Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Manga Part 2

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books by clicking here

uqholder1   uqholder2

UQ Holder! Vol. 1. 

UQ Holder! Vol. 2.

Ken Akamatsu, artist and writer

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. Neutral.

My Reality: Tōta’s dream is to make it to the city and climb the giant tower to space and do something great (he’s not sure what yet). All he has to do is defeat his ultra powerful teacher/guardian Yukihime. She insists that it be done through fighting skills, but when Tōta and his friends try some magic, things quickly go wrong and Tōta ends up with the immortality of a vampire – a gift from Yukihime. Together they travel back to Tokyo through the semi-deserted countryside,Tōta’s naivete helping them pick up friends and avoid bounty hunters – or the former from the latter, in androgynous young Kurōmaru’s case, looking to attack Yukihime, to seek Tōtas fortune. Whatever it is.

UQ Holder ends up being the name of the group of powerful immortals of which Yukihime is the head. It’s not just a vampire book – there are all kinds of immortals with different vulnerabilities and strengths, which was cool. The group exists to protect a group of yokai (Japanese demons/monsters). As a manga, it has all the usual hallmarks of a shonen series – the enthusiastic young (but very talented) seeker, the journey, the mentor and sidekick(s), the tests/fights. Up to book 2, it’s not so clear what the evil organization is, although Tōta does get beat up a lot. Because I don’t read a lot of shonen, I am not tired of these tropes, but I also can’t judge if this is a fun iteration of the genre or not. I haven’t read the precursor to which this series has a small connection, Negima. And I read it on a computer, which means it felt tiresome just because I was reading it on a computer.

Will teens like it?: What I do know is that teens love this kind of book, and they’ll probably like this.

Is it “great” for teens?: Maybe?

Art Taste:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.08.08 PM

nijigaharaholograph

Nijigahara Holograph

Inio Asano, writer and artist

Fantagraphics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I ended up buying this because I was sick of waiting and really liked Solanin, and had read some very good reviews.

My Reality: The world of Nijigahara Holograph is mindbending and sad. Most of the characters, whether at age 10 or 20 are struggling through depression and other messed up stuff – they have been victims of and perpetrators of bullying and abuse. A lot of the worst things happen around the Nijigahara embankment, which leads to a field next to a stream coming out of a tunnel. Once a girl insisted a monster lived in the tunnel that would end the world. Her classmates pushed her into a well.

The story flashes back and forth in time, and possibly characters come back and forth in time within the story. I’m not sure. I just finished reading it and I feel like I have to read it again to solidify it. It’s a depressing vision, told beautifully. Asano’s art is much more realistic than most manga you will find published in America, the kind of characters that are easy to extrapolate to their real life versions. Which makes the surreal, disgusting, violent, and sad parts of the story that much more affecting.

Will teens like it?: I think some teens would like this type of story a lot.

Is it “great” for teens?: While I would recommend this to some teens who are into it, and think that teens who seek out complex stories should find it, I do think it is primarily a story written for adults, with adult themes. So after a couple reads I can tell you if I think it’s great, but right now I can say that I don’t think it’s for teens, even if teens will find it and like it (and I’m okay with that).

Art Taste:

nijigaharaflashback

worldtrigger1   worldtrigger2

World Trigger, Volume 1

World Trigger, Volume 2

Daisuke Ashihara, writer and artist

Viz Media

I can’t find these anywhere, legally. I have no interest in reading illegal copies, especially because they will be on a computer.

I really like the covers, though. Nice contrasting colors and angled edges!

Here’s the description from VIZ:

“Earth is under constant threat from Neighbors, invincible monsters from another dimension that destroy our way of life. At least we have the elite warriors of Border, who co-opt alien technology to fight back!

Our hero Osamu Mikumo may not be the best agent, but he’ll do whatever it takes to defend life on Earth as we know it.

When Osamu meets a feisty humanoid Neighbor named Yuma, everything that he thinks is right is turned on its head. Can the two natural enemies ever become friends?”

Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Manga Part One

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

seraph1

seraph2

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign., Vol.1

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign., Vol.2

Takaya Kagami, writer

Yamato Yamamoto, artist

Viz Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Wary about vampires.

My Reality: I liked it! This is a vampire dystopia, and a revenge drama. It starts out with some orphans that are used as food for the vampires in their underground world, after they’ve exploited a plague situation on earth and driven everyone underground and into their control. The children have a plan to defeat the vampires and escape, and it goes horribly wrong. The only survivor is the kid with too much energy and not enough planning. And I won’t spoil the rest.

I can’t speak much to the art because I only can articulate different styles in manga when they are obviously different. I could follow everything and everyone looked very elegant. The style preferred by the vampires is very gothic lolita and there’s a police type squad who have handsome almost American Civil War style uniforms.

Will teens like it?: I think even teens who are tired of vampires (there must be some, right?) will enjoy this. It has a lot of juicy drama and funny parts.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

 

Seraph-of-the-End-01-01

 

 

mylittlemonster3     mylittlemonster4

My Little Monster, Volume 3

My Little Monster, Volume 4

Robico

Kodansha Comics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Considering that there were Volumes 1 and 2 also published this year, I thought it was strange that only volumes 3 and 4 are nominated. I read the first two volumes and felt uncomfortable with Haru’s lack of respect for personal boundaries – I realize that in some shojo romances this is normal, and this follows the pattern of single-minded or innocent girl gains weird friend and they help socialize each other. However, it was also textbook manipulation of personal boundaries – Haru is very needy and has an anxious attachment style. He doesn’t care that Shizuku needs to study or what her preferences are. His motivations get clearer in the 2nd volume but I didn’t look forward to reading up to 4 volumes.

My Reality: I think that one could enter this series at the 3rd book and it wouldn’t be that weird, but one would miss all the introductions to the characters. Eventually no one treats Haru’s behavior as romantic and that made me feel better. This is a series about a group of friends coming together, a story that is, understandably, done often in manga. My Little Monster is a solid example of the genre, but doesn’t offer much new.

Will teens like it?: Sure

Is it “great” for teens?: They’ll like it, but it isn’t great.

Art Taste:

mylittlemonster

beforethefall1   beforethefall2

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, V1

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, V2

Ryo Suzukaze, writer

Satoshi Shiki, artist

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I was so psyched when I first read Attack on Titan.

My Reality: The premise failed for me. I could not accept that anyone would believe that a baby who is born when an obviously pregnant mother is swallowed by a Titan is in any way a Titan itself. Even the mom did worship Titans.

Will teens like it?: Probably?

Is it “great” for teens?: This one will be read because of the popularity of the original series. It is not great.

Art Taste:

attack-on-titan-before-the-fall-4676225

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

Obsidian, and Some Thoughts on the Genre of Paranormal Romance

A Review of Obsidian (Lux #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Entangled Teen, 2011

Obsidian Jennifer L. Armentrout

by REBECCA, February 11, 2013

characters

Katy Swarz: thoughtful book blogger Katy doesn’t take shit, but can’t quite resist Daemon, even when he’s shitty

Daemon Black: the infuriating and handsome alien boy asshole next door, Daemon is wary of Katy at first, but then drawn to her

Dee Black: Daemon’s twin, she and Katy are fast friends and she runs interference between Katy and Daemon

hook

When Katy’s mom moves her to rural West Virginia the summer before senior year after her dad dies, all she wants is to make some new friends, write her book blog, and recover. So, of course she would move in next door to aliens caught in an epic battle between cosmic good and evil. And of course one of those aliens would be an overly attractive shithead who breaks her laptop!

genre!

Katy’s world has been small lately. After her father died, her mother withdrew into herself and started working all the time, leaving Katy alone a lot. Katy started a book blog that lets her reach out and connect with people, and she’s poured all her energy into it. She’s chill and a bit shy, but smart and confident, so when she realizes that her next door neighbors are teenagers her own age she decides to make nice. Her first meeting with grouchy-pants Daemon sets the tone for their relationship: he’s overly attractive, obnoxious, condescending, and (of course) convinced that Katy is attracted to him (which, of course, she is).

Onyx Jennifer L. ArmentroutDaemon’s sister, Dee, is a sweetheart who befriends Katy right away. However, something weird happens every time Katy goes into town with Dee or tries to sit with her at lunch in the school cafeteria; people stare at them and seem hostile toward one or the other of them for no reason that Katy can tell—after all, she doesn’t even know anyone. One night, though, Katy is attacked outside the library and Daemon comes to her rescue with . . . special powers. Finally, he and Dee can’t keep their secret anymore: they are aliens and whenever they use their powers around a human it leaves a mark on that human that their enemies can see from far away. The only way to protect Katy from the enemy? Guess. No, I’ll wait. Yes, you’re right: it’s for Daemon to never leave her alone and vulnerable.

And thus unfolds a familiar romance/action plot line: Katy and Daemon frustrate one another, but are drawn together in the face of a common enemy.

I have been meaning to read Obsidian ever since I met the lovely Judith and Ellen from I Love YA Fiction at BEA this year, because it’s the book that made them start blogging. Now, one of my favorite things about talking to friends who care as much about books as I do is that sometimes we totally disagree. So, I’ll admit it, I approached Obsidian with great trepidation simply because the genre of YA paranormal romance isn’t my usual cuppa. But I just couldn’t resist a book that inspired some of my favorite people to start blogging (and that has 4.4 stars on Goodreads), so I dove in.

It was fun to read about Katy’s book blogging and I can totally see how it would be the inspiration for Judith and Ellen! But, alas, that’s about all I liked about Obsidian.

Let me be clear: I think that probably for folks who really enjoy the genre of YA paranormal romance, Obsidian will do the trick. It has a not-totally-unreasonable plot, some legitimately developed characters and fun secondary-characters, a not-overdone setting, sexual tension between Katy and Daemon that lasts for the whole book (that’s a thing people like, right?), a nice mom, and it’s a series. Also, it isn’t badly written at all—the prose is totally serviceable. So, all that (along with the many, many positive reviews I’ve read) suggests that Obsidian is the kind of thing that people who like that kind of thing will like. You know?

With or Without You Brian FarreyBut, if I didn’t already know it, Obsidian really showed me that the genre isn’t to my taste. And so I’ve been thinking about what, precisely, is the very thin line that divides “paranormal romance” from books that I do like. I enjoy a good romance plot, for sure, including several I’ve reviewed here: With Or Without You by Brian FarreyJust Listen by Sarah Dessen, The God Eaters by Jesse HajicekThe Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates, etc. And I definitely have no problem with the paranormal, as the above list will certainly testify.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Laini TaylorSo, what’s the difference between a paranormal romance and a book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which contains a paranormal romance? The biggest difference, for me, is that in paranormal romance (as in its mother genre, romance) the central goal of the book is to tell the story of two people entering into a relationship with one another and chronicling the obstacles to the success of that relationship—a success that is, by virtue of the genre, guaranteed. A book like Daughter of Smoke and Bone definitely has a romance plot, but it’s much more than just a backdrop against which the romance plays out. That difference, though, is, for me, the difference between a book that I enjoy and one that I find pretty boring. Daughter of Smoke and Bone or The Scorpio Races or Leave Myself Behind are larger than their romance plots—their scope is bigger and their stakes are higher. In a paranormal romance, the largest stakes are in the relationship between the two main characters—even when there is a cosmic alien battle between good and evil. This is to differing degrees, certainly, and some paranormal romances (and series) are more intricate and detailed than others. In Obsidian, though, if you took away the romance element you wouldn’t be left with anything; the conceit of the book is generic and flimsy without it.

Hush, Hush Becca FitzpatrickAgain, I don’t mean this as a critique of the genre—far from it. Genre conventions are powerful predictors of taste, though, and readers who like a genre like it because of its conventions, not in spite of them. I’ve realized, in reading Obsidian (and other paranormal romances, like Hush, HushNevermore, and Fallen), that one of the conventions of the paranormal romance genre that I dislike in particular is the way that love or attraction are abstracted (metaphorized?) as an otherworldly connection. By this I mean that often in these books our protagonist (usually a girl) sees a boy she thinks is attractive and feels drawn to him for reasons she can’t explain. I’m annoyed by the resulting tendency of these books to equate attraction—that is, being physically drawn to someone—with love. (Note: hey, friend, I can explain why you feel drawn to him . . .)

In Obsidian, for example, Katy finds Daemon super attractive, but she cannot stand his personality (with good reason, because he is a grade-A jerkface). She wants to make out with him; she feels warm and flushed whenever he’s near; she thinks he smells good. Katy: that’s called being attracted to someone. But in the genre conventions of the paranormal romance, attraction—lust—(a totally normal part of life) is transmuted into an-inexplicable-force-drawing-us-together-across-time-and-space-that-must-surely-be-meaningful.

And part of me kind of thinks that the genre of YA paranormal romance in particular developed out of a resistance to portraying teenagers as lustful, preferring, instead, to render lust meaningful and, thus, romantic. Because the only real difference between feeling drawn to someone because you want to bone them and feeling drawn to someone because they are secretly connected to you by a werewolf mating bond . . . is genre.

Re-Read: Remember Me by Christopher Pike

Remember Me / Christopher Pike

Pocket Books, 1989

review by Tessa

Characters

Shari Cooper, green eyed ghost

Jimmy Cooper, diabetic sleepwalker brother

Mary Parish, housekeeper for the Coopers and a surrogate mom to Shari

Amanda Parish, quiet and lovely girl who may be leading Jimmy on

Jo Foulton, Shari’s best friend and bestower of annoying nicknames

“Big” Beth, frenemy of Shari and Jo whose birthday party is the site of Shari’s Death. Well-endowed in the chest.

Dan, Shari’s vain, rich boyfriend

Jeff Nichols, not the biggest fan of Shari

Peter Nichols, dead brother of Jeff & spirit guide to the light

The Shadow, scary between-world presence

Garrett, drunk detective

hook

Shari Cooper went to a birthday party and ended up a ghost. Before she can move on, she wants to know how it happened, and who pushed her off of a balcony.

Why are you rereading this?

It seems like most of the people I know were really into Goosebumps growing up. Or at least into the intro to the TV show where the dog barks in rhythm to the theme song (it really is something).  R.L. Stine is a great guy and all, but I have to disagree that he’s the be-all and end-all of adolescent horror books of the ’90s. In my estimation, that title will always go to Christopher Pike, who is so much more of an enigma, anyway, and therefore gains mystery cred.  Pike doesn’t even have a photo on his publisher’s author page, whereas R.L. Stine has a whole website with embedded music.

Pike’s competition was the Fear Street series by Stine (which came before Goosebumps--I was reading my older sister’s books and so never found that younger series as appealing) and had, in my memory, a more epic scope. Stine’s stories were the equivalent of slasher flicks and Pike’s were menacing mystical mysteries, closer in tone to Stephen King and John Saul than Stine could hope for.

At least, that’s what my memory is telling me.

It’s time for me to track them down and re-read them to find out if I’m right.

I started with Remember Me because it’s one of the first Pike books I read. . . and I recently had to withdraw it from my library because the cover is so terrible that no one was picking it up – that’s a professional guess:

Does the book hold up?

I’m pleased to say that it did hold my attention.  Shari’s narrative voice reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse’s comforting way of oversharing her every thought and observation, often digressing into low-level life philosophies. However, while after 10 books Sookie starts to repeat herself and ramble, Shari is younger, bitchier, and more honest–being dead makes one a little more objective about their life–and she’s only got 230 pages to roam around in here.  I remember being absolutely gripped by the fact that a ghost was narrating her own murder mystery. A ghost who says things like

“Beth was sort of a friend of mine, sort of an accidental associate, and the latest in a seemingly endless string of bitches who were trying to steal my boyfriend away.”

Shari has the kind of character tics invented to give a character something to repeat so that you can remember who they are, or to slip in an important plot point in a “subtle” way. It’s not the most accomplished way to build character, but it gave me a nice wave of nostalgic feeling for that era in YA writing. Shari has dark blonde hair that just breaks brushes in two! And she’s green-eyed, but her brother thinks her eyes are brown.

Remember Me takes its time building up the suspense. We know Shari is dead from the first sentence, but she doesn’t actually die until page 56.  Pike takes his time getting Shari out of her house, letting her talk to her brother, her housekeeper/mother figure over cake, talk to the reader about her boyfriend’s “dashing” body and how she loves to think about sex (she makes it sound wholesome and red-cheeked of her, but also shallow), get into the boyfriend’s car, go over to her best friends’ house, talk to her best friend’s mom, get back into the car, and finally get to the fatal party . . . where the guests bitch at each other, open presents–Daniel, Shari’s boyfriend, gives Beth diamond earrings, ahem–hang out, cheat on each other, etc.  Then Jo, the New-Agey best friend, sucker everyone into a game of fortune-telling using the human body as the medium.  Which leads to talking to a presumed-present spirit through Shari’s body, put into a hypnotic trance via a fake funeral.

The fortune telling and the trance still put a prickle through the back of my neck. I hadn’t remembered them being so elaborate, so full of foreboding and soul-searching:

“Jeff was getting awfully heavy awfully fast. ‘But are certain things in our lives dstined?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Jo said. ‘It’s very clear this time.’

‘Is the force that we understand as God directly answering these questions?’ Jeff asked.

‘No,’ Jo said, and she seemed disappointed.

‘Is there a God?’ Jeff asked.

‘Yes,’ Jo said.

‘Is he as we imagine him?’ Jeff asked.

‘No,’ Jo said.

‘Is there life after death?’ Jeff asked.”

Once Shari is killed, the mood of the book turns to her exploration of shock, grief, and bewilderment, and her determination to find out what happened.  She eventually confronts questions like Jeff’s in her own way, but the story doesn’t leave its readers wallowing in the implications of the afterlife. We have a murder to attend to, and to solve it we need to slip in and out of dreams, figure out a family history worthy of the daytime soaps, and learn a little about diabetes and colorblindness. That’s all I’ll say in case you don’t want to be spoiled.

Having said that, maybe you can guess where this book falls on the

This book falls squarely in the pink, I’d say. Shari is dead, she has to go into the light, there’s a thing called a Shadow chasing her that pulses with terror, so we have acknowledged paranormal activity. Yet it doesn’t go totally woo-woo. 95% of the book is set on Earth, for example, and deals with real-world people.

Which Pike should I read next?

I’m thinking Chain Letter. I hope that if this were published today it would have a blurb describing it as “off the chain!”

Until next time, Pike Pals!

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