Monday, November 8, 2010

Amigurumi -- A new obsession.

So, as part of the big slump.  I taught myself to crochet.   

I'm sure there's  a deep psychological reason for why yarn and knots and loops and patterns appealed to me at this time, but I'm too lazy to get into it. 

Let's just say I was a little obsessive about it.  Particularly when I discovered amigurumi 

According to Wikipedia, amigurumi is the "is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures."  O.K.   All I know is even my cold, black heart melted when faced with the yarn-based cuteness of something like this.  

I made him, from a book called Creepy Cute Crochet by Christen Haden (a.k.a. NeedleNoodles).  This was my first "real" crochet project, which should tell you something about me.   

The thing about amigurumi?  It's compulsive.  You can't make just one.  So I made more.  And more.  And more.  Now, most of them will be leaving my house as holiday gifts, but I have no doubt that I will make more to take their place.  I've made zombies, and aliens, and cats and snitches and....

As I complete my little yarn friends, I'll post them here.  For no other reason than I think that they're cool.  

The Grimm Legacy on Book Obsession

Hey Ya'll --

I have a new post up on the blog from my day job --, on The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman.

There need to be more books about library pages...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How I Lost My Sparkle -- or Why I Quit Posting Here.

So, around the middle of August, I sort of quit.

Not just posing on this blog, but lots of things.  I quit exercising, I quit watching what I eat, I quit reading anything new, I quit caring how I looked, I just sort of ... quit.  

I was coming off a successful, but busy, summer at the library.  The popular perception is that summer is a lazy time, but this is not true for Teen librarians.  Summer, and the related programming, is when we kick it into high gear.  In August, when it all ends, I would typically take a deep breath and look forward.

But this year, I didn't.  I couldn't.

My department lost both of it's managers -- the boss and the boss's boss -- within two weeks of each other.  We went from being a department of 8 people to a department of 5.5, with no change in workflow or open hours.  That meant a lot more responsibility, a lot less down time.   Also, you may think you'd get a lot more done without a supervisor, but trust me, you wouldn't.  Because without somebody in charge, everything -- and I mean everything -- must be discussed by everybody.  Decisions by committee are the worst kind.

Also, my library lost all of it's pages at the start of new fiscal year.   Which means that everybody else had to take over shelving and circulation duties.  Understand, I don't think that I'm too good to shelve a cart.  I worked as a page in college and high school.  But, as a degreed professional, it is a little demoralizing.  My professional work -- webpage, readers advisory, programming, mentoring, etc. -- built up, whilst I was busy alphabetizing, doing the same minimum wage job I did as a 17 year old.

Adding to my general malaise were some professional bumps.  My book was done, but there were delays and rewrites and indexing and ... let's just say the cursed tome didn't go down without a fight.  Towards the end, I would have been happy not to look at graphic novels for a long time.   I had applied for a promotion within my library, and even though I "knew" snowballs in Hades had longer odds, I still hoped.  So when I didn't even get asked to interview, it hurt.  It hurt badly enough that I was ready to walk away from libraries entirely.

Writing it out like this, I suppose the malaise that gripped me isn't surprising.  Basically, I folded in on myself.  I re-read all of Dorothy Sayers.  I taught myself to crochet.  I unpacked the boxes from our summer move, and taught myself to make some recipes.  But as far as reading, or writing, or anything beyond the bare minimum of what was expected of me -- it wasn't happening.

And I survived.  I wasn't happy, really, but I wasn't unhappy either.  It would be possible to maintain a life like that for a very long time.  People kept asking me, "what's wrong" and I would shrug and mumble something non-committal.

My daughter, Miss B, is a big proponent of "sparkle."  She means literal sparkle, of course;  in her world, every outfit can be improved with sequins, there's no such thing as too many accessories and glitter is always the right answer.  But she also means something else.  For Miss B.  "sparkle" is the creative spark, the sense of adventure, the "muchness" that makes life and work interesting.  And one day, she looked at me and said "You've lost your sparkle."

The English language needs a term to describe an epiphany delivered by a 9 year old in combat boots.

She was right, I had lost my sparkle.  And I missed it.  I missed feeling like there were possibilities beyond what I could see.  I missed the sense of infinite possibility that working with teens gives me.  I missed finding opportunities to startle or amaze.  I missed my sparkle.

So now, today, I start getting it back.  And I start with this blog.  Watch this space.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck

Shift by Tim Kring and Dale Peck
Crown Books

Did LSD kill JFK?  

As far as tag lines go, that is a show stopper.  And, ostensibly, that is the question that Shift, by TV producer Tim Kring and author Dale Peck seeks to answer.  It does, kind of.   As well written and compelling as this novel is, I walked away unsatisfied, confused and unsure of what the authors were attempting.  

A slightly boring upper class graduate student, Chandler Forrestal, is given LSD by a reluctant prostitute, Naz.  Naz, acting under coercion by the CIA, also takes the acid.  The drugs do something to Chandler, giving him extra-sensory abilities and immense physical capabilities.   Chandler and Naz soon cross paths with a vicious CIA agent known only as Melchior, who sees Chandler as his ticket to something else.  Cuba, Timothy Leary, the FBI, former Nazi scientists, Russian spies, high class prostitutes, and the Mafia all get mixed into the sprawling, fragmented narrative.

Hey Look -- It’s Another Scott Pilgrim Review!

So, my sweet husband took me to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for our anniversary.  I would make a pithy comment about the 12th year being “comics” but, for us, every anniversary is the comics anniversary.

So, Scott Pilgrim.  I liked it, I liked it a lot.  But that was pretty much a given.  What’s more surprising is the parts I expected to dislike didn’t bother me so much.  

You see, I love the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.   I also love Edgar Wright.   I like Kieran Culkin, and Brandon Routh and Chris Evans.  I like Beck.  I like video games and 8 bit art.  So, most of this movie is in my wheelhouse.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Royal Historian of Oz #1

Royal Historian of Oz #1
Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch
Diamond Comics Order Code 978-1-59362-194-9
Slave Labor Graphics

It is very unusual for me to read a monthly comic.  I am totally a wait-for-the-trades type of girl.  However, when the editor-in-chief puts a comic in your hand, and tells you he thinks you’ll like it, a lady feels an obligation, you know?

In the near future, teen Frank Frizzle has had it with his dad.  Dad’s a writer who is obsessed with becoming the “Royal Historian of Oz” -- the author who continues the legacy of Frank L. Baum by writing new stories.  However, Jasper Frizzle’s Oz stories are terrible, and Frizzle family is in a constant state of near poverty.   However, when Jasper Frizzle discovers a way to travel to Oz, he sees it as his ticket to legitimacy.  So he starts borrowing (a.k.a stealing) people and things from Oz, and brings them to this world for “research”.  This of course attracts attention in Oz, and the powers that be decide to do a little “borrowing” of their own...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dear DC ...

Please make this --

-- happen. As a mom and a teen librarian, I'm telling you there is an audience for this book.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Eternal Ones by Kristen Miller.

The Eternal Ones by Kristen Miller.
Razorbill,  978-1595143082
Release Date: August 10, 2010

Haven Moore has lived her entire life in rural Tennessee.  Ever since she was young, Haven has had visions of a life that was not hers.  As Haven grew, she suppressed the memories of Constance and Ethan, a pair of doomed lovers from turn of the century New York.  When the visions return, Haven is compelled to leave Snopes City and seek out Ethan, who she believes has been reincarnated as a notorious playboy, Iain.  She also seeks the help of the Ouroboros Society, a group dedicated to helping those with memories of past lives.  However, neither Iain or the Society is what it seems, and Haven finds herself on her own, not knowing who to trust.

I am not the target reader for this book.  Star-crossed lovers, meeting across time, fated to relive old patterns -- the whole concept puts me off.  It’s to Miller’s credit that I found this book both engaging and suspenseful.  

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Comic-Con Post-Mortem

Hi everybody who I met at the con!  If you're looking for the Handouts from the Graphic Novels 101 panel or the Graphic Novels in Libraries panel, you'll find them under "pages" down in the sidebar. 

So, Comic-Con.  Most of the blogosphere has moved on, but I needed some time to let my synapses recover and the overcooked oatmeal that was my brain return to something resembeling a thinking apparatus.  This was a different con for me.  Number 1, I didn't go last year, so I had a longer break than usual between Nerd Proms.  Number 2, it was my daughter's first con, and a lot of my time and energy was devoted to making sure she had an enjoyable experience.

Comic-Con isn't about comics anymore, and it's too damn big.  This isn't exactly news to anybody, but this year, it really struck me.  I had a really good show, but I had a good show by making the concious decision to avoid all of the movie and TV presenations and to avoid the end of the hall where there booths were.  As such, I missed out on some of the "big" moments from the event.  And I'm O.K. with that.

However, I do think that the Con organizers need to get on the stick and figure out a more fair and equitable way to get people seated during high demand programs.  I am guilty of seat squatting, I admit.  I try to at least be a quiet, well behaved seat squatter.  I always feel... guilty about doing it though.  As a panelist, I can tell you that there is nothing more exasperating than being on the platform, talking to a room full of people who aren't listening at best, and at worst who are carrying on their own conversations and making a ruckus.  My panels are small and ill-attended.  If I were a marketing rep from say, DC/Warner Brothers, I might be a little more than annoyed about people who just want to see Thor footage snarking and hooting their way though my Green Lantern presentation.   The people who run the con are bright, they can work this out, and they need to, before people decide it's not worth the trouble to go to see a panel that somebody else is going to get up on YouTube before the day is out anyway.

While some elements of security and staff were much better run this year, it just made those that weren't stand out more.  I can only imagine the amount of coordination and planning that goes into an event of Comic-Con's size, but often, it did seem that Hand A didn't know what Hand B was doing.  For me, this was best exemplified by the Masquerade, where after being told to stand in 4 different lines, loosing my temper and getting shouted at by other attendees, a blessed staff person took pity on my daughter's aching feet and puppy dog eyes, and got things straightened out.  Unfortunately, this wasn't an isolated incident.  There were panels where I wasn't allowed back in while going to the bathroom, panels where my daughter was elbowed in the face, and panels where my husband was cursed (in my 8 year old's hearing) at for having a better seat.  Happily, those were the minority, but they shouldn't be happening at all.  Get 100,00+ people in one space and there are bound to be some jackasses.  Get 100,000 people in one space and start jerking them around, and the jackass proportion skyrockets.

The rest of my thoughts will go into list format, since I am still too brain dead to be that articulate.
  • The attitude in downtown different this year.  It seemed like the Comic-Con attendees were actually welcome.  It was nice not to feel like a freakish drain on the local economy.
  • Gina from First Second is the nicest person in the whole world.  Thanks for organizing a great panel Gina!
  • Kidlet had 3 wishes for this con.  To meet Jeff Smith, to see Rick Riordan and to see the Masquerade live.  Thanks to some very nice staff people, all three came true.
  • To whoever the genius is that decided to show fan movies over the Lucasfilm pavilion, I hope you get stuck in traffic and your air conditioning breaks.  That freakin' screen nearly got my kid trampled.
  • To all the publishers who gave me ARC's, I promise to read and review them.
  • It seemed to me that the issue of Women and Geekdom got moved into the spotlight a little bit this year.  I feel like I need to thank the Twilight girls for that, although I don't want to.
  • To the guy at the Star Trek booth who assured me that Shirtless Kirk cologne doesn't smell like ham, thanks for having a sense of humor.
  • Do you think that pulling Comic-Con duty is a punishment or a reward for the San Diego PD?  The officers I spoke with were split pretty much even. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hey Comic-Con

Hi Everybody! If you're here looking for the Handouts from the Graphic Novels in Libraries panel on Saturday or the Graphic Novels 101 panel on Thursday, check back in a few days. I'm still at the con, and it might take me a day or two to get them up.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In My Mailbox...

Astro City, The Dark Age, Book 1: Brothers and Other Strangers. I love Astro City, and I have been looking forward to this collection for a long time.  I'm interested in getting more backstory on the characters.

Thrones, Dominations --   When I get stressed (and I am!) I return to Dorthy Sayers.  This is a sequel to Sayer's last Wimsey book, Busman's Honeymoon, based on her notes.  It's amazing that I've never read this before.

Bad Girls -- This is a title that's been on my radar for a while, but even if it wasn't, there was no way I could pass up that Darwyn Cooke cover!

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam -- I actually got this for my daughter, but I'll read it too.  

Batman, R.I.P. -- Sometimes, waiting for the trade puts you way, way behind the curve. 

The 39 Clues: The Sword Thief -- Speaking of behind the curve, kidlet just finished Book 9 in this series, and I have to get caught up.   

Final Crisis -- Oy.  Well, if I want to read Blackest Night, I have to start here.  And I love Grant Morrison. But... oy.  

All books were picked up at my library, of course.  It's a schizophrenic, DC-tastic week! 

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme started by The Story Siren to encourage blogger interaction.  I discovered it through Dreaming In Books.  

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts on Wonder Woman...

So, this week, the comics world was rocked by the announcement that Wonder Woman got a makeover.

When Fangirls Attack has a very nice, very complete roundup of the Internet frenzy that followed the announcement.   The Beat did a wonderful survey of big "name" covers through the ages.  Since others have done the work,  I'm just going to tell you how I feel about it:

I'm disappointed, but I know that ultimately, it doesn't matter. 

Wonder Woman has always been a figure that confused me.  I love the idea of her -- a female warrior, who prizes peace above all -- and think that the contradictions inherent in her character made her fascinating.  However, I'd say that at least half of the time that I read comics that feature her, I walk away disappointed. 

To put this in a visual format, I'm not sure how these two women can be the same person: 

On the left is the Alex Ross version of Wonder Woman, on the right, a cover by Brian Bolland.   The woman on the left is how I see Diana Prince in my head.  She's confident and strong.  She could kick your ass, but she'll try to talk it out first.  On the right, an extra from a soft-core porn Gladiator film.  

So, how can they be the same person -- is Wonder Woman role model, a symbol of feminine power and strength?  Or is she Wonder Woman: Bondage Queen?  I think until you answer that question, her costume isn't going to matter much. . An artist, particularly a cover artist, shape the way we view a hero, but editors and writers have to choose the characters destiny before the artists get involved.

That's why, more than Wonder Woman's new stirrup pants and Member's Only jacket, I was concerned by the new direction that the series is getting,
We learn that Paradise Island fell when Diana was just a child, when the gods withdrew their protection. Hippolyta and many of the other Amazons died in a last-ditch defense against an army with weapons that could kill even them, while some of her guards and handmaids smuggled a young Diana off the island. She was thus raised in an urban setting, but with a foot in both worlds, courtesy of her guardians and teachers from Paradise Island. They expect her to retake Paradise Island, defeat the army that’s still hunting for the escaped Amazons (and Diana in particular), and restore all her people to their previous glory. This is a lot to ask of someone who has no recollection of that world, and obviously has no idea about the timeline shift.
So, Wonder Woman is no longer a child of the gods, was no longer raised by a community of loving supportive women and no longer has the society of Amazons to support her and use as a model for her interactions with the outside world.  Basically, she just became every other superhero with a tragic past and a score to settle.  Boring.  Boring and wrong.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'Edera.

John Constantine faces the demons of reality TV in this tight graphic noir from Vertigo Crime.

It’s pretty much accepted that, as a society, we’re all kind of ashamed of reality TV. Whether you guilty pleasure is keeping up with pretty wild real housewives or extreme top project makeover challenges, you’re watching. Maybe you claim to you watch it ironically, maybe you have to watch it to have something to talk about at work, or maybe your significant other “forces” you. Whatever your reasons, you’re still watching.

John Constantine might be the one man in the universe who actually doesn’t watch reality TV. His vices run more towards women, cigarettes and liquor. But when a reality TV producer breaks into his flat and offers him a fat wad of cash to investigate supernatural shenanigans on the set of a scripted reality show, he takes it, even though all of his instincts say not to. The show Dark Entries is part scavenger hunt and part-psychological experiment. The telegenic twenty something contestants are prepared for being scared while scouring a mysterious house for an unspecified prize. However, something else is terrorizing the kids, something not under the producer’s control. Posing as a contestant, it’s up to Constantine to figure out what is happening.

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Let me state, straight up, that this is not the type of movie that I would normally seek out.

I ran across it the other day while I was helping out the circulation workroom.  It caught my eye (Hello, RDJ!) and since working in circ makes me think of college, I decided to check it out.

Back in my undergraduate days, I majored in Women’s Studies.  Diane Arbus, the subject of Fur, was a name that often came up in discussions.   Arbus was a photographer who is best known for her portraits of “deviant” groups – transvestites, circus performers, nudists.    She’s credited for pioneering a new spirit in documentary photography, empathizing with her subjects rather than displaying them.

She’s also an artist I have never really understood.   Although people who know a hell of a lot more about art photography than I do have said her photos are astounding, they never really struck me as anything more than voyeuristic .  

So – Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.  I went into it with a little knowledge about the subject and not a whole lot of expectations.    I accept that this film is not a “biography” and that plenty of artistic liberty has been taken with Arbus’s life.    Since I only have the barest sense of Arbus’s history anyway, I was willing to separate this fantasy from the historical person.     Even with that caveat, I don’t think this film works very well. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

I've already told you about our (kid and myself) deep love for Percy Jackson and the Olympians.    Recently, kidlet has discovered and devoured The 39 Clues series.   So, there was really never any doubt that we were going to read his new series, The Kane Chronicles.   

And, Riordan has done it again, which is both the strength and weakness of The Red Pyramid.  

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stuff I Love: Daria

A week ago, I turned 35.  I know a lot of people see this as a milestone, but for me, it really wasn't.  

See, I work with teens, and this has the unusual effect of making me both old before my time and perpetually young.   Thirty five is an inconceivable age to your average 12 year old, so yes, I'm old.  However, part of being good at what I do is trying to understand and appreciate youth culture.  So, today I spent 45 minutes reading Failblog and Auto Complete Me while listening to bands from the Warped Tour.  At work.  

So, 35 was really just a number.  But, being 20 years away from 15 did make me think about my teen years.  

Like most people I know, I do not look back on high school fondly.  I was the fat girl.  The one with no friends.  The weirdo with a target on her back; resented by teachers for being a smart ass and disliked by peers for being smart.   But I survived high school, got to college and realized that "the best years of my life" were yet to come.  I learned that being a mouthy little bitch wasn't a bad thing, but I needed to pick my battles.  

In short, my "story arc" was a lot like Daria Morgendorffer's.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Review -- The A-Team

Let me start by saying -- I didn't watch the original A-Team.

I was only allowed an hour of TV a week as a little girl, and 30 minutes a day as a teen.  And I can pretty much guarantee that the A-Team wouldn't have been appropriate viewing, in the eyes of Mom.   I think I saw half of one episode of the original show -- it had something to do with smuggling watermelons.

So, other than knowing the basic setup of the plot, and of course, that Mr. T pities fools, I had no prior knowledge of the characters or what the movie was "supposed" to be like.

So why, you may ask, did I go in the first place? I went because it was my hubby's birthday, and unlike me, Hubby is well versed in '80's TV.  He was pumped for this movie.

And, it was better than I thought it would be.    Lest that seem like damning with faint praise let me make it clear,  I went into this movie with one expectation -- that it was going to suck.  Hard. 

It didn't suck.  In fact, parts of it were downright fun.  Sometimes, particularly in the summer, all I want from a movie is cute boys and explosions.  This had both, so I was reasonably content.  

Wow -- It's been a while!

So -- I stopped posting here.

Why? Well, for one, my book!

That's right, I have a book coming out! Library Collections for Teens: Graphic Novels and Manga, by yours truly and my co-author, Kristin Fletcher-Spear.

I don't know exactly when it is coming out, but they want to start promoting it at ALA, and I've seen the preliminary cover design. So, it's almost a real live book that a real live author would write!

Also, it's summer. Now, to most, normal people, summer means kickin' back by the pool, reading books that aren't assigned, maybe a vacation or two.

Not for the teen librarian -- for us, summer means chaos, prizes, programming, unattended children, chaos, problem teens, summer reading lists, computer issues, and did I mention chaos?

I try to alleviate some of the stress by obsessive planning beforehand. It never works, but every year I try. However, neurotic prep-work cuts into blogging time.

And finally, my husband bought me Plants vs. Zombies. It would be rude not to play.

But now, I'm back, and you'll see more info from me regarding books, movies, crafts, websites and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Judgement Afore: Movie Trailers!

Hey Everybody --

This weeks "stuff I love" will be delayed till I'm in a better mood -- I'm getting a cold and there's not much I love right now.

Instead, let's make my bad mood work for me by getting judgmental on some movie trailers! These are all childrens' or teen books that have been adapted to film.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker

Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker

By Geoffrey Hayes,  Toon Books

In their latest installment, Benny and Penny are faced with the problem of Cousin Bo. Bo, pushy and rude, is also a toy breaker – he winds up ripping, tearing or stealing everything the two mice play with. Today, Benny and Penny are looking for pirate loot; but can they find it while keeping Bo at bay?

Charming, whimsical art will draw readers to this book. Featuring a soft, picture-bookish sensibility, the gentle pastel colors and soft shading work well for this mild tale of playground drama. As for the story itself, it is pleasant, if not innovative. The neighborhood bully receiving comeuppance and repenting is a classic trope in kid lit, and Hayes doesn’t bring anything new to the formula. That being said, the lessons being taught are presented in a subtle, but clear, way. Kids will get the message without feeling lectured or talked down to.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous Benny and Penny books, the Big No-No and Just Pretend. I’m not sure if that is because the mash-up of picture book illustrations and comics format is less novel, or if I just wasn’t as enchanted by the story. However, parents seeking to introduce young ones to comics will rejoice at Benny and Penny’s return.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stuff I Love: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

(Sorry about the late post guys! I had to work Sunday, and the kidlet got a nosebleed after she fell asleep, so last night was kind of hectic.)

Anyway, on to (belated) Stuff I Love.

I hesitated to write a post about Percy Jackson, because I’m late to the party. I’ll be honest, when the first book came out way back in 2005, I ignored it. I saw it on the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List and the School Library Journal Best Books; but, I didn’t read it. It just… didn’t look like my kind of book.

Fast forward 5 years to a darkened movie theater playing one of those annoying trailers that aren’t trailers. You know, the ones that they try to disguise as “sneak peaks” but are really just extended commercials? Well, this one is for The Lightning Thief, and the main actress is talking about her character, Annabeth Chase as “intelligent and fierce.” My 8 year old daughter looks at me and says “We are SO there.”

However, one of the hard and fast rules in our house is “No Book/No Movie.” You must read the book before you see the film. The only exception to this rule is Lord of the Rings because asking an 8 year old to tackle Tolkien is a bit much, even for us.

So, we started listening to the audio-book of The Lightning Thief. Before long, we got hooked.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Movie Review: Disney's Alice In Wonderland

Disney's Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover.

Although it’s against geek orthodoxy, I’ve never been a big Alice in Wonderland fan. I’ve always liked the elements of Wonderland, particularly the Red Queen, but not the book itself.

It’s not really that surprising though, seeing as the book is rife with talking animals, and according to this article in the New Scientist the whole book is really about algebra. As we’ve discussed before, talking animals are a big NO in my book, and the same goes for books about math. (I’ve hated The Phantom Tollbooth for well unto two decades, ever sense my 6th grade reading teacher forced it upon me.)

Again, fighting the geek consensus, but I’m at best a casual Tim Burton fan. My favorite movie of his, The Nightmare Before Christmas, really isn’t his, it’s Henry Selick’s. Burton is just too strange for me sometimes. I like weirdness (seen every episode of The Prisoner, remain oddly fascinated with Lady Gaga) but there has to be a point behind it, and sometimes, I think Burton …doesn’t really have one.

Taking those to things into account, I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The trailers made it look like Mad Hatter --Plus Alice! However, I have an 8 year old who likes spunky girl stories and a husband who’s much more invested in Tim Burton than I am, so we went.

And surprisingly, I liked it. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro.

I love Jane Yolen.  She’s one of the first fantasy writers I read as a little geekling.    So, when it was first announced that she was writing a graphic novel, I was excited, but cautious. 

I shouldn’t have worried.  Foiled is a great book.  In fact, it’s so great; I’m calling it one of the best books of 2010.

Our heroine is Aliera Carstairs.  Her passion is fencing, but her dedication to the sport sets her apart from other teens.  There aren’t many fencing cliques at your average public high school.   Her other hobby is role playing games, a pastime she shares with her wheel-chair bound cousin Caroline. Aliera navigates a narrow circuit of school, fencing practice and gaming, all of her equipment in tow, including the practice foil Aliera’s mom picked up at a tag sale.  It’s a good weapon, except for the cheesy red jewel on the hilt.  

Aliera’s narrow world is shaken with the arrival of Avery.  Avery is unlike any boy Aliera has ever met.  For one thing, Avery is beautiful and super charming.   He is also way, way, way into the dissection unit in biology.   Aleria knows something is off about Avery, but agrees to go out with him anyway.  It’s while waiting for him at Grand Central Station that she learns the truth about Avery and what the deal is with that red jewel.

What makes this book magical is how the typical teen tropes – outsider girl, beautiful boy with a secret, mystical foreboding – are used in fresh and unexpected ways.   I knew going in that there was something off about Avery, but I was surprised by the direction that it took.  What I liked most about Foiled is that it is Aleria’s story, unlike a lot teen books, where the girl who is supposed to be the main character is little more than a plot point for the more interesting mysterious boy.  Yolen does drop some hints about Aliera and her family that never really get picked up on, but I’m hoping that means there’s a sequel in the works. 

As much as I love Yolen’s writing, a big part of this book’s appeal is in Mike Cavallaro’s artwork. Clean and deceptively uncomplicated, it’s a perfect match for the story.   His characters are simply drawn, but expressive.  Aliera’s scowls and sardonic half-smiles tell you a lot about her personality without a word of dialogue.   Without being too spoiler-y, I can say that the coloring in this book is not only a major plot point,  but is beautiful in it’s own right. 

This is definitely a teen book, but adults and even tweens will enjoy Aleria’s adventures.  I’m recommending it to everyone I know, so go read it! 

Stuff I Love: Sandman

So, I’m a comic book geek.

I probably read two graphic novels for every prose book.  Part of this is professional; for a long time, I was the only librarian in my system who knew anything about comics, and who would buy them.  The other part is personal – I just really like comics.

This is not surprising; a lot of librarians are comic book geeks.  We’re a geeky tribe after all, and the 9th art nerds have to represent.  But my journey into comics is a little bit different.

Or, as I tell my husband, blame Sandman.

I didn’t read comics as a kid.  As a child of the 80’s, I’m not sure there were a lot of comics to read.  Also, I was “gifted” and read high above my grade level.  My mom, on the advice of innumerable teachers, kept me on a steady diet of Newbery winners and children’s classics.    I didn’t really discover comics until I was an adult. 

One of the first I picked up was Sandman by Neil Gaiman.  I knew Gaiman’s name, kind of.  As a fan of BBC science fiction, it was sort of familiar to me.  Looking at comics as a field, his name came up a lot.  I knew that Sandman was a horror/fantasy hybrid.   I wasn’t expecting much, going into it.  I was buying books for a library collection, and just had to get a feeling for it. 

The first Sandman collection Prelude and Noctunes, gave me the kind of visceral response that I think people look for in a horror comic.  I think I would have stopped reading there, if it hadn’t been for the last story in the volume. If the horror story “24 Hours” was a punch in the stomach, “The Sound of Her Wings” was a kiss on the forehead, one of the most beautiful and moving stories that I had ever read – in prose or comics. 

I had to keep reading.  An author who could do that, who could make me tear up over feeding pigeons, needed more attention. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kid Made Modern by Todd Oldham

I love modernist design. Bright colors and clean lines are really appealing to me. Unfortunately, I'm sort of messy, and I married a pack rat, so the odds of me having a beautifully modern home are pretty slim.

So, I was really excited when I found the book Kid Made Modern: 52 Kid Friendly Projects Inspired by Modernist Design by Todd Oldham. I am not that familiar with Oldham as a designer. I know he did an interiors line for Target, and was a mentor on Top Design, but I mostly remember him as that guy from House of Style on MTV. You know, in the Cindy Crawford years.

Oldham uses the work of mid-century designers such as Alexander Calder, Paul Rand and Charles + Ray Eames as a starting point for DIY projects for kids. I think this is a great hook for a kids craft book. Lots of craft books, particularly for kids, stray into "kitchy-cute" territory, so a book featuring modernist-based projects is unique.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor

Greek gods are the new vampires. 

Or maybe it just seems that way to me, as the mother of a pre-teen with a deep love of all things Percy Jackson.  However, I have noticed that the Olympians are becoming a pop-culture trend. 
First Second is one with the zeitgeist, with their graphic-novel series Olympians, the first of which is Zeus: King of the Gods.

Zeus is a good starting point for a series about the Olympians, because not only is he their king, he started that whole “war with the Titans” that set up the Greek pantheon as we know it.
George O’Connor starts in the beginning, with Gaea and Ouranos.  O’Connor chooses to use the less familiar, more Greek, names of the gods.  This scores him points for authenticity, but may confuse readers who are more familiar with the Latinized names.   He goes through the creation of the Titans, the birth and subsequent devouring of the Olympians.  He moves quickly through Zeus’s childhood and rushes to the part we all want to see – the big war.

Adapting the story of the Greek gods to a graphic novel for kids has some unique challenges.  The Olympians liked to get it on, Zeus in particular.  O’Connor does a good job of glossing over the more salacious aspects of Zeus’s origin story, while still including some “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” moments. 

O’Connor has an angular, realistic style, which reminds me a little of Craig P. Russell.  It works fairly well with his subject matter.  I wish there was less black in his compositions.  The use of stark black for backgrounds and shadowing lessens the impact of some scenes, particularly the large format battles. 

All in all, this is a nice re-telling of Zeus’s origin story, in a more palatable format than the tomes of Greek mythology I read as a child.  I look forward to future installments in the series.   

Monday, March 8, 2010

Black Hole by Charles Burns

In 1970’s Seattle, casual sex can lead to more than just a pregnancy scare. A sexually transmitted virus, the “bug” is sweeping through the senior class, and it causes it’s carriers to mutate. Sometimes the mutations are small, a tail, a mouth on your neck. Sometimes, they’re bigger, making you something horrific. The afflicted camp out in the woods above town, but how long can they last?

It’s funny, how when you look at something for a second time, its meaning can change.

I first read Black Hole in 2006, shortly after it won the Eisner award. Back then, I read it as a stark tale of adolescence, with the mutating virus a metaphor for the uncertainty teens feel in their bodies and sexuality. I didn’t like it much. I thought it was a pretty obvious treatment of a well-traveled trope. Burns’ art (from the Chris Ware/Dan Clowes school) didn’t do much for me.

I recently re-read the book, for a presentation I’m doing, and while I’m still not a huge fan of the book, there’s more there than I thought there was.

More about the second time around with spoilers (if a 5 year old book can have spoilers)

Stuff I Love: Howl's Moving Castle

I’ve decided that every Sunday night, I’m going to post about something that I 100% adore. 

This week, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle. 

I first read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was about 16 years old or so.  I was going through my “I only read CLASSICS” stage; I would sniff disdainfully at my peers who had a Stephen King or a Dean Koontz under their arm, and proclaim the superiority of Elizabethan playwrights. 

I was not a popular kid.

However, I did have a shamefaced secret.  I was a voracious and indiscriminate fantasy reader.  I haunted a used paperback store near my house, and gobbled up all of the dragons, knights and damsels I could get my hands on.  Unfortunately, since I was shopping at a junky used book store, I read a lot of crap.  Sometimes, it seems like any author who can spell dragon thinks they can write a fantasy novel.  Most of these were straight up Tolkien rip-offs.  Some took Star Wars as their guiding text.  Others just novelized the D&D handbook. Objectively, I would say that 85%  of what I read was terrible.

I remember the day I found Howl’s Moving Castle on the shelf.  In my memory, it was shrouded by a golden glow, in a shaft of divine light, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  It cost $1.50, which was a whole hour of babysitting for me.  Normally, I only paid $0.25 for my paperbacks; but something told me to blow my budget for this one. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher by Jake Parker

Missile Mouse is a Galactic Security Agent, charged with keeping the universe safe from the Rogue Imperium of Planets. RIP have gotten their hands on a scientist with the ability to create a doomsday device that could destroy whole galaxies. It’s up to Missile Mouse and his new partner, Hyde, to get him back and stop the RIP.

Just from that brief description, this doesn’t sound like the type of book that I would like. It has two elements that I avoid in fiction. First off, there’s talking animals, albeit alien talking animals. Missile Mouse is a mouse (duh!) and his partner appears to be some sort of hairy pig thingy. Plus there are shark men. Talking animals are a big no-no in my book. Next, that doomsday device? It’s a weaponized black hole. So called “hard” sci-fi loves black holes – they go off into innumerable pages of technobabble about the creation and maintenance of these giant suck balls – but plot and characters tend to go bye when a black hole enters the picture.

Despite the presence of two Merideth repellants, I really liked this book. Why? Well, a big part of it is Jake Palmer’s art. Palmer has an animation background, and it shows. His panels are dynamic and full of motion, and the layout is not just a progression of squares. The character designs are witty and imaginative, even those dreaded shark men. Clear, bright colors make this book really pop.

Also, Palmer doesn’t let himself get bogged down in the science part of his sci-fi. This book is really more of a space based adventure that rotates around a missing scientist. The plot is not a new one, and it might even read as trite to savvy readers. However, the fun and energy that Palmer puts into his story is infectious, and tween readers will quickly get into the spirit.

This would be a great choice for a reluctant reader in the 8-12 year old range, but I think it does have some all-ages appeal.  I'm sure Missile Mouse will have more adventures, and I am looking forward to them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

I am so far behind the curve with this series, it’s not even funny. Here’s the thing. I’m an enthusiastic consumer of horror novels, but I’m not a big fan of horror comics. It seems strange, but something about the graphic element of a comic book makes everything too… visceral for me. So horror comics often get the short end of the stick when it comes to my reading.

However, I really wish that I had looked at Locke and Key sooner, because it is fantastic.

The Locke children are attempting to recover from the horrific murder of their father; their mom and uncle have moved them across the country to the Keyhouse, in Lovecraft, MA. Bode, the youngest, discovers some amazing secrets about the Keyhouse, and makes friends with a mysterious being living down the well. The being seems friendly, but it has secrets, and has more to do with the Locke family’s troubles than they know.

This book grabs you right from the start and doesn’t stop. Although there is some blood and gore, the book really trades on suspense and fear of the unknown. The Keyhouse is full of mystery, and Hill does a great job of building the suspense. I also really like how he manages to make the Locke kids feel real. Bode in particular seems like a real little kid, and his actions move the book forward. Each has a different way of dealing with the changes in their lives, and each feels authentic.

Art in comics is sometimes just a matter of taste, and Gabriel Rodreguez’s art doesn’t really suit me. It works fine for the story (although I wish he was a little more judicious with his shadowing) I just didn’t care for it. Jay Foto’s colors really work for the story, as they have just the right amount of grey to make everything atmospheric, but not too dark.

I am eagerly awaiting the next volume in this series, and hope that if if they do make a Locke and Key movie, they don’t totally screw it up.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Clay So Cute! by Sherri Habb

I am a crafty girl. I like to make stuff. I've variously gone through periods of being in love with scrapbooking, remade objects and altered books. However, my newest crafting fling is a torrid three way affair between polymer clay, jewelry making and me.
So when I saw Sherri Habb's new book, Clay So Cute!: 21 Polymer Clay Projects for Cool Charms, Itty-Bitty Animals and Tiny Treasures, I was excited. I said I like to craft; I am not necessarily skilled. Particularly when working with polymer clay. Guidebooks are a necessity.

As a newbie to the world of polymer clay, I appreciated that Habb took a few pages to explain about tools you need, tools that would be nice to have, and how to bake and work with clay. I like that she doesn't require you to run out and buy a ton of expensive tools to start.

This book lives up to it's title. It is full of very cute stuff. I features cute little robots, cute little cupcakes and cute little animals. Cute, cute, cute. As somebody who has a high, but very well defined, cute tolerance level, it got to be a bit much. Of course, complaining that there's too much cute in a book with "so cute" in the title is sort of smurfy, now isn't it?

I am totally making a cute robot pendant this weekend though.

I found this in the teen section of the library, but I think that the projects might skew a little young. My 8 year old daughter love, love, loved every project in this book (and is going to bankrupt me wanting to make them). I can also see these projects being popular with girls who “squee” over all things kawaii.

So, if you too are a crafty lass (or lad) and you are looking for some more cuteness in your life, this book would be a great one to pick up.