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SJ Reads: Harriet’s Halloween Candy

Published October 9, 2017 by admin

Alright, time to cutesie this thing back up.

You can’t have Halloween without candy, and if we’re being honest, then that’s just buckets and buckets of candy. So much candy. As a kid, I’d dream of getting enough Hallowen candy to swim in it like Scrooge McDuck in his money. I had some good hauls back in the day, and I’m ancient enough to remember when more than the ocassional person gave out full size candy bars and really special neighbors who we knew wouldn’t murder us would give us cookies and candy apples and stuff like that. My mom always had juice bottles for little kids, and through the years we made it a point to have non-food options decades before teal pumpkins were a thing.

And every year, I had to check out and read this book.

harriet

 

I don’t know if I identified with the being the older sibling aspect (which I’m not sure, because I didn’t start out life as the elder sibling – that didn’t happen til somewhat late in the game, considering). I don’t know if the detailed art just really appealed to me (I definitely loved looking at all the little details as a kid and identifying the types of candy).  Maybe it was because, for a kid’s book, Harriet struck me as a character who actually acted like the way I felt half the time.

The story is that Harriet goes trick or treating, but her baby brother is too young, so she has to share her candy. And of course she’s not going to because she worked hard for that, yo! After hiding it different places and getting worried, she decides that the only way to make sure she gets all her candy is to eat it all Right. Now.

You know where this is going.

The moment where she starts to feel sick and pivots towards sharing more is priceless – kids can see it coming from a mile away and giggle about it. The art is fun and friendly and accessible. I loved all of Nancy Carlson’s books growing up, but Harriet was my favorite character.

I got to hear her talk about her books as a teen (and she was kind and lovely.  However, by the time she got to our library for a signing she was freakin’ out of this book and I am STILL upset about that. I mean sure, I love Harriet and the Roller Coaster as much as anybody, but THIS WAS MY FAVORITE HARRIET BOOK AND A HALLOWEEN NECESSITY AND INNER CHILD SJ IS STILL SAD SHE DOESN’T HAVE A SIGNED COPY.

So obviously I learned the ‘sharing/letting other people have things you like is good’ lesson really well.

I actually checked this out last year, and like a lot of books from my childhood, I’m surprised by how short it is. I don’t know why I thought it was longer, but it seemed like this whole big thing when I read it as a kidlet. I tend to think part of it were the illustrations – I was much more prone to sprawling on the floor and immersing myself in picture books as a kid than I am now that I am…uh, not. And I think the funny moments just tickled me so much I probably just kept reading them.

So if you want a cute trick or treat down memory lane or want to see if your children learn to share better than I apparently did, definitely check out this book. 

 

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SJ Reads: Space Case

Published October 2, 2017 by admin

 

space case

 

It’s that glorious, wonderful, macabre, spooky, creepy, magnificent time of the year! And of course I’ll be reading creepy stuff all the way through it. For this month’s SJ reads, though, I thought I’d do something a little different and heap a big ol’ spoonful of nostalgia on this month’s pics (Don’t worry, I’ll likely throw in a few posts of horror stuff here and there, too, because it’s me).

Growing up, I loved Halloween books. It was hard for my mom to keep them designated to one time of year (and to her credit, she was adept at using them for bribes other times of the year). In remembering some of my favorites, it’s not that hard to see how I grew up to become the person I am. So let’s look at my cute/creepy title of the week!

Anyone who remembers Reading Rainbow should remember Space Case. I mean, anyone who was growing up in the eighties and in school at the time should remember it. This was one of the titles that my mom gave in and bought for me in the school book order program, and I was beyond ecstatic when it came.

It’s a simple story: A thing from outer space visits a boy while trick or treating. The boy passes the thing off as a friend, they get a lot of candy, and the next day the thing comes to the boy’s rescue at school. Still, the pictures are still quirky and plain fun – I found this in the basement a couple months ago while cleaning and admittedly fell into it again. There’s something really approachable about the work of Edward and James Marshall. It’s not too cutesy, it’s not mean, there’s just enough suspense for a little kid, and it’s fun. I think there is actually a follow-up book, but I can’t begin to tell you what it is off the top of my head.

I think this appealed to me because I really wanted some sort of strange adventure to happen while I was trick or treating growing up in the worst way. The thought of an alien just coming by to say hey and tagging along with me was just the greatest thing ever at the time. As an adult, it’s an admittedly quick read, but titles like this also make me slow down and appreciate the art more, appreciate the beats of the story more. I’m kind of in awe of children’s writers, because it takes a lot to tell a full story with so little. The pictures really remind me of something I’d want to be able to draw as a kid – they look approachable and not super hard (which I’m sure is deceptive), and they have a fun humor to them that invites you to sit and stare at the little details.

This title also still feels really Halloweeny to me, even with a distinct sci-fi vibe. Plus, it’s kind of cool how it doesn’t just end on Halloween but carries over into the next day – what kid doesn’t know the feeling of being tired and forgetting something at school after a night of trick or treating?

Whether you remember this from your own past or have kids, this is a super-cute, non-intense read for the season!

 

 

 

SJ Reads: 20th Century Boys

Published September 18, 2017 by admin

 

 

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I want to continue the theme this month of stuff I like, because it’s still my bday month, and I said so.

Take the kid-gang aspects of It or Stand by Me and plunk them in Japan. Add some flashbacks and time jumps and a cult. Throw in germ warfare, an attempt at killer robots, some maybe-ressurections, and possible aliens (though not really).

My friends (heh), if you haven’t read 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa, oh my gawd you are missing out.

This is probably tied for my favorite manga, definitely my favorite non-shojo manga. While so many in the form tangent and use subplots that feel like they’re buying time, this story makes everything work for it.

Disclaimer: I still have the last 2 end-cap volumes (titled 21st Century Boys), but because I don’t care about spoilers, I know the full ending, and I’m satisfied with it. I don’t know that any ending could match the immense build-up, but in this case I’m pretty at peace.

Kenji and his friends are pre-teens in 1969 Japan, and they spend a summer hiding out in their secret fort, avoiding bullies, dreaming about going to the World Expo, and making up stories about how they’d save the world from ultimate evil.

Jump to when the characters are in their 30s-40s, and they all have grown up, have typical jobs, and are somewhat dissatisfied with their lives. Kenji is running his father’s store with his mom and taking care of his niece, Kanna, after his sister dumps her off one night.

Then one of the old gang commits suicide. But does he?

And suddenly there is this person called Friend making waves and using the symbol that Kenji’s crew adopted as kids…and using their stories to slowly take over the world.

The first major arc deals with trying to figure out who is Friend, leading to a showdown on New Year’s Eve, 1999.

Time jump again, and this time Kanna is the lead, trying to continue on her uncle’s work while dealing with the appearance of strange abilities.

It’s impossible to convey in a post like this how cool this series is. For one, this is one of the rare ensemble pieces that I’ve read that really treats nearly all of the cast as equals. They all get screentime in some form. There are some bold, bold choices (Kenji, himself, disappears for a majority of the title, so a lot of what you’re learning about him is through flashbacks and people’s opinions and memories). The characters are just so good. Kanna embodies the teen girl in the apocalypse without making you want to hate her. The character of Otcho is so unbelievably badass I really want a spinoff with him. Even the typical “weaker” members like Yoshitsune get to do some awesome things. Characters that you think are just written off in the beginning show up again, you gain new insight through new additions…this is just SO well thought out I can’t stand it. Plus, the constant time-jumping back and forth between eras and past and present mean that a lot is constantly revealed and explained, so you’re never quite banking on one big reveal moment. It’s a pretty savvy move, and works well, especially in the medium.

While the way the world is conquered is unlikely to happen (and a lot is made of that, because hi, this is a group of people using the plans of 10-year-olds), it’s really fascinating to watch the motivation behind people in the Friends, and the reactions of typical citizens. I feel like the books get this so very, incredibly right in a lot of ways. And even if it’s not possible, it seems believable in this world.

For me, this does what titles like Deathnote don’t do: it keeps my attention and makes me really care about the people involved, as well as being a cool idea. You get your themes and rants and posturing, but it’s not so incredibly heavy-handed.

The only real down point to this series is that at times the pacing feels slow. I nearly put it down early on, but I’m here to tell you KEEP GOING. What really makes this sing is that all the little things that you think are slowing things down fit into important plot points later on. So it’s not necessarily a pacing problem as it is that there’s just so much IN this series.

This is also a title that really conveys the feeling of Japan at different points in time for me. I love the use of western music influencing Kenji throughout the whole thing. There’s one specific sequence where the boys are daydreaming about how they’ll be greeted at the UN for saving the world, and all you can see is their legs…if you’re familiar with the T-Rex song the series takes its title from, you can just hear it thrumming in rhythm to the panels. And then when this sequence is played out for real, the carpet is yanked out from under you in the best way. I still don’t know if it was a really sly, purposeful move or if it’s serendipity, but the first few lines of the song tell you a lot. And that’s all I’ll say.

The greatest thing for me is, though, that this is really a title about saving the world on your own terms. This isn’t more zombie fighting or a military-based fight series. These people (outside of Otcho) aren’t really action heroes, and if they are that doesn’t necessarily mean they get anywhere with those skills past a certain point. Kenji, himself, is banking on the power of his guitar and eventually finding an audience to save the world. And somehow, it all comes together.

I never would have believed this could work in a million years. I was totally proven wrong. Read this one. Trust me. It’s amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SJ Reads: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Published September 11, 2017 by admin

 

natsume

Today I want to hit another of my favorite, recent titles, this time in manga. While recovering from respiratory issues this winter and trying to deal with a case of sudden existential dread, I started reading a lot of manga again. I hadn’t really gone on a binge like that in years, and I was amazed at the different types of titles I was finding. The one closest to my heart at the moment, though, is Natsume’s Book of Friends. 

It’s nice to find a shojo title that isn’t romance-centric, and I really like the episodic feel of this one, too. Although there is some plot progression through the series, the author does a fantastic job of recapping the main issues of the series at the start of each volume, so you really could pick it up anywhere.

Natsume is an orphan who has been bounced from relative to relative and doesn’t have a lot of friends because people think he’s antisocial and weird. In reality, he can see and communicate with yokai (there’s a big debate as to what this term actually refers to, but think spirits and supernatural creatures/events). At the start of the series he’s moved in with relatives who are trying to connect with him, and is being hunted by yokai that have mistaken him for his deceased grandmother. It turns out that Reiko (his grandmother), trapped a lot of yokai by their names in a book. Natsume comes to the decision that he’s going to give these names back, so most of the series is him either attempting this or running from more predatory yokai. Pretty early in the series he runs into the yokai Marada, who he calls Nyanko-sensei because he tends to take the form of a lucky cat.

I really like how the foster parents in this series really want to include Natsume, and a good portion of the stories are him trying to relate to his family and his new friends at school, some of which, as it turns out, have also had interactions with the supernatural. The whole series has a nice, slightly autumnal/melancholy feel that really hits a nice nostalgia/coming of age vibe. Everything feels temporary as Natsume learns lessons the more he interacts with different people and spirits. He’s very much between two worlds, and there’s always the silent question lurking as to whether he’s going to have to choose one.

Nyanko-Sensei is also a brilliant character who provides a lot of quirky comic relief. Parts of these books are really just so funny (without feeling intrusive or out of nowhere), and it gave me a much-needed lift. He’s definitely my favorite character, and I love the differences in his art depending on which form he’s in. There’s always a lot of great banter between him and Natsume (he’s guarding Natsume until he can get the book for himself, in theory, though they grow to be friends as the series goes along). There’s also some interesting bits as new characters like several exorcists are introduced, and the sheer different personality types of various yokai are really nice. This is less like the booga booga style ghosts we’re used to, and more like they’re just separate entities, doing what they do and trying to figure out what their lives are now.

The artwork is gorgeous, and each volume is so easy to relax into. I’m at volume 19 so far, and it doesn’t look like it’s over yet, so that makes me extremely happy.

Get the first volume here

SJ Reads: Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things

Published September 4, 2017 by admin

 

courtney crumrin

So since September is my birthday month (I will take your adulations in the form of praise, reviews, and other related worship), this month’s SJ reads will cover stories that have really reached up through the nostrils and grabbed me by the soul.

Today, we look at the Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh.

It took a few years of reading book one, not finding it again, and tracking down the actual title to read the rest of the series to really figure out what this is. And wow. Just…wow. Although its aim is a YA audience, I fell in love.

The plot is Courtney and her yuppie moves in with her Uncle Aloysius, who lives in an upscale town. She’s the typical new kid being bullied up until the moment she tries to take a shortcut through the woods and her only friend gets eaten by a goblin.

Obviously, this thing was meant for me.

You see, Uncle A is actually a warlock, and through her own explorations, Courtney learns magic, herself.  There are a lot of fun tropes explored in new ways, and a lot of heartbreaking stories, as well, like Courtney trying to protect a simple forest creature caught between the woods and Faerie, a human torn between her own life and the one her heart yearns for, and the complex relationship between Courtney and her uncle. The whole town is secretly prosperous because of the witches and warlocks who run it, and there’s a lot of internal politics that are fascinating, too. The stories are grounded in amazing folklore, from changelings to Tommy Raw-head, to Goblin Town/Faerie, to a trip to eastern Europe where we run into werewolves and vampires. Everything slowly winds things up a notch and throws the relationship between Courtney and her uncle and their abilities to deal with emotions into question.

I love that a lot of different kinds of people are represented in this. I love that Courtney is somewhat unlikeable and you still pull for her. I love that a lot of your assumptions in the first book are suddenly turned in the last. I love that there are actual high stakes and permanent consequences. I love all the little asides that you catch if you’ve grown up reading folk and faerie tales. I just plain love it.

I also love the art and if I had money would totally have Ted Naifeh draw on all my walls, because now I want nothing more than to hang out with Butterworm and run around Goblin Town. I love most of his work, but he really, truly shines when he’s illustrating his own stories. It’s just such a whole other level it isn’t even funny.

Totally recommend this for middle school on up. If all you can find is the first volume, Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, it actually reads pretty much like it’s own thing. The other volumes run the gamut between being episodic and arcing more together as you go along.

Find the first volume here!

SJ Reads: Lucifer

Published August 14, 2017 by admin

At this point I figure most of the people who are reading this are going to at least be aware of Sandman. If you aren’t, let me know, and I’ll cover it in a later post. I’ve found, though, that at least within my own friend/writing circle, not as many people are familiar with Lucifer.

 

lucifer cover

Okay, calm down. Here’s the thing. If you’re familiar with the show, this is not that. If the whole religion in fantasy gets you hepped up, that’s perfectly cool. You don’t have to read it, like it, or agree with me. If that’s the case, you may want to skip this one.

For those who really are into dark fantasy and want a longer title that will take a while to get through, especially if you’ve already done Sandman and loved it, you’ll want to check this out. Picking up where Lucifer is running a piano bar with his Lilim companion Mazikeem, continuing the theme of being bored with the role he’s been cast in.

Things to know:

He is still manipulative and scheming and there is a lot of magical politics and entrapment, so he’s not altogether a hero in this series, even though he’s a protagonist. He definitely does things his own way and plays things hard and fast, and has to deal with the complications of that, even when he wins.

He’s less of the booga booga destroy humanity figure and more along the lines of trying to prove his views to his brother angels and God. At one point, they have to band together to save reality, which is an interesting experience.

Basically, through various machinations, Lucifer creates a side universe parallel to ours which has a lot of consequences and effects. The series also explores what machinations other angels have gotten up to, along with the desires of a living deck of tarot cards and the daughter of Michael, so there’s a lot going on. This is less good vs evil and more free will vs predestination and a whole lot of various characters trying to find their place in the universe(s). There’s a lot of separate adventure arcs, mythological figures, and a lot of interlocking pieces. People that show up in the beginning that you think are gone reappear, and the ending truly had me turning pages at a mad pace.

If you like how detailed and rich Sandman is, you’ll love this. If you like various mythologies being played with and combined, you’ll love this. If you like super entwining plots and really vivid art and dream-like storylines, this is for you.

This has been published in several forms – you’ll find volumes and books on amazon. I prefer by book because you have a lot of content that interconnects, and it’s easier to flip back if you think you’ve missed something.

Find book one here

Have you read this series? Like it better or less than the TV show? Who’s your favorite character or what’s your favorite part? Let me know!

 

 

Calling readers and reviewers!

Published October 5, 2016 by admin

 

OldeSchoolCoverFinal_650X433

Hey, remember that awesome book I wrote, Olde School? It’s currently up for grabs on the Juniper Grove Book Solutions Review Library, so if you request it you can read it for free in exchange for an honest review (Don’t let Clyde influence you. Please feel free to be honest).

paddlelump-review

Maybe not this honest

I’m still plotting out what comes next, but I’m extremely proud of that title and would love the word of mouth to keep going! So if you’re a book blogger, reviewer, or a reader who’s into quirky fantasy with a touch of horror, check it out!

All the info on how to request the title can be found here!

 

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More reviews makes my characters stop shilling for me, I swear