Posts tagged ‘Michigan’

Bluffton

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My first featured book will be last year’s Bluffton, by Eisner Award nominee Matt Phelan.

Bluffton








Title: Bluffton
Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763650797
Pages: 223 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2013.
Publication Date: July 23, 2013

Henry Harrison realizes that the summer of 1908 is going to be different from every past summer when he sees an elephant stepping off train in his small Michigan town. That was the first summer the traveling vaudeville performers pay a visit and stay for their summer long vacation. Henry quickly meets Buster Keaton, a young slapstick comedian who travels and acts with his family. In other ways though, Buster is just like Henry who enjoys baseball, swimming, fishing, and playing elaborate practical jokes on people. Henry doesn’t know how he is going to survive the rest of the year while he waits for their return, which seems dull in comparison after their numerous adventures together.

I think “subtle” is the best way to describe this graphic novel. The mood of Matt Phelan’s story is portrayed primarily in the watercolor illustrations. Summer skies are bright blue over green grass and it feels like the sunshine can pop from the page and warm you if you sat there long enough with the book open on your lap. In contrast, the shorter winter sequences are painted with less color, and primarily blues and grays, with Henry’s shocking orange hair turning a muted mustard yellow in one school room scene.

Dialogue drives the action and provides conflicting views of the vaudeville lifestyle. Henry of course is jealous of Buster, who can do flips, is nationally admired, can travel the world, and doesn’t have to go to school. But readers also witness the flip side of a coin, as Phelan includes controversies about Buster’s age and accusations of child abuse, with hints of possible alcoholism. Buster was essentially forced into the family business, whereas Henry’s father, who owns a hardware store, alleviates his son’s fears of that same fate. “I never expected you to take over the store, Henry. Unless that’s what you wanted. […] You’ll have lots of choices to make, Henry. Don’t worry so much about what you are going to do, Henry. Concentrate on who you are going to be.” (191-194)

Following that exchange is a poignant scene where Henry simply leans against his father in silence, soaking in the support. You have to wonder if Buster gets the same kind of support from his father. In an earlier spread, you do get the sense that Buster enjoys his life, taking opportunities away from his father to engage in his signature style of comedy. But long looks towards more traditional families lead readers to think more deeply about his desires. A quiet book that packs a punch with the range of subjects covered, it gives a glimpse of a time long past.

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Sketchy

SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–”
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

Wake and Fade

EDIT: I have since removed the spoilers that were previously published in this post.

WakeTitle: Wake
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781416953579
Pages: 210 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2008.

She closes her eyes. Tries to think. Holds up a weak finger, letting him know she needs a moment. But she feels the next one coming already. She doesn’t have much time. And she has to prepare him. She doesn’t have a choice.
“Cabel. Do not freak if–when–I do that again, okay? Do NOT stop the bus. Do NOT tell a teacher, oh God, no. No matter what.” She grips the armrests and fights to keep her vision. “Can you trust me? Trust me and just let it happen?”
The pain of concentration is excruciating. She is cringing, holding her head. […] Cabel is gawking at Janie. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.” (74)

In Lisa McMann’s first book Wake, seventeen year old Janie Hannangan is getting fed up with her special ability to jump uncontrolably into people’s dreams. It’s been happening ever since she was eight, with increasing frequency now that her classmates are falling asleep in school and on fieldtrips. She’s kept her curse a secret, until classmate Cabel starts trying to determine what’s different about Janie. Her ability reveals that Cabel also has his own secrets to hide, and they just might be more than she ever realized.

FadeTitle: Fade
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781416953586
Pages: 248 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2009.

“We’ve done complete background checks on all the teachers. Everyone comes up squeaky clean. And now we’re stuck. Cabe, Janie, this is why I had you at the all-nighter. I’m looking for any information you can give me about Fieldridge teachers who might be sexual predators in their spare time. Are you up for the challenge? This one could be a bit dangerous. Hannagan, chances are, the predator is male. If we can determine who we’re after, we may need to use you as bait so we can nail him. Think about it and get back to me on how you feel about it. If you don’t want to do this assignment, you’re off the hook. No pressure.” (14-15)

In Fade, the sequel to Lisa McMann’s Wake, Janie Hannagan is becoming decidedly more hands-on with her second police investigation. Rather than relying on her dreams, she puts herself in the thick of things trying to track a sexual predator. While she’s gaining more control over her dream powers, she’s also realizing that there might be consequences to them that she was never aware of originally. On top of that, she’s trying to keep her overly-protective boyfriend a secret from everyone and deal with senior year responsibilities. When she begins to get in over her head, who will help her distinguish what is real and what is the dream world?
—–
Just a warning: If I was providing a rating for these books, I would probably rate it PG-13, because it does contain swearing and scenes of nudity, sexuality, and violence. That being said, it’s a unique concept that was pulled off brillantly. The only complaint I have heard was the fact that there wasn’t one “good” parent in the entire book, with Janie’s mom being an alcoholic, Cabel’s parents are horrible (especially his dad) and Janie’s friend Carrie’s parents seem out of sorts until you learn the why behind it. But Janie would not be able to do what she does if her mother was the overprotective mother. Janie’s frustrations with her talent/disorder are relatable, and Cabel’s reactions are authentic. Their relationship is genuine, with both becoming jealous as a result of things the other has to do for their police work. The teens read like real teens, with swearing punctuated by bursts of anger, resentment, gossip, and joy. Cabel’s overprotectiveness of Janie is touching and I like him more then another overprotective boyfriend we’ve seen in a recent release. *cough*Twilight series*cough* He has good reason to be legitimately concerned, considering Janie’s struggles to control the situations she’s placed in. His reactions are pitch perfect, with the initial freak out and distancing once he discovers her ability, and then attachment to her. These two wounded loners want something good to happen in their lives and when it finally does, they don’t know how to handle it or how to not loose it. They’re a couple you cheer for.

A third book, Gone is planned for Feb. 2010, and I hope it is as well written, gripping and engaging as the first two. Find out more at her website: http://www.lisamcmann.com/

The Pout-Pout Fish

Pout-pout fishTitle: The Pout-Pout Fish
Author: Deborah Diesen
Illustrator: Dan Hanna
ISBN: 9780374360962
Pages: un-numbered
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2008.

“I’m a pout-pout fish
With a pout-pout face,
So I spread the dreary-wearies
All over the place.”

I absolutely LOVE this book. I discovered several months ago, and have been recommending it ever since. Written by a first time Michigan author, the Library of Michigan has deemed it the Everyone Reads title for 2009, which I am sooo excited about. Every time I read this book, I can’t stop the tune of the Beverly Hillbilles theme song from entering my head, which my coworkers find hillarious. The story tells the tale of the pout-pout fish, who just can’t be happy. All the other fish he runs across encourage him to be happy, but he always answers with the same response, quoted above, and a disheartened “Blub, blub, blub” always follows. This comes with a three columned illustration, which causes the action to move along. Finally, a silver fish plants a kiss on the pout-pout fish, and his frown is turned upside down. The illustrations by Dan Hanna are precious, and the expressions are so detailed that even non-readers will delight. Perfect for story-times, although it’s proven so popular at my library, there is a hold list for our copies, and I haven’t had a chance to use it yet!

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake

Gilda Joyce The Ladies of the LakeTitle: Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake
Author: Jennifer Allison
ISBN: 0525476938
Pages: 339 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton’s Children’s Books, c2006.

Miss Underhill frowned at Gilda as if she were suddenly speaking a foreign language. “What?”
“You said her ghost rises out of the water screaming. Then what happens?”
“I don’t think I want to find out.”
Gilda’s mind raced with questions. Was Our Lady of Sorrows truly haunted, or was Miss Underhill simply trying to scare her? What were the circumstances surrounding Dolores Lambert’s death by drowning?
Gilda had just made up her mind; she wanted to attend Our Lady of Sorrows. (25-26)

Gilda Joyce has won a scholarship to the prestigious all girls Catholic high school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. While initially skeptical about attending, she’s convinced to attend when she hears about a drowning “accident” that occurred three years ago. She’s anxious to prove her worth as a paranormal investigator, but after her first day at school, she realizes that not everyone is as excited as Gilda to investigate a tragedy. When the girl’s ghost starts haunting some of the students and the school, will this convince Gilda to halt her investigation?

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake by Jennifer Allison is actually the second in what is currently a trilogy of books detailing Gilda’s mysteries. While I haven’t read the first book, it didn’t appear to be necessary. Gilda Joyce is a spunky character who truly believes that she will eventually become a world famous psychic investigator. However, Gilda possesses no real psychic ability, but she does investigate what she considers paranormal occurances (in this instance, the “haunting” of the school premises and students). Maybe it’s because I attended a school quite similar to Gilda’s, but I was laughing at the characterizations of the students, and so were my friends from school when they heard about it. Being familiar with the Catholic schools in the area, it sounds like they combined two or three of them into one, since there truly is an Our Lady of Sorrows and a school shaped like a castle. Gilda is truly a unique character, and readers will for sure fall in love with her.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Crooked Kind of PerfectTitle: A Crooked Kind of Perfect
Author: Linda Urban
Narrator: Tai Alexandra Ricci
ISBN: 9780739359617
Discs: 3 CDs, 3 hours 17 minutes
Pages: 211 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House/Listening Library, c2007.

“I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
Elegant.
Dignified.
People wera ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano. With the piano, you could play Carnegie Hall. You could wear a tiara. You could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. […]
I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60. (1-3)

In A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, Zoey Elias dreams of playing Carnegie Hall one day like her all time favorite pianist Vladimir Horowitz. But when she asks her dad for lessons, he signs her up for lessons with Lester Rennet, music teacher and motivational speaker who teaches on paper keyboards. When she finally convinces her dad that she needs a real piano, he goes out and buys an organ. This is the same dad who bought 432 rolls of toliet paper at one time and has earned dozens of “degrees” from online universities because he’s afraid of leaving the house. While this is going on, her workaholic mother is gone a lot, so classmate Wheeler Diggs follows Zoey home from school and eats her mom’s dinner. And her best friend has decided that Zoey is no longer her best friend. How is Zoey ever going to be ready for the Performa-Rama with all this going on?

This summary, even to me, sounds like a hodge podge of characters that shouldn’t fit. But first time author Linda Urban makes it work beautifully. Zoey’s dad, while strange, seems like a frustratingly cool father to have, with her mother being the realistic one of the group. The book was recognized by the Michigan Library Association and won the Mitten Award in 2008, although I missed her when she spoke at their Spring Institute this past April. It apparently also won a Cybil award. Tai Alexandra Ricci narrates beautifully, elliciting inflection that is unique, even when she is saying the same sentence or word several times in a row.

“Hear that? Do that part again.”
I do it again.
“Again.”
I do it again.
“Again.”
I do it again.
“Again.”
I do it again.
“Once more.”
I do it again. (81)

There’s a dry wit that Urban conveys extremely well, especially regarding the exasperation at practicing songs you don’t like on an instrument that you hate. Wheeler Diggs is probably the least quirky of all the characters, and seems to ground the story, even though it isn’t about him. But even he has a few surprises that readers don’t expect, and they work, especially him baking cakes with Zoey’s father. Although I’m torn whether Zoey and Wheeler should end up dating (if there ever was a sequel), it’s definitely a sweet friendship for both of them. We’re rooting for everyone at the end. The story rings true, even though we can’t picture anyone we know with enough toliet paper to last for years.

Another one that I have to add to my list of favorites for this year, and that I’ll be raving about to readers.

Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School

Ellie McDoodle New Kid in SchoolTitle: Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School
Author: Ruth McNally Barshaw
ISBN: 9781599902388
Pages: 188 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, c2008.

My house: Gone. We’re moving away, and I probably won’t ever see it again. Good-bye room. Good-bye, bird tree. Good-bye, four-leaf clover patch. … Good-bye, basement. … Good-bye, playroom in the attic. … All these things make this MY house. We can’t move. We can’t abandon all these special things! But we are. Everything is for sale. My memories, my whole life–sold, to the highest bidder. (2-3)

Ellie “McDoodle” is moving two hours away. New school, new house, new room, and no friends. In fact, she finds classmates playing “new kid bingo” behind her back, the art teacher (of all people) doesn’t like her, and her older brother keeps playing practical jokes on her, like tying all her socks together and draping them around the house. However, when Ellie starts fighting for shorter lunch lines and better food, will it rocket her to popularity or backfire in her face?

Ellie McDoodle is back and just as good! Speaking as a previous new kid, it seems like she makes friends a little too quickly for my reality, it’s easy to suspend belief for this story that takes place over about a week’s time. The illustrations are wonderful, and the book is filled with word games, jokes (both practical and knock-knock), and even oragami instructions. There’s new characters, not only Ellie’s classmates, but we get to see her brother Josh and a classmate’s Down syndrome brother is treated with compassion and understanding. I know a lot of kids who are anxiously awaiting the third book, due out in summer 2010. I personally like the Ellie McDoodle series better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I know that’s a personal opinion. 🙂

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