May 2, 2016

Recent Reads

41. The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir
Something you might not know about me, is that as a kid born and raised in Kenya, I was a huge fan of Muammar Gaddafi. Huge. He was one of the African leaders who created the hope that we would end Imperialism and all its vices in Africa. Well, things did not quite go as planned, but, I think it is important to not gloss over the things we believed in our childhood, as they affect how we develop our world views as adults.

This graphic memoir is set in France, Libya and Syria, and we learn about the childhood of the author and his family as they navigate various cultures, religions, and political landscapes. The author's father is a Sunni Arab who married a French woman, and like many immigrants, he is a contradiction that many people find hard to understand. His father is quite Western and modern in some ways, but also retains much of the values and prejudices he acquired as a child, and like all kids born into cultures not of their parents, the author grapples with these contradictions.

The art is quite basic and sketchy, but I loved the way the author uses color in his panels. I really enjoyed the exploration of different cultures/religions/environments from the point of view of a child, but filtered through adult eyes. This is a rather straightforward memoir, but it is the honest look at these situations that suck the reader in, and reminds us of how much that happens to children is really because of parental whims, and how much our family histories influence the adults we become.

It is not often that we get an insider look into the lives of ordinary people from these parts of the world, and I hope the author's other works will also be translated into English. I highly recommend this one. Rating: 4 stars.

42. Killing and Dying: Stories
This graphic novel is a collection of six stories, and they all deal with regular people, and their dreams and despair. No super heroes, no villains, no happily-ever-afters, and that is what I liked about these stories. They seemed liked snippets of people's lives that you might learn about if you spent a long plane ride with them. The art is wonderful, but I think it's just me - I'm not a fan of short stories, and while I liked most of these, not one of them really stayed with me after I finished reading the book. Rating: 3 stars.

43. Space Dumplins
My 11 year old nephew loves comics, so I'm constantly on the lookout for ones I think he'll like, and this one should be right in his sweet spot.

This graphic novel is a science fiction story with important themes of family, friendship, and the environment, but is not preachy at all. There are cuddly and not so cuddly characters, and I love that the main character is a girl named Violet, and that a quest plot line that carries this story along. The art is wonderful and colorful, and there are enough adventure and thrilling scenes to inspire even the most reluctant middle grade reader out there. Rating: 3 stars.

44. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 9
I'm in the final three installments of this manga series set in 17th century Edo, Japan, and they are getting better and better. I am so often disappointed when a series loses steam over time, but that is not the case with this one. Loved this book which is #9 in the series.

When children feel that their mother loved them unequally, there is usually trouble on the horizon, and in this volume, the anger and jealousy of one generation is passed down to the next, poisons a lovely girl, and sets some unfortunate events into motion. There is the usual intrigue, back-stabbing, and jostling for power, and these women play the game like chess masters - with long term strategies in mind. In the meanwhile, the blond haired, blue eyed giant, also known as Aonuma, has entered the inner chambers, and his mission is to teach the men about the Hollander language and medicine. But will anyone be interested in learning the foreign ways? I really liked the exploration that Aonuma spearheads in regards to the spread of infection, and how to prevent and/or stop the spread of the Redface Pox as well as other diseases that devastate the population.

All the modernization in the land is because of my two fave characters to-date: Hiraga Gennai, the cheeky and brilliant woman who everyone thinks is a man, and the lovely and formidable Tanuma Okitsugu, who has attained the highest rank of political office after the shogun herself - and you know that there are women quite unhappy about that.

I started this one last night and could not put it down until I turned the last page. There is trouble a brewing, and I am tense as I think of all the things that might go badly in the last two books of this fantastic series. Rating: 5 stars.

45. The Private Eye: The Cloudburst Edition
Book blurb: The Private Eye is a detective story set in 2076, when everyone in the United States has a secret identity. Our protagonist is a member of the paparazzi, outlaw private investigators who dig up the kind of personal dirt no longer readily available through search engines. It’s a mystery with lots of masks, but no superpowers. This edition collects Issues #1-10.

This graphic novel is quite wonderful, and explores many important issues, the one of privacy being the one that I loved the most. This futuristic world where there is no internet is an interesting one to contemplate. Today, almost everyone has various online avatars that somewhat resemble who they are in real life. What if we reverted back to a world without the net? Should not be that hard for anyone over 25 years or so to imagine. In this world, people do not leave their homes without a mask/costume/disguise of some sort, and I loved the exploration of identity and privacy. This is a fun and timely comic with wonderful art that should be read by all, especially those of us who are digital natives. Rating: 4 stars.

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