Mini-review: SuperMutant Magic Academy

22752445Title: SuperMutant Magic Academy
Author: Jillian Tamaki
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 225
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Review copy: Library
Availability: April 28th 2015

Summary: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns. Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Having read This One Summer and Skim, and absolutely loved both, I knew I had to read SuperMutant Magic Academy — even though I basically knew nothing about it. Summaries and explanations just don’t do it justice. Even by the time I had it in my hands, I still had no idea exactly what SuperMutant Magic Academy was about, or what to expect (other than awesomeness).

My best attempt at an explanation is this — it’s a slice of life, sometimes four panel comic (and sometimes not) graphic novel set in, well, a supermutant magic academy…? There are witches and aliens and students with lizard heads and cat ears. This is all offered without explanation. What you get is a glimpse into their daily lives, with thin threads of plot and continuing relationships running throughout.

The humor is at turns endearing and baffling — but in the best way. When I tried to get a friend to read it, all I could say was “Read it! It’s really weird! But good? Also, did I mention it’s super weird?” I ended up swallowing all 200+ pages of it in one go, and when I stood up afterwards, I just walked about in this haze of serenity and pleasant confusion.

In other words… this is worth a read. Sit down with a cup of tea and just enjoy it from start to finish. Then we can talk about it, mostly through question marks and gushing praise.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Review: Seconds

secondsTitle: Seconds
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Nathan Fairbairn (Colorist)
Genres: contemporary, fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 323
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Availability: July 15th, 2015

Summary: Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into a pretty strong Scott Pilgrim (the comics! still haven’t watched the movie) phase in undergrad, so I put Seconds on my to-read list the second Bryan Lee O’Malley mentioned it on tumblr. Basically, I’ve been waiting to read Seconds for years, and it was just as awesome as I expected, though the story took a turn I didn’t expect.

Seconds centers on Katie, a chef who opened up the restaurant Seconds. After several years, her life and the people in her life have changed. She’s looking to move on as well by opening up a new restaurant… until something goes horribly wrong,and she discovers a magical way to redo it all again — and again, and again. Naturally, there are consequences and strange things afoot.

The comic has a heavy thread of narration throughout, which lends Katie’s journey a kind of melancholy and enchanting tone. In keeping with Scott Pilgrim, the humor is quirky, relateable, and serves to tell you a lot about even peripheral side characters. One reference to Scott Pilgrim had me grinning in delight (the bread joke, if you know the one). Though the art is fashionable and adorable, the story definitely can get a little chilling. I regret reading it at night (whoops).

The art, of course, is great — the colors, the style, the way little asides and speech bubbles were arranged were all top-notch to me. More than once, I found myself wishing I was nearly as stylish as the characters in Seconds. This is definitely a book that you can admire visually, along with enjoying the story.

Seconds is going to the top of my favorite comic books of all time. Now I have to go and search for Seconds fanart so I can keep living in that world a little longer…

Recommendation: Buy it now! This is a seriously amazing read.

Further reading: Bryan Lee O’Malley on POC representation in his comics

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Book Review: Consent

ConsentTitle: Consent
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Review: To be honest, I was hesitant to read, let alone review, Consent due to the subject matter of a teacher-student romantic relationship because being a teacher these stories tend to make me really uncomfortable. I know these relationships are, unfortunately, all to common and I often wonder what propels these teachers to cross that line. On the flip side, I do know of students who also take it to far in their affections for their teachers (I once came across a site that was about what girls would do to get their male English teachers to notice/date them. It was very disturbing.) With that in mind, I decided I would get over my discomfort and read Nancy Ohlin’s Consent with an open mind and I’m thankful I did.

Consent is a morally complicated novel that explores how Bea and Dane’s relationship is even able to develop. It starts of innocently enough with the connection that many student-teachers have when a teacher sees the potential in a student and helps them see that potential. Bea does acknowledge her attraction to Dane, but stifles it because he is her teacher. The same can be said for Dane as in their interactions, he often realizes he’s about to cross that line and takes a huge step back. I love that Ohlin made the relationship a slow burn, and had both parties recoginize how a relationship between them would be wrong. At no point does their relationship feel salacious, as Ohlin focuses on the conflict between what their heart’s desire and what is the right thing to do. In fact, when they do actually become intimate, the moment makes sense. They are both caught up in the emotion of a successful day, where Bea had auditioned for Dane’s former, very famous, teacher at Juliard, and well, begin their romantic relationship. Ohlin makes their relationship brief, as they decide to wait until she actually turns 18, but end up being discovered anyway. The rest of the novel then focuses on the fall out of the discovery of their relationship.

The fact that Ohlin chose to make the relationship brief, and focus on the build up, and the fallout is what makes the novel work, for me. Bea and Dane’s story becomes real, true, because relationships, particularly student-teacher relationships, are complicated. Bea is at a moment in her life where she is in need of guidance as she is on the cusp of adulthood, and Dane is the person who opens her eyes to a path that she had convinced herself that she couldn’t travel down. Bea’s relationship with the men in her life (her father and brother) is a tense one, and at one point Bea even wonders if her fascination with Dane is because she has daddy issues. It is this thoughtful analysis that Bea has with her relationship with Dane, before they become intimate, is why I greatly enjoyed the novel. Bea is a character is who is fully aware of her issues and owns them. At no point is she pulled into the relationship with Dane; she enters an intimate relationship with him fully acknowledging all the risks and the consequences should they be found out. Olin did a masterful job in her creation of Bea, as she is a character we can relate to, and understand how and why she becomes involved with her teacher.

Despite my hesitation at the beginning, I really ended up enjoying Consent. Bea’s voice pulled me into the story and I connected with this girl who was hiding a large part of herself in order to please her family. Her relationship with her teacher does allow for Bea to find herself, to grow, and become the person she always wanted to be and for me, that is what made the novel, what made me accept Bea and Dane’s relationship.

On a side, much funnier note, Bea and her friend Plum call Dane “Kit Harrington” after the actor from Game of Thrones because Ohlin describes him in that manner. As a fan of Game of Thrones and Harrington’s character, I had a clear picture in my mind of what Dane looked like and every time either girl called him Kit, I couldn’t help but giggle. If you don’t know who Kit Harrington is, google him. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation: If you love morally complicated novels, go buy this book!

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Review: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal

Ms Marvel vol 1Title: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona
Genres: Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Superheroes
Pages: 120
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York! It’s history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (Runaways)!

Review: I decided to stray from strictly YA books for today’s review. Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal was my first foray into mainstream American comic books, and I’m thrilled to report that it was the perfect entry point for me. You don’t need to know several decades of comic book history to understand what’s going on; our heroine, Kamala Khan, is engaging; and the writing hits several of the best parts of an origin story.

Kamala is a Muslim Pakistani-American teenager who, in addition to suddenly acquiring shape-shifting powers, also deals with microaggressions, sexism, and a YA favorite: figuring out who you are. While the dialogue occasionally leans toward preachy, particularly in dealing with Zoe’s mix of insensitivity and meanness, there are several great moments where Kamala gains inspiration and support from her religion in order to go forward with various heroic actions. I also greatly enjoyed Kamala’s brand of geekery and humor. Several of my favorite origin story tropes pop up in this volume, including having the first big failure and needing to recoup in order to try again. I also enjoyed the mishaps and mayhem that Kamala inadvertently caused as she was getting used to her powers and superhero life.

I was less fond of the “strict immigrant parents” archetype, but G. Willow Wilson did a good job of giving Kamala’s father non-strict moments that were really quite lovely. I hope that in future installments, both Kamala’s father and mother (and her brother) will be able to branch out from primarily serving as obstacles to Kamala’s story and become better rounded characters. Kamala’s friends also felt a little underdeveloped, though they did have a promising assortment of building blocks for interesting personalities.

Artist Adrian Alphona made a strong showing in this first volume. While I occasionally had difficulty figuring out precisely how Kamala used her powers or movements in action sequences, the artwork enhanced the story. (Kamala has some great expressions, especially in comedic scenes.) Each important character is distinctive, and many of the locations are memorable. Alphona also hides some fun jokes/Easter Eggs in the artwork, and the many details help the world of Ms. Marvel feel grounded despite the shapeshifting heroics.

Recommendation: Buy it now. (In fact, I just bought the second and third volumes and pre-ordered the fourth.) Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal occasionally leans toward preachy and has some underdeveloped characters, but it is otherwise a delight. It’s a great place to jump into the Marvel comics universe.

Extras
9 Times Ms. Marvel Tackled Real Issues by Sofía Marlasca (spoilers for future issues)

Rebooted Comic Heroine Is An Elegant, Believable ‘Marvel’ by Etelka Lehoczky

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Review: The Weight of Feathers

The Weight of FeathersTitle: The Weight of Feathers
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pages: 320
Publisher: A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

Review: The Weight of Feathers is a beautifully written book that depends not only on a cast of memorable characters but also a vivid, magical world. I purchased this book because I needed something to read on a late-night, three-hour airplane flight, and it kept me entertained the entire time.

The star-crossed lovers setup can lose a lot of its punch when the feud appears ridiculous or is easily circumvented, but Anna-Marie McLemore neatly dodges that trap with the tension between the Palomas and the Corbeaus. With the “inciting incidents” for the feud within living memory for the bulk of each large, tightly knit family, the conflicts feel immediate and raw. Deaths, sabotage, serious injuries, assaults—many members of each family have been perpetrators, victims, or indirectly affected. So when Lace is “cursed” with a feather mark during the disaster at Almendro and gets kicked out of her family, it takes no small amount of courage for her to venture to the Corbeau camp to try to earn her way out of the curse.

McLemore’s strength in creating engaging characters is immediately apparent with our two protagonists, Lace and Cluck. Their circumstances and personalities are well crafted and the arc of their friendship and romance felt believable and appropriately complicated due to their feuding families. There are a number of memorable characters in the supporting cast, though Cluck’s grandfather is easily the most interesting. Due to Lace’s exile, getting to know the other Palomas is a little harder, but I appreciated how McLemore compared and contrasted the two families. It was particularly interesting to me that each family thought the worst of each other, yet both were more than willing to do horrible things to their own people.

While my experience with magical realism is limited, I was immersed in The Weight of Feathers. McLemore created a world where magic ranges from practically mundane things like pairs of mermaid scales on skin or feathers hidden in hair to curses to radical transformations. It feels both surprising and expected at the same time thanks to being grounded by characters who worry about less fantastical things like fitting in, becoming an adult, stage makeup, family abandonment, abuse, and rape.

The Weight of Feathers has a few flaws—luckily, this book hit me at a time where I was in the mood for this style of prose. I imagine others will not be as thrilled, but that is something that can easily be found out by reading the preview chapters on Goodreads. Also, initially I was a little disappointed with the ending confrontation, but upon a second reading of the final chapters, I found myself far more satisfied with it.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re a fan of magical realism or star-crossed romances. While The Weight of Feathers isn’t perfect, it is a strong, engaging work that serves as a great introduction to magical realism. I look forward to future works by McLemore.

Extras
Where Our Magic Lives: A Queer Latina on Magical Realism at Diversity in YA

Magical Realism & Culture: Author Anna-Marie McLemore at YA Interrrobang

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Review: Sorcerer to the Crown

sorcerer_front mech.inddTitle: Sorcerer to the Crown
Author: Zen Cho
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Publisher: Ace
Availability: September 1st, 2015

Summary: Magic and mayhem collide with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.  At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.  But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Zen Cho’s short stories are some of my favorites (if you haven’t read her anthology Spirits Abroad, you really should) — so I went into this book with very, very high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. While Sorcerer to the Crown doesn’t read like her usual fare — this is very Jane Austen meets post-colonial fantasy — it was absolutely wonderful.

Sorcerer to the Crown features Zacharias Wythe, adopted son of Sir Stephen, England’s sorcerer to the crown. When he inherits Sir Stephen’s staff (among other things), he steps into the trying role of being England’s first black Sorcerer Royal. Along the way, he runs into the orphan and incredibly practical, sort-of schoolteacher Prunella Gentleman, who has an important role in the fate of English magic.

Set in a fantasy version of Regency London, Sorcerer to the Crown reminded me in tone of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s writing. The novel perfectly balances the setting of high society in Regency London with the fantasy plot. So if you like novel of manners books, or you love a good fantasy, you’re in for a treat — especially if you want a fantasy that doesn’t fall into the “everyone is white, even the elves!” trap. It’s like getting a bowl with the perfect ratio of rice to curry, and then discovering that there’s a pork katsu hiding in the sauce.

The best part of Sorcerer to the Crown, to me, was how real it felt. Sure, it was fantasy, but the characters themselves, the infighting of England’s magical society, and the various systems of magic all conspired to make the story work. What I find unbelievable about a lot of fantasy and fiction in general is how England (or whatever Western country the book is set in) operates in isolation of the rest of the world, and completely ignores the role colonialism played in making such a society possible. Thankfully, in Zen Cho’s novel, just the opposite happens.

Zacharias and Prunella exist in fantasy England, and experience all the daily microaggressions, and straight-up racism and sexism that follow. Magic-users from other countries make appearances throughout the novel, bringing with them different relationships with magic and throwing into question the nature of England’s political relationship with other nations. My particular favorite is Mak Genggang, a fearsome grey-haired witch who sails in and out of the story, turning it on its head. (I nearly threw my book out of excitement when I first encountered her, but I was riding a train at the time, and restrained myself.)

COKy3g-UsAAj7At.jpg large (2)

Basically, what I’m trying to say is — Sorcerer to the Crown is an awesome fantasy. If you’re into Regency era fiction, or if you’re into good fantasy, then read this book. If you’re not, then you should still read this book. It’s lovely stuff.

Recommendation: Buy it now!
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