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Relish: My Life in the Kitchen – Review + Giveaway

2 Apr

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, the latest comic book memoir from Lucy Knisley, recalls her childhood growing up in New York City and New York’s Hudson Valley, her foreign travels, and her college years in Chicago, surrounded by delicious food. Knisley’s mother was a chef (and farmer’s market champ), her father was a culinary connoisseur, her uncle owned a gourmet food store in New York City, and many family friends were also deeply immersed in the culinary world. Not surprisingly, Knisley has strong taste-memories and in Relish: My Life in the Kitchen she explores various moments from her 28 years of life as framed by her diverse culinary experiences. These memories are interspersed with recipes (about one per chapter) for “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies”, Huevos Rancheros, Shepard (Fairey) Pie, and more tasty sounding meals and treats (and one alcoholic beverage) that connect with the stories/moments shared in the given chapter. It’s not just taste-memories explored here, though they are plentiful, but also memories of changing relationships, getting used to a new home and new way of living, and how our experiences shape us.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen made me feel nostalgic for all my own taste memories. There were several experiences shared in Relish that resonated particularly strongly with me—being the kid who never got to eat “junk food” at home but managed to get it elsewhere, wanting desperately to recreate a favorite food and failing miserably. I also love that a good portion of the book is set in the Hudson Valley, where I’ve spent 15 years of my life – even my favorite indie book store and theater make appearances! While there isn’t much of a story arc, more of a general age progression, Knisley still managed to pull me in and keep me engaged with her food-centric coming of age stories and her humorous and heartfelt visual storytelling. Her brightly colored illustrations are warm and inviting, and each page offers much to explore both visually and textually.

Graphic novel memoirs and food memoirs seem to have solidified their places in the publishing world. With Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, Knisley ties these two popular areas of storytelling together effectively and rather joyously. This is the second First Second release that I have read that included recipes, but it is the first that made me realize how much I would love a graphic novel cookbook. More please!

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: First Second (April 2, 2013)
Note: Review copy received from publisher

And now for the giveaway! I just so happen to be going to a stop on Lucy Knisley’s Relish Book Tour later this week, where I’m planning to pick up at least three signed copies (one for me, one for my library, and one for YOU!). Enter to win a copy below!

One winner will be chosen at random on April 9, 2013 to win a copy of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 15 years of age or older (I’m going with the publisher’s suggested age range for this one). Winner will be contacted by email.

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The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook

10 Mar

Shaun Tan is best known for his unique and touching wordless graphic novel, The Arrival, and the three story collection, Lost and Found. Through his surreal illustrations and visual storytelling he explores themes such as immigration, colonization, depression, discovery, and friendship. The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook is a peek inside his creative process and his artist notebooks. The book features short essays by Tan introducing collections of images grouped by theme including untold stories; book, theater, and film; drawings from life; and notebooks. In one of the introductory essays, Tan writes:

“My stories generally begin with images rather than words, modest sketches drawn in a fairly aimless way. One of the joys of drawing is that meaning can be constantly postponed, and there is no real pressure to ‘say’ anything special when working privately in a sketchbook. Nevertheless, interesting or profound ideas can emerge of their own accord, not so much in the form of a ‘message,’ but rather as a strangely articulated questions. A scene or character seems to look back from the page and ask, ‘what do you make of this?’ A drawing feels successful to me when it is both clear and ambiguous, something I try to underscore by adding an equally ambiguous title. While there is no set meaning in any of these drawings, there is an invitation to seek one (for myself as much as any other audience).”

This is really how I “read” this book – open to ambiguity and constantly asking myself, “what is happening here?” Because the images have limited text attached to them – the ambiguous title he mentioned in the above quote, a footnote perhaps at the end of the book – the reader can explore the image and create their own meanings, their own stories. It is rather thrilling. For those familiar with Tan’s work, images in the “book, theatre, and film” section will likely be familiar, and the footnotes often prove especially interesting here. The book is rather small in shape, especially in contrast to other Shaun Tan books, and so while the content feels well suited for a place at the coffee table, it stands out as something quite different. While the main audience for this book will likely be those already familiar with (and enamored with) his work, I believe that this book will also appeal to those interested in the artistic process or who are looking for some creative inspiration.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (February 2013)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review

Review + Giveaway: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

21 Oct

Callie loves musical theater, but she’s a horrible singer. That doesn’t stop her from taking part in her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi though! Callie is a proud and dedicated member of the Eucalyptus Middle School stage crew. As the newest set designer, Callie strives to make this year’s production the best one yet. But with a low budget and as much drama offstage as on, will Moon Over Mississippi be the drama club’s biggest hit or their biggest flop?

Callie is such a cool protagonist. She’s incredibly enthusiastic about musical theater. The look of sheer excitement on her face after taking notes on her ideas for the staging of Moon Over Mississippi says it all. This girl loves working stage crew and isn’t scared to dream big. When the crew is told that they need to think reasonably about set design given their budget, she takes on the challenge of making things work by becoming a set designer (having previously only painted sets) and gets to work on perfecting a prop cannon complete with special effect confetti explosion. Callie knows how to surround herself with great people – from her costume designer friend Liz, to her new buds, twins Jesse and Justin, who become her constant companions and one of whom becomes her new crush. She also has very cool hair.

Drama is a fun, sweet, adorable read. The characters are diverse and memorable, there are plenty of surprises, and there is a nice balance between the fun times and the more serious moments of growing up and working as a team. While obviously targeted at middle grade readers, I think Drama will be appreciated by teens and adults as well as some mature younger readers. I read it in one sitting the second my eGalley request was granted and then read it again when my tween radio co-hosts wanted to talk about it on their show (you can listen to that show here), and I enjoyed it immensely both times. I now own a finished copy (in full color! ooooh! pretty!) so that I can read it again someday or share it with friends. Speaking of sharing with friends, see giveaway details below!

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Editor: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Graphix (September 2012)
Note: eGalley received from publisher for honest review

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Cannot Wait! So much DRAMA!

22 Aug

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that bloggers are eagerly anticipating. And this Wednesday, among the many books that I am “waiting on”, I want to highlight a book that I’ve already read and loved: Drama by Raina Telgemeier. Why am I waiting on it if I’ve already read it? Well, since reading Drama back in June, I’ve been dying to put copies into the hands of young readers, so that I can make people smile like these fine ladies (my radio co-hosts)!

I’m also excited to see the graphic novel in full color, as the ARC was mostly black and white. Raina has a fun #DRAMADAY contest in the works too. Check out the info on her website! In the meantime (just another week!), enjoy the cute trailer from Scholastic:

Between the Lines

27 Jun

I liked thinking that whatever Delilah and I had between us was so strong that there was no boundary between the true and the imagined, the book and the Reader. I liked the idea that although I started my life as a figment of someone’s imagination, that didn’t make me any less real. (Prince Oliver, p. 165)

Delilah is a bit of a loner. She spends more time reading a children’s fairy tale book than she does interacting with other teenagers. Prince Oliver is a character stuck in a book – the very same fairy tale book that Delilah is enamored with. He’s tired of running through the same scenes over and over again, not being able to make his own choices and being confined to the world created by the author. When Oliver manages to make contact with Delilah, the two of them become determined to find a way to free him from the pages.

Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha van Leer wrote Between the Lines together side-by-side. While Picoult is likely the big draw here for most readers (there is a reason her name is in the largest font on the book spine and cover), the main draw for me was the involvement of her teenaged co-author and the fun story concept. Of course, for a debut teen author I’m sure it doesn’t hurt having a seasoned and well-respected author as your co-writer!

The story is told through alternating chapters from the perspectives of Delilah and Oliver, and scenes from the fairy tale story, also called Between the Lines. I love the concept of a special book whose characters are simply acting out the scenes written for them and who do their own thing when the book is closed. I love the idea that one of these characters might want to leave that world for another and that an invested reader might be a potential ally and love interest. Our main characters, Oliver and Delilah, are pretty immediately likable which makes joining them on their journey a breeze. And the world of the fairy tale book (the one that exists when the book is closed) is a curious place that was fun to dive into.

While I became invested in Oliver and Delilah and the challenge at hand quite easily, it took me a while to get a handle on the story’s tone and some of the characterizations. There is a goofiness at times in the storytelling that surprised me in ways that made it difficult for me to settle in. For example, modern day elements show up in the fairy tale story (fire extinguisher, megaphone, braces, etc) and there are unusual mini-conflicts that arise such as a horse who won’t leave his stable because he has a zit (although we all know that to the horse with the zit, this conflict doesn’t feel so small). The story has a playfulness reminiscent of The Princess Bride or Pixar movies and recognizing this helped me join the fun and stop worrying if the unusual fairy tale world made sense.

One thing that stands out about this book is the design.  There are full page color illustrations by Yvonne Gilbert that appear every few chapters which are presumably illustrations from the fairy tale book that Delilah is so fond of. These illustrations are lovely and introduce us to the world of the fairy tale and to our handsome prince. Picoult has described Gilbert’s work in Between the Lines as reminiscent of the work of Arthur Rackham, which is an immense compliment and I must say well-deserved. The book also incorporates black-and-white silhouettes throughout the text created by Scott M. Fischer. While eye-catching and frequently charming, the silhouettes didn’t add to the story for me (with some notable exceptions). Unfortunately, the images were incorporated into the page design in ways that often made them feel like “clutter” (as far as clutter goes this was of the more welcome variety). This element of the book design may be more of a draw for younger readers, but for me it felt a bit much at times. Similarly, I did not need the change in font and font color that accompanied the changes in perspective. I appreciate that the book designers were trying to make something special here – a treasure of a book – but I wish they had taken a more subtle approach.

Picoult is a popular adult author and it is likely because of this that I’ve come across suggestions for librarians and booksellers to shelve this title in both adult and YA sections. I’m not sure that I’m convinced though. While I think some adult readers, like myself, will enjoy this cute story, it definitely reads more in the middle grade to YA spectrum. I would suggest this book without reservation to tween readers who are beginning to explore the YA section and to teen readers (and select adults) who are looking for a fun, sweet, and playful fantasy novel.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer
Publisher: Emily Bestler Books/Atria/Simon Pulse (June 26, 2012)
Note: Review copy sent from publicist for honest review

Side note: Prince Oliver was named after one of their family pets. Seriously, how cute is that?!

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes

14 May

What is in the box? This question is the uniting force in this collection of stories from comic artists Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Jason Caffoe, Emily Carroll, Stuart Livingston, Johane Matte, and Rad Sechrist. With each story, the reader is introduced to a different artist’s style and to a different mystery box. The boxes hold all manner of things, from a traveling sorceress to a message from the dead. Some of the boxes cause trouble, some bear messages or gifts. Some of the tales are creepy, some goofy, and some thought-provoking.

The collection starts off strong with Emily Carroll’s Under the Floorboards, in which a young girl follows a tapping sound to a box beneath the floorboards in her bedroom. Within the box is a wax doll, who at first seems a blessing but eventually becomes a curse. The collection hits another high note with Rad Sechrist’s The Butter Thief, in which grandma has caught and buried a butter-thieving spirit. When her granddaughter digs up the box and opens it she is turned into a spirit herself. In exchange for turning her back to normal, the spirit wants more butter, but will she be able to get past grandma? And then wrapping up the collection impressively is Kazu Kibuishi (also the editor of this whole shindig) whose story, The Escape Option, is unsurprisingly beautiful and poignant, despite being a mere moment of a clearly larger story.

I’m a sucker for themed collections, so I had high hopes for this book and am happy to say that my hopes were realized. The seven stories are diverse both visually and emotionally, and the gimmick never wears thin. Of the seven stories, there is only one that I felt wasn’t up to par, with a preachy*, melodramatic feel that felt forced especially given the short space the artist was allotted. All in all, though, this is a solid collection and a fun, quick read.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi (full list of authors above)
Publisher: Amulet Books (March 2012)

*in defense of the preaching, the message is legit.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

22 Apr

When 18 year old Frankie Pratt graduates from high school, her mother gives her a blank scrapbook as a graduation gift. She wants to be a writer and the scrapbook will be her first story. Armed with her father’s old Corona portable typewriter, she tells her own story as she searches for love and success in the 1920s. Her story takes her from Cornish, New Hampshire to Vassar College to Greenwich Village to Paris via third class cabin on the Mauretania and back to New Hampshire again.

Frankie almost doesn’t make it out of New Hampshire. Offered a half-scholarship to Vassar upon graduation but unable to afford the remaining $500 in tuition, Frankie opts to stay at home and pursue nursing certification instead. She takes on work as a nursing aide for Mrs. Pingree, a rich elderly woman in town, whose 30 year old son Jamie takes a liking to Frankie (and she to him). When her mother brings their affair to the attention of Mrs. Pingree, Frankie’s tuition is paid for and off to Vassar she goes. At Vassar, she dates boys from Yale, struggles to pass her exams, and finds outlets for her writing. A meeting with Vassar grad (Class of 1917) and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay leads her to Greenwich Village upon graduation, where she struggles to find work in publishing and falls for a man she met during her Vassar days. Her search for success and love eventually takes her across the Atlantic to Paris, but when circumstances require that she return home to New Hampshire, she finds what she has been looking for all along.

Caroline Preston’s love for vintage scrapbooks and ephemera, and her previous work as an archivist, shines through in The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. Each page contains a treasure trove of photographs, magazine clippings, ticket stubs, maps, letters, candy wrappers, and other items that help Frankie tell her story and introduce readers to what life in the 20s was like for a young, single, female, aspiring writer. While Frankie’s journey is an exciting story in itself, what I found most interesting was exploring the items and the composition of each page, and being introduced to a period of time in somewhat familiar places (I grew up in NH, went to Vassar, and have spent time in NYC and Paris). Frankie is an exciting protagonist. Her success is not served to her on a silver platter. She works hard, she stumbles, she succeeds, she loves, she plays, and she creates. She’s brave, albeit sensible, in both matters of career and the heart. And she is an amazingly talented and committed scrapbooker! This Alex Award winner is an impressive work on many levels and is sure to delight readers of historical fiction as well as those who enjoy a bit of visual storytelling and exploration.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Caroline Preston
Publisher: Ecco (October 2011)

Picture The Dead

14 Apr

Picture the Dead is a work of historical fiction, a victorian gothic ghost story, a mystery, and a scrapbook all in one. Taking place during the American Civil War, and during the early years of the Spiritualist Movement, Picture the Dead tells the story of Jennie Lovell, a young woman who has experienced great loss in her young life. Orphaned and forced to live with uncaring relatives, she loses her twin brother Tobias in the war and at the start of the story, learns that Will, her cousin/fiance (this was done back in the day after all), will not be returning home either. When her cousin Quinn, Will’s brother, returns home she hopes to find answers to her questions about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Will’s death. What she gets instead are more questions. When her family attempts to connect with their lost son through a spirit photographer, Jennie begins to believe that Will’s ghost is trying to tell her something through the prints. With a new romance blooming, will she be able to move forward or will she remain haunted by the past?

This isn’t your classic mystery. There are no detectives involved and the pacing of the investigation is fairly calm. There may be ghosts. There are plenty of secrets ripe for discovery that have little to do with the initial mystery. The historical element is subtle as well. While we gain access to a particular place and time, and are given plenty of material to inspire further research, Griffin doesn’t inundate the reader with history lessons or issues that are hard for contemporary audiences to relate to (cousin love aside). I appreciate subtlety.

Jennie Lovell is a strong and in many ways classic protagonist. Orphaned, living with cruel or otherwise unwelcoming guardians, living in poverty under the guise of wealth, and forced to move to an attic room upon the death of her fiance, she’s that character that you can’t help but root for. She’s independent, smart, inquisitive, and brave. Jennie’s scrapbook, as illustrated by Lisa Brown, serves both as additional insight into her as a character and also helps fuel the mystery.

While Adele Griffin’s writing is rich with detail and flows beautifully, as per usual, it was Lisa Brown’s artwork that initially drew me in. I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the paperback cover with Lisa Brown’s artwork caught my eye and after a quick flip through, I knew this book was for me. While the story could stand on its own without the scrapbook illustrations, they definitely added a special touch. Having a visual element also ties in nicely with the focus on spirit photography, which was one of the most interesting aspects of the story for me.

For additional exploration, I highly suggest the Picture the Dead blog, which features posts on the real-life 19th century models for the characters in the novel and an introduction to the history of spirit photography.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adele Griffin
Illustrator: Lisa Brown
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (Hardcover May 2010, Paperback February 2012)

Chopsticks (review + giveaway)

3 Apr

CHOPSTICKS is a novel, an app, a website. It is a collage of original drawings, objects, text, sounds, and video. It is a love story. It is a mystery. Read it. View it. Experience it. CHOPSTICKS was born out of the desire to tell a story with multiple medias, without losing the fundamental truths which make reading fiction an emotional human experience.

After the death of her mother, Glory immersed herself in her music. Her father raised her on Chopin and Shostakovich, with rigid daily schedules, and performances in grand venues around the world. But now Glory, piano prodigy, has gone missing. As we flash back to the year and a half leading up to her disappearance, we also meet Frank, the young man who moves in next door. Glory begins to lose herself in Frank’s artwork and late night instant messages. He becomes at once her main connection to the world and her escape from it. When she and her father head off on her first international tour, her grip on reality weakens and eventually she finds it hard to play anything other than the Chopsticks Waltz. As we inch closer and closer to the day of her disappearance, we must contemplate how real Glory’s reality is, how much is imagined, and where exactly Glory has disappeared to?

What a treat this book is! I never realized how much I needed a YA coffee table book until Chopsticks made its way to my home. Now, I can’t imagine life without one. I doubt the authors intended for this book to be considered a coffee table book, but the shape of the book and attention to design make it a good fit. Chopsticks is lovely and it’ll be fun to watch guests casually flip through it. Perhaps they’ll even dive deep into the mystery.

I love books that tell stories with images. Chopsticks is not a wordless picture book, but the images do take charge. There is so much to explore on each page and sometimes even off the page (Glory and Frank share YouTube web links in their instant messages that a reader can look up online). While the story is told more or less in a linear fashion, once I made it to the end, it was fun to flip to random pages and try to piece together the mystery. The story is bittersweet. The relationship between Glory and Frank is adorable and evokes memories of first loves, but it’s clear that Glory is lonely and cut off from most of the world despite how much of the world she has seen. There is a bit of an open ending to the story, which may encourage readers to head back and explore for clues of both what happened and what may happen next. And for those who can’t get enough of the experience or want to try out something a little different, there is also a Chopsticks App, which features the same story and images, but with added video, songs, and digital links to make for a unique reading experience. The official website is also worth checking out if you want to sample images from the book and see some of the videos Glory and Frank IM about.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Publisher: Razorbill (February 2012)
Note: Review copy received from publicist for honest review.

Thanks to Big Honcho Media and Penguin group, we have a copy of Chopsticks to give away to one lucky winner! To enter fill out this form. Prizing & samples courtesy of Penguin Group. One winner will receive a copy of Chopsticks. Giveaway open to US mailing addresses only

Buffy is back!

14 Sep

And I don’t mean Ringer, though I did watch it and, well, it was nice to see SMG onscreen again.

If you thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended back in 2003 when the Sunnydale Hellmouth officially closed for business, you are missing out on some wild wild times in the Season 8 comics. And today, the first issue (or episode, as my friends and I call them) of the Season 9 series was released with stunning covers by (left to right) Jo Chen, Georges Jeanty (who is also a penciller for the series), and Steve Morris. I pre-ordered the Steve Morris edition and so am waiting patiently for it to arrive in my mailbox. These really are the good mailbox days.

For those who want to avoid any spoilers for Season 8, avoid eye contact below. For those who want to know what to look forward to, check out the official product description from Dark Horse:

Season 8 ended with a bang when Buffy cut the world off from the hell dimensions and all supernatural influence. Great, right? Except Buffy has left her best friend, Willow, powerless, and ended the long line of vampire slayers, leaving her hated by the hundreds of girls who recently stood behind her. Newly relocated to San Francisco, Buffy can count on a fresh start, and focus on what she’s good at–slaying.

After a summer marathon Buffy rewatch* and rereading the Season 8 comics, I have to say that I’m most interested to see where the writers take Willow and how the friendship between her and Buffy develops. At the end of Season 8, Willow is left powerless, after Buffy rids the world of magic. How will she deal? How will this affect her relationship with Buffy? And how will she get her power back (because we all know that will happen at some point, right)?

    Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #1 – Freefall Part 1
    Writer: Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss
    Penciller: Georges Jeanty
    Inker: Dexter Vines
    Cover Artists: Jo Chen, Georges Jeanty, & Steve Morris
    Publisher: Dark Horse
    Publication Date: September 14, 2011 (today! yay!)

*a special thanks to Nikki Stafford of Nik at Night and all her guest bloggers during the Great Buffy Rewatch (still going strong) whose blog makes me feel all smarty-pants while I watch TV and to my good buddies Mary Ellen and Dan who are the only people I know who will play the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Board Game that many times while watching that many episodes (y’all are special).