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Review – Spectacle Vol 1

Spectacle Vol 1, Paranormal Mystery Graphic Novel by Megan Rose Gedris

Series: Spectacle, first volume

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.)

Although her true talent lies in interpreting the data processed by the difference engine she built, Anna works as a fortune-teller in a circus. Her twin sister Kat also works in the circus, as a knife-thrower. The circus is a visual accomplishment, both in the art–which shows the reality more than the spectacle, which is fun–and the depiction of the community. People bicker, put together church services, gossip, and come together in crises. One such crisis is Kat’s sudden murder.

Anna finds the body, as well as Kat’s ghost. The two work together to catch the murderer without disrupting the circus, hoping that resolving the mystery will allow Kat to move on.

I loved all of the characters and their relationships. Anna is not a social butterfly. She’s awkward, accidentally insults people, and has difficulty accepting kindness at her sister’s funeral. In contrast (because they’re twins I guess), Kat is brash yet forges emotional connections with others. An interesting difference between the two of them is that Kat is the forgiving one. My impression was that Anna was less so because she doesn’t ‘get’ people the same way.

Art downfalls, the stupid belch, cliffhanger sudden stop

For the most part, the art is great. The chapter covers are stunning and really show the time and care taken with them. Sometimes there are things that look strange or don’t quite work. Sometimes the blood looks like finger-paint, I think because the colour saturation in those instances is too high. The text is easy to read, except when it’s white and written directly over the art.

The biggest downside to this book is the sudden jerking stop at the end. There’s no denouement, no To Be Continued caption box in the corner, not even a blank white page. Calling it a cliffhanger would be missing the mark. It looked unfinished.

There is a satisfying story arc, though. After a mysterious event gives the local acting sheriff a dubious reason to lock up the ringmaster, the performers band together to earn as much money as possible to make his $500 bail. When Anna tries to gain access to the ringmaster to get his advice on her own ghost/murder problem, she discovers the acting sheriff is corrupt and dangerous. It’s a slow burn arc, but as I said, ultimately satisfying.

I love ghosts and murder mysteries, and this combined them very well. To be fair, the abrupt ending does offer a culmination of a few very subtle clues throughout the book. There are a lot of unanswered questions, so I’m looking forward to the next volume!

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Review – Spill Zone

Spill Zone, Science Fiction Graphic Novel written by Scott Westerfeld, drawn by Alex Puvilland, coloured by Hilary Sycamore

Series: Spill Zone #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I see Scott Westerfeld’s name, I get excited. His name on a book means an interesting world, difficult choices, troubled youngsters, and the occasional surprise that makes me squee. The artist is new to me, but I love the art. It’s lovely and fits the tone well.

After the Spill, Poughkeepsie has become uninhabitable. Addison and her sister Lexa still live rather close. Armed with rules like “Never get off the motorcycle” and “don’t look at the meat puppets,” Addison braves the weird dangers of the Spill Zone in order to take photographs which she sells through a broker for big cash.

Or so she thinks, until she meets one of her ‘collectors’ who offers her a million to take what might be her last trip into the Spill Zone.

I loved the soldiers that set up barricades around the zone. They were a nice touch of mundanity. Addison is badass and also sympathetic. Her parents were lost in the Spill, leaving her to care for Lexa, who was affected in ways that we’re only beginning to see.

It’s mysterious and exciting, and the stuff in the Spill Zone appeal to both my love of Cthonic weirdness and zombie apocalypses. The second volume cannot come soon enough.

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Review – A Dream for Three

A Dream for Three, Bildungsroman Graphic Novel written by Jérôme Hamon and drawn by Lena Sayaphoum

Series: Emma and Violette #1

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Given that I don’t usually read simple slice of life fiction, it takes something special to even draw me to check one out. In this case, although the pastel softness of Sayaphoum’s art style initially caught my attention, what really cinched my interest was the story. Two sisters who both dream of getting into the Paris Opera Ballet School, but only one of them passes the audition. This upsets both of them, although I was surprised to find that it didn’t quite create the kind of rift I’d expected.

Despite the series title of “Emma and Violette” this is infinitely more Emma’s story–perhaps that will change as more volumes are released. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Not only is Emma the one who fails the audition, a narrative position that carries considerably more weight and potential, but she is also the elder sister. Her life is further along, and a major theme of the story is moving on, as well as growing up and making choices. On the other hand, Violette comes off as nothing more than a background character, which isn’t very compelling to a reader looking for sibling drama and reconciliation.

The writing is a bit fast and loose as the saying goes, with a great deal of emphasis on “loose.” The main plot, Emma struggling with her perceived failure, is very strong, if a bit After-School Special in execution. Her mother once dreamed of becoming a professional violinist. She seems to be trying to succeed vicariously through being “supportive enough” to help her daughters achieve their ballet dream. However, she isn’t a crazy pageant mom, and I believed that enough of her drive was that she wanted the girls to be happy. The girls’ father is much more relaxed, as he keeps in touch with everyone’s feelings as a mediator. In my favourite scene, he takes Emma to a theatre, where she tries on costumes and he talks to her about all of the different things she can do with her life.

The subplots are where things sag in the middle. Emma and Violette have a fight, but it is not resolved. There are a couple of Mean Girl moments that amount to nothing–first because the character is not properly established and then chastised and removed without ceremony, and the was second immediately addressed before Violette can have any plot to herself. Emma has a love interest story that simply peters out. I won’t say it isn’t believable, but the way it plays out means yet another of the characters is inadequately utilised and worse, implies that he didn’t have to have a reason for his actions and it’s okay. It isn’t okay.

Still, the message of the story is eminently positive and unflinchingly clear. The art is fluid and lovely, with a soft prettiness that I adored. I don’t have daughters, and my children are much much younger than this, but I found the mother relatable. Not an easy thing for the writer to have accomplished. I’m sure the issues with Violette having less spotlight will be addressed in the very next volume, too. This is a sweet comic, and I highly recommend it.

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.)

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Review- The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Historical Fiction by Brian Selznick

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My favourite thing about this book is that it’s basically a large scale picture book for an older audience than picture books generally court. The writing is simple and patient without being dumbed down, and the story is structured so that it’s easy to follow while still being suspenseful.

I made the mistake of judging the book by its page count and expected something like Eragon or later Harry Potter instalments. So I put off reading poor Hugo far longer than I should have. But of course the majority of the book is comprised of lovely pictures. They’re incredibly detailed pencils that usually follow one another like frames. On topic with both the automation and movies.

Strangely, I did not come into this book thinking it would be a fantasy or steampunk sort of thing. Either I already knew it was historical fiction, or it looked enough like it up until I recognised Georges Méliès and A Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la Lune. I like that it was Hugo’s father’s favourite film. It’s one of mine as well.

The characters are all sympathetic, although it got on my nerves how many times they throw harsh accusations at one another with little evidence and more vehemence than the situation calls for. Sometimes they’re enigmatic for next to no reason, aside from keeping information from the reader for just a little while longer. That first scene can be a little hard to get through. I did want to kick the old man for taking Hugo’s notebook and threatening to burn it.

There is a considerable amount of real peril. Characters get injured, face significant consequences (sometimes for things that can’t be helped), and it seems like everyone has to deal with psychological trauma. The results of which were quite upsetting in at least one case. It’s nice to see a children’s book that doesn’t shy away from real life, particularly since this is historical fiction.

While I generally dislike the film adaptation coming up in a book review, this is one of the few books I can say has a film adaptation faithful enough to be worth showing in a classroom in relation to the book. Both are also highly invested in spectacular visuals.

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Bad Cover Representation

tired

I’ve been buckling down to finish this 5-book ebook bundle for a series that I have lots of feels about. HOPEFULLY I’ll be done and have it reviewed before I die of old-age, but who knows. Pregnancy fatigue also knocked me out for hours today…

Some of my feelings on this series are positive, and the negative ones all have to do with disappointment. Without getting into specifics, the covers and titles make promises that are not fulfilled. Sadly, this reflects badly on the entire series, which is almost unfair. ‘Almost’ because I assume the titles were under the author’s control, but I know covers tend not to be. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t actually apply to books in real life, either. The POINT of a book cover is to help a consumer judge whether or not they want to buy it.

Particularly when one is talking about an entire series. Twilight themes its titles by using terms for celestial events, or in the case of the first, at least a time of day. The covers have a small, very recognisable palette and share the same style throughout. But how well do they represent the content?

From a target audience and marketing perspective, the brief titles and minimalist design say “YA” and “drama.” The use of red contrasted with black can mean romance and/or horror, and the theme naming suggests supernatural elements. Twilight is a paranormal YA romance with a pensive tone and heavy atmosphere, which primarily uses drama for conflict.

The level of quality is not a question that can be answered by the cover. If you love Twilight but hate the covers, that doesn’t change the fact that they do tell you what kind of book you’ll be reading. If you love the covers but hate Twilight, the same applies. The question was, how well do the covers represent the content? The answer is, quite well indeed.

You can browse the list of examples on TV Tropes’ Covers Always Lie page in the Literature section in search of covers telling lies, but they are not necessarily bad representation. Since I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, I’ll make one up based on something Hubby said on the subject using the plot of Assassin’s Creed 2.

The covers are all whimsical cartoon renditions of a boy in Renaissance Italy, always depicted in or in front of a bank. For example, sitting at a desk covered in paper and stacks of coins, or in mid-pratfall dropping an armful of ledgers in the street as he’s tripping over his own feet. Every title contains puns on accounting or banking terms. But the story is about a young man whose family is murdered in the second chapter of book one, driving him to go on a decades-long journey of graphically depicted murderous revenge. His father simply happens to have been a banker who worked closely with the Medici family–the boy himself was never even interested in joining the family business.

In that imaginary example, the covers say “Middle Grade” and “comedy.” The consistent setting and props tell us he will be deeply involved in financial matters and stay in a fixed location while depicting a fairly regular daily life that probably won’t show off much historical detail or accuracy, and the naming suggests that nothing dark or serious will occur. But this is obviously historical fiction with a mystery component intended for an adult audience, with a nigh atramentous atmosphere, lots of death, and exploration of complex themes. People would buy these books for younger readers and be distressed if not pissed.

Bad cover representation absolutely affects a reader’s enjoyment. …and I just thought of an example: the first two books in Moira J Moore’s Hero series. But I already made my point, so I’ll just link to them on Goodreads.

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Fanfic Guys Need to Act Like Guys

This is something that has been bothering me for an incredibly long time. Today, I think I have finally nailed it down to an expressible idea. Probably it is due to the combination of reading old posts on Pottersues, Avengers fan fiction, and a particularly pragmatic Megan Frampton romance, all in one very long morning. And it might be a long post, so bear with me.

Spoiler: The point mostly pertains to fan fiction.

It’s (fairly) commonly accepted that most people who write fan fiction are women, and a significant number of those are quite young. I’d say under 25, or under 20, depending on the fandom. I think it would be fair to assume a lot of them do not know or understand men very well. Particularly the ones who are not talented writers. (and/or are 16)

The point about not knowing or understanding men (or boys, but the former is worse and I’ll get into why) is one reason that there is a lot of fetishising M/M romance with damaging tropes.

I’m all about smashing gender stereotypes, but male characters who use emotional manipulation more than direct confrontation, cry prettily, and squeal over cute things seem less like barrier-breakers and more like a lady who couldn’t write a male character, so she just gave a female character a masculine pronoun. And I strongly believe that men and women should be allowed to cry without being maligned for doing so. But these characters are not part of that kind of thinking. They are just girls disguised as guys. They use feminine language, have feminine habits, feminine priorities, and solve problems and communicate the way that adolescent girls do. Sometimes like women, but usually like teenage girls.

I’ve seen this in original and published M/M romance, but fan fiction is where this shit LIVES. While happily getting my Avengers fic addiction fix, I read some Cap/Iron Man fic. I love these characters. Love the actors. I am so not alone in that love, which is pretty awesome. For a long time after I realised the ship was a thing, I was happy just knowing it was a ship. I’m easily pleased. Just exist, I said. So actually reading fan fiction was rather a step up in my participation. (I don’t do fandom stuff much…)

Reading it was… awkward. I tried to feel happy and do the fangirl squee thing, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I know we all experience our movies and comic books differently and not everyone will see characters the same way, but it was distressing to me that someone sees Captain America, this guy:

ca_bucky

as a mealy-mouthed, thumb-twiddling virgin who can’t say “penis” without dying from a blush-induced heat stroke. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any characters who are virginal at any age, or who are embarrassed by sex. There is something wrong with a large consensus of people seeing those traits in a character who is not characterised that way anywhere in canon. And comic books have more canon than the Santísima Trinidad.

Steve Rogers is an adult. Not only does he have a penis, he can probably say it if he has to, especially considering all of the health issues he had at the beginning of the first movie. I have been an old-fashioned virgin. I did not like to speak bluntly about sex or genitalia, but I didn’t blush when someone said words like “oral sex,” and I didn’t fall to shy pieces if the subject came up on any level. What I did do, and what I have seen Cap do, is tastefully avoid the subject and if it did come up, stay quiet or use polite euphemism until the conversation changed. It’s an adult way to handle one’s feelings on many subjects.

“I don’t want to talk about it because I think it’s private and in this situation inappropriate,” does not equate to, “I will melt down if I try to talk about it in any situation.”

And that is only ONE thing that is going sadly, sadly wrong in fan fiction. Characters are mischaracterised (ugh that feels so redundant) all the time in fan fic. That’s a risk you run–I learned this reading pottersues when the blog was new. But by that same token, it’s not okay. It still sucks. I’m not the only reader who dislikes it. Just in this case, it links to my issues with male characterisation by writers who seem not to understand guys at all.

Which brings me to my second point–relationships. But I’m gonna have to break this into two posts. I started writing this about 14:00 today, and kept getting interrupted by an appointment with my doctor and needing to drive places. Second half of this will be written and up tomorrow morning.