Graphic Novel Double Dip Review: Fears and Fantasy Lands…

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You’ll require a nice light, colourful snack to accompany today’s illustrated double dip, in keeping with the theme of dark places and a desire for the light.  Let’s kick off with The Creeps by Fran Krause, being the follow-up anthology to Deep Dark Fears, and which we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A follow-up to the New York Times best-selling Deep Dark Fears: a second volume of comics based on people’s quirky, spooky, hilarious, and terrifying fears. 

Illustrator, animator, teacher, and comic artist Fran Krause has touched a collective nerve with his wildly popular web comic series–and subsequent New York Times best-selling book–Deep Dark Fears. Here he brings readers more of the creepy, funny, and idiosyncratic fears they love illustrated in comic form–such as the fear that your pets will tell other animals all your embarrassing secrets, or that someone uses your house while you’re not home–as well as two longer comic short-stories about ghosts.

Dip into it for… the creeps cover

…another hilarious collection of unexpected yet deep-seated fears, presented in four-frame comic format.  This edition also features two longer fear “stories” that take up a few pages each.  I had just as much fun with this collection as I did with the first and the real beauty of these collections is that, for many of the fears depicted, I was totally unaware I might harbour such outlandish concerns until they were pointed out in comic form.  My two favourites from this collection were the potential horrible circumstances behind how our favourite plush toys come to be, and the deaf ear that we might unwittingly turn to the suffering of peeled vegetables.  I have included both of these below for your perusal.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the suggestible, anxious type and don’t like the idea of having new, hitherto unconsidered fears worming their way into your consciousness.

Overall Dip Factor

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it simultaneously provokes laughter and makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  I read this in one reasonably short sitting, but as with the first collection, it really is the perfect choice as a coffee table book or to leave in a waiting room for the enjoyment of unsuspecting victims.  Highly recommended.

creeps pic 1 creeps pic 2

Next up we have The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish, which is a YA graphic novel we received from the publisher via Netgalley for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

16-year-old Wendy Davies crashes her car into a lake on a late summer night in New England with her two younger brothers in the backseat. When she wakes in the hospital, she is told that her youngest brother, Michael, is dead. Wendy — a once rational teenager – shocks her family by insisting that Michael is alive and in the custody of a mysterious flying boy. Placed in a new school, Wendy negotiates fantasy and reality as students and adults around her resemble characters from Neverland. Given a sketchbook by her therapist, Wendy starts to draw. But is The Wendy Project merely her safe space, or a portal between worlds? 

Dip into it for… the wendy project

…a thoughtful and fast-paced graphic novel dealing with themes of grief, loss and the pressure to move on after losing a loved one.  Wendy and her family are involved in a car accident in which her younger brother Michael is killed – although Wendy is certain that she saw Michael fly away from the crash and is therefore still alive.  Understandably concerned, her parents involve Wendy in therapy, in which she is encouraged to keep a visual diary in order to make sense of her thoughts about the loss of her brother.  Despite the heavy subject matter, the author and illustrator have infused this story with magical realism based upon the Peter Pan story.  Different characters, as well as sharing names with characters from Peter Pan, take on characteristics of their fantastical namesakes, culminating in a trip to Wendy’s very own Neverland.  It is through this experience that Wendy comes to terms with who she is now and how her life will change.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of stories based on famous books.  This one does borrow heavily from the Peter Pan narrative, and I will be the first to admit that Peter Pan is one of my least favourite stories (what with Peter himself being the poster boy for man-children everywhere)…but this didn’t put me off as much as I thought it would, and I think the creators of The Wendy Project have achieved a good balance between original story content and content based on the more famous work.

Overall Dip Factor

This turned out to be quite a quick read but one that manages to explore serious themes with some depth despite this.  With a balanced blend of fantasy and real life, the authors have done well to highlight the difficulties that can be faced by young people, and all of us really, in the situation of a sudden bereavement, particularly when, as Wendy is here, there is guilt, be it actual or misplaced, about the circumstances in which their loved one died.  I would recommend this to those who enjoy graphic novels about real life issues told in creative ways.

I am submitting this one for the Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2017 in the final category, because the cover features a plethora of different colours.  You can check out my progress toward that challenge here.

So are either of these your cup of tea (or bowl of nachos)?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: Bear Grylls Adventures…

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It’s adventure time today as we take a look at the first two books in a new early middle grade series by ubiquitous wild man Bear Grylls.  Bear Grylls Adventures is a new series for primary school readers featuring survival skills, a magic compass and everyday problems and we received copies of the first two titles in the series, The Blizzard Challenge and The Desert Challenge from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here are the books and blurbs from Goodreads:

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Bear Grylls Adventures: The Blizzard Challenge by Bear Grylls.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $9.99

The first thrilling adventure in the brand-new collectible series for young readers from survival expert and Chief Scout BEAR GRYLLS.

Olly isn’t enjoying activity camp. Why should he bother building a shelter or foraging for food with his teammates – he’d rather be at home in the warm and dry, where the sofa and the video games are.But then Olly gets given a compass with a mysterious fifth direction. When he follows it, he’s magically transported to a high mountain range where he meets survival expert Bear Grylls. With his help, Olly must learn to survive in sub-zero temperatures, including what to do if the ice cracks when you’re crossing a frozen lake, or a blizzard sets in . . .But can his adventure with Bear Grylls change Olly’s mind about teamwork and perseverance? And who will Olly give the compass to next?

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Bear Grylls Adventures: The Desert Challenge by Bear Grylls.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  $9.99

Sophie loves activity camp . . . but is terrified of insects. It’s so bad that she won’t go into the tent on her own, just in case something flies at her, or she steps on a creepie-crawlie. But when she’s given a compass by one of the other boys on the campsite, Sophie is magically transported to the desert on an adventure where they’re impossible to avoid!

With the help of survival expert Bear Grylls as her guide, she will learn how to withstand the extreme temperatures of the desert and how to spot mirages, encounter giant camel spiders, deadly scorpions and snakes . . . but will Sophie overcome her fear of insects back in the real world? And who will she give the compass to next?

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about Bear Grylls except that he is an outdoorsy type whose real name probably isn’t Bear and appears, for all intents and purposes, to be one of those annoying people who is both talented and good-looking.  Thankfully, that is all one needs to know in order to enjoy these fast-paced and well structured tales.

The two books (and one assumes, the rest of the twelve-book series) follow the same format and are set around a group of children at a wilderness adventure school holiday camp.  Each book introduces the protagonist child and a few of their friends and highlights the protagonist’s particular personal growth issue that needs working on, before whooshing the child off, by means of a magical compass, to a survival-based adventure accompanied by none other than the Ursa Major himself.  The child is then magically transported back to the moment they left their normal life and puts the lessons learnt in their survival trek to good use before passing the magical compass on to the next unwitting victim.

These books are cleverly produced and will certainly hit the mark with their target audience.  They focus on problems that children working in groups are likely to have – Olly, protagonist of The Blizzard Challenge, tends to give up easily, while Sophie, protagonist of The Desert Challenge, has a mortal fear of insects that disrupts her enjoyment of outdoors activities.  The fact that by the end of the series, readers will have been introduced to all of the kids at the camp is a brilliant idea because it means the books are linked and will have familiar characters in them, but don’t necessarily need to be read in order.  The use of the magic compass injects a fun dose of fantasy into the tales and keeps them from being too dry (except for The Desert Challenge – geddit? Dry? Desert?) and also provides the protagonists the opportunity to learn from a real-life survival skills master in a way that doesn’t rely on basing things in reality.

The books are illustrated throughout in black and white and the font is big enough, and chapters short enough, not to be daunting to reluctant readers or those who struggle.  The books would also be a great option for read-alouds to younger children who don’t have the ability to read chapter books themselves yet, but are interested in longer and more varied stories.  It’s also encouraging to see that the characters in the books are of diverse cultural backgrounds and that this is reflected in the illustrations.

The only niggling problem I had with these books – and this is speaking from the viewpoint of one who has sat on the shelf of youth workers and  teachers alike – is the fact that these children are swept off to the company of a strange man in a deserted place and forced to follow him around and spend the night with him.  I realise that I might be being a bit hypersensitive here since it’s hinted at that these sections of the book may be dreams or magic or whatever, but I did get a little bit of the creep-factor while reading the first book, when the young lad has to build a snuggly little ice cave in which to spend the night tucked up with a grown man who he doesn’t know from Adam, without his parents’ knowledge or consent.  In the first book, the child also has to disrobe quickly in front of Bear after falling into icy water.  There’s also the slight weirdness of having a magic compass that brings him a new child every time.  From an adult’s point of view, there’s something not-quite-right about it all.

I don’t mean to throw shade on Bear – I’m sure he’s a perfectly upstanding guy and has his Blue Card – but I would have thought that someone in the editing or planning process would have picked this up and suggested some very basic and unintrusive changes to the story that could retain the adventure and survival aspect of the story while teaching a hugely important survival skill of childhood: be extremely wary of any adult who wants to spend time on their own with an unrelated child without their parents’ knowledge.  Surely the Scouts themselves would have Child Protection Policies that disallowed one on one adult to child sleep outs,  so I just find it a bit strange that the stories came out in this form.

Putting that aside for the moment though, the books are otherwise sure to be a hit with young readers who love “real-life” stories but aren’t necessarily drawn to nonfiction.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The Comic/YA/Nonfiction/Picture Book Edition…

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I hope you’ve brought your lasso and a particularly fast horse because today’s Round-Up books are ranging all over the Generic Plains. I received all of these books from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and in this collection we have a set of comics, a YA fantasy, fairy-tale retelling featuring the undead, an almost-wordless picture book and a handy guide for making work a lot more interesting. Saddle up and let’s bring these wildbooks in!

Deep Dark Fears (Fran Krause)

Two Sentence Synopsis:deep dark fears

This collection of 100 comic strips explores the irrational and unlikely fears that many of us keep quietly to ourselves, to avoid being thought mad. You may end up recognising yourself in these pages or, on the other hand, if you’re the suggestible type, you might pick up a few extra fears to go in your emotional baggage.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beguiling, sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, easy-to-peruse collection that would no doubt inspire some classic reactions were you to place it in a conspicuous place and watch people sneak a look. The fears run the gamut from those (I assume) are secretly shared by many, such as running to make a train, then worrying that you actually meant to miss it and will no doubt now be involved in a train wreck, to the (I assume) more obscure and idiosyncratic, such as worrying about falling, biting off one’s own tongue and then being unable to clearly annunciate to the emergency services what the problem is. The illustrations are just charming and lend a wonderful air of levity to the fears. If I were a doctor, or indeed, trained in any profession which requires a waiting room, I would definitely leave this book lying around there to see who picked it up. My favourite fears in this collection are the imposter dogs, the not-immediately-apparent dangers of cookie cutters and the sad past history of mall cops.

Brand it with:

Art imitating life, unnamed fears, schadenfreude

Once Upon a Zombie #1: The Colour of Fear (Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:once upon a zombie

After Caitlin’s mother disappears, she moves to London with her father and younger sister for a fresh start, a new school and time spent writing for a website detailing the unexplained. When strange sightings are reported in cemeteries around the world however, Caitlin is drawn into a bizarre and chaotic world where fairy tales and nightmares might just come true…if the zombies don’t get you first.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings and comedy zombie tales (zom-edy tales?) then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. The story begins in a fairly YA typical fashion, with Caitlin trying to make her way in a new school, clashing with the popular girls and vying for the attentions of the cutest boy.   It also becomes apparent that Caitlin suffers from social anxiety and the author describes this quite well throughout the various situations that Cailtin finds herself in. I enjoyed the riddle of the cemetery disturbances and once Caitlin “goes down the rabbit hole”, so to speak, the action becomes a lot less typical. While the story is light and filled with humour and banter, there are a bunch of different fairy tale and classic storybook characters included, as well as an undead plague plotline, so I did feel that things started to get a bit unwieldy at certain points. If you enjoy YA that is two-parts expected and one-part nutty, then you’ll get a good kick out of Caitlin’s adventures. This is a book that aims for enjoyment and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Brand it with:

Undead princesses, carnivorous plants, stay off the drugs and stay in school

Moletown (Torben Kuhlmann)

Two Sentence Synopsis:moletown

At first the mole was alone in the meadow but once progress arrives, the mole’s world changes almost beyond recognition. Will the mole be able to hang on to what matters most?

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a beautifully imagined, almost wordless picture book reminiscent of the work of Shaun Tan. The illustrations are atmospheric, with an earthy colour palette that encompasses both the natural environment of the mole’s original habitat, and the dark, dingy pollution brought by progress. The ending is hopeful but poignant and perfectly reflects the challenges of sustainability in a coal-driven world. Moletown would be a canny and engaging choice for the primary classroom exploring environmentalism and the challenges of preserving natural environment in the face of continued urbanisation.

Brand it with:

Scratching the surface, Get out of my personal space, cosy burrows

Tiny Games for Work (Hide Seek)

Two Sentence Synopsis:tiny games for work

Bored at work? This handy pocket guide will provide a wide range of exciting, subversive games to help break the shackles of toil-related monotony.

Muster up the motivation because:

No place of work should be without this compact, enlivening guide. This is a collection of games that can be played alone or in company, within meetings or with (or against!) unsuspecting customers. The games use few or no resources and range from the harmless and hilarious, to the actually quite questionable and likely to get you fired. At the back of the book is a handy index that lists the games under various categories – feeling competitive? Stuck at your desk? – for quick reference. I particularly enjoyed the games designed to be played within meetings – who hasn’t wanted to get back at that annoying brown-noser who won’t stop asking irrelevant, meeting prolonging questions? – and those played using customers as unwitting pawns. The game called “Triangulation”, in which the employee must keep an equal distance at all times between two unsuspecting customers is one that I would quite like to try and, like many of the games here, could be modified to be played outside of a work setting, using the general public. If you happen to work somewhere that could do with some subversive excitement, you could do a lot worse than purchase a copy of this book and share it with likeminded colleagues.

Brand it with:

You lose, watch out Beadle’s about, making one’s own fun, WH&S

So there you have it – a variety of tomes just waiting to be caught, tamed and made to serve humans.  Do tell if there’s any that has taken your fancy!

Until next time,

Bruce

An Adult Fiction Haiku Review: Nyctophobia…

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Welcome, seekers of the light, to a spooky haiku review with me, your host, Mad Martha.  Today’s book focuses on a fear common to fleshlings and sock-creatures alike: the fear of the dark.  Light your candle/gas lamp/super-powered LED torch and let’s creep quietly down the darkened corridors of Nyctophobia by Christopher Fowler.

Callie hasn’t had the easiest of journeys so far in life, but since marrying older, dark, handsome Spaniard Matteo, things have been looking up.  Giving up work as an architect, Callie moves with Matteo to Spain and is immediately drawn to the remote and mysterious Hyperion House, with its strange architectural style that keeps the majority of the house in direct sunlight for the greatest part of the day.  After moving in, Callie begins to research the history of the house in an attempt to discover the reasons behind some its more bizarre features; apart from the lack of shadows in the main living area, the back of the house appears to be built into a cliff, rendering it into almost total darkness, and the servants quarters seem to be built as an exact replica of the main house, but at a third of their size.  As Callie digs deeper into the house’s secrets she becomes convinced that there are “others” living in the locked, dark servants’ quarters – others that wish to do her family harm.  As Matteo is increasingly absent due to work and Callie has no one to turn to but his nine-year-old daughter Bobbie, things become very confusing for Callie very quickly.  But perhaps some secrets are best left buried: for if we do not heed the lessons of history, we may be doomed to repeat them.

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Noises in the walls

are the least of her worries

What price, happiness?

This is not your typical gory, deaths-aplenty horror story (although there are a few deaths here).  Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ghosts in the attic story (although there are indeed ghosts inhabiting various rooms also).  Nyctophobia is instead a psychological, mess-with-your-head, things aren’t what they seem (or are they?) type horror story, and as such, Christopher Fowler has done a very thorough job at creating an atmosphere of confusion and secrecy throughout the book.

If you enjoy haunted house stories, you’ll probably enjoy this.  While defining it as a “haunted house” story is a major simplification – this is a complex book that layers traditional motifs with Spanish history, familial history and episodes of mental illness – it is Hyperion House itself that is the star of the tale here.  I love the idea of a house built specifically to cater to those who are afraid of the dark – for in this story, the original builder of the house designed it with his nyctophobic wife in mind, to ensure that not one shadow penetrated the facade.  The bizarre architectural quirks add interest to the tale and provide Callie (and the reader) with hours of fun as she tries to figure out why they were built and why they are kept perpetually locked and in darkness.

The story has a well-thought out twist in the end that I didn’t see coming.  I won’t give you any clues as to what it might be, but it really threw everything that had happened before into a new light (pun intended!) and had me re-thinking earlier parts of the story.  The twist was nicely handled in that it was revealed matter-of-factly and the realisation of the implications of the twist were allowed to slowly percolate through Callie’s head (and the readers’!) before a slightly ambiguous ending.

The one problem I had with this book is that it felt to me like a hefty, dense read.  It’s only 320 pages, but it seemed to take a long time to really get into the meat of the “horror” elements – in fact, Callie’s first really frightening encounter with the suspected “others” doesn’t take place until chapter twenty-two, and for some people I suspect that’s going to be too long a wait.  If you are in the market for a ghostly, psychological thriller that takes a few Spanish siestas here and there, Nyctophobia could well be the book for you.

Until we meet again, may your torch batteries be ever inserted the right way round,

Mad Martha

* I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley *

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