2 Sisters by Matt Kindt

I have to start this review by saying that I absolutely love that we get original story/vision graphic novels like 2 Sisters. I may not always like them but I’m always intrigued and very glad for the opportunity to read and enjoy distinct and unique points of view. With this particular book, which is a 1-volume stand-alone story, author Kindt avoids a simple narrative and instead interweaves several stories independent of chronology or linear narrative. The stories – a Greek cup’s journey through history, a female pirate, and a woman in London during WWI sending money back to her sister – remain independent for a long time but do eventually intersect. But the ending isn’t the intersection expected.

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Story: Elle is dating a bloke in London while engaged as an ambulance driver during World War II. When his building is bombed and he is killed, she is recruited to become a spy and avenge his loss. Although she is sending money home to her older sister, she agrees to do many different espionage deeds – each one killing her a little inside. At the same time, we learn of a woman on a ship captured by pirates – who cuts her hair off to join the pirate crew as a desperate act of survival. And in ancient Greece, a slave escapes her shackles, sneaks into baths, and steals a gold cup. She sells it to purchase a horse and flee Greece.

The common thread of all the stories is, ostensibly, the Greek cup. As it travels through history, it tells a tale of strong women who use it to find their salvation in different ways. Although each woman opts for a lonely life, she is freed of the shackles binding her thanks to what she does with the cup. How each encounters the cup is truly random and all the more interesting because of those quirks of fate. So although the cup may seem like the main theme, what we really have are stories of survival and strength by women through history.

The art is sketchy, angular and surprisingly simple – making it at times difficult to interpret. Each page really must be studied since there are few words and only small changes mark important information. Honestly, the book can be very difficult to follow and definitely rewards upon rereads. If a reader isn’t following carefully, a lot of the plot and characters’ actions will be mystifying.

2 Sisters is a book that really shows its depth and nuance the more it is read. Since the book jumps around quite a bit and author Kindt enjoys turning situations on their head (literally, in the case of one pirate) the underlying messages can easily be lost. This isn’t for the casual reader who wants to peruse, get an easy payoff, and then chuck; it really gets better and better with rereads.

There is a lot of story here and it may seem too many tangents if not read carefully. It all does tie up in the end with a rather large plot twist – and what look like throwaway scenes in the beginning suddenly make a lot of sense once the book is finished. For those who enjoy a book that challenges and intrigues, 2 Sisters is a good choice. Everyone else is likely going to be left scratching their head at the simplistic drawings and puzzling storyline. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House Volume 2 by Aya Shouto

Volume 2 brings quite a bit of insight into the nature of the Momochi House as well as more background on Aoi. The Nue creates a new follower from the Ayakashi, ensuring even more trouble for Himari. As with Volume 1, we have a gentle tale of a girl and a bunch of spirits, including one boy who transforms into the house’s protector.

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Himari learns that Aoi is forever trapped in Momochi House and she wants to find a way to set him free from his Omamori duties. Worse, using his Nue abilities might actually be harming him. But Himari won’t give up. When looking for a solution, she disturbs a spirit – who promptly transforms into a human shape. Aoi and Himari will have to help him find his sister in a yearly procession of spirits – but doing so puts them all in danger. When school starts and Himari brings home new ‘friends’, she finds out one isn’t quite what he/she seems – and could be a danger to all of them. But will she find the problematic friend in time?

We have a hint of a big bad guy from Aoi – a spirit dressed as a New Meiji era soldier. And in a short story at the end, we find out how Aoi ended up as a Nue/Omamori protector. It will be interesting to see who the young Aoi was running from when he found Momochi House – and how he relates to the guy on the roof in the solider uniform. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The New Deal by Jonathan Case

The New Deal is a lovingly illustrated single story graphic novel set in mid 1930s New York City. More homage to 1940s-1950s black and white caper movies than historical piece, the plot features a mysterious set of thefts, femme fatale, and plenty of double crossing and twists to keep readers invested. But this isn’t a noir piece: author Case explores race relations during a period of time that signaled the peak of the Harlem renaissance (cue Orson Welles’ ‘Voodoo Macbeth” play). Our protagonists, a maid and a bellhop at the Waldorf Astoria, are singularly blue collar but inexorably caught up in the affairs of the wealthy. They may not always make the right decisions but you’ll root for them throughout.

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Story: Young Irish American Frank is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who may owe some money from poker games but he’s pretty harmless. He’s a bellhop at the Waldorf Astoria and works with maid Theresa – the only African American on the staff and a very serious and intelligent young lady. Their friendship is seen as a curiosity, especially since Frank helps Theresa every night to practice lines for her small part in Orson Welles’ new play in Harlem. When a valuable necklace goes missing, Theresa was the only person working the floor at the time and is immediately blamed. But was it Frank (who is in desperate need of cash to repay a debt) who took the money – or was it the big time artifact collector guest – as suggested by the enigmatic society girl (and hotel guest) Nina? The two employees are going to get more than they bargained for as they become embroiled in the mystery at the Waldorf.

Although this sounds like yet another noir piece, really this owes more to lighthearted “His Girl Friday” than Sunset Boulevard. As such, the story is more romp than screwball comedy or hard boiled detective piece – and that’s a good thing. The tone matches the beautiful illustrations perfectly and allows the historical aspects to be grounded while still giving the reader a treat of a story. The characters are wonderfully animated, definitely distinct, but still full of that sweet innocence of the time.

Enough can’t be said about the beautiful illustrations. Done in a 1930s Eisner style, they further evoke the wonderful period of mid 1930s New York City. From how dishes are done to elevator work at the Waldorf, the historical milieu is respected but doesn’t take over the story at any time. The hallmark of a good writer is that the world supports the characters/tale but never overwhelms. The Waldorf is a character in itself here but never a major one, instead providing the nuances needed to understand and appreciation the main characters and their actions. Case made smart decisions to use the digital medium but also add in hand-done touches such as the washes (which just couldn’t be done digitally right now). It makes for a beautiful presentation that shows how much craft and care went into the book’s creation.

Where this failed for me, and this is a minor quibble, is with the important character of Nina. Admittedly, as a student of fashion history, I fell madly in love with her hats but was frustrated by her attire. Anachronistic pieces featuring rioting and inappropriate patterns, shocking (for the era) cleavage, one egregiously over the top skin tight (and not because it was bias cut) ensemble, and (dare I say it) boring shoes that didn’t match her status took me right out of the story and the period. I ended up feeling Nina was more Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan than Katherine Hepburn in Holiday. Yes, she is a high society flirt – but her wardrobe would still have needed to be more conservative. But I have to admit, she was great fun and a joy to read. Case has such a way with personalities and showing emotion that Nina’s joie de vivre was infectious. I wanted her in every scene!

Despite the reservation above (yes, I know, silly – but in a carefully researched book like this, it grated), The New Deal was a treat. Each page was a joy to read and explore and the story had a sweet beating heart. It’s a graphic novel that makes you feel warm after you’ve read it and want to read again, especially to enjoy the beautiful period details and illustrations. The cover alone was a “yes, please now!” for me the first time i saw it and the inside work is just as gorgeous. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Simon’s Cat Off To The Vet and Other Cat-astrophes by Simon Tofield

Simon’s Cat has been a beloved series for our family, adults and kids alike, since we first found it on the web. We’ve purchased every book and enjoyed them greatly; poor put upon cat owner Simon, his crafty cat, an energetic kitten, and plenty of dogs, hedgehogs, cranky neighbors, and diabolical birds. It makes for an infectious mix never needing words to convey the humor.

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In this volume, Simon’s cat battles the vet, tries to outwit the area birds, romps with hedgehogs, outmaneuvers his nemesis kitten, and deals with Simon’s uptight neighbor. What’s fun is that payoffs to funny earlier scenes often come later in the story as well. It’s not a set of funny but separate vignettes so much as a continuing story of the life of Simon and his pets.

Pet owners especially will appreciate so many of the inside jokes; e.g., Simon having to sneak up to give his cat the burning drops of chemical tick repellent on the back of the neck (something us cat owners know full well drives cats nuts) or the debacle of a vet visit. Watching the cat interact with the other vet visitors makes for great scenes that can be biting in their lucidity. As always Simon’s cat deals with the animals and people of the world (from the brainless dog to the preternaturally smart birds) with aplomb.

What makes Simon’s Cat the series so rich is that there is a down-home truth to so much of the storytelling. Whether it is cats crawling into his pants when he’s using the toilet or felines falling asleep in the oddest and most annoying places – it all invokes the richness of pet ownership and the humor at the zany lives of pets.

If you haven’t read the series, don’t worry. This book is a fine place to start since these are slice of life stories of Simon’s cat and his friends/enemies. Those returning will welcome the addition of new strips to enjoy. Because the scenes are wordless but with uncluttered illustrations, this is great for all ages and to share with younger kids together. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Requiem of the Rose King 2 by Aya Kanno

In this second volume, the epic series of battles comprising the War of the Roses see the deposing of Queen Margaret in favor of of the Yorks: specifically, King Edward IV. Mangaka Aya Kanno plays loose and fast with history and Shakespeare, adding in historical tidbits that she deftly spins into a very interesting supernatural angle (e.g., Richard IIIs emblem, a pig, appears quite frequently as a pet). For those not invested in British history, Requiem of the Rose King can be a bit of a slog; unlike similar historical-inspired titles such as Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles, the political maneuverings of the Richard the III era are both ripe for storytelling but also very convoluted and confusing – with a huge cast of characters. Keep Wikipedia handy to get the most out of the title. And of note is that we have a very Shakespearean Richard: not historically accurate necessarily but a good tragedy and a fun story.

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Story: Margaret’s ruthless plans have failed: the battle is lost, Plantagenets defeated, and Edward is crowned king. He fawns upon his younger brothers, George and Richard. When Elizabeth Woodville captures the eye of the king, love is in the air. But not for Richard – he is bitter over the death of his beloved father and even the attention of young Anne Neville can’t erase the taint of being both supernaturally cursed and a female. But as Warwick plays Kingmaker, he will soon come into conflict with the royal family and both Anne and King Edward will pay the price.

Granted, it can be quite amusing to compare royal portraits of the main players in Requiem of the Rose King to the manga version of beautiful people. But as a way to learn more about British history, this is a great introduction to the time of Richard III. Because Kanno has stayed true thematically to history there are a lot of tidbits and such to be gleaned. As well, it will make putting all the players into perspective that much easier as well. Richard III’s young death, after all, marked the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the English Renaissance.

Is it as good a story without a basic historical knowledge of the period? Sure, there’s plenty of swords, madness, greed, and over the top shoujo manga drama to keep readers interested. Knowing history just means getting a better idea of all the craziness surrounding Richard III and how the story is going to make huge twists just around the corner. It is worth sticking with, that’s for sure. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Sexploitation by Cindy Pierce

Of all the parenting books I’ve read in the past few years (and there have been quite a few), this book has been, by far, the most eye-opening and informative. Written from the perspective (and experience) of a lecturer, educator, and especially mother, author Pierce challenges what parents currently know about sexuality, how they address it with their children of all ages (toddler to adult), and especially how the accessibility and pervasiveness of internet porn has changed our ‘norms’ about how we (and they) approach sex and relationships. You wouldn’t expect there to be that much that could be said on the topic – but I was quite impressed with the expansiveness of the book and the modern parenting information provided within. The tone is friendly and this is a very easy read at 250 pages.

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The book breaks down as follows: 1 Inner Compass, 2 Umplugging, 3 Porn Culture, 4 Sexuality Education for Young Kids, 5 Sexuality Education for Older Kids and teens, 6 Worthy Girls, 7 Empowering Girls, 8 Worthy Boys, 9 Setting Boys Free, 10 A Hookup Culture Fueled by Alcohol, 11 Moving Beyond Hookups, Conclusion, References, Index, Acknowledgements.

Beyond the surprising amount of ‘wow’ moments within the book, there is a comprehensive list of references for taking the topics further. It means that parents have places to go when the book is finished to continue their own education or to help with specific situations (e.g., how to broach sexuality questions with toddlers or deal with alcoholism or self esteem issues). The book smartly doesn’t attempt to be a one-size-fits-all and instead provides a basis for understanding but also pairs that with where to go after the book.

There was so much I learned – it would be impossible to list all the ‘aha’ moments here here but I had very interesting discussions with my husband about our own views on sexuality as well as how we approach discussing them with our daughter after reading the book. Since frank discussions with children about sexuality should be done over a stretch of years, I was most surprised to discover that starting at the toddler years/first grade smooths the way for the more detailed discussions by puberty and then the teen years. As such, this is a good book for parents of children from 6-26 years of age.

The book really isn’t about dos and don’ts – nor is it a cautionary tale. Author Pierce is frank, honest, and doesn’t mince words. Studies are cited but she also draws upon years of discussions with kids and as a mother of several teens herself. So although she doesn’t have a doctorate in psychiatry, what she does have is a lot of practical information from someone actually ‘in the trenches’. And although the book is primarily about how the porn industry has changed how we approach sexuality, there is a lot more meat to the book than just that. From the casual hook-up society to a bit about helicopter parenting.

Because I learned so much from the book, it’s one I highly recommend. The internet has changed so much about how our children are growing up that it really is a whole new world out there. With Sexploitation, we have a book with practical and down-to-earth advice and information to pave the way for our kids to have healthy and happy relationships through the teen years and beyond. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Doll Junk by Carmen Varriccho

Carmen Varricchio has created a great collection of ‘off brand’ 1970s and 1980s doll ‘treasures’. The book covers several doll sizes – from the Sunshine Family to Barbie to Crissy knockoffs – and the outfits made for them. Really, this is more about the outfits than the dolls and collecting them in their original packaging glory. If the book stumbles a bit, it’s that the collection isn’t organized well, the graphic design simple and often cluttered, nor are we given much on the history/provenance/details of the various items. It translates to great eye candy (and there are some really great doll clothes in there!) but perhaps missing some depth.

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The book breaks down as follows: short introduction (would have liked more!), smaller size dolls, Barbie-sized, and then larger sized.

The book is nearly fully composed of images (and there are many, yay!) – almost all being clothing in original packaging (and occasionally some of the dolls). Since nearly all ‘junk’ clothes are intended as cheap knockoffs, quite a few of the collections shown are international items – mostly European. There are a few US-based lines, mostly created for mail order catalogs by chains such as Montgomery Wards or JC Penneys. But the details on the items (original prices, current prices, scarcity, background, history, success of the line, etc.) was missing – occasionally there would be a comment or detail but not enough. Other great items, such as doll playsets of the same junk type, would have been another welcome addition (e.g., the 1970s Sears Airline Reservation play set for Barbie-sized dolls).

As well, I would have liked to learn more about how the author got into collecting these – what he found most difficult, what he loved the most, his own doll collecting history, even his image. The book really would have benefited from more time put into organization, display, and especially detail/history.

When looking at the fashions, one would think they’d be so cheap as to be bland and uninteresting – but there was so much diversity that even a non-doll-collecting historical fashion enthusiast would delight. From the fabrics to the ensembles, many of the clothes looked straight from fashion plates of the eras – items not worn in real life but great fun because of it! 1970s layered dresses in bright floral patterns to 1980s Jem and the Rockers type outfits taken to the 9th degree. There really is a lot to love here.

After seeing package of package, I began to realize something about the book. I think for a collector, being able to get NIB or MIP (New In Box or Mint in Package)are the holy grails and pride. But for those viewing the collection like myself, I kept wishing to see the clothes ON the dolls. Or dolls out of the restrictive package to see how they were actually played with or displayed. It made for a somewhat sterile presentation and it was difficult to imagine the clothes put together and on the doll (sort of like seeing a page of an exploded diagram of a machine and then trying to figure out what it looked liked in real life). There are so many great doll photographers out there and I would have loved to see a collaboration where the author took the clothes he had out of boxes/packages and put them on dioramas or sets. I never got a feel for the clothes or the dolls because of the packaged restriction.

So, although it was a great collection and the photographs were excellent, the lack of more detail (there is some but not enough), the haphazard organization (e.g., the barbie-sized section would jump back and forth between continents, years, etc. and it got confusing), and the lack of opened dolls/displays was a disappointment. I wanted more than just a loose cataloging of Varricchio’s collection. All the same, it’s well worth the time for vintage doll collectors just to drool over the great 1970s and 1980s fashions. I would love to see a next edition that makes the most of the fun playfulness of the eras (displays, dioramas, playsets,) as well as more information, better organization, and much more definition. Reviewed from an advance readers copy provided by the publisher.

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