Friday, December 9, 2011

Same Difference (fiction)

Sort of rude,
Fairly crude,
Still totally inept at social interaction.

It's Fun Friday for us, but not so much fun for mid-20s Simon, as a fleeting glimpse of an old high school friend sets off a chain of reminiscences and regrets.

Simon's high school acquaintances couldn't even remember that Koreans weren't Japanese - why did he expect them to show a little respect to Irene who was trying to make her way through the sighted world?

And you've got to wonder why Nancy decided to open the letters addressed to the former tenant of her apartment. Did this Sarah really move without a forwarding address to avoid being contacted by Ben? Did Nancy really write back to Ben, pretending to be Sarah!?

Derek won the 2004 Eisner, 2004 Harvey, and 2003 Ignatz Awards with Same Difference as a self-published book; it's even better in this hardback reissue, published this week with spiffed-up art and Derek's notes about how he used sites he knew to create an authentic setting for this mostly-not-autobiographical story.

If your local library doesn't have it yet, head for an independent bookstore to get Same Difference - hope your copy has the cool acetate cover with the fish! Proof again that comics ain't just for kiddies.

Book info: Same Difference / Derek Kirk Kim. First Second Books, 2011. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [author interview]

Recommendation: Regretting the past is familiar for Simon in his mid-20s, but worrying about his pal Nancy’s offbeat response to misdelivered mail is new territory.

Unexpectedly catching sight of an old friend from his small-town California high school, Simon explains to his friends why he just can’t go talk to her. Even several years after graduation, he feels the pain of being an outsider, a grunge-rock Korean surrounded by waves of belligerent Anglo blockheads.

Irene transferred in during their senior year. Since they had two classes together, sometimes Simon would walk with her to class. Oh, and she was blind, so the local yokels loved to make stupid jokes about that, too. When she hinted about going to the dance together, he bailed out, made an excuse about visiting relatives…but didn’t.

Nancy finally lets Simon know about the mail that’s been coming to her new place – mail from Ben Leland to the last tenant, mail that professes his undying love for Sarah, mail that Nancy opens, week after week, and then answers!

When a package arrives from Ben, Nancy decides that she has to get an actual look at him and wrangles Simon into driving her to Pacifica – Simon’s hometown.

Can they find Ben? Will Nancy really try to take a peek at him? Or contact him? Will Simon cross paths with Irene again and get the nerve to apologize? Sometimes growing up is a lot more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Derek Kirk Kim has successfully melded several episodes of his famed webcomic into a single graphic novel which won several awards as a self-published work. Enjoy this new edition with wacky introduction by fellow West Coast cartoonist Gene Yang, plus Derek's notes on creating his characters and setting. (Review copy courtesy of the publisher.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hannah's Winter, by Kierin Meehan (fiction) - Japanese ghosts, ancient puzzle mysteries

book cover of Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan published by Kane Miller
Winter in Japan.
Hot Australia far away.
Ghosts throwing donuts?

A mystery in the snow-shrouded town of Kanazawa is not what Hannah expected when she came to Japan. High school for her, horticultural field study for her mum, and then a ghost who tosses donuts and writes on Hannah's mirror with sunscreen??

The town's winter festivals and historic sites draw Hannah and her new Japanese friends Miki and Hiro further and further into a ancient mystery.

Dire visions foretold by three old women and dragons hidden in plain sight - could they be relevant to the task that "the ocean boy" begs them to accomplish? Dive into the puzzles of Hannah's winter in Japan at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: Hannah's Winter / Kierin Meehan. Kane Miller, 2009. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Going to school in Japan instead of starting high school in Australia with her friends worries Hannah; her height and auburn hair will really make her stand out. But a mysterious message from the past sends her exploring her new city quickly.

Her host-father translates the ancient kanji on the fragile paper – it’s a puzzle, asking the finder to “help the ocean boy” by following the cryptic instructions. After “the first snowfall,” Hannah, host-sister Miki, and neighbor Hiro travel to “the temple of secrets” and see a vision from the past!

A boisterous ghost in the house, donuts tossed in the air, messages on her mirror, that recurring dream of the tunnel, a house of cards… Hannah finds they’re all pieces of the puzzle (except the donuts). A suit of samurai armor is delivered to Miki’s shop and puffs out incense with no fire. Japanese school is interesting, but waiting until time to “go at sunrise to wake the dragon” is hard.

Why has the “ocean boy” chosen Hannah to help him finish his task from the past? Is the man suddenly appearing all over their neighborhood “the one who does not want the boy to go”? And why has the samurai armor’s incense smoke changed from blue to yellow?

You’ll get peeks into modern Japanese culture as well as older folktales and traditions as you visit Kanazawa’s festivals and parks with Hannah, Miki, and Hiro to solve the mystery before it’s too late for “the ocean boy.”(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Audition (fiction)

Can Sara stay slim enough?
Can she stretch far enough?
Can she pirouette fast enough?
Does she have what it takes to become a true ballerina,
or will she remain just a corps de ballet dancer in the back row?

Dancing for hours daily despite bunions on her feet and muscle injuries, sneaking time alone with Rem, enduring his professional detachment at dance school... How much can you give of yourself before there's no "you" left at all? That's what Sara has to discover for herself, alone amid the competing dancers of the Jersey Ballet's school.

A compelling novel-in-verse, Stasia's first work of fiction is enriched by her background as a professional dancer and choreographer. Look for Audition at your local library or independent bookseller.

Book info: Audition / Stasia Ward Kehoe. Viking, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: A dance scholarship takes Sara from Vermont to the Jersey Ballet – can she polish her small-town technique enough to stay there? Perhaps this is her chance to become a true ballerina instead of just a ballet dancer.

Taking the city bus from her host family’s house to dance class to private high school to dance class and dance class and dance class, Sara has never been so tired. The competition is intense, as she must master enough skills to move up to the next level in a short time. No scholarships for those who progress too slowly here.

Her eyes are always drawn to strong, intense Remington, choreography contest finalist, principal male dancer at Jersey Ballet, part-time teacher at age 22. And eventually Rem is drawn to 16-year-old Sara, taking her to small restaurants in stolen moments away from the studio.

As the girls compete to be soloists in the Nutcracker and Rem’s version of Goldilocks, each battles with herself to stay slim enough, to be flexible enough, to be good enough. As Rem and Sara create a very private dance in his apartment, she wonders if she’ll ever partner with him on stage as well.

This strong novel-in-verse gives very mature readers an open window into Sara’s longings and fears, her worries about succeeding in this immense opportunity that her parents are struggling to afford, her wonderment over how differently Rem treats her when they’re in public and when they’re alone. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Misfit (fiction)

Never fitting in.
Moving all the time.
World's grumpiest dad.
A long-lost uncle who's a demon?

Jael had hoped for an old clunker car or even a cellphone for her 16th birthday, but her dad didn't even leave her a birthday card on the breakfast table. Just a note, "Come home right after school. We have to talk."

Who would ever imagine that she was half-demon? Or that someone on the faculty would attack her at their Catholic school? Or that a cute skateboarder guy would think she was worth talking to? Jael's hair becomes her crowning glory - just like her mother Lilith's was - and things get really complicated.

Flashbacks are written in the expected past tense, but the author has chosen to have Jael's story lurch along completely in simple present tense - a bit odd, but soon the gripping pace of the story lets readers slide over this unconventional writing tic.

Book info: Misfit / Jon Skovron. Amulet, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Jael’s dad is so strict that she’s never been on a date, never been kissed, never fit in at school. Her mom died when Jael was a baby, but is that any reason for her ex-priest father to keep dragging them from town to town? Always she’s enrolled in a Catholic school, but he forbids her to talk about angels or heaven or hell…

On her sixteenth birthday, he reluctantly gives her a pendant from her mother, but only because it was her deathbed wish. Suddenly, Jael’s dreams are filled with visions of mystical creatures, and she discovers that her mother was a demon – the infamous Lilith – who was killed because she tried to defect from the most ambitious duke of Hell.

Now her uncle-demon warns her that Belial can sense her through the pendant and is coming to exact his final revenge against her mother. Jael has a short time to learn what powers she may have as a half-demon and how to use them to defend herself and her father and her first-ever friends at school.

Can Jael’s uncle cram a lifetime of training into a few days? Will he be able warn her before Belial’s attack? Does Jael truly have the seductive beauty of her mother hidden under the frumpy clothes her father chooses? And Dad was really a demon-hunter?

Flashbacks to the past adventures and perils of Jael’s parents give the reader insights into the story that are later revealed to her. She never thought her life was easy, but now the fate of humanity may be at stake. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.