it’s something that will come into play more as the series continues. Bea is half black and half Italian, and issues of race come up, if superficially (for example, Bea has always been self-conscious about her hair, the texture of which prompted some of her classmates to call her “Chia Pet” and “Beaver-head” in elementary school). I’m always glad when a character’s race is something that an author attends to intentionally, although the stark terms of Sketchy‘s take on ethnic generalizations made me a tidge uncomfortable at times.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

As a mystery, as I mentioned, Sketchy doesn’t really do it for me—that is, it’s pretty obvious who the attacker is and the whole thing is wrapped up quickly and tidily. But that was ok with me; I enjoyed the ambiance, and I was more interested in learning about Bea’s art and her family dynamic (and her outfits—girlfriend is a thrift store queen!) than the mystery itself. Further supporting the central mystery not really being the strength of the book is that Bea suffers from a case of the I-can-catch-the-killer-myself-no-problems!, often an unpleasant turn in YA mysteries.

Still, though, even with the mystery angle not really holding up (and some very stiff dialogue—I move that we stop pretending anyone refers to each other by name more than once a day, even if it seems like it’ll help keep the dialogue tags clear), I still enjoyed reading Sketchy and am curious to see who Bea “catches” as the series continues. I’m hoping we learn more about Chris, Bea’s bestie at school, who is self-conscious about being a bit of a scaredy-cat, but has made contact with a promising hottie by the end of the book, and about her father’s relationship with art. All in all, despite surface-level resemblances to other YA mysteries where the protag is aided by a special power, Sketchy felt like its own take, and it had just enough grit to keep things interesting.

readalikes

Beautiful Lies Jessica Warman

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman (2012). This is a great YA mystery, and similarly atmospheric. “When one twin mysteriously disappears, the other immediately knows something is wrong—especially when she starts experiencing serious physical traumas, despite the fact that nobody has touched her. As the search commences to find her sister, the twin left behind must rely on their intense bond to uncover the truth” (from Goodreads). My full review is HERE.

Wake Dream Catcher Lisa McMann Fade Dream Catcher Lisa McMann Gone Dream Catcher Lisa McMann

Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (thanks!). Sketchy, by Olivia Samms will be available on April 30th.

Death Shall Have No Dominion: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

madnessunderneath

The Madness Underneath

Shades of London 2

Maureen Johnson

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013

Review by Tessa

Characters

Rory Deveaux, transplanted private schooler, ghost-interacter-and-destroyer

Stephen Dene, head of the secret ghost division of the London Police

Callum & Boo, the other two members of the secret police squad

Jazza, Jeremy & Charlotte – school friend, boyfriend, and frenemy

Jane – a mysterious and almost supernaturally calming therapist who provides her services for free

Hook

The Ripper-emulating ghost re-terrorizing London has been destroyed, but not without weird consequences.

Worldview

In The Name of the Star, Rory learns that the world is a little different than the normal world we all live in. It’s still normal, but some people can see and interact with ghosts–as long as you have the natural inclination and add a near-death experience into the equation.

Rory’s a fish out of water, being a ghost-seer, and a fish out of water, being a Louisiana native trying to hack it in a London boarding school for her senior year. Her snarky sense of humor helps her deal with all the weirdness being thrown her way, as well as her natural curiosity. Occasional drama-free makeout sessions don’t hurt, either.

nameofthestar

However, the situation of figuring out the ghost-mystery-murders almost seems easier than the situation of picking herself up in the aftermath of the murders. Rory is failing school after spending time with a therapist and her parents in Bristol. She’s now a human terminus – her touch destroys ghosts – and the police want to use her as a clean-up tool for London’s ghostly lurkers, since the original diamonds used for the purpose went kaput. But she doesn’t know how she feels about being the post-Grim Reaper Reaper. Worst of all, she can’t confide in her friends, her boyfriend, or her parents about what’s really going on in her life.

On top of it all, the ghosts around London, especially around Rory’s school, are upping the ante on being angry and causing bloodshed. Rory thinks it might have something to do with what the area used to house, who was buried there, and maybe the crack that opened up in the earth when the faux-Ripper got terminated.

Then she’s fortuitously led to a laid-back, rich woman named Jane who’s been helping stuck-up Charlotte deal with her own Ripper trauma. Jane practices for free, always has brownies to offer Rory, and finally Rory can almost relax. Or should she?

Does this book live up to its intentions?

Johnson writes delicious hook-y adventures and her sense of humor is one that I enjoy. The Madness Underneath has all of these qualities and some shivery moments, too.  I admired Rory’s feistiness in the face of depression and loved getting back to the foggy, twisty streets of her neighborhood.  Johnson is very good at writing place – enough detail but not too much – and I could effortlessly picture where Rory was going (even if I can’t stop picturing Rory as Alexis Bledel).

Rory!!! photo by flickr user GabboT

Rory!!! photo by flickr user GabboT

The Madness Underneath definitely a second novel in a series of more than two books. Rory’s in transition and trying desperately to ignore that she might be in free fall. She tries to be normal but her life is breaking into some pretty clear paths. She has to decide what she wants and why, from boyfriends to future career plans. But there doesn’t seem to be space to think.

If anything, the book moves too fast, and, like The Name of the Star, drops off at a really crucial moment. The mystery that starts the book gets solved pretty quickly by Rory and the ghost squad, and then just as quickly is subsumed in a new, bigger mystery with sinister implications – really intriguing, culty, conspiratorial ones.

Then Johnson jabs us with two big knocks of the Plot Fist and closes the book. It happens so fast I don’t even know what I think of those developments yet.

Maybe I should’ve waited another year or so to read 2 & 3 in succession.

Readalikes

Want more ghost-exploring?

Try Karina Halle!

Darkhouse An Experiment in Terror Karina Halle

For the same traveling-in-a-new-place-and-discovering-otherworldy-things feel, try these:

Witch Eyes

Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

peregrineriggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

greatandterriblebeauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

diviners

The Diviners by Libba Bray

possessed   Consumed
Possessed / Consumed by Kate Cann

An Edinburgh Reading List

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

Edinburgh Castle photo by flickr user CleftClips via Creative Commons

by Tessa

If you are reading this the day it is being posted, then know that R & I are, as your eyes scan these words, fulfilling a friendship-long dream of visiting Scotland together, and celebrating her birthday along the way as well! (Happy future birthday, R!!)

In preparation for the trip I made myself a reading list of books set in Edinburgh. Of course, I only managed to read a couple of them, but I do plan to go back and finish the others someday.  Maybe you also have a Scottish-themed reading itch to scratch?  If so, I submit these titles for your perusal.

DISCLAIMER:

My method for finding them was a subject search in my library catalog so this is by no means a be-all, end-all list of Edinburgh fiction.  And it is not YA-specific.

BOOKS I DID READ:

gooseberry

The Gooseberry / Odd Girl Out by Joan Lingard

This is the only YA book on my list, and the only one that doesn’t have to do with romance or murder. Just a solid coming-of-age story. Poor old Gooseberry Ellie is true to herself even though she doesn’t really know what that means just yet, and her mom has to go and marry some boring old guy who sells insurance and lives in a bungalow, taking E. away from her street and her friends and her father figure, an old Czech pianist who is giving her lessons.

knotsandcrosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus #1) by Ian Rankin

I felt obligated to read at least one Ian Rankin book before I went to Edinburgh (again). This is the first in his series about a hard-drinking Detective Inspector working in that city.  My Goodreads notes were thus: “I am left wondering what drug has a toffee apple smell. Spell it out for us squares, Rankin!  Also, I want to note that I figured it out on p. 150 and Rebus did on p. 200. But I was struggling with much less emotional baggage than he.”

Instead of reading more of these, I opted to watch the first season of Rebus and it was enjoyable, but I think Prime Suspect may have spoiled most other UK crime shows for me.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch more, though.

lamplighter

The Lamplighter by Anthony O’Neill

A serendipitous find for me – I had to weed it from my library’s fiction collection due space and circulation issues 😥 , but ended up reading it, :D.

It’s a delicate story combining historical fiction, detection, metaphysics, the devil, fear, secret societies, gruesome murder, and religious conspiracy. Something for everyone.

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By George Willison (1741-1797) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Boswell In Search of a Wife, 1766-69 by James Boswell

If you’re into history and diaries and affable cads, do yourself a favor and visit the diaries of James Boswell. At least read this Smithsonian article about him (but, spoiler alert, not if you want to keep the romantic notions of a happy marriage brought on by this section of diaries intact).

Boswell is quite famous for chronicling his life (and Sam Johnston’s life) through diaries. And here Yale collects his diaries, letters and other correspondence to show his feverish attachments and pursuits of various ladies in an attempt to find a wife / soothe his libido. This is also the period where he’s establishing himself as a lawyer via the Douglas case and being obsessed with the Corsicans. Any time one reads of Boswell one hears of his need for strong father figures, as if to replace his fractious relationship to his own father, and this is borne out in watching him through his letters. He is devoted to General Paoli of Corsica. When he is in London to cure his venereal disease before marrying he repeatedly moves apartments to be closer to various powerful friends as if to soak up their approbation and aura of power.

He’s witty and as truthful as he can be in representing his whims. It’s enchanting to be put into the times and watch him ordering post-chaises to take him around town, worrying about the entailment of the estate of Auchinleck (which can now be rented out for a holiday, true story) and fretting about the hot and cold reactions of an heiress he’s courting while at the same time he is supporting a married mistress who has bore him a daughter, getting drunk and sleeping with whores (and getting infected with who knows what), and fielding letters from his lady-love in Amsterdam (an author herself!).

Boswell never loses hope for the power of true love, even as he realizes he is usually in the throes of fickle lust, and even as he sabotages his own intentions for a strong relationship by getting drunk and sleeping with other women. He has feverish periods of happiness and low periods of melancholy.  Here are just a few examples from his own mouth:

28 APRIL 1766: “I write to you while the delirium is really existing. In short, Sir, the gardener’s daughter who was named for my mother, and has for some time been in the family as a chambermaid is so very pretty that I am entirely captivated by her. Besides my principle of never debauching an innocent girl, my regard for her father, a worthy man of uncommon abilities, retrains me from forming the least licentious thought against her. And, therefore, in plain words, I am mad enough to indulge imaginations of marrying her. …I rave about her. I was never so much in love as I am now. My fancy is quite inflamed. It riots in extravagance.”

17 MAY 1766. “…my love for the handsome chambermaid is already like a dream that is past.”

19 JANUARY 1768: “I was so happy with Jeany Kinnaird that I very philosophically reasoned that there was to me so much virtue mixed with licentious love that perhaps I might be privilege. For it made me humane, polite, generous. But then lawful love with a woman I really like would make me still better.”

“THURSDAY 15 JUNE [1769]. Mrs. Fullarton and her son, Snady Tait, Drs. Gregory and Austin, and Willy Wallace dined with us. I was not well, and in very bad spirits. At such times all the varnish of life is off, and I see it as it really is. Or why not may it be that there is a shade thrown over it which is merely ideal darkness? All my comfort was piety, my friends, and my lady.”

BOOKS I STILL WANT TO READ:

edinburghcityofthedead   townbelowground

Edinburgh: City of the Dead and The Town Below the Ground by Jan-Andrew Henderson

Goodreads sez: “Edinburgh: City of the Dead explores macabre events, paranormal occurrences, haunted locations, occult societies, witchcraft, and even spooky hoaxes to try to discover why Edinburgh is a city that appears to have more than its fair share of supernatural goings-on. Jan-Andrew Henderson brings each tale to life through realistic dramatic reconstructions. By focusing on the scariest incident in each and fleshing out the characters and dialogue, the author adds a terrifying extra dimension to some of the most gory and ghoulish stories imaginable.”

and: “The story of the Town Below the Ground is one of the most disturbing in the annals of Scottish history.” Do tell.

*brrrr*

mrsrobinsonsdisgrace

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale

A woman is trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband finds her diary, misinterprets it, and files for divorce (UNHEARD OF). The diary is read in court! ! !  Possibly sort of based on a true story?? More info at Brain Pickings.

bodypolitic

The Body Politic by Paul Johnston

According to the header on his site, Paul Johnston is a “crime writer AND poet” (emphasis mine) so really how could this series go wrong?  This book is actually the first in a series featuring a guy (presumably detective) named Quint Dalrymple–again, that name is a really good sign for the book–set in 2020 in what is known as Enlightenment Edinburgh.

As Google Books explains: “The Council’s goal of a “perfect” city-where television, private cars, and popular music are banned, and where crime is virtually nonexistent-is shattered when a brutal serial killer is discovered among their ranks. Can the fearsome Ear, Nose and Throat Man be back to his grisly old tricks? The usually complacent Council is forced to turn to the man they demoted years ago-the irreverent, blues-haunted Quintilian Dalrymple-to catch the gruesome killer.”

anatomymurders

The Anatomy Murders, Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh’s Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner

The title about says it all, but here’s the description from the book’s webpage:

“On Halloween night 1828, in the West Port district of Edinburgh, Scotland, a woman sometimes known as Madgy Docherty was last seen in the company of William Burke and William Hare. Days later, police discovered her remains in the surgery of the prominent anatomist Dr. Robert Knox. Docherty was the final victim of the most atrocious murder spree of the century, outflanking even Jack the Ripper’s. Together with their accomplices, Burke and Hare would be accused of killing sixteen people over the course of twelve months in order to sell the corpses as “subjects” for dissection. The ensuing criminal investigation into the “Anatomy Murders” raised troubling questions about the common practices by which medical men obtained cadavers, the lives of the poor in Edinburgh’s back alleys, and the ability of the police to protect the public from cold-blooded murder.”

There are also 2 movies about Burke and Hare.  This is the one I plan to watch, because Simon Pegg:

burkeandhare

onegoodturn

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2) by Kate Atkinson

“Two years after the events of Case Histories left him a retired millionaire, Jackson Brodie has followed Julia, his occasional girlfriend and former client, to Edinburgh for its famous summer arts festival. But when he witnesses a man being brutally attacked in a traffic jam – the apparent victim of an extreme case of road rage – a chain of events is set in motion that will pull the wife of an unscrupulous real estate tycoon, a timid but successful crime novelist, and a hardheaded female police detective into Jackson’s orbit.”Goodreads

wintersea

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

This could be a (great) time travel romance…

“In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth.” – Author Description

troublewithmagic

The Trouble with Magic (Magic #3) by Patricia Rice

There is no way I could improve on this hook:

“Felicity Malcolm Childe’s gift for experiencing visions through touch has always felt more like a curse than a blessing, so she covers herself from head to toe. Only the maddeningly handsome Ewen Ives provokes tingles of pleasure rather than pain, but he is already betrothed. Her last hope is to go to Scotland to find the ancient book of spells that could free her from the burden of this gift.”

singerofsouls

Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple

SF Reviews dot net says it’s a “short and surprisingly grisly urban fantasy” about a guy who comes to Edinburgh to live with his Grandma, busk, and escape his life of drugs in Minneapolis.  When the Fringe Festival starts he realizes he can see the terrifying fey folk.

Count me in.

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