Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Zita the Spacegirl…

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Well it’s only been a few days since I borrowed a stack of graphic novels from the library, but I’ve already chewed through a couple of them and it’s time to focus in on Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

I knocked this one over in about twenty minutes.

Let’s get gabbing:

Before I get into this book too much, I should point out that we Shelf-dwellers just love Ben Hatke.  It started with Nobody Likes A Goblin and now we are on a mission to acquire and read all of his work.  We already had Return of Zita the Spacegirl on our TBR shelf, but it was suggested that we read the first in the series before trying that one, so we were lucky enough to find this at our local library.

Plot wise, Zita and her friend Joseph are transported to another world after giving in to temptation and pushing a big red button that fell out of the sky.  The two are immediately separated and it is up to Zita to find Joseph and see them safely home, before the planet they are on is destroyed by a fiery meteor – nothing like a bit of time pressure to spice things up!.  Along the way, Zita meets some friendly and not-so-friendly folk and eventually has to make a decision about whether or not she is ready to return home.

The strength of this tale is in the characters.  From Zita herself to each and every character of whom we are given just a glimpse in the background frames, Hatke brings this story to life with all manner of weird and wonderful folk.  There’s Strong-Strong, a big, brown Domo-kun-like character with a heart of gold, Pizzicato, a mouse with some gnarly armour, and a vengeful and righteous killer robot named One, to name just a few.  Hatke has an incredible knack for drawing characters to which the reader can be sympathetic, even if they’re reasonably villainous.  They’ve inspired Mad Martha to create them in crochet before and as we were paging through Zita’s story, it was obvious that Mad Martha was ticking off on her fabric fingers which characters she would like to make next.

The story is more complicated than the basic rescue-a-friend, save-the-world plot type, with difficult decisions being thrown up along the way.  Zita also has to think on her feet and go with her gut about who to trust and who to avoid if she is to find her way home safely.  There are some delightfully creative inclusions here and there, my favourite of which is Door Paste – like a tube of toothpaste, but it creates a a door if you smear it on a flat surface.  Perfect for quick escapes!

Overall snapshot:

Hatke has done it again with Zita’s adventures.  If you are (or know of) a fan of science fiction, delightful artwork, exciting adventures, themes of friendship and loyalty and strong female protagonists, you must get your claws on Zita the Spacegirl.

And now here’s Return of Zita the Spacegirl, which is book three in the series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times-Bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers.

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy’s greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Sci fi

Art Style:

Cartoonish and chock full of heart

Reading time:

As above, this was about twenty minutes uninterrupted reading

Let’s get gabbing:

You may have picked up that I skipped book two in the series, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, because the library didn’t have it (boo!).  This wasn’t too much of a drama because the opening scenes cleverly work some of the key points from books one and two into the dialogue between Zita and her captor.  Yes, this book begins with Zita imprisoned and seemingly helpless, although it is apparent that in book two she had been gadding about making a name for herself across the galaxy and fostering the reputation of someone not to be trifled with.

The plot focuses on Zita’s attempts to escape her prison by finding a jump crystal with which she can power up the red-button thingy and take herself back home.  Along the way she is helped out by a mysterious masked boy and her cellmates, a skeleton named Femur who possesses some very interestingly shaped digits, and Ragpile, an animated pile of rags.  I absolutely loved the little twist at the end concerning Ragpile and Femur and it encapsulates the ingenuity and humour that is woven into these stories.  Old friends also make an appearance, including Pizzicato, Strong-Strong and One, as well as some folk from the second book who I hadn’t met before, most interesting of which being a space-pirate type lady and her mysterious cat.

Zita’s adventures eventually find her back on Earth and even though it is claimed that this is the final story in the series, the ending holds a little hope that there might be more.

Overall snapshot:

This was an action packed way to finish the series, full of escapes, ingenious ideas and teamwork.  Themes of betrayal and forgiveness loom large and the ensemble cast of characters ensures that there’ll be something for everyone in Zita’s final adventure.

I’m submitting Return of Zita the Spacegirl for my Mount TBR Reading ChallengeMount TBR Reading Challenge for 2017! You can check out my progress here.

Also, I can’t find a space to fit them on the blog, but I have also read and reviewed Livingstone Volume 1 and Bloody Chester from my stack of borrowed graphic novels.  Click on the book titles to see my reviews on Goodreads.

Until next time,

Bruce

Library Larks: Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!

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It’s all about the pictures with my recent library borrowings.  I went a bit graphic novel mad recently, taking advantage of Moreton Bay Libraries’ most excellent graphic novel collection and have requested no less than eight graphic novels to slowly pore over.  Here are some of them:

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Chief among these is Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, which I borrowed to read in preparation for tackling Return of Zita the Spacegirl for my Mount TBR Challenge.  Jackie from Death by Tsundoku suggested that I read the first book in the series before trying the third, so I duly took her advice!  Look out for reviews of these two later in the week.  I also came across a graphic novel by Isombelle Carmody which I couldn’t just leave lying on the shelf.  I’m very much looking forward to casting my eyes over Bloody Chester, which is horror Western, and Livingstone: Volume 1, which is a manga featuring souls and untimely death.

I’ve also put a few Kazu Kabiushi titles on hold, one of which is an anthology of graphic novel short stories on the theme of mystery boxes.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get some reviews up for some of these in the not too distant future but if not here, I’ll definitely pop some up on Goodreads, so do make sure you are a friend of the Shelf if you happen to use that platform.

What’s on your library list this month?

Until next time,

Bruce

A Fi50 Reminder and Gabbing about Graphic Novels…

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It’s nearly time for our first Fiction in 50 challenge for the year!  Fi50 for 2017 will kick off on Monday and out post for January is …

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To participate, just create a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it and add your link to the comments of Monday’s Fi50 post.  For more information and future prompts, click here.


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It’s time to get gabbing about graphic novel goodness and today I have two options for you, each weirder than the last.  First up, there’s Chickenhare by Chris Grine.  I’m submitting this one for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 and for the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category two: a book with the name of a bird in the title.  You can check out my progress in all of my challenges for this year here.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chickenhare: half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero!

What’s a chickenhare? A cross between a chicken and a rabbit, of course. And that makes Chickenhare the rarest animal around! So when he and his turtle friend Abe are captured and sold to the evil taxidermist Klaus, they’ve got to find a way to escape before Klaus turns them into stuffed animals. With the help of two other strange creatures, Banjo and Meg, they might even get away. But with Klaus and his thugs hot on their trail, the adventure is only just beginning for this unlikely quartet of friends.

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I’ve had this one on my TBR shelf for about four months or so after I impulse bought it because it sounded wacky.  Wacky it certainly is, and I didn’t quite expect how dark it would get in some places.  I’d have to say that while middle graders could certainly read and enjoy this, it’s probably more suited to slightly older readers who aren’t easily shocked (or grossed out).

So Chickenhare and Abe are sold to a taxidermist and in order to affect an escape, they must team up with a mad monkey (or is he?) and a strange girl creature with horns.  All is not so simple as it seems however, because Klaus, the taxidermist, has vowed never to let any of his “pets” escape since he lost his most beloved animal, a goat called Mr Buttons.  Whacking and falling out of windows ensues (on the part of the enemy) and while our heroic quartet manage to escape, it is out of the frying pan and into the fire as the team tries to navigate pitch dark tunnels that are plagued with Shromph, little trollish creatures with big pointy teeth.

And this is where the goat corpse comes in.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just be warned that the half decomposed corpse of Mr Buttons plays a major role in the denouement of this adventure.  I will readily admit that it is easily the best characterisation of a deceased goat that I have yet seen in children’s literature.

The story ends on a mild cliffhanger and while there were certainly parts of  this that had me going “Eeergh”, “Blaaagh” and “Oooh, that’s not cricket!” respectively, I do actually want to know what happens to our four friends because there is a bit of a suggestion that at least two of them may not be exactly what they seem.

Again, even though the art style is quite colourful and cartoonish, the content and tone of the book is probably best suited to the YA aged reader and above.

Next up I have the first volume of stories from the popular Adventure Time TV series, Adventure Time, Volume 1 by Ryan North, Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s ADVENTURE TIME! Join Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, and Princess Bubblegum for all-new adventures through The Land of Ooo.

The totally algebraic adventures of Finn and Jake have come to the comic book page! The Lich, a super-lame, SUPER-SCARY skeleton dude, has returned to the the Land of Ooo, and he’s bent on total destruction! Luckily, Finn and Jake are on the case…but can they succeed against their most destructive foe yet? Featuring fan-favorite characters Marceline the Vampire Queen, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess and the Ice King!

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I picked this up from the library on a whim in the hope that it would allow me to find out the basic gist of the TV show without having to actually watch it.  Being a trendy sort of a gargoyle, I like to try and keep up with what the young folk are watching, if I can manage it.  While I do feel that having read this has given me a basic grasp of who’s who and what’s what, I can’t say for certain that I actually enjoyed the read.

Essentially, in this volume, a big, nasty skeleton warrior called the Lich turns up with a nefarious sack which has the power to suck all matter into its depths.  Unsurprisingly enough, Jake, Finn and all the inhabitants of the Land of Ooo (and then some), get sucked into the bag and end up in a desert landscape, from which there is no escape, let alone any sandwiches not actually made of sand.

As more of Finn’s friends (and enemies) get sucked into the Lich’s sack, it becomes apparent that they will all have to work together to save Ooo and the planet.  And that is exactly what they do.  Having not seen the show before, this graphic novel does give a good overview of who the important characters are and what their general roles and characteristics and catchphrases happen to be in the series.  There were a number of pretty funny scenes and bits of dialogue throughout, but I found a lot of the “catchphrase” type bits rather tedious.  I don’t think they translated as well to paper as they might in the actual TV series.

While I feel that I now do have a bit of an idea what the show is about, I would still like to know more…but I think I’ll just have to bite the bullet and actually watch the damn thing and save myself the bother of having to read pages and pages of high fives and such.

Don’t forget to join in with Fi50 on Monday!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Library Larks: Farting Ponies, Squirrels on the Run and Orthodox Jewish Troll-Fighters…

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It seems I’ve hit the jackpot with this month’s library loans.  I put on hold a bunch of picture books that I had been keeping my eye on, as well as a couple of intriguing looking graphic novels – one for me and one to introduce to the eldest mini-fleshling.  It’s quite an attractive looking pile I must say!  Click on the images to visit each book’s Goodreads page.

First up, I grabbed Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, a middle grade/YA graphic novel by Barry Deutsch.  I have seen this one on a number of recommended graphic novel lists, so decided I’d take the plunge and request it.  It helps, of course, that there’s a whacking great ball of yarn on the cover and the tagline, “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”.  I’m pretty excited also because I just looked at the Goodreads page and discovered that books two and three in the series have already been released, so if I enjoy this one I’ve got more to look forward to.

hereville

I also grabbed Bird & Squirrel On the Run, which is the first in a series of middle grade graphic novels by James Burks.  I’ve been keeping an eye out lately for books heavy on the imagery and with interesting protagonists, for when the eldest mini-fleshling has had his fill of Fly Guy and Elephant and Piggie – which hopefully won’t be for at least a little while yet.  This one looks fun though and as there are also more books in this series already out, this will hopefully become a go-to set of characters.

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Mad Martha picked up Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, which has been out for a good long while but hadn’t crossed our path.  We loved the combination of Barnett and Klassen in Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and we expect that this collaboration will bear the same sort of re-readable fruit.

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We had seen The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton around a few blogs, but I hadn’t really paid much attention until I saw it for cheap at the Book Depository.  Rather than buy it outright, I thought we’d borrow it from the library and take it for a test run first – and my word, if it isn’t the funniest, most kick-ass princess book I’ve ever read.  The mini-fleshlings loved Princess Pinecone and her flatulent pony, so I will definitely be making a purchase of this one just as soon as I am able.  Mad Martha is already planning how to recreate the chubby little horse in amigurumi.  This one’s a keeper.

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Have you checked anything out from the library lately?  Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Lunch Witch #2 (Knee-Deep in Niceness)

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It’s long past time that I created a new feature for graphic novels, given that I enjoy them so much and there are so many brilliant ones out there, so welcome to the inaugural, coincidentally-Halloween, edition of Gabbing About Graphic Novels.  Today’s book is the second in a series that I hadn’t heard of before, but will now make a point of pursuing.  We received a copy of Lunch Witch #2: Knee Deep in Niceness by Deb Lucke from the publisher, Papercutz, via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Grunhilda the Witch has a weakness…a tiny soft spot on her black and crusty heart. She continues to hide the nice feelings she has when she gets a letter from former Salem Elementary student Madison. But she can’t keep up the ruse for long because her familiars are onto her…and so are her ancestors! The familiars search her hovel and find her collection of letters from Madison. Mr. Williams has a solution, but it involves making a meanness potion from the book that IS-NOT-TO-BE-USED-BY-ANYONE-OTHER-THAN WITCHES (ESPECIALLY-NOT-WITCHES’-PETS). But anything that can go wrong does when he accidentally mixes up a positivity potion instead…and it starts to affect everyone in town. Birds are singing. Flowers are growing. The principal cancels school! Grunhilda hurries to mix up a potion to fix the town, her familiars, and her own black crusty heart before the positivity succeeds in making everything bright and cheerful.

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Target Age Range: 

Middle grade and above

Genre:

Comedy, fantasy

Art Style:

Line drawings, scratchy hand-lettering and some atmospheric cardboardy highlights

Reading time:

I read this in about three short sittings.  At 164 pages, it is more substantial than many graphic novels I had read and by the end I felt like I had finished a well-developed story.

Let’s get gabbing:

Even though I hadn’t read the first book in this series (which is called The Lunch Witch, in case you are interested), I had absolutely no problem following the story, as this feels a bit like a standalone.  Essentially, Grunhilda’s animal familiars think that she is hiding a kind-old-lady characteristic somewhere about her personality and they make the decision to alter this by (inadvisedly) using the old lady’s spell-book.  Disaster ensues and with the prospect of everlasting positive vibes overtaking the town, and its up to Grunhilda and one very determined Scout to make things right and miserable again.

Grunhilda is perfectly lovable as the cranky old witch with just a grain of love in her heart, while her collection of familiars – the irrepressible mutt, Mr Williams, straight-talking spider Louise and a collection of bats – provide alternating bouts of support, chaos and general ill-feeling.  Scout, the badge-obsessed boy scout, is an unexpected and standout character, as much for his determination to legitimately achieve a badge to sew on his sash (be it a “helping old ladies” badge or a “causing everlasting negativity for a whole town badge” – he isn’t fussy) as for his commitment to assisting the community (whether or not he is wanted, and however loosely the term “assisted” may be applied).

Best bits:

Apart from Scout, I have to say I found the ancestors pretty amusing, with their mish-mash of old-timey costumes and incessant banging on the underfloor of Grunhilda’s house with broom handles.

Recommended for:

This series would best suit subversive middle graders who like a story that flips stereotypes on their heads and isn’t afraid to delve into the wicked and vexatious sides of human (and witch) behaviour.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Lost Boy: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s book is a graphic novel for those who love a bit of creepy, atmospheric, magic-infused adventure, which, I am assuming, is all of you.  The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth is one that has been on my TBR list for quite some time, so when I spotted it at a great price in the Scholastic Book Club catalogue recently, I knew I had to grab it.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Some mysteries are too dangerous to leave alone . . .

Nate’s not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, Nate is thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe, and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.

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And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth:

1. It is a fact of life that moving to a new house will always lead to an exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discovery, usually concealed under a loose floorboard or other enticing, secret space.

2. The probability of exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discoveries are exponentially increased if said new house is adjacent to a wood.

3. If, upon moving to a new town, you notice something out of place (such as a grasshopper riding a dog, for instance) that others don’t seem to be able to see, you can assume that an exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discovery is imminent.

4. When moving to a new town, always make friends immediately with the strangest and most oddball of your neighbours.

5. On moving to a new house in which exciting (and possibly slightly sinister) discoveries are likely, ensure you have access to a range of historical recording devices in order to be prepared in case your predecessor has left some audiological clues as to their sudden disappearance.

I am so glad I actually made time to (a) purchase this book and (b) read it, because it is such an absorbing and atmospheric read featuring a well-developed world and enticing mystery.  The book follows two parallel stories – those of Nate, and Will, the boy who lived in the house Nate has just moved to, but who disappeared years before.  Without giving too much of the story away, Nate discovers a recording left by Will that details some strange sightings and happenings that Will has experienced, and opens up the mystery of the circumstances surrounding Will’s disappearance.  After Nate meets his new neighbour Tabitha, who also knows something about the mystery of Will, it is obvious that the pair need to investigate.  When some extremely strange visitors come calling however (including a talking doll and a deadly tree), it is obvious that Nate and Tabitha are going to have to risk much – and possibly even their lives – if they want to solve any mysteries anytime soon.

The illustrative style is quite realistic, which lends a sense of authenticity, and more than a little creepiness, to the events.  I was sucked in almost immediately by the allure of a historical mystery and the author does a great job of drip-feeding information about the non-human characters in the story so that the reader has to keep going if they want to find out the truth about these diverse and strange beings.

I had thought I had seen somewhere that there was a sequel to this one, but I can’t seem to find anything about it now so perhaps I was mistaken.  It’s a shame though – such a world could do with a follow-up story.  You can see some preview pages of The Lost Boy at Greg Ruth’s website, though, to see for yourself how exciting the book looks.

Until next time,

Bruce

Library Larks: What is Bruce Borrowing?

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It may seem strange to  you that I even bother going to the library these days, considering I’m close to being asphyxiated under a crushing pile of free books from generous publishers, but I do in fact borrow from the library.  Often this is a completely futile exercise because I don’t get to finish the books I borrow due to the massive review pile I am obliged to get through, thus wasting 80 cents every time I place something on hold.

I thought it might be nice to share with you some of the books that I have borrowed and actually will get finished before their return date, and so Library Larks was born!

This time around, all of my choices were inspired by the brilliant bloggers at Read It Daddy!.  Honestly, if you don’t follow them, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.

First up, inspired by the heads-up about the third book in a wordless picture book series I hadn’t ever heard of, I placed on hold three books by Aaron Becker: Journey, Quest and Return.

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Return hasn’t come in yet, but I’ve already picked up Journey and Quest and I am absolutely blown away at how visually absorbing they are.  I’ve had a good old gander at Journey and it feels just like Harold and the Purple Crayon for older, more imaginative kids.  I’ve only flicked through Quest – I’ve put it aside until I have a spare space of time so I can really pore over it, because it obviously continues the story from Journey and since it’s wordless, I need to focus my attention on perusing the visuals.

I think I will have to purchase this unusual trilogy because it has such a magical, mind-expanding quality to the narrative-in-images.

I also picked up Evil Emperor Penguin, a graphic novel collected from the weekly UK comic publication for kids, The Phoenix, which the Read It Daddy! crew are always banging on about.  It seems a bit unfair that the UK has such a brilliant comic come out weekly that I can’t get my paws on because it wouldn’t be postally feasible.  Anyway, I was happily shocked to see that our local library has some of the Phoenix collections on the shelves!

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I look forward to plunging into this one.  I might just end up with a new favourite super-villain!

While I’m here talking about libraries, allow me to give a shout out to the Moreton Bay Council library service because their collection for younger readers and particularly middle grade readers is mightily impressive for a regional council.  May there be many more like it.

So what are you borrowing?  What’s your library service like?  Have you read any of these gems?

Until next time,

Bruce