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Seriously, you should totally read this.


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The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale & LeUyen Pham

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Hale, S., Hale, D., & Pham, L. (ill.) (2014). The Princess in Black. Candlewick Press: Massachusetts. ISBN: 9780763665104

Annotation: When the monster alarm rings, Princess Magnolia jumps into action and transforms into her monster fighting alter ego, the Princess in Black!

Reaction: In this short beginning chapter book, the Hales introduce readers to the wonderful character of Princess Magnolia, who is a perfect, pink-wearing princess, until it’s time to kick some monster tush. Then it’s time for Princess Magnolia to don practical shorts, boots and a cape in black.

One of the best things about this book is the way Princess Magnolia embraces both sides of herself: the girly, super feminine princess and the strong, capable, monster-tush-kicking superheroine. I recently came across a great article about how it does a disservice to children and women to treat girliness as being less good than tomboyishness, and I think, in light of that, the Hales have done something remarkable here. This is a book that tells children that being feminine and wearing pink is great! And so is going out and saving the kingdom from monsters! The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and that’s a great lesson.

On top of that, the story is engaging and funny, and though this story is pretty brief, the Hales have managed to create fully realized characters and a world around them. The illustrations are bright and colorful and add a lot of whimsy and humor to the text.

I really, really hope there are going to be more adventures of Princess Magnolia/the Princess in Black. The Hales have only begun to scratch the surface in this one.

Media used: watercolor and ink

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website


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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Moriarty, L. (2014). Big Little Lies. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9780399167065

Annotation: Three women in a idyllic suburban neighborhood are dealing with different personal challenges as their children begin kindergarten, and they learn to lean on each other for support.

Reaction: So on the surface, this book is a mystery. It opens with interviews of the attendees of a Parent’s Trivia Night at the local elementary school where Something Has Happened, but we don’t know what yet. The main narrative arc then begins about six months before the Trivia Night, and leads us through all the events that led up to the Something That Has Happened.

But really? The mystery is secondary to the relationships between the three main characters, Madeline, Celeste and Jane, and what’s going on in each woman’s life. Which is not to say that I didn’t spend the entire book trying to guess what happened to whom, but I think this book really triumphs in it’s depiction of the friendships between adult women. In talking about this book with my own friends, that’s the one aspect that has been really refreshing; Moriarty’s characters rely on each other and become stronger through their friendship, and I don’t think that’s something you see very often in literature. And sure, Madeline is a little catty, but when it comes down to it, she’s all about supporting the women around her, even her nemesis.

On top of that, all of the characters in this book, even those we only see in their interviews and the entire class of five year olds, are all really well drawn and unique. There are a lot of characters in this book, and I think it would have been really easy for them all to become just part of the crowd, but by the end, Moriarty has told us significant details about every one.

On top of ALL that, this book was compellingly readable. I was listening to the audibook on CD in my car, and I found myself not only looking forward to long drives alone so that I could really dig into the story, but also sitting in the driveway listening because I had to find out what happened next. It was completely engrossing and emotional and funny, and oh my God, I want to be Madeline when I grow up. She’s the best. And there’s nothing I love more than when an author creates characters I want to hang out with.

Author’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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Rossi, V. (2012). Under the never sky. New York: Harper. ISBN: 9780062072030

Annotation: Aria has spent her entire life living in the Reverie Pod, having adventures in the virtual Realms. When she gets blamed for starting a fire in an abandoned section of the Pod, she’s exiled Outside and has to rely on an unfriendly Outsider to survive.

Reaction: With all the concern about boys not reading, I think this is a book that really would have crossover appeal for both boys and girls. The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Aria and Perry, giving the reader both the female and male viewpoints. There’s plenty of action as Aria and Perry travel across the barren, dangerous Outside. They have to fight off cannibals and wolves and avoid deadly Aether storms. And they have a romance that, in my opinion, develops naturally. And it’s nice that there’s no love triangle to deal with (why do we have to be excited about this?), though the shadow of the inevitable end of their romance adds a sense of urgency and sweetness to their love.

By the end of the book, Aria has really become a strong, courageous young woman, and I’m excited to read the next book in the series.

Author’s Website


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The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Gillen, K., & McKelvie J. (Ill.) The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 1: the Faust Act. Image Comics: 2014. ISBN: 9781632150196

Annotation: Every ninety years, twelve gods come back to earth. Two years later, they are dead. In 2014, Laura is obsessed with the recently returned pop star deities and will do anything to get close to them.

Reaction: This book is excellent if you, like me, love the mythologies of religions all over the world and enjoy seeing modern uses of ancient gods. They’re very like fairy tales in that way for me, and this book does some wonderful, modern things with these relatively obscure gods and goddesses. This is not to say that you have to be super into mythology to get this book; it would definitely appeal to urban fantasy and superhero comics fans, as well. Gillen & McKelvie have pulled a lot of things together to create something fantastic, all while using a diverse cast of characters, including a couple of gender bending deities. And seriously, their lady Bowie!Lucifer is inspired, and I cannot wait to meet the male Inanna (one of my favorite pre-Christian goddesses).

I really appreciate the story centering on Laura, and that we get this crazy escapade from the perspective of a normal girl. She really helps ground things into the “real world,” and it is completely wonderful that they use a lady of color for this pivotal role. I think the creative team has done a great job of reflecting the diversity of London (and I also really enjoyed the story’s skeptic pointing out that a white girl as a Japanese Shinto deity might be problematic). The writing in this is just so smart and witty, and the art fits so well with it.

My favorite thing about the art (and something that Gillen points out in his Writer Notes about the issues), is how McKelvie really captures facial expressions. There are some panels where the characters face conveys so much and is so perfect for that moment in the story. It’s subtle and completely awesome. But you know? The big moments are great, too. McKelvie and their colorist does a great job of giving those “holy shit is getting real!” moments the impact they deserve. And I love the juxtaposition of the quiet and the major. This is probably the kind of thing that it would be really easy to give your reader whiplash with, but pacing in this never feels frenzied to me.

I finished my first read-through of this on a plane, and it was everything I could do not to slam it down on my fold out tray in anguish at the thought of having to wait any length of time for the next installment. This is another one I’m debating about single issues vs. collected paperbacks. I absolutely love it, and I really don’t know that I can wait another 5 or 6 months for the next collected volume.

Author’s website, where you can read the “director’s commentary” on the individual issues of this (search for “Writer Notes”).

Illustrator’s website

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt! by Leslie Kimmelman

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Kimmelman, L., & Gustavson, A. (ill.) (2009). Mind your manners, Alice Roosevelt!. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN: 9781561454921

Annotation: Teddy Roosevelt could handle almost anything. Except his oldest daughter, Alice, who liked to break rules and get into mischief.

Reaction: This picture book is as much about Teddy as about Alice, but it did have some fun facts about the President’s daughter, including that she owned a pet snake at one point!

The art is detailed and reflects the mischievousness of Alice and the whole of Roosevelt family. Gustavson’s depictions of Alice and her family’s antics are really my favorite part of the book, making it a much more enjoyable read than the text alone.

This book is not quite as much fun as What To Do About Alice, which focused more on Alice’s exploits rather than her father trying to get her to behave, but it was a good read. I enjoyed the way it depicted the family, and I think it’s always fun to see “behind the scenes” in the lives of famous people.

Media Used: Oil on prepared paper

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website


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Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Pretty Deadly, vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios (ill.). (2014) Image Comics: ISBN: 9781607069621

Annotation: Young Sissy, the girl who wears a vulture’s skin, and blind Fox travel through the Western frontier making their living telling the story of Ginny, Death’s daughter, who rides the world doling out vengeance.

Reaction: I’m not sure why I never put two and two together before this, but, dang, do I love a graphic novel Western. Like, love. Adore. Wanna read them all. I love seeing different artists’ interpretations of my native land (I’m a desert girl, through and through), I love reading how authors incorporate the history and legends of a place into a new creation, and I absolutely adore cowboy iconography. Give me a good cowboy character in a story, and you pretty much have me, hook, line and sinker. So for that alone, this book was really going to appeal to me, and add in a woman writing team and a few kickass lady characters, and this book would have to actually legit suck for me to hate it. It doesn’t suck. I loved it. I wanted to eat it up and cuddle with it and linger over it.

I think DeConnick has written a really solid origin story with this volume, and I enjoyed the way Ginny’s mythology and Sissy’s life entwined. This was a great way to introduce a bunch of characters, who I hope will turn up again in future volumes, and to set up any future adventures Ginny has. I loved that the ladies really took the lead in this story, and except for blind Fox, the men pretty much took a backseat to the women. And while I hesitate to call this a multicultural title, DeConnick does give a pretty meaningful role to Sarah (is that her name? I don’t have the book in front of me and nothing I’ve found on The Internet mentions her), Fox’s black lady-friend, who also happens to be a total badass. I hope future volumes include even more diverse characters.

The art in this is also fantastic. Rios does a great job bringing the desert to life and Jordie Bellaire’s colors (another lady on this team, woot!) are crazy good. All the art is lush and detailed and really helps draw you into the story, and I found the team’s use of panels (lots of small panels indicating rapid movement and long narrow ones to pick out pivotal moments) really propels you through the many action sequences. My only complaint is that Rios (or someone) is a huge fan of the EXTREME CLOSEUP, and I feel like at least once very two page spread there was a panel or two drawn really close into whatever’s happening. Unfortunately, it almost starts to feel like one of those “Do You Know What This Is?” games where stuff is really highly magnified and looks completely alien; most of the time I could not tell what was happening in those close up panels. Thankfully, the surrounding panels usually did a good job of giving me an idea of what was happening, but it was off-putting and pulled me out of the story every time it happened.

Overall, this was a great read, and I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next. I also think it would be really interesting to compare this Western to another Western from Image East of West, which also uses Death as a character. This is a book I would give to adults or older teens who love Westerns, fantasy or strong heroines. (I wish more people would ask me for graphic novel recommendations; there are SO MANY goods ones out right now!)

Author’s website

Illustrator’s Flickr

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Image from Goodreads.com

Image from Goodreads.com

Carson, R. (2011). The girl of fire and thorns. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062026484

Annotation: Elisa is God’s Chosen One. She is also a terrible princess, fat, and married for political alliance. When she is kidnapped by zealots, she has to figure out how she can help save the kingdom.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book, and Elisa has a great voice. I love how frank she is and how determined she is to become a good queen. Carson does a great job of showing the atransformation Elisa goes through to become a leader, and though she does go through a physical change, the biggest changes are mental and start even before her appearance changes.

And while there is some aspect of romance in the story, it is almost incidental to the rest of the plot. I was a bit concerned when Carson seemed to be setting up a love triangle, but let me tell you, she took care of that in the most shocking way I’ve ever seen.

I want to read the rest of the series, and I hope that they are as enjoyable as this one.

Author’s Website