Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines YP FIC HAINES

Iris Anderson is learning to lie.  It’s 1942 and her mother has committed suicide, her father lost a leg at Pearl Harbor, and they have to move to a poor area of the lower East side of New York just to make ends meet.  Pop can’t keep up with his job anymore but forbids Iris form helping, but when a case involves someone at Iris’s new school she decides to break it herself.  That means lying to all her friends, navigating the wrong crowds, anc uncovering secrets that will hit way too close to home.

Iris Anderson may just be my second favorite breakout character of the year! She is smart, funny, daring, loyal, and in waaaay over her head.  She’s an above average teenage girl in her drive, ambition, pluck, and determination, but a realistic teen girl in her limitations, short sightedness, and occasional naivete. the real breakout star of the book is 1940s New York City.  The author has recreated the sensation of living in the bustling city and filling it with life.  However, she doesn’t sugar coat or white wash the class and race issues of the time period and actually ahs Iris face them head on.  I respect when historical fiction deal with the glamour and the grime of history, otherwise they are betraying the truth and people that suffered injustice. The mystery is sometimes slow to build, but with a wonderful main character and fascinating setting it’s still a great journey.  Best of all, this is the first young adult mystery (historical or otherwise) that had an ending that actually surprised me!  The ending does leave a few loose ends for Iris and I hope she gets to tackle them in a sequel. Fans of historical fiction, mysteries, historical mysteries, or just good stories and great character and settings should grab this one. 

Nickel Plated by Arc Davis YP FIC DAVIS

Nickel lives life like a coin flip.  At 12 he is a survivor of horrid abuse and a runaway.  He lives by drug dealing, blackmailing online predators, and working as a private detective (but the first two are really to pay for the PI gig).  He takes on a case of a missing sister of a pretty girl named Arrow.  When he starts investigating the safe suburban streets she lived on he finds dark secrets hidden there and grown men more than willing to kill a 12 year old private eye to keep them.

Finally! A young adult noir that is actually true to noir.  Too many pretenders have come and gone copying the dialogue style of noir but forgetting how to put the hard in hard boiled. Nickel Plated is a dark edgy book that doesn’t flinch from showing that sometimes the most horrible things happen to the most vulnerable people: kids.  Nickel survived all that and learned how to navigate a world of crime to achieve a higher justice.  He is an original anti-hero that needs a series of his own. He isn’t just a street smart gumshoe that noir has had far too many of, he has a genuine warmth and heart that comes from never wanting to see anyone else hurt the way he was.  Besides having my favorite breakout new character of the year, the plot is fast paced and suspenseful, the characters appropriately scummy and menacing, and the dialogue is fresh and snappy without ever seeming like a send up of classic noir.  This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea due to the violence, criminality, and a good deal of darkness, but I think readers should give it a chance. 

Illegal by Bettina Restrepo YP FIC RESTREPO

She was promised they would be together for her quinceañera, but her father stopped sending letters and money months ago.  Nora sets out with her mother to find him by taking a dangerous trek across the border and trying to live on the streets of Houston. Nora struggles to get by and not get caught while trying to make a new life.

This is a incredibly well written book on most every front.  The story is told from Nora’s viewpoint and I immediately believed her as a real person and was invested in her journey.  This can put a face for readers that only read about the debate over immigration without knowing anyone involved.  The chapters are short and seem to be stripped entirely of excess, so that only the most affecting moments are conveyed. I loved how accurate the setting of Houston’s immigrant community was.  The only complaint I have is that Restrepo makes Nora’s journey sort of sanitized.  In crafting a tale that younger teens could enjoy it seems like she may have self censored.  Nora has a great deal of hardship yes, but the book avoids showing many of the worst horrors that often face women crossing into America illegally.  It does allude to them, but by not tackling those head one it almost felt as if Restrepo sugarcoats the reality to reach a larger audience.  However, for what it is and does try to achieve it is very successful.  Anyone that enjoys realistic fiction should give Illegal a chance.

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore YP FIC CLEMENTM

Amy Goodnight is the normal one in a most abnormal family.  And not even normally abnormal, witches with special powers abnormal. She stays away form magic as best she can by ranch sitting at her Aunt’s West Texas ranch.  she thinks her biggest problem is the incredibly annoying and annoyingly attractive cowboy, Ben, but  bodies start turning up near the ranch and a persistent ghost convinces her to solve the crimes she steps in the middle of the worlds of magic and murder.

This is a nice mix of spookiness with a light touch.  Our heroine isn’t a waifish lost soul with a tortured past and is actually quite witty and relatable.  Even better is the VERY tired cowboy romance actually works quite well hear due to Clement-Moore having a great ear for witty dialogue.  I actually found myself rooting for this couple (something that almost never happens for me in a paranormal romance). I love that the author invests as much effort in accurately capturing ranch life as well as telling a unique and often quite spooky ghost story.  It makes for s surprising good mash-up.  Texas Gothic has enough humor, creepiness, romance, and interesting characters to please almost any paranormal romance fans and may make some new ones.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola YP FIC MIGNOLA

See the steam powered (well his robot bodies are), Screw On-Head battle with the undead villain Emperor Zombie to stop the total destruction of the world at the behest of President Lincoln!  Marvel at possessed puppets, Martian ghosts, wizard/snake love stories, and beanstalkery!  All told by the master of weirdness creator of Hellboy Mike Mignola.

This is a truly delightful mix of weird goodness from the fertile imagination of Mignola.  I have always thought that his collections of shorts are some of the best Hellboy books and this first Hellboy free collection of odds and ends is a wonderful companion. “The Amazing Screw-On Head” is the longest of the short stories and one of Mignola’s best.  Free from the overarching Hellboy mythology, Mignola can throw whatever wacky ideas he wants at our title character and he packs quite a bit into a few pages.  It occasionally feels rushed and like there isn’t enough, but the overall madcap nature of the story keeps this form harming the story too much.  The other adventures vary quite a bit, but have a shared trait of deliberate weirdness that never seems forced or unnecessary.  My absolute favorite is “The Prisoner of Mars”.  It is a send up of classic British adventurer stories defeating HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs styled Martians. As with most of Mignola’s work it mixes a load of classic pulp fiction and science fiction and blends it with oddball humor and truly unique art.  If you are a fan of Hellboy then this is a no-brainer must read slam dunk.  If you haven’t read Hellboy, then what’s wrong with you!?  Start with Seed of Destruction in YP MIGNOLA.

Newsprint nails


We interrupt your regularly scheduled program with this fun tutorial for the word- and fashion-inclined among us: Newsprint nails. All you need is some nail polish (a pale color for the newsprint to transfer onto and a clear topcoat), a bowl of water, and some newspaper:

Photo by annkari available through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma YP FIC YAGINUMA

Thirteen year old Asumi Kamogawa dreams of the stars.  Now that she has applied to the first class of the Tokyo Space School she feels like her dreams may actually be in reach, but it’s hard to defeat gravity.  All around her are memories and ghosts of the suffering caused by a rocket ship tragedy that deeply marked her home town and family. If she can escape the Earth will she escape its ghosts?  Does she really want to?

This could very well be a new classic in manga.  It even has a timeless art style that looks as much like an 80s manga as a modern book.  What makes the book stand out is a mix of melancholy, hope, wonder, and whimsy, so it probably isn’t going to compete with Naruto. Asumi is like many quiet and shy manga protagonists with painful pasts.  I think what made me respond to her over the multitude of others is that her sense of earnestness and wanderlust is tied to a very well realized tragic past.  Just about everything dealing with plot and character is well realized.  All the supporting characters have their own stories and drives and Asumi’s ability to look closer at people allows them to be uncovered. This is a wonderful love letter to friendship, hope, family, exploration, and dreams that never becomes sappy or sentimental.  Manga fans looking for something original and heartfelt should give this gem a chance.

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comes : The Authorized Adaptation by Ray Bradbury adapted by Ron Wimberly SF BRADBURY

Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show is a carnival like no other. It promises to fulfill your every dream while feeding on your darkest nightmares.  destroying every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. It’s just rolled into the small town of Green Town, Illinois and best friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are determined to uncover its secrets, but some secrets are best left unknown.

This is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the original novel.  The wonderful characters and language that bring this creepy tale to magical life is fully intact in this graphic novel adaptation.  I like the artwork quite a bit.  It is funky, odd, and almost cartoonish it is so stylized. It reminds me of the European-Japanese inspired style of Taiyo Matsumoto behind Tekkonkinkreet (FIC MATSUMOTO) and that is a very high compliment coming from me. I only have a minor complaint.  Sometimes the lettering is blurry and you have to read more carefully than you should.  It’s a surprising mistake in a professional publication, but it never makes the words unreadable. With great art and a classic and timeless story you really can’t go wrong.  This is a must read for all fans of dark fantasy young, old, and in between.  Absolutely check out the source material.  The original novel can be found at SF BRADBURY.