Saturday, 27 December 2014

Game of Thrones: It’s a Novel, a Show, and Now It’s... Overkill. Oh, I’m Sorry, I Meant Graphic Novel!

A Review By: Amelia

You’ve read the books. You’ve watched the hit series on HBO. Now acclaimed novelist Daniel Abraham and illustrator Tommy Patterson bring George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy masterwork A Game of Thrones to majestic new life in the pages of this full-color graphic novel. So goes the opening of every synopsis I could find, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s good enough for me. I mean, we all already know about the plot and characters and the overworld of Westeros and the only thing you really need to know about the graphic novel’s overview is that it follows the books super closely and not the HBO series which deviates from the original books greatly.

The original author of A Song of Ice and Fire series is George R.R. Martin. The adaptors of the novels into comic book form are Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson. Abraham is an American sci-fi and fantasy writer whose short stories have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies. He’s been nominated for the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award. He collaborates with George R.R. Martin because they both live in New Mexico! Patterson is... well, a comic artist. That was all I could find on him. That and he worked on Farscape comics as well. That’s it. I guess I’ll leave it at that!

From what I’ve seen so far (which is the first three volumes as yet have more to be published) the graphic novels are sticking very close to the books. Of course they’re not as detailed as the books and some things are cut out or rushed through but I understand that–the novels are huge, other mediums don’t have as much time or space in which to explore it all fully. In regards to the characters and their development, with visuals being the medium in a graphic novel instead of words, an artist/writer should be able to convey all the necessary details through the pictures. However, the art style is such that hardly anything is conveyed through the pictures (in regard to the characters) and it still relays heavily on large chunks of text ripped straight from the novel. It’s kind of a cheap stunt if you ask me. The characters come off as stinted in their development and blank and vapid. It’s such a shame considering how amazing Martin made his characters in the books!

Now, to speak more on the art style of Game of Thrones it is a realistic one
(it’s not blocky or angular) and it’s drawn to make the characters look like people in a real landscape. However, I’ve found the bodies and faces to be off. The women are drawn to be sexy and appealing without certain things being taken into account. Take Catelyn Stark as an example. She’s given birth to five children, one of which is fourteen years old, and she’s drawn with her breasts big and firm (so not happening after breast feeding five children) and her face is smooth and wrinkle free like that of a teenager when she’s surely approaching middle age if not already there. It’s all done to make her more appealing to look at instead of staying true to the character that’s written about in the books. It’s standard practice in the comic book but it’ll take you right out of the story and get you thinking about how it wasn’t right she (and mostly every other character) is drawn that way! The facial expressions are also really very poor as every character only ever makes one of two faces: smiling or frowning. There’s no in between. And none of this even covers the colouring which is too bright for my liking. It’s fine for the warmer climates to be bright, but why is Winterfell so shiny? It just doesn’t fit.

The main complaint that I (and most other people on the internet according to what I read) have about Game of Thrones the Graphic Novel are that it’s not adding anything to the mythology of A Song of Fire and Ice. It’s just uninspired art with text tugged straight from the novels slapped on top of it. Although I should point out that I’m fine with the text straight from the novels, overall, it’s the art style kills this adaption for me. It doesn’t work around the story with its bright colours and cutesie faces!

My final thoughts on Game of Thrones the Graphic Novel are to avoid it unless you are George R.R. Martin’s biggest fan in all the universe. The graphic novels can stand alone away from the HBO show and the novels, but they are by far the weakest adaption of Martin’s massive fantasy epic.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I Drink For A Reason: Maybe It Would Have Been Funnier Drunk…

A Review By: Amelia
In the past few years there have been a lot of stand-up comedians that have written books. Some are absolutely wonderful like (in my opinion) Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Some are less than wonderful like (in my opinion) I Am America by Stephen Colbert. I find that it really depends on the person writing and if they know how to make their usual material work as prose instead of orally delivered. Some do it wonderfully, others don’t. Personally I found that David Cross straddled the line throughout his debut novel.

I Drink For A Reason, as I mentioned above, is written by David Cross. Cross is an actor/stand up comic, his most notable role probably being the never-nude Tobias Funk√ę from the fabulous television show Arrested Development. As a comic he’s sharp tongued and ever ready to rant and rave about really anything that comes to his mind–including, but not limited too, Jim Belushi ("The Belush"), Fox television network executives, and Bill O'Reilly (all topics covered in his book). I Drink For A Reason is his book debut.

I Drink For A Reason is a series of essays written about everything and nothing all at once. Much like his stand-up, the book is written like a long and nimble rant that details anything from things from his life, solid political commentary, as well as just random thoughts that pop into his head. The funniest part about the whole book (at least by my opinion) is the series of pictures he includes that have nothing to do with him. They're just random pictures of other people and he adds a comment at the bottom of them about what time in his life it was. It was the only part I was constantly laughing at.

I Drink For A Reason is a decent stand-up comic-to-author debut but it’s not quite good enough to stand on its own. If you’ve ever seen David Cross do stand-up, you know when the man is joking. In the book however, you don’t have the visual/vocal cue of when he’s joking and he comes off a lot more serious than he means to be during some parts.

My final thoughts on I Drink For A Reason are that it’s hit and miss: it’s written as a series of essays, so at least hit and miss is on par with other books like this. I found myself laughing at some bits, but bored during most of the other bits. Honestly, it would be better delivered as a stand-up routine, and I do believe that it has been in the past which is probably why it feels a little recycled. All in all, worth it if you adore David Cross; not worth it if you’re just looking for a funny book.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Tsunami!: Lessons and Entertainment All Wrapped Into One!

A Review By: Amelia
When the last major tsunami hit I remember it was big news with the kids I work with. They were just old enough to realize that it was a very serious thing and a very scary thing. Their bedtime routine became a nightmare scene of trying to calm them enough that they’d go to sleep but it was easier said then done. They were old enough to be scared of this natural disaster but not old enough to realize that there wasn’t a giant tidal wave headed for the suburbs of Toronto at that very moment! Did they want to hear facts and statistics about tsunamis? They couldn’t even be bothered to look at the spot on the map that I was pointing to showing where Toronto is compared to the ocean? I figured the only way I’d ever get them to learn anything about them was to haul them to the library and find a picture book. And a picture book, appropriately titled Tsunami!, I found!

Tsunami! is about Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in a seaside Japanese village. One day, during the rice ceremony, Ojiisan feels something coming that he can’t describe. When he sees the ocean running away from the shore he knows for sure what’s coming: a tsunami! But the villagers below can’t see the danger and Ojiisan has to decide to risk his wealth or risk lives! Pretty tense right?

The author of this tense piece of children’s literature is American/Japanese Kimiko Kajikawa. She was teased as a child for being ‘that slanty-eyed girl’ but instead of letting this get her down, she used her unique perspective to write retellings of old Japanese folklore for an American audience to help spread awareness and culturally respect. The piece is illustrated in collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, a Chinese-born American illustrator, who has illustrated over eighty books and written close to twenty of them.

Tsunami! is a picture book illustrated in mixed media. Don’t know what mixed media is? It all comes down to an artist ripping apart materials and then collaging it onto a flat surface so that the many different, small bits all become a complete, large piece of art. Mixed media is great for creating depth within the piece but it can also smoother the three dimensional affect if over done or not done correctly, which, unfortunately is what happens in Tsunami!. It’s very hit or miss within the thirty-two pages with landscape shots being a little lack-luster but close-up shots looking really quite lovely. What was really ingenious about using mixed media was the dwarfing affect of using little ripped pieces of paper to become the victims on the far away beach and the violence of the rips and tears of the materials adds to the violence of the ocean’s wave.

Now, since Tsunami! is a kid’s book it’s got a few lessons tacked into it for the kiddie’s sake.
The hero of the piece, Ojiisan, is the wealthiest man in the village and when he realizes a tsunami is coming–and that he’s the only one that knows it–he burns his rice fields to attract everyone from the beach to the top of his mountain to save their lives. It’s a lesson about sacrifice. It shows that although a sacrifice might be hard on you it could help many other people and that’s what’s important. Considering how ruthlessly greedy kids are (trust me I know, I’m a professional nanny) it’s a lesson they could all stand to learn about a little more in their day-to-day lives!

My final thoughts on Tsunami! are that it’s good. The art is a mixed bag of mixed media but the simple and engaging story is both helpful to relay kid’s fears about scary natural disasters and to teach them that a little sacrifice goes a long way. This book is a story that’s a celebration of both the power of nature and the power each of us holds within.   

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret: Girl Power and Mysteries for All!
A Review By: Amelia
I’ve spent this last year re-reading the Nancy Drew books. Why, you might ask. Well, I spent my childhood reading them and thought that for nostalgia’s sake I’d read them again. So far, I’ve gotten thirty five volumes into the original fifty six and the beloved series from my childhood more or less holds up. This review is for number thirty one in the series and the book I read most recently and very much enjoyed: The Ringmaster’s Secret.

In The Ringmaster’s Secret, Nancy Drew is given a beautiful gold bracelet, decorated with five performing circus horses, with one horse missing. When she learns of the story behind the jewelry Nancy sets out on an adventure that has her joining the circus and searching through the English countryside for the answers she needs to solve it!

Now for those of you who don’t know, Carolyn Keene–the author of the Nancy Drew series–is actually a pen name that was used by many different men and women over the years. Stratemeyer Syndicate, the company that created Nancy Drew, hired a variety of writers and used the pseudonym Carolyn Keene to assure anonymity of the creator! And now you know why I don’t have anything to say about the author–because I just can’t find one!

As you probably could have deduced by yourself (see what I did there? Deduce? Because it’s a mystery series!) Nancy Drew is the main character of the series. She’s an eighteen year old, intelligent, athletic girl that’s always handy to help someone in need. She’s a pretty intense female character given the time period that she came about in, but there are a few flaws to her design. For one, she doesn’t change from book to book: physically, mentally, or emotionally. Nancy’s beliefs never waver, she doesn’t learn lessons or anything about herself that help her grow as a person, she never even ages! She’s always eighteen even though if you take into account all the time she spends on her fifty six different adventures, there’s no way that less than a year passes! None of the other characters ever change either (besides Nancy’s friend George starting to say ‘hypers’ as a catch phrase about twenty five books in)! It comes with–not only–the ghost writers but also because it was a serialization of novels and it was meant for a younger audience. Because of those above mentioned factors the characters take a back seat to the plot.

All that isn’t to say that Nancy doesn’t have her strong points! She’s an independent girl with intelligence, integrity, and empathy. She was actually created by the same man that thought up the Hardy Boys because he thought that young girls should have a strong role model and that’s pretty amazing! Nancy is a character that thinks things through, figures stuff out before anyone else, and always lends a helping hand. Some of her dialogue and especially her father’s dialogue (ex: her needing to be escorted to certain places) might seem a little out of place or sexist, but it’s certainly not often and certainly never a plot point.

Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret is an interesting Nancy Drew book. The plot takes Nancy through the daily life of a circus performer and across the Atlantic ocean to England where, up to this point, she’d never been out of North America! It’s also one of her more challenging mysteries and, as always, she does it without becoming discouraged. She’s a kick ass female character considering the time in which she was created and, although no longer one of a kind, she’ll always be one of the first! 

My final thoughts on The Ringmaster’s Secret are that it’s one of my favourite Nancy Drew books. It has its problem of character development in the title character but that comes more from the fact that Nancy was written by ghost writers over a series of years. It has an interesting plot with Nancy joining the circus and the mystery she seeks to solve is a little more relatable with themes of love and loss. So if you’re in the business of mystery solving–on your own or reading to your kids–Nancy Drew and The Ringmaster’s Secret is the book for you!