Second Look: Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor

Note: This title will be released January 27, 2015.

This is going to be a quick review for two reasons: 1) I read this in about 20 minutes while taking a study break during finals week, and 2) I read it about a month ago, so it’s impact on me has decreased significantly since I read it

The intended age group for this book is the middle grade set. It’s not strictly a YA book (hence why I flew through it so fast), but the Olympians series is awesome for graphic novel or greek mythology fans. I happen to be both :)

Ares: Bringer of WarThe Story: The myth continues in the tenth year of the fabled Trojan War where two infamous gods of war go to battle. The spotlight is thrown on Ares, god of war, and primarily focuses on his battle with the clever and powerful Athena. As the battle culminates and the gods try to one-up each other to win, the human death toll mounts. Who will win this epic clash of power? And how many will have to die first? (summary taken from Goodreads)

The Low Down: Ares is the 7th book in the Olympians graphic novel series and, to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. I am a huge fan of the series as a whole, but this installment just didn’t do it for me. It started off with a great hook and had lots of promise. But once I started to get to the nitty-gritty of the story, all I got out of it was a lot of confusion. It attempted to retell The Iliad and describe the elements of the Trojan War in a somewhat watered down version for younger readers. Anyone unfamiliar with The Iliad may have trouble following the story. The characters aren’t easy to keep track of, and there are plenty to go around in this graphic novel. I had a hard time following it because the names all blended together and the illustrations of the mortal characters (the non-gods) all looked identical. Even people with a basic knowledge of Greek mythology may struggle because this novel surrounds many players besides the well-known Greek gods.

The best part of this particular graphic novel was the artwork. The rich, dark colors give the war scenes the feel of sheer chaos. It’s drawn in a way so you can see what’s happening in each panel, but you can feel the madness and violence of the battles through the illustrations. It’s still an exciting page-turner that will leave readers eager to see what will happen next, even if younger readers struggle to understand the story as a whole.

The Bottom Line: Though this wasn’t my favorite installment of the Olympians graphic novel series, the quality of the artwork is fantastic and it’s still a good quality mythological tale, despite all the character confusion. I’m looking forward to seeing more installments from George O’Connor.

OFFICIAL RATING: 7/10

I received my copy of Ares: Bringer of War by George O’Connor as a digital eGalley from NetGalley. I was not given any form of payment or endorsement for my unbiased review, including alcohol or cupcakes, nor was I kidnapped and held at gunpoint.

Second Look: MY BOYFRIEND IS A MONSTER (series) by various authors

I have been LOVING the My Boyfriend is a Monster graphic novel series, and positively can’t get enough of them. Being a bit over 100 pages, I can tear through one in about 40 minutes and totally feel like I accomplished something! But there’s a lot of fun in these pages, too.

Each book is it’s own independent, stand-alone story, and each is by a different author and illustrator. All the stories feature a different young lady who has fallen for someone who is, well… to put it bluntly, a monster of some kind.

So let’s break them down book by book, shall we?

Book 1: I Love Him to Pieces by Evonne Tsang, illustrated by Janina Gorrissen

I love him to piecesDicey is a star jock and Jack is a star nerd. When they’re assigned as partners for a class projects, some exciting things start to develop between the two of them. Unfortunately for them, an outbreak of a highly infectious disease breaks out that causes people’s brains to melt down and hunger for human flesh. Will a town full of flesh gobbling zombies get in the way of their budding romance? And can brainiac Jack and his doctor parents find a cure before the disease infects everybody? 

This was a great introduction to the series. The romance is cute but not overwhelmingly sickening. And speaking of not being sickening, the violence and gore is pretty tame for a graphic novel about brain eating zombies. All the books feature black and white illustrations, so the drawings aren’t too gory. So while there is blood and brain eating, it’s from a distance and not terribly disgusting and in your face. This is probably my favorite of the four I’ve read. OFFICIAL RATING: 8/10

Book 2: Made for Each Other by Paul D. Storrie, illustrated by Eldon Cowgur

Made for Each OtherMaria and Tom met by chance (and a hard collision) in the hallway at school. Immediately it was like lighting struck and the two were instantly smitten. There are two problems, though. One is Tom’s father, the town’s new funeral director. The second is the dead bodies that keep appearing all over town. As Tom reveals his secret to Maria, it becomes more and more clear that Tom’s father and his assistant, Dr. Graves, don’t want Maria around. Are they somehow connected to the missing bodies? 

While I enjoyed book 2 of the series, I didn’t like it quite as much as the first. While still a fun read, the story was a little more shallow than that of the first book. I didn’t like that there was no suspenseful buildup to the big reveal (Maria accidentally stumbles into Tom’s father’s lab, and when Tom catches her, he merely says, “here, let me show you EVERYTHING that I’m into…” Really?) I still had a good time with this one, though, despite my pet peeve. Maria’s friends are great and stick by her, and Tom is a good guy at his core. The details in the illustrations are very striking and, though there’s a lot going on, it never feels cluttered or overwhelming. OFFICIAL RATING: 7/10

Book 3: My Boyfriend Bites by Dan Jolley, illustrated by Alitha E. Martinez

{79DF9A32-A3AB-4C38-9543-092DFC6D2938}Img400Vanessa doesn’t know what to do with her life. So instead of figuring it out, she tries to fix everyone else’s life. Every guy is a new project. Until she meets one she doesn’t quite know what to do with. She meets Jean-Paul McClellan by accident and the two are immediately attracted. Vanessa gets suspicious, however, when Jean-Paul displays some serious feats of strength on their first date… such as holding up an elevator car to stop it from crushing her to death. When she follows him home and sees him drinking blood, she learns some things that may turn her life in a completely new direction. 

I know I said that book 1 was my favorite of the series, but this is a very close second. Jean-Paul is (dare I say) swoony and my favorite of all the monsters in the series so far. He’s Vanessa’s knight in shining armor and an all around likable guy (besides the whole potential vampire thing). The humor in this installment is very quirky and I even laughed out loud a time or two. The reasoning behind everything is a little hard to swallow (even for a vampire story), but it’s still all in fun. The style of artwork in this book is my favorite so far, as well. OFFICIAL RATING: 8/10

Book 4: Under His Spell by Marie P. Croall, illustrated by Hyeondo Park Alitha E. Martinez

Under His SpellTaken from dust jacket: Bethany Farmer’s life is a boring high school routine, and she likes it that way. Soccer, coffee, homework, more coffee, and no goofy romance. That is, until foreign exchange student Allein Atwood shows up in her Midwestern town, and her life turns epically weird. Allein has unearthly good looks, princely politeness, and a bunch of goofy, romantic pick-up lines. But is his country really so foreign that they don’t know anything about soccer? Or coffee? To her horror, Bethany is swept off her feet by Allein’s spellbinding ways–and then knocked flat by savage creatures set loose into suburbia to hunt Allein down. Suddenly Bethany’s normal town is twisted upside down, and nothing is what it seems. Can Bethany rescue her prince of a boyfriend and keep them both alive long enough to go on a second date?

Normally I wouldn’t post a review of a book I haven’t read, but after getting about 20 pages in, I couldn’t even continue with book 4. The style of artwork was very different from previous installments, which was a major buzzkill for me. Instead of being graphic novel style, they almost seemed like simple line drawings, which made them very visually unappealing. Most of the characters looked alike and I couldn’t even tell them apart. The story didn’t suck me in as much as the first three books did either. While I can’t speak for the rest of the story (as I didn’t finish it) I really wasn’t thrilled with this one, and don’t have any real desire to try again.  OFFICIAL RATING: 4/10

CONCLUSION

On the whole, I really, REALLY like this series. The artwork tell the stories in a striking visual fashion without being to graphically disturbing or gory, which is an exceptional feat given the subject matter of the books. It’s also very interesting to see how the writers give classic monster stories modern twists to incorporate them into a contemporary horror story (books 2 and 3 are perfect examples of this, but I refuse to give it away. As you know, I’m not one to give spoilers). A romance is present in all the books, but it’s not sickeningly sweet. It’s more cutesy than lusty, which could make these a good choice even for middle grade readers who are into graphic novels.

While they can be hit or miss depending on the author and illustrator, they are fun, quick, and simple stories to get lost in for a little while. I can’t wait to read the remaining books in the series. Reviews for the next four coming soon!

OFFICIAL SERIES RATING: 8/10

Second Look: IVY by Sarah Oleksyk

Ivy by Sarah OleksykThe Story: In this graphic novel, title character Ivy is an aspiring artist trying to make it through the dredges of her senior year of high school. Ivy is coping with many struggles, both internal and external. She is trying to navigate her social circle and a difficult home life, which includes her single mother who is very adamant about what Ivy should do after high school. Internally, she’s battling with her serious desire to go to art school, a conflict which results in an equally serious fight with her mother (a rolling on the floor, cage match style fight). Unable to take the pressures of life, Ivy runs away with Josh, a fellow artist she meets at a college fair. Unfortunately, the trip he takes her on is hardly one of freedom and self-discovery.

The Low Down: Ivy’s character is so not what I was expecting in this book. I was anticipating a young girl who was being suppressed by parental and social expectations, and just needed to try to find herself and who she really was. What I met with was an unsympathetic, unlikeable bully who doesn’t even deserve to have a book written about her.

Ivy projects an overwhelming amount of bitchassness in her daily travels, enough to make me not even care what happened to her. She is a lousy friend, and is so consumed with her own drama that she never sees what her friends are dealing with. She makes a point of being cruel and mean to a classmate for no reason (except that she might possibly be  an equally amazing artist), and displays zero compassion or consideration for anyone other than herself.

On a different side of the graphic novel spectrum, the artwork is average. It’s certainly much better than anything I could ever draw, but I’ve seen more impressive, striking artwork in other GN’s. Every page was busy and overwhelming, and the story jumped around at times and sometimes made me wonder if a few panels were accidentally left out.

ivy-comic

I was also a little surprised by the sexual content in this book. Sex, drugs, and drinking happen in young adult novels, and that’s no different in graphic novels. Ivy drinks. Ivy does a few hits on a joint. And Ivy has sex. No big. The author was trying to convey that Ivy was undergoing a tumultuous period in her life, and making questionable decisions as a result. Fine. However, those concepts and feelings could have easily been conveyed without all the visuals of Ivy gettin’ her freak on with Josh. Let me tell you, there was far more frontal nudity than I ever cared to see of an illustrated teenage girl. (I have a bet going with co-workers as to how long it’ll be for the library’s copy to go missing because it’s hidden under a 13-year-old’s mattress.) Josh’s treatment of Ivy also made my inner feminist freak out a little, as Josh seems to be a fan of the hit and run (or blow and go, bang her and hang her… whatever term you prefer) which royally pissed me off.

My summary was a little misleading in that Ivy’s road trip with Josh is, in fact, one of self-discovery. It’s not a fulfilling road trip full of cotton candy and unicorns and maybe the occasional conflict like some other coming of age stories. Ivy truly had to hit rock bottom before she could realize what she left behind. For her to realize what was important in her life, she puts herself in a difficult position, so she has no choice but to confront how lucky she is. In that sense, the moral does come shining through if you can see the story through to the end.

Bottom Line: Despite being one of YALSA’s Great Graphic Novel for 2012, I’ve read better coming of age stories. Ivy’s rudeness and self-destructive begavior is more of a black mark against confused teenagers instead of a call to be patient with them for trying to figure out who they are. Miedocre artwork doesn’t do it any favors. or any folks who are a bit more conservative, I’d recommend holding off on this one due to the nudity and some strong language.

OFFICIAL RATING: 5/10

Second Look: True Blood Volume 3: The French Quarter (Graphic Novel)

Generally, I don’t review graphic novels because I love them all so much.  And lately, I’ve been picking up single issue comics more than anything else.  But this was almost so terrible, it deserves a review.

Title: The French Quarter
Series: True Blood, Volume 3
Written By:  Mariah Huehner and David Tischman
Publication Date: 2012

Synopsis
Someone’s staking vampires who are inflicted with the Hep-D virus.  When a Fangtasia matchbook is found at one the crime scenes, Eric knows its personal.  He takes Bill and Sookie to New Orleans to find the killer.

Until their eventual meeting with the killer, Eric thinks that it’s someone from his past – someone he thought he and Godric killed.

SPOILER ALERT!  It’s not Eric that the vampire is after…

Thoughts
Katie can attest to the fact that I love all things True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse.  Really, there can be no wrong done in my eyes.  Between Charlaine Harris and Alan Ball, the series has really taken off – in both mediums.  And I loved the first two volumes of the True Blood graphic novels (All Together Now; Tainted Love).  But this one…I just don’t know.

The art is a little terrible.  With the first two volumes, it’s easy to tell who’s who.  While it’s hard to caricature real people, the artists did a pretty good job.  You weren’t squinting and wondering who was talking to whom.  But in THE FRENCH QUARTER, it was rare that the characters looked like the actors who portray them.  In fact, sometimes the art isn’t even fluid at all from one issue to another.  Eric looks…bad.  And Eric NEVER looks bad.

The storyline was good.  That’s about it.  The dialogue is pretty horrible.  While the writers tried to keep with the same sense of how Sookie would talk to Eric and Bill, it falls flat a lot of time.  Now, I’ll admit, there were a few parts where I laughed out loud.  But most of the time I was going, “WTF?”  It just didn’t flow right for me.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend buying it unless you’re an absolute die-hard like me.  Read it in the store.  I’m sad I bought it at list price at BN instead of getting it cheaper on Amazon.

So disappointing!

Rating… 4/10

Second Look: Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

I’m showing some more graphic novel love with Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge, and this is one so good that I want to throw it a party and shower it with presents.

The Story: Paige Turner (yes, that is her real name) just moved to Brooklyn with her parents, away from her BFF and into a huge city with thousands of people. Sadly, she has never felt so alone. She recalls some words of wisdom from her grandmother, buys a brand new sketchbook, and starts drawing again, something she thought she was never good enough to do. Through gorgeously drawn illustrations, we see Paige’s journey as she struggles to break free of her parent’s expectations and become the person she wants to be. She makes some uber cool friends along the way, finds courage through her art, and discovers a new person who has lived inside her all along.

The Low Down: OMG I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH! *ahem* Yea. Truth be told, this is a phenomenal book. Each chapter is headlined with one of nine “rules” for Paige’s new sketchbook, which actually are inspiring in themselves. Gulledge’s artwork is stunning, and very detailed. She not only displays great artistic talent, but also manages to capture Paige’s teen angst through pictures, which is quite a feat. Paige’s confusion and struggles as she tries to make a new life in New York are legit and I’m sure any teenager (or young adult… or older adult, for that matter) facing a bit of an identity crisis can totally relate. She’s unsure, nervous, and a little fearful, but she ventures out on her own to carve out a place for herself where she can be happy. The friends she makes are incredibly likeable characters, and are very understanding and supportive of her. The subject matter isn’t heavy and/or deep, but it certainly is thought provoking. By the time I got to the end, I thought to myself, “if Paige can, then I can, too!” And since we’re discussing a novel for young adults, I’m guessing that’s probably the point. Heck, it made me drag out my old sketchbook and art pencils again!

Extra Goodies: Here’s a link to one of Gulledge’s blogs for Paige, with samples of some of her artwork and snippets of info about her technique and process. For an artist-wannabe like myself, Gulledge just got even cooler.

The Bottom Line: I can’t say enough wonderful things about the artwork, and it is such an inspiring come-of-age novel that it made even ME feel like I could conquer anything. A beautiful graphic depiction of self discovery, and something that anybody, not just teens, can relate to and feel inspired by.

OFFICIAL RATING: 9.5/10 (Yup. I totally went there.)