The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

The Kiss of Deception is a fluffy read for those who like their heroines energetic, if a bit self obsessed. It feels like a concept book – one where the author decided to write a story based upon everyone lying about who they are – and are not. As such, the story and characters are flat and the story doesn’t feel fleshed out beyond that concept.  At heart, it’s a girl who runs from responsibility, lies to everyone, and vacillates between two boys in an insta-love triangle.

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Story: Princess Lia abruptly decides to run away right before an arranged marriage ceremony to a prince of a neighboring kingdom. The wedding was to strengthen both kingdoms against invasion and save her people. With a maid as companion, she runs to the maid’s village and takes a job as a waitress at an inn.  The prince she was to marry and an assassin also chase her and end up at the village.  Each lies about their identity though the boys know that Lia is the princess. They get to know each other until the assassin boy decides he will kidnap her and the prince will follow them.

I had a hard time with the believability of the story. For one, the prince, her brother, and an assassin can all track her just fine but no one else in the kingdom thinks to look at the maid’s village despite the fact that the princess only left with the maid?  And if you are trying to lay low, why take the most high profile position at any place – the inn waitress. The worldbuilding is odd – a post apocalyptic future where people remember e readers but no one has any technology at all. It’s a medieval future where plastic has been eradicated? It just doesn’t make sense.

The characters are hard to like as well.  All the deceptions really underlie shallows and selfish reasoning.  How to like a girl willing to get so many killed just because she doesn’t want the responsibility of an arranged marriage?  Or the prince and assassin who spend days and days getting to know her instead of doing either of their duties? It all felt like a poorly plotted CW TV show with excessive drama over nothing.

This does skew young and really is about the romance rather than the plot. The gimmick is that we don’t know which is the prince and which is the assassin.  As Lia begins to gravitate to one of the boys, we’re left guessing which she chose. But honestly, I didn’t wish her on anyone or really care which of the boys she chose.  Absolutely no one took anything seriously in the book and the self centered characters exacerbated the situation.

I’m sure there are many who will like this based solely upon it being a romance.  For me, I need more in a story.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Cardboard honestly left me a bit ambivalent. On the one hand, the art is fantastic – lovingly drawn in hues of brown and beige to represent the cardboard theme. But on the other hand, the messages are either dropped with blunt force or riddled with inconsistency. So while I enjoyed the book, I was also very frustrated by the story as well.

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Story: Young boy Cam is a good kid whose family can’t catch any luck. His father can’t find a job and the local snob neighbors torment him endlessly. When his father has less than a dollar for a birthday present for his son, he comes across a vendor who sells him a ‘magical’ cardboard box. Together, father and son make a ‘boxer’ out of the box and enjoy the small things in life such as having each other. But the boxer mysteriously comes to life the next day and starts talking/punching. When Cam hits upon the idea of making a ‘magic cardboard’ maker out of the rest of the birthday present box, things will soon get out of hand as more and more crazy creatures come to life with the endless supply of magic cardboard. The neighbor boys will soon be fighting for their life and Cam, the cardboard boxer Bill, and his father may be the only hope the town has.

I really enjoyed the progression of the story – it didn’t go where I thought it would. But at the same time, I wish the tone had been consistent throughout. E.g., the message that Cam is a good kid and that’s why fate does him a good deed by giving him a magic cardboard box is negated by the obnoxious way that Cam taunts his rival neighbor with the magic. Cam was just as vain and obnoxious as the rich boy so it is hard to sympathize with him after that. As well, the book has an arc about the father getting over the death of his wife by embracing the next door neighbor unwed young woman who obviously likes him. But then the authors make her over the top annoying, cliche’d emotional wreck female, and someone we really do NOT want him to use as a way to move on.  If anything, we want to tell the father to run the other way! As well, the vendor and his warnings were grossly underused and pretty much forgotten (E.g., the father was supposed to return the scraps but never did and there were no consequences at the end). So the ending solved the immediate problem but never completed the overall arc of explaining why their was a magical vendor in the first place.

While I was dealing with the mixed messages and uneven writing, I did enjoy reading this very male/boy oriented book. It could have been very predictable (and in some ways, as with the lessons learned by the bratty rich kid neighbor, it was). It did keep me entertained until the end.

The art is great – very interesting in a fun cartoonish way. The drawings are clean and easy to interpret the action. The text boxes were large and easy to read. I enjoyed the style and wanted to look at every single panel.

In all, although I enjoyed the story and art, the muddled messages and misogyny kept this from being a 5 star read for me.

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Meteor Men by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell (Illustrations), Kevin Volo (Illustrations)

Meteor Men is a beautifully presented, engaging, and sophisticated graphic novel featuring a perfect marriage of story and art. I was greatly reminded of the movie “The Iron Giant” due to this title’s distinct style, sense of adventure and wonder, underlying message, and appeal for both children and adults. If but for a somewhat abrupt ending, this would be a perfect title.

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Story: When a group of kids go outside to see a yearly meteor shower, they are stunned when one of the meteors lands nearby. Alden, a somewhat lonely and introspective tween, saw the meteor land on his property and tracked it down. What he and the other kids find is a meteorite, split in half, and hollow in the center. Soon, Alden discovers that meteors landed all across the world and both educational and government entities want the meteor fragment on his property. Then Alden sees an alien – and he realizes there was a reason the center of the meteor was empty. Suddenly, everything changes as he begins to communicate with the alien, discovery a fearful truth about their reason to be on Earth, fend off the government, and fight to retain control of the meteorite.

The art was beautifully rendered in full color and clean line drawings. It was so perfectly suited for the story that I could not imagine any other artist doing more justice to the plot. I was hooked from the very beginning of the story and could not put it down; I had to see what adventure the author was going to take me on with main character Alden. Although it may seem Alden is the ‘hero’ of the story, there are actually several characters who interact with him and, for once, the adults are not always the enemy.  The underlying messages means this is a book you’ll want to read several times.

The story felt very original and the author made some very interesting moral observations that didn’t club the reader over the head. Alden isn’t a wide-eyed innocent and has to think his way through the plot. That he is older and has to deal with teen drinking and the death of his parents mark this as a much more mature story than with The Iron Giant movie. The author builds the mystery slowly and assuredly and the book never drags in the middle.

This is an excellent graphic novel featuring sophisticated art and an original story. Although the ending felt a bit abrupt, the story had a defined arc and completed within this volume. This is one of those rare books without pretension and whose story appeals to many ages and genres.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Can I Tell You about Anxiety? by Lucy Willetts, Polly Waite, Kaiyee Tay

Can I Tell you About Anxiety is a fairly short, pamphlet type mini book meant as an introduction to begin the process of dealing with anxiety issues for a child. It is not a self help book.

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An avatar character named Meg discusses anxiety, from types with examples to how to get medical help. Although meant to be conversational in tone, it is very heavy on clinical words and dauntingly huge paragraphs that honestly make it a chore to troll through for a child.  I had my 11 year old read this and I got the impression she only understood 1/10 of what said and that it was excruciatingly boring to read.  Mostly, only the examples are what she remembered (e.g., being afraid to go upstairs for fear of a terrorist attacking you up there or your mom dying). I feel that making the book a bit longer by shortening nearly every paragraph would have made the book far more accessible.

While I applaud not talking down to kids, I do also think you have to talk to kids, rather than above them. My 11 year old wasn’t impressed with the ‘conversational tone’ and felt the information inside could be better presented in shorter, friendlier, less clinically approaches. For me, I was reminded of scientists or doctors who think they are talking on a kid’s level but really never make a connection with that child.

The book is in preparation for professionally administered CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) as a solution and isn’t really meant as a home-based answer book. It’s purpose is just to introduce different behavior issues so kids can identify with their own anxieties. Unfortunately, it means they have to troll through a lot of non-related anxieties first (e.g., my 11 year old may fear sharks or monsters in the basement but she has no fear at all being alone upstairs or that her mom died in a car crash if I’m 5 minutes late to pick her up at school).

Of note, this is a British book so you will find terms such as ‘mum’ instead of ‘mom’ for American kids. And while I am not sure how efficacious the book is, it certainly is worth investing in as a parent guides their anxious child toward treatment.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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Dave Dorman’s Wasted Lands Omnibus

Dave Dorman’s Wasted Lands is definitely a treat for fans of this artist. But those new to his work (such as myself) may be a bit mystified by this odd collection, a group of disparate items (novella, color comic, BW comic, several different illustrators) whose only relationship to each other is a very interesting diesel punk old west world. I loved the idea of the setting but the characters, story, and especially the art was very problematic; it felt very dated to the late 1980s despite the old West/dieselpunk trappings.

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Story: In an alternate universe American old West where diesel/piston driven engines developed earlier and faster, cowboys drive Harleys and trains rule the country. In this dystopian world, rail barons are the real tyrants and few can stand up to them. Enter a wide range of fantastical (even magical/historical) characters all battling for control or just survival in the Badlands.

This omnibus has 6 parts: The Rail color comic, Edge (a BW comic from the 1990s), Skinners (BW horror/soft porn line drawings that was published in Penthouse), Death Before Breakfast (a pulp novella with a few illustrations), The Vessel (a text only web serial originally but with a couple of images here), and then short story Monkey Business, a quick color comic using the same universe but featuring a zombie.

What I found interesting is how little of the book is actually Dave Dorman art or storytelling. There are the original 46 pages of Rail. But after that, it is all guest storytellers and artists all using the Wasted Lands universe – perhaps with a few Dorman art pieces in between. As well, those looking for a graphic novel may be surprised that a good chunk of the book is a novel with only occasional images.

As for the Waste Lands universe, I loved the premise and a lot of the execution. But had problems with the art/characters. It was all so very…1980s; as if someone had taken 1980s characters and put some 1930s clothes on them but forgot to restyle hair and accessories to either old west cowboy or depression era diesel engineer.  I fully understand that an anachronistic alternate universe can be loosely defined; however, the 1980s references made sense only from the influence of the period in which this was written (1989 or so) rather than aspects of the story itself. The guys were studly in the 1930s or Cowboy gear but the women scantily dressed in ball gags, bondage, and spandex made no sense to me at all. I had a crazy urge to go put on some Duran Duran while reading this. Honestly, it was such a let down from what I had hoped would be a crazy cool diesel punk universe.

I came into this from an angle of loving the whole Dieselpunk idea and especially in a graphic novel format. I wasn’t familiar with Dave Dorman’s work (ironically, I left Magic: The Gathering in 2001 so I never saw his art on cards, either).  So from my perspective, especially considering all the bondage girls and Penthouse-influences, this did disappoint. Dorman fans will likely rate this higher and guys should enjoy all the copious amounts of violence and T&A. As for me, I was underwhelmed.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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One is Enough by Love

Since I am reviewing this from an advanced Reader Copy, it’s hard to tell if some of the issues I had with this manga are going to be corrected at publication. But my overall impression was that this felt very amateurish – story, plot, translation, editing, cleaning, and artwork all felt off. While I respect this is doujinshi (self published), I think it could really have used much more cleaning by colleagues or an editor.

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This story is a common one in yaoi manga titles: girlie boy falls for bad boy who has trauma issues. One cries a lot, the other acts all tough and studly, and you add in a best friend madly in love with the girlie boy and holding in his unrequited love.  There was little compelling me to read this other than to finish it for a review (though I did like the character of Sora and wish HE was the protagonist).

While the writing flatlined quickly, the art was all over the place. I could see several different influences, across many decades, with no consistency throughout. Characters looked different between panels, sometimes very feminine and others time too much like another character. At times, the illustrations were quite good and at other times, really anatomically ‘off’ in odd ways. It didn’t even have the feel of a good doujinshi, which at least tends to be consistent.

Further compounding the issue for me is the weird translation cleaning/editing. Sometimes, it was solid and other times just handwriting over Japanese symbols like a first pass from a scanlation group. I can’t help but feel this greatly needs an editor and heavy revisions well before it becomes published.

There was definitely something ‘off’ about this manga.  Reviewed from an ARC.

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Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice Softcover by Stacy King (Editor), Po Tse (Illustrations), Jane Austen

Manga Classics: Pride & Prejudice is definitely not intended for Austen fans or for adults. This is meant as an introduction for younger readers to a timeless classic. But even keeping that in mind, this graphic novel did miss the mark on several accounts.

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Where it succeeds is in the adaptation – Stacy King did an excellent job of keeping the story intact, the dialogue verbatim from the book, while still condensing the story to a manageable-sized book. The story was very understandable even with the omissions and loss of several characters (e.g., Charlotte is nearly non existent).

Where it ultimately failed for me is in the illustrations – most of the characters look to be in a state of constant and very vapid emotional distress. While very in keeping with the Chinese manga/manhua style (picture a martial arts piece from the 1970s and you get an idea), it really detracts from the whole point of British manners and understated emotions and ultimately makes the characters seem pretty stupid. Not surprisingly, the characters who remained truest to the source book are Lydia and Mrs. Bennett (the most over the top in the book).  Ironically, Jane and Lizzy are actually more overdramatic than Lydia!

This is the third graphic novel adaptation I’ve read of Pride and Prejudice recently and I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t quite work as well as the others did. The source story needs to remain intact but also keep the feel of the original – and that is completely lost in the illustrations. Elizabeth is ditzy, Jane cries and emotes her fate better than a Shakespearan actor, and Darcy is so anxiety-stricken that he actually runs away and hides at the balls. I can only imagine someone reading this for the first time wondering what all the fuss is about with Mr. Darcy when he seems like a nervous nelly for most of the manga.

The style felt like it was greatly influenced by shoujo manga masters of the past like Ryoko Ikeda and her Rose of Versailles series. Lots of roses, sparkling eyes, and huge hairdos. I grew up and loved Rose of Versailles but sadly this manga adaptation is missing the depth and strength of that seminal title.

Would I give this to my 11 year old? I’m not sure this would show her why Jane Austen is so beloved any more than a Cliff’s Notes would. Great adaption by Stacy King but the illustrations really let the story down. This is one of the instances where I think a Japanese manga artist might have done a better job with the subtlety of the story than the manhua artist.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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