Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Mighty Jack…

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gabbing-about-graphic-novels

Today I’m bringing you another Ben Hatke graphic gem because Ben Hatke is awesome.  I picked up Mighty Jack from the library a week or two ago and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed it even more than the Zita the Spacegirl books.  It’s a big call I know, but bear with me.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Jack might be the only kid in the world who’s dreading summer. But he’s got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s boring, too, because Maddy doesn’t talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. It’s the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

mighty jack

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Fantasy, fractured fairy tales

Art Style:

Ben Hatke style!

Reading time:

Took me about half an hour total spread over two sittings

Let’s get gabbing:

I’m going to dispense with reiterating how much I love Ben Hatke’s illustrative style and adorable original creatures and just get on with talking about the story.  Although, if you’ll indulge me, this series has a ridiculously cute little onion headed species that Mad Martha is dying to recreate in yarn, but as she doesn’t have the time just now, we’ll have to wait for that particular treat.

This is the good old fashioned kids-stumbling-upon-hidden-magic-right-in-their-own-backyard combined with meeting-a-friend-with-a-bizarrely-cool-skill style of fantasy that anyone who has loved fantasy and magic stories since childhood will definitely appreciate.  Since Jack’s mum has to work two jobs just to make ends meet, Jack is often left to look after his little sister Maddy, who is nonverbal.  When Maddy wanders off at a local market, Jack manages to find her talking to some strange people (who you will certainly recognise if you have read the Zita the Spacegirl series!!) and ends up trading his mum’s car for a box of seed packets when Maddy unexpectedly starts talking.

When the kids plant the seeds in the yard they’re in for a massive shock – because the garden that sprouts is full of sentient plants, adorable onion-headed creatures and some vines that are a bit too grabby for comfort.  When Jack’s swordplay-mastering, home-schooled neighbour Lilly (oh, I’ve only just realised that she has a botanical name…coincidence?) turns up to help out, Jack has to decide whether to trust her and let her into the family’s troubles or take the easy route and keep shutting everyone out.

I love, love, love, love this story.  Apart from the fantasy elements (enormous snails, anyone?) there is a strong subplot about acceptance, trust and the perils of relying on oneself when others are willing to contribute.  Mighty Jack doesn’t have the humorous undertones of the Zita series, relying instead on a sense of adventure and risk to drive a suspenseful, but exhilarating plot.  Once again Hatke has created female characters that are full of depth, with unexpected skills and for this reason, the book will appeal to both boys and girls.  There’s a certain echo of the Spiderwick Chronicles in this story, but Hatke has done it better.  I really can’t wait now to get my paws on the second book in the series – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – by hook or crook.

 

Overall snapshot:

This is another brilliant addition to Hatke’s growing catalogue of work.  If you haven’t yet introduced his graphic novels or picture books to your younglings, you must really correct that oversight because these are modern classics that deserve to be re-read again and again.

Until next time,

Bruce

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ARC Read it if Review: Grim…

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imageAfternoon all, and welcome to the first in my series of reviews of Fairy Tale retellings.  You may (or may not) recall that I was previously a reject-out-of-hand type of gargoyle regarding any kind of fairy tale reimagining, given that I was not that great a fan of fairy tales to begin with.  At the end of last year however, I read two fairy tale reimaginings – Scar and the Wolf by Plainfield Press and Talespins by Michael Mullins – and enjoyed them so much that I was forced to review my (admittedly fairly judgemental) policy.  So this year one of my goals is to delve more deeply into this genre and see what comes of it.

To kick us off, I present to you Grim, edited by Christine Johnson. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review – thanks!  Grim is an anthology of stories based on classic fairy tales, but with a dark or sinister twist, reimagined by a collection of prominent and current authors in Young Adult fiction.   There are a whopping seventeen stories to whet your appetite over the whole 480ish pages, so surely there must be something here for everyone.  The stories range from the light and humorous (oddly, for a book of supposedly dark and sinister retellings) to the …well…dark and sinister.  And be warned, some of these are very dark and quite remarkably sinister.  But more of that later.

GrimRead it if:

*you enjoy fairy tales the way they were traditionally meant to be enjoyed – that is, with a healthy dose of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn

* you’re a fan of YA fiction boys – book boyfriends, bookish beaus, reader’s eyecandy, whatever you want to call them – and the whole paranormal romance genre in general…preferably with a side order of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn

* you enjoy the idea of fairy tales but, like me, you can never quite remember how the original ones turned out in the end anyway

So I’ll start with the positives.  The thing I like about anthologies is that the diversity of authors writing about the same topic generally means that there will be at least a few (although, with a bit of luck, many) stories in the bunch that really hit the nail on the head for you.  This was the case for me with Grim.  Out of the seventeen stories, there were a handful that I really enjoyed, with The Brothers Pigget, Thinner Than Water, Better, and Figment being the main ones that I still remember clearly after finishing the book at least a week ago.  There were others that I enjoyed reading, but didn’t make a marked impression, such as The Key, Raven Princess and Light It Up, and the rest I could either take or leave, or I really hated.  But that’s the good thing about anthologies – I didn’t expect to love every story, and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the majority that appeared here.

A lot of the tales really do take a whole new spin on the stories they are retelling, which is always good.  There was a wide range of settings – space ships and a rock and roll tour being two of the most obscure – and this really added to the experience for me as, with the sheer number of stories here, the book could be in danger of going stale with too much repetition.

On the other hand, there were a few things that struck me as odd about this collection.  For one thing, I found it really tricky in some cases to figure out which fairy tale was being re-told.  Now, admittedly, I am not an expert on fairy tales so it could have just been my deficiency in this particular field of knowledge causing the problem, but in case others also had this problem, I imagine it would be fairly irritating to those who really know their fairy tales.  It didn’t bother me too much – I just enjoyed the stories at face value rather than trying to decipher their origin – but if I had bought this book as a lover of fairy tales, I think some of these stories would have fallen short for me.

Similarly, the book is touted as a collection of retellings “with a dark and sinister twist”.  A handful of these stories, as I mentioned earlier, don’t seem to have a twist at all, and others are not dark in the least.  For instance, my favourite of the bunch, Figment, was really quite funny and had a really likeable narrator.  (Don’t ask me to tell you which tale it was based on, I’ve got no idea).  Another one, Light it Up, simply modernised the Hansel and Gretel story, rather than giving it any new twist.  Again, this didn’t bother me particularly – in fact the two I’ve just mentioned were two that I really enjoyed – but it seems a bit strange that the collection would include these stories when the premise of the book is the “dark and sinister” bit.

But now to the major beef I had with this book. I acknowledge that others will not share this one, especially given the point that this was billed as a “dark and sinister” book – but I had real issues with the themes of sexual violence in some of the stories.  In a couple of the stories (by no means all, so don’t get the wrong impression), there were instances of incest, implied rape and general brutality, all perpetrated against female characters.  Now, I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, provided two conditions are met – one, that there is some kind of warning in the blurb (and I don’t mean like a parental guidance warning, I just mean something that hints that this is really for the upper end of the YA market, if not New Adult) and two, that the instances of sexual violence are in some way integral to the plot.  In one of the stories, at least condition two was met.  In Thinner than Water, we get the whole shebang – incest, graphic violence and animal cruelty – but those elements are essential to the plot and outcome of the story.  I can’t say I enjoyed reading this one, but I certainly appreciated the way the elements were worked into the story in order to create the story arc and resolution.  In fact, in terms of crafting the story, I think this one was the best of the bunch.

The other two instances, in Better (implied rape) and Skin Trade (brutal violence toward a female character) were, in my view, completely gratuitous.  More so for the latter story than the former, but still gratuitous.  This particularly annoyed me for Skin Trade, because again, I couldn’t figure out which fairy tale this was based on, and also because the predatory behaviour of the males in the story and the ultimate violent violation of the female character just seemed far out of place for a book marketed at young adults.  Call me old-fashioned but I don’t see why a story in which

***spoiler alert here***

a young woman is hunted by three men, only to be restrained naked in their basement before having her skin torn off

***end spoiler alert***

really needs to be included in an anthology that will be read by people in their early teens.  In fact, thinking of that story still gives me the creeps, but not in a satisfying, “man that was a great, scary twist!” kind of way.  More in a “man, that was completely gross and uncalled for” sort of way.

So really, I had a mixed experience with this one, but apart from that one story that crossed a line for me, overall, the experience was good.  I’d say, if you are a fan of fairy tale retellings, definitely give this one a go.

Grim is due for release on February 25th 2014.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Talespins Blog Tour: Read it if and Giveaways!

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tale spins tour

“It’s become quite a trend to take a known story

and tell it a different way.

That’s all well and good, for we can assume

every author has something to say.”   

(Jack’d, Talespins, p 66)

Afternoon all!  I am chuffed as a chuffed thing to be participating in the blog tour for Michael Mullin’s new book Talespins, a poetic retelling of three traditional fairy tales.  Click on the link to check out the other blogs participating the tour, and then go visit!
Tour Schedule

Don’t forget to scroll down right to the end of this post too (after you’ve finished reading it all, word for word…obviously) for GIVEAWAYS! Hurrah!

Now I’ve mentioned before that I am generally not a fan of retellings of fairy tales in any form, but having recently read and enjoyed Scar and the Wolf, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with zombies, I felt that I should probably give this one a go.

Talespins features three short stories-in-verse aimed at an audience of middle grade and above.  The first story, 8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown 8th Dwarf, is narrated by Creepy (the aforementioned previously unmentioned 8th dwarf) and presents a well-known and oft-repeated lament of unattractive suitors down through the ages.  The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny relates the results of a hip young princess’s ill-advised scheme to wreak revenge on a bullying schoolfriend, and Jack’d presents the Giant’s side of the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk tale, with a guest appearance by Death.

I thoroughly enjoyed these tales.  In my experience of ferreting out fantastic ebooks for children and young people, I have found time and again that some novice authors grossly underestimate the difficulty of constructing GOOD rhyming text.   Good rhyming text has cadence.  It has meter.  It has a rhythm that allows someone reading aloud to perform the story, rather than just read it.  One of my major pet peeves is the creation and sale of books (usually in e-format, and usually self-published by people who have bypassed entirely any decent process of editing) by those who believe that just slapping two random sentences one after the other and chucking two rhyming words at the end constitutes good writing for children.  I am absurdly happy therefore, to assure you that to read Talespins is to experience GOOD rhyming text.

There are a few spots in which the meter is a bit out, particularly in the middle story of the three, but overall, Mullin has done a great job at sustaining the rhyme and rhythm throughout these reasonably long (for verse) short stories.

tale-spinsRead it if:

* you believe that not all fairy tales should end happily ever after

* you’ve ever been referred to amongst your group of friends, in word or thought, as “the one with the unfortunate face”

* you fervently adhere to the idea that every school’s bullying policy should allow for retaliatory use of potions moste potente by victims against their perpetrators

* you have a recurring dream involving magic beans, a poorly maintained elevator shaft, and the clammy hand of death on your shoulder

 Given that I have now enjoyed TWO fairy tale retellings in as many weeks, I should probably rethink my stance on rejecting them out of hand.  If you are looking for a quick, fun and feisty read for a young’un around your shelf these holidays, you could do a lot worse than securing a copy of Talespins.

Incidentally, Talespins would also be the perfect choice for those participating in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge for 2014, in category eight (a book with wordplay in the title).  If you have no idea what I’m on about, perhaps you should click on this large and attractive button, and enlighten yourself, sign up and set your thill-seeking missiles to FUN!

small fry

 Now that your participation in the Safari is all settled (welcome aboard!), you should have a look below at some more info about Talespins and its author, Michael Mullin.  Right at the bottom of the post, because I always save the best ’til last, are two giveaways – one for US residents only ….*sniff*…fine…us internationals know when we’re not wanted…*sob*….and one for the rest of us.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Tale Spins
A trilogy of alternative fairytales and retellings. Discover the real Snow White story through the eyes of Creepy, the unknown 8th dwarf! Meet a teen princess who hires “The Frog Prince” witch to get revenge on a Mean Girl at school! And learn how the giant, boy thief and magic beans tale truly went down!

Amazon * Barnes & Noble

Praise for Tale Spins

Not usually enamoured of either re-tellings or poetry I was totally taken aback by just how much I relished this trilogy of alternative fairytales and re-tellings aimed at the Young Adult market. ~Tracy (Goodreads)

TaleSpins was like walking into a vintage store and finding a true treasure. This book takes the fairytales we all grew up on and gives them an interesting and modernized version that I enjoyed. ~Rose (Goodreads)

mike mullin

Author Michael Mullin

Michael Mullin is a native New Englander living in Pasadena. He is the author of TaleSpins, a trilogy of alternative fairy tales and retellings for YA readers. TaleSpins stories (in the 1-book collection) are “8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown 8th Dwarf”; “The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny”; and “Jack’d”. Michael is also the co-author of the successful “Larry Gets Lost” children’s book series. His screenplay “Zooing Time” was recognized by the WGA’s Written By magazine. Before all this writing, he taught preschool and college, two positions he found disconcertingly similar.

Website * Facebook * Twitter

Tour Giveaways

Giveaway #1 – Open to US only

Mike Mullin Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #2 $25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Ends 1/21/14 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Scar and the Wolf: Read it if….

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Evening my lovelies!  Today’s offering, Scar and the Wolf, is a quirky little (and I mean that literally – only 85 pages!) read based on a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.  The difference here is that the main character, Scar (short for Scarlet), is a zombie. She’s also missing a nose, but that’s to be expected if you’re a member of the walking undead.

I must admit that I’m generally not a fan of fairy tales, fractured, re-imagined or otherwise and this did taint my enjoyment of this book just a little. But really, it was only a teensy amount.  The book pretty much follows the traditional plot of the story – girl goes walking, girl meets wolf disguised as friend, girl invites wolf to her granny’s house, wolf beats girl to aforementioned house, wolf eats granny, wolf eats girl, girl and granny triumph over wolf after extracting themselves from wolf’s innards – with some added putrefied extras and some classic zombie character names.  There are also two disenfranchised spare body parts along for the ride – Pokey and Sniffy – that provide some comic relief.

scar and the wolfRead it if:

* you like your middle grade fiction to contain more than a whiff of decay, putrescence and general rot

* you would happily line up for hours to purchase a haggis of finest quality

* you believe that even zombie teens should have access to fashionable all-weather wear

* you fervently adhere to the accepted norms of social etiquette, including the rule that the old “Got your nose!” gag should only be performed on those with non-detachable body parts, lest awkwardness ensue

I was really, really looking forward to this book after reading the carefully crafted blurb.  I had tummy butterflies on thinking about it, I kept putting off reading it because I wanted to stretch out the moment of anticipation….and it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.  Admittedly, this may be because I was hoping for an in-depth, fleshed out (pun intended) YA type of story that exploited the fairy tale genre but existed in a fresh, new world of undeath.  I also wanted it to be illustrated.  That would have been the icing on the festering unearthday cake.

This is middle grade fiction, pure and simple however, and for what it is, it’s great.  It weaves in the angst of a young teen trying to fit in and feel grown up, the ups and downs of friendship, and what it means to take responsibility for one’s actions.  There’s plenty of humour and little gross-out moments that middle-graders will appreciate.  It’s short enough not to be daunting to reluctant readers but engaging enough for more able readers to feel like they’ve got some bang for their reading buck.  And best of all, this is the debut book in the series.  I for one will definitely be looking out for the second book, Moldylocks and the Bear.

Might I also point out, that this title would be perfect for  the Small Fry Safari KidLit Readers Challenge 2014 in category one (a book with something related to safari in the title), category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) or category seven (a book with something unsightly in the title)?  Click on the attractive button below to find out more and sign up with the other intrepid explorers already commited!

Until next time,

Bruce

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