February 29, 2016

Recent Reads

193. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War

Book blurb: With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked.

I do believe this is the first graphic novel I've read that portrayed the Japanese interment camps, and explored some of what Japanese Americans endured right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This is an important part of American history, and Koji's coming of age angst weaves well into the historical backdop. The art in this book is wonderful, but ultimately, I was frustrated at the lack of depth in this story - it merely skims the surface. Given that this is a graphic novel targeted at middle grade readers, I guess that makes sense, but this adult reader wanted more.

That being said, this graphic memoir/historical fiction book be a good introduction to this history for kids and adults alike. Rating: 3 stars.

194. George
"When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she's not a boy. She knows she's a girl."

This middle grade book gently introduces young readers to some of the challenges faced by transgender kids. It's an important book, and while it will be life changing for some kids who see themselves in these pages, I hope that it might lead to some understanding and empathy in non-transgender kids, which is equally important.

This is a sweet and sometimes heartbreaking story of a young kid who is struggling with how the world sees and assigns gender. The plot line around a play of Charlotte's Web is a lovely device. The language is simple, non-flowery, non-preachy, and not very nuanced (recall that the target audience is 8-12 years old). The audiobook is well narrated by Jaime Clayton, who has a voice that does not direct the reader into any particular gender assumptions.

This one made me smile, and nod, and cry. Yes, this is about a transgender kid, but if you have ever not measured up for any reason at all, this one will make you hug your inner five year old tightly. Rating: 4 stars.

195. Urban Sketching and Painting
I've recently discovered these pocket edition art books, and they are fun and small enough to travel with. This one has examples of how you could capture an urban scene in your sketchbook using various media, and has tips and tricks that are fun. I think I would have gotten more out of it had I actually tried some of the exercises, and I can see revisiting this one again at a later date and doing just that. Rating: 3 stars.

196. Lowriders in Space
Book blurb: Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria love working with cars. You name it, they can fix it. But the team's favorite cars of all are lowriders—cars that hip and hop, dip and drop, go low and slow, bajito y suavecito.

I'm in search of comics that my 11 year old nephew might like, and that's what got me here. I honestly think I might be too old for this one. Lupe is an anthropomorphic fox, Elirio is a mosquito, and Falpjack is an octopus, and the three of them work in a garage and have dreams of opening up their own joint someday. Hoping to win a car competition with a large cash prize, the three amigos(as?) fix up an old junker while traveling around in space - comets, asteroids, Saturn's rings, etc. are used to detail the car.

I liked the sketchy artwork, the liberal use of Spanish, and the fact that Lupe (the girl foxy one) does not have typical gender roles (but, then she's a fox in tight clothes that show off her curves...). Anyways, just not for me. And suddenly I feel rather old. Rating: 2 stars.

197. Nature Anatomy
Can you put aside your adult self for a little while and get back in touch with your 8 to 12 year old self? Remember that fascination with the world around you? Remember being blown away by things you learned every day in Science class? Reading this book was kinda like that.

It is an illustrated guide of the natural (mostly North American) world, and the art is colorful and whimsical. If you are looking for an in depth scientific discourse look elsewhere, but if you are interested in reawakening that wonder you felt as a kid, get a copy of this one, and share it with kids, and other nature lovers in your circles.

I loved this book. Not only did it make me want to get outside with my sketch book and art supplies, but I learned things I did not know, and recalled with delight things I once did. This lovely book interweaves art and science, and reminds us about the wonders of the natural world, whether in large national parks, or small potted gardens. Rating: 5 stars.

198. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1
Book blurb: In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Red Pox has begun to prey on the country's men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the Shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the Shogun's Inner Chamber...

Holy smokes, but how have I not heard about this manga series before? And why has HBO not made this into a TV show?

I love the premise, and while the notion of a world dominated by women is not an original one, this one is uniquely set in Edo period Japan. I love the setting, the world building, the characters, and the twists and turns of the story, and am delighted to have nine more books in this series to look forward to. The exploration of reversed gender roles/norms is wonderfully done, and there are interesting nuggets of Japanese culture I picked up along that way. The women characters in this one rock, and oh, did I mention that the author is a woman? So many of my boxes get ticked with this one.

Now, this should have been a 5 star read for me, however I did not love the translation. I get that the speech patterns were formal in that period of time, but the way it is translated into English is actually distracting. Also, I did not love the art, and sometimes had a tough time distinguishing between the various pretty boys. Still, on a different day I might have well ignored these flaws and given it a higher rating.

The book is labeled for Young Adults, and comes with parental warning on the cover. I'd recommend it for mature 16+ readers. If I had to come up with a one line description, I'd say think of this one as Game of Thrones with Samurai. Rating: 4 stars.

199. Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide
This is a collection of essays about the author's time as a Botswana Safari Guide. To say these are essays is a bit of stretch. Each piece is about a page or two long, and while there are really funny anecdotes, it started to get a bit repetitive and rather too fluffy for my tastes. We started reading this one aloud this summer, and after about the first five to seven vignettes or so, lost interest in picking it back up again. So onto the DNF pile it goes. Rating: 1 star.


And that brings us to the end of all the books I read in 2015. It was a really good year. You can see my top ten reads of the year here. Please do let me know what your faves reads of the year were as well. Happy reading!

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