BOOK REVIEW: 1000 Storms by Tony Sandoval

1000 Storms #11000 Storms #1 by Tony Sandoval
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: August 10, 2021

As in A Wrinkle in Time, a girl whose father disappeared under mysterious circumstances travels through a portal to a strange and menacing world of adventure. The art is beautiful and – where applicable – simultaneously grotesque, and I found the surreal aesthetic compelling. The protagonist is well-developed and interesting, being a seemingly orphaned girl, living with relatives, who likes to go off on her own adventures, and whose solitary nature encourages a reputation for oddity among her peers. Unlike A Wrinkle in Time, the protagonist’s motivation (other than getting out of the house and collecting peculiar things) is not so clear, and so the story feels like it stumbles toward an ex machina resolution. There’s plenty of engrossing action, but little sense of motivation or agency. It’s a coming-of-age story split between the real world and a kind of fairy story demon realm.

It’s a tad darker than the average down-the-rabbit-hole children’s story, but except for a couple frames it would be unobjectionable for the youth market. [That said, given what seems to be the youthful age of the characters, these frames (involving sexual exploration) seem awkward and out-of-place – though they definitely separate this graphic novel from Alice in Wonderland, A Wrinkle in Time, or other stories that share its subgenre and themes.]

This is an intriguing adventure story with a pleasing aesthetic, but I felt it could have been driven by the protagonist’s goals to a greater degree, rather than reacting to events unfolding around her. Though it’s occurred to me that what I really might have been missing was a greater sense of what her “opposition” was after.

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BOOK REVIEW: Stray Dogs by Tony Fleecs

Stray DogsStray Dogs by Tony Fleecs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: September 21, 2021

Like Watership Down, this story is told about animals through the eyes of animals, but – in this case – it’s a house full of dogs. The story begins on a placid enough note. The one human character has a lot of dogs, but it’s not a crazy-cat-lady situation, the animals seem well cared for and the reader has a brief moment to see the man admiringly, as a dog-lover who cares for strays. But those feelings are short-lived. The newest dog, Sophie, begins to get memory flashes about her life before she moved into the house, and she faces an intense challenge in convincing the other dogs that all is not as it seems. The dogs like the man. He feeds them, and – as long as they behave – they have a pretty comfortable existence. Only gradually are we shown the man’s nefarious side, what happens when the dogs don’t behave.

This graphic novel has a simple but taught story arc, and is a visceral read. It does get dark, so one shouldn’t be lured by the cuteness factor into thinking that it’s some sort of lighthearted romp – it’s definitely not. If you’re alright with tragic scenes woven into what otherwise might seem Disney-like, you’ll probably find this book engrossing, but sensitive readers may find it a bit revolting.

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BOOK REVIEW: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Adapted by Mike Carey

Neil Gaiman's NeverwhereNeil Gaiman’s Neverwhere by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a graphic novelization of one of the greatest urban fantasy novels, ever. While it’s been a while since I read the novel, this adaptation felt true to my memories of the original (one of my all-time favorite novels.) Carey did make a perspective shift from the third-person in the book to first-person in the comic book, but, otherwise, the story is substantially unchanged.

The protagonist is Richard Mayhew, a seemingly preternaturally average middle-class Londoner. Mayhew is going about his life as a suit-and-tie office worker with a domineering fiancé when he almost literally stumbles across a wildly-dressed young woman on the sidewalk. Mayhew’s decision to help the young woman will force him to reckon with a London that exists in parallel to the one he knows, a London of Marquises and angels and monsters and magically-endowed thugs for hire – any (or all) of which may present hazards to his health and well-being. The young woman is the last remaining heir to an important aristocratic family of London Below, and her problems are more dire than being passed out on the sidewalk.

Despite having read the novel, I enjoyed the graphic novel immensely and found it well worth retaking this beautifully rendered trip through the looking-glass into the London that exists beyond our world. This hero’s journey offers a satisfying character arc and many turns and surprises. Even if you’ve read the novel, I’d recommend giving this adaptation a look.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Escaping 1939 Prague, Joe Kavalier moves in with family in Brooklyn, becoming fast friends with his younger cousin, Sam Clay. Combining their talents, Joe as artist and Sam as writer, the young men create a number of popular comic book characters. For those unfamiliar with comic book history, a major stream running through this story involves the trials of “work for hire.” Because of the nature of comic book publishing, creative types tended to work on salary (giving the publisher all rights to whatever was created – e.g. TV shows, toys, etc.) Because of this, the creators of some of the most lucrative characters and stories received little credit or financial reward (relative to the profits.) While these artists / authors didn’t lose their shirt if a title failed, there’s something offensive about Corporations (or actors) shoveling in money from a franchise while the creator lives a dank suburban existence.

If it were just about the unfair lives of comic book creators, the book would be interesting — but not 600+ pages interesting. What makes this a compelling story is that each of the titular characters has a darker challenge with which to deal. For Joe, it is an obsession with bringing as much of his family to safety as he can, and coping with his rage against the Nazis. For Sam, it is the fact that he is a closeted and conflicted gay man in 1940’s and 50’s America. The driving question is whether the two men will be able to avail themselves of the tripartite support network (themselves, plus Rosa – Joe’s girlfriend,) or whether either (or both) will self-destruct because of an inability to do so.

This is a well-crafted novel and I highly recommend it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Power Born of Dreams by Mohammad Sabaaneh

Power Born of Dreams: My Story is PalestinePower Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine by Mohammad Sabaaneh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: October 7, 2021

This graphic novel reflects upon the Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of the author’s (artist’s) time in prison. At first, I found the story to be an evocative personal account of life in prison, but as the story continued it felt progressively less personal and more propagandistic. The central theme is that Palestinians feel imprisoned by circumstance, regardless of whether they are actually in a jail or not.

Still, it’s not the kind of work that will constructively advance a dialogue. It will rub those who sympathize with Israel the wrong way because it’s far from an unbiased account of events, vilifying the Israelis while glorifying (or failing to acknowledge) the Palestinians who engage in violence. This bias is particularly notable in the back matter, which presents accounts that seem journalistic, but which selectively present information to make it appear that all fault lies exclusively on one side.

To be fair, the author spent time in jail for (as best I could learn from the internet) what sounded like consorting with unsavory characters. [Which reeks of Soviet-style “justice,” but the book doesn’t really delve into the reason for his imprisonment, and – even if it did – I’m not sure that I’d trust that it’s the complete truth – given the way the general narrative is presented. So, I couldn’t tell you whether the author is an artist wrongly imprisoned for expressing himself, or whether he did something that was truly and legitimately seditious.]

The art is linocut to create a chiaroscuro effect (i.e. white lines, black background) and is stylistically interesting.

I enjoyed the art and found this to be an interesting read, but I wouldn’t recommend readers take it at face value as a fair account of the conflict, but rather as one man’s personal message about the conflict.

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BOOK REVIEW: Punderworld, Vol. 1 by Linda Sejic

Punderworld, Volume 1Punderworld, Volume 1 by Linda Šejić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: August 25, 2021

Punderworld is a disneyfied telling of the love story of Persephone and Hades from Greek Mythology. I mean that in two ways. First, the art seemed stylistically reminiscent [to my neophyte eye] of a movie like “Frozen” (all the people are preternaturally good-looking / charisma-laden and even the Underworld has the sort of charm that makes it seem like it would be a nice place to visit.) The other sense in which it reminded me of a Disney story is that, while it comes from Greek Mythology, it is written and drawn to maximize resonance with a present-day American reader, and would probably be fundamentally unrecognizable to an ancient Greek even if translated into ancient Greek. (As the “Aladdin” animated movie would not resonate with an Arab viewership as much as it would Americans.) Punderworld could also be thought of as a Rom-Com of the star couple of the Underworld. [I assume the title is a “Branjelina”-like meet cute confection of a word.]

The story dragged a bit in the first half, but made good in the second, and I ended up enjoying the book more than I expected to. If you’re up for a disney-esque telling of this ancient Greek love story, give it a look.


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BOOK REVIEW: Nightmare in Savannah by Lela Gwenn

Nightmare in SavannahNightmare in Savannah by Lela Gwenn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: November 9, 2021

Like New Orleans, Savannah is one of the few American cities that can pull off Old World occult-centered stories in a way that is on par with Prague or Budapest. While this is a fine story, I was underwhelmed at the degree to which it harnessed the promise of that setting. Mostly, the story plays out as teenage drama that could take place anywhere in America, with the novel addition of fairies [as opposed to the overplayed vampires or zombies.] I will say the book does a better job of getting mileage out of Fairy folklore than it does out of Savannah’s spook factor. These are not Peter Pan’s Fairies.

If you are looking for something akin to “Mean Girls” with less comedy, more angst, and a supernatural element, this book is definitely worth checking out. However, if the title “Nightmare in Savannah” has you expecting a deeply disturbing work of gothic horror, this is probably not the one for you.

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BOOK REVIEW: Seven Shakespeares, Vol. 1 by Harold Sakuishi

Seven Shakespeares Vol. 1 (comiXology Originals)Seven Shakespeares Vol. 1 by Harold Sakuishi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The title and premise of this manga-style historical fiction graphic novel are presumably influenced by Gilbert Slater’s 1931 work that proposed that William Shakespeare as poet / playwright is a myth and that, in actuality, seven different writers produced the canon attributed to Shakespeare. While there remains disagreement and speculation about precisely what was composed by Shakespeare – as opposed to either being heavily co-authored or exploiting his name recognition – I don’t believe this extreme expression of the idea is so popular anymore.

But it doesn’t really matter for the purpose of this story because Sakuishi’s work suggests some truly outlandish, if intriguing, origins of the Shakespeare canon. In the case of this first volume, it is an adorable young Chinese witch (for lack of a better term,) Li, who goes from learning English via crude a pointing-out-concrete-nouns approach to penning sonnets that will be considered some of the best poetry humanity has ever known, and she does so over a period of weeks.

The volume includes light supernatural elements – either that or superstitious people in conjunction with unseen and / or unbelievable activities. So, it’s a cross-genre work. Most of the story revolves around a Chinese community who feel beleaguered by the gods or fates, and who attempt to sacrifice Li to appease said deities.

I found the premise to be intriguing. The art was cleanly rendered in the manga style. The story didn’t feel quite as clean, with some events feeling random and inorganic. If you’re looking to get some lightly dramatized historical fiction, you’d probably feel this is a bit fanciful, but if you’re down for the story’s exaggerated nature, it’s a compelling tale.


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BOOK REVIEW: We Live by Inaki & Roy Miranda

We LiveWe Live by Inaki Miranda
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: May 19, 2021

In a dystopian future on the verge of the Earth’s doomsday, aliens send humanity an opportunity to preserve itself on a limited scale. Bracelets (gauntlets, really) are dispersed around the planet, and any child [no adults allowed] wearing one who can get to the closest beacon site can be rescued.

Hototo is an orphan boy (preschool to kindergarten-aged) who has one of the bracelets, and his sister, Tala (early elementary school-aged,) is to be his escort to the beacon. [Hototo thinks they will both remain together, but Tala knows that she will drop him off and will stick around on the planet to witness the end of the world.] The story told in this volume is essentially their perilous journey from home to the beacon site.

What I liked most about his story is that it creates the visceral scenario of these two vulnerable kids traveling together through a landscape laden with all manner of threats, and – as in any story worth its salt – one thing after the other goes wrong for them. I also found the art appealing. It creates an intriguing story world. (Though the fantastical story world did rely heavily a popular, if overused, idea in sci-fi of late that some combination of toxins, radiation, and high-speed evolution spurred by rapid environmental change will create super-powered, super-intelligent predatory species. And in this case, they are in explicably conspicuous species – making them more visually interesting, but less sensible.)

The biggest problem with the story is that our two protagonists, while generating a lot of angst in the reader about their well-being, have no agency. Tala and Hototo show braveness, particularly Tala, but they must be rescued every single time. That’s realistic, because Kindergartners who could deal with the threats that they do would either have to be superpowered or put into question how serious the threats really are. [Either of which would damage the tension of the story.] There is a secondary character, Humbo, who is (or seems) slightly older than Tala, who is much more interesting than the sister/brother protagonists. In fact, Humbo is one of the primary rescuers of the two children throughout the story. The only other problem I had with the story is that the pacing at the end is so rapid that it makes it hard to track whether the story is making sense – i.e. being internally consistent.

As for recommendations, I think some will love this story and others will loath it, because it is an experimental piece. Hopefully, I’ve provided sufficient information for the reader to make their own decision. I did enjoy reading it, and found the interesting story world and events of the story to counterbalance the fact that the protagonists were leaves on the wind. (Though I probably would have preferred a story that centered on Humbo.)

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BOOK REVIEW: The Breaker Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Jeon Geuk-Jin

The Breaker Omnibus Vol 1The Breaker Omnibus Vol 1 by Jeon Geuk-Jin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Out: July 13, 2021

This manga combines the motifs of traditional martial arts stories with a modern-day setting. A bullied high school student, Shiwoon Yi, discovers that his colorful (if abrasive) substitute teacher, Chunwoo Han, is a martial arts master, and employs numerous tactics to get the teacher to instruct him in the martial arts. However, Chunwoo Han is not interested, his priorities as a womanizing playboy caught up in a martial arts clan war are far removed from helping a student one iota more than he needs to in order to maintain his cover and employment.

Shiwoon Yi grows over the course of the book, learning to be more tenacious and to not give in to fear so readily. However, this growth does not come about from the teachings of Chunwoo Han, he remains unwilling to teach, even when he is begrudgingly coerced into agreeing to it. However, Chunwoo Han does assign the boy a task as a precursor to lessons, a task that – despite nearly killing the boy – forces him to be more disciplined. However, the most effective lesson results from Shiwoon Yi’s shame at almost betraying the only person who is nice to him, a girl in his class whom he is too beleaguered by bullies and low self-esteem to acknowledge.

Chunwoo Han doesn’t really grow throughout the course of the story (action heroes rarely do,) but he does soften his view towards Shiwoon Yi – presumably as a result of a new found respect. While Shiwoon Yi is quite a wimp, he does show a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of learning martial arts, and that earns him some begrudging regard.

Generally, I found the story to be entertaining. It uses a lot of the familiar martial arts story motifs (e.g. superpowered chi, elaborately named techniques, and the “you kill my master” motive.) These motifs ground it in a genre, even if it results in some trite elements. I wish Shiwoon Yi would have played a greater role in the story’s climax and conclusion. Shiwoon Yi is ostensibly the protagonist, though Chunwoo Han makes a more appealing action star. The ending felt a little gratuitous because it basically jettisoned Shiwoon Yi in favor of making a straightforward concluding battle scene.

The book is presented in manga style, including right-to-left read panels and monochrome art. The art is well drawn, though (oddly) everyone looks like a supermodel – except Chunwoo Han when he is having a meltdown of one kind or another.

It’s a straightforward story, rooted in familiar themes and plot mechanisms. If you enjoy martial arts manga and aren’t expecting complex twists and subversion of expectations, you’ll find it to be an entertaining action-centric story with a good sense of humor.


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