July 25, 2016

Recent Reads

101. Jane, the Fox, and Me
I have mixed feelings about how to review this picture book/graphic novel. The intended audience is clearly 8-12 year olds, and that might be why the story has so little depth. Though the kids I know around that age seem to read complicated stories with ease, so what do I make of that?

The story revolves around Hélène, a young girl who is suddenly shunned by her friends, and is made fun of for being fat and having body odor. The bullying takes a toll on Hélène, and she does what many kids do in that situation, which is turn to books for solace. Enter Jane Eyre, the Jane of the title, the book our girl is currently reading. She feels a connection to Jane, and while the transitions between her story and Jane's are a little clunky, I understand the author's intent. We find friends and safe harbors wherever we can. Just when life seems to take a turn for the worse, Hélène encounters a fox, and makes a friend, with a girl not the aforementioned fox. The fox encounter might have been too metaphorical for me. Was it meant to imply that she got in touch with her wild, inner self? Or was it simply an encounter with a fox that changes her life. I'm not sure.

What is wonderful about this book is the art. It is beautiful and I've looked through the book several times to soak it in. It is very evocative of the mood of loneliness and despair in this story. The text however felt too thin and under cooked, it needed more in my opinion. I'd give the story 2 stars and the art 4, so will average out at 3. Rating: 3 stars.

102. The Oven
This dystopian graphic novel reads like it was created for a final project in a MFA class.

The basic premise is that the environment has deteriorated, and people have moved to cities as a way to survive. However population control is strictly controlled in the cities, so the couple in this story decide to head to a wilderness, off-the-grid society so they can have a child. Things do not go as planned.

The art in this one is really good. The flat colors wonderfully evoke the sense of heat and deadly radiation, but there was simply not enough character or story development for my tastes. This really short book missed the mark for me. Rating: 2 stars.

103. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Somewhere along the line I missed that this book was a memoir, and therein lies most of my issues with it. I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by the author.

The topics discussed in this book are clearly important and relevant to our time, and this might be a good introduction to someone not familiar with our judicial system and capital punishment. The author uses his efforts to exonerate Walter McMillan, an African-American man, who was falsely accused and convicted of killing Ronda Morrison, a young white woman, as the main arc of this book. Interspersed with McMillan's story are about a dozen other cases the author and his team worked on. All of these cases highlight some of the issues surrounding race, class, gender, age, mental disability, and the fallibility of humans as they pertain to the judicial system. No matter how great our laws, they are still administered by humans who bring with them their particular baggage. There are also laws that are unjust, and the author and his team work successfully to change some of them.

There is little doubt that the individual stories are compelling, but in my opinion the issues get buried under the memoir aspect of this book. This would have worked much better as a collection of essays - each essay tackling a particular issue with examples. As it was, we bounce around from one case to another too quickly to do much more than feel outraged. The systemic issues get watered down, but maybe that makes this a book that is easier to digest. I for one found that the author's coming of age story did not play well with the points he was making. The writing is not very good, and there is lots of repetition and time spent driving around, all of which detract from the main thrust of this book.

There is no doubt that the author makes the world a better place, especially for the clients he works to exonerate, and this review is not about the value of the man or his work, but about this book. My book club was in agreement as to the points made above. As an aside, I do plan to read his arguments to the Supreme Court. Rating: 3 stars.

104. Lady Killer
You'd think that Josie Schuller would have her hands full with being a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, but she was a woman ahead of her time and also works outside the home. This being the 1960s, she is always impeccably dressed, no sweatpants or jeans for Josie, and given that she is killer for hire, you'd think that she'd invest in some overalls. This is a fun, satirical story with lovely art, however the text is rather pedestrian given the subject matter, and it could have use more satire. Josie has little depth of character, and everyone else is just scenery. A fun, if bloody graphic novel that makes you question what housewives might really be up to. Rating: 3 stars.

105. Fires of Invention (Mysteries of Cove #1)
The first book in this series was recommend to me by my nephew Jonah, age 11. He loved it and I can see why. This dystopian/steampunk story revolves around 13 year old Trenton Colman, who is creative in a world that harshly punishes anyone who rocks the status quo, and Kallista Babbage, who is year or so older than Trenton. She comes with her own baggage, and awesome mechanical skills. The community in this story retreated inside a mountain when the outside environment became too dangerous. Based on the cover, you know that the story also involves dragons.

This fast paced book is targeted for middle grade readers, and I think works great for that age group. As an adult reader, I wanted more depth, more exploration of the themes touched upon, more character development, more world building. I also found the romantic love triangle a forced and unnecessary device. I read it in a couple of sittings, and while it was a quick, if light ride, I don't plan on continuing with the series.

If you are interested in a community living underground story, I'd recommend you might try the Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey. Rating: 2 stars.

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