Fake Blood: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Fake Blood by Whitney GardnerAJ didn’t grow over the summer. He didn’t have any exciting adventures. It feels like he’s starting seventh grade exactly the same while his best friends are charging full speed ahead.

AJ’s crush on Nia Winters is in the same place too–standing totally still. Nia is cool and interesting and obsessed with vampires so AJ is pretty sure she’d never like someone as vanilla as he is.

After they are paired for a project on Transylvania, AJ hatches the perfect plan to win Nia over: Pretend to be a vampire! Changing his hair and attitude to be more like a vampire gets Nia’s attention–but not the way he imagined when she reveals that she doesn’t like vampires. She slays them.

While AJ tries to convince his crush that she should hang out with him instead of staking him, both Nia and AJ realize that there are bigger threats lurking in Spoons Middle School in Fake Blood (2018) by Whitney Gardner.

Fake Blood is Gardner’s graphic novel and middle grade debut.

Fake Blood is a delightful send up of some familiar vampire tropes including charming nods to Buffy and Twilight. Gardner’s full color artwork is vibrant with clear panels and distinct characters. AJ’s transformation from seventh grade boy to vampire is handled especially well with a lot of visual cues adding to the story.

Fake Blood is a funny and authentic story about embracing individuality and learning that doing things your own way is often the best way to get through life. And, of course, it’s also filled with tips for fighting vampires–whoever they may be. Recommended for readers who looking for something a little funnier and a little quirkier than your typical paranormal romance fare.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Goldie Vance by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell, Slayer by Kiersten White

The Divided Earth: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Divided Earth is the final book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City and continues in The Stone Heart. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

cover art for The Divided Earth by Faith Erin HicksThe Nameless City is once again at the center of a conflict. Erzi, now General of All Blades, holds the city even as forces forces from his own ranks try to rally the Yisun to unite and overthrow him. The city’s residents, the “Named,” remain are caught in the middle.

What the invading forces don’t know is that Erzi is determined to hold the city at any cost–even if it means destroying it. Desperate to prevent further bloodshed, Rat and Kaidu must join forces again to try and steal back the formula for deadly napatha before Erzi can use it to destroy everything they’ve come to love within the city walls in The Divided Earth (2018) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Divided Earth is the final book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City and continues in The Stone Heart.

After learning the city inside out and coming to love it as his own, Kaidu has to risk everything to help Rat save it. As forces approach the city Hicks expands the world of this series introducing new characters and further situating the Nameless City in a larger world.

While some of the character motivations remain thin, particularly in the case of the villains, this series is still utterly entertaining. Hicks’ full-color artwork is used to especially good effect in this installment that is filled with high speed chases and fight sequences. The Divided Earth is a satisfying conclusion to a gripping, action-filled series. Recommended.

The Hidden Witch: A Graphic Novel Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox OstertagAster’s family is still adjusting to his affinity for witchery–something totally unexpected in a family where boys usually become shapeshifters. Not everyone is thrilled with Aster’s witchcraft but his grandmother is more than happy to teach Aster so long as he in turn helps her try to rehabilitate his great-uncle whose own attempts to avoid shifting led to corrupted magic and all manner of havoc.

Off the compound Charlie, Aster’s non-magical best friend, is starting school and eager to make new friends–especially the mysterious new girl who keeps to herself. That turns out to be extra complicated when a curse tries to attach itself to Charlie.

Aster is able to remove the curse. But he can’t stop it without finding the witch who created it. Aster and Charlie (and even Aster’s cousin Sedge) will have to work together to find the witch before their magic ends up just as corrupted as Charlie’s great uncle’s did years ago in The Hidden Witch (2018) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Hidden Witch is the second book in Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel series which starts with The Witch Boy.

I love the smooth edges and bright colors of Ostertag’s artwork. The panels are once again dynamic and full of fun details. This story spans both day and night with fun design elements like white or black gutters between panels to differentiate.

Ostertag effectively smashes the strict magical binaries of Aster’s family as Aster continues to study witchcraft and one of his male cousins contemplates attending a normal school instead of studying (and shifting) on the family compound.

The primary focus of this story is Aster and Charlie’s friendships both with each other as well as with other. The Hidden Witch is another fun installment that expands the world and fleshes out the magic systems first introduced in The Witch Boy.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix,  Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Witch Boy: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for The Witch Boy by Molly Knox OstertagThirteen-year-old Aster leads a secluded life on the compound he and his extended family call home. The family has everything they need and is far away from prying eyes which is important since Aster’s family is magic. For generations this magic has been simple: girls become witches while boys become shapeshifters.

Aster desperately wants to be a witch despite his family telling him again and again (and again) that it’s impossible for a boy to learn witchery. Aster doesn’t care and keeps studying and practicing in secret.

When Aster meets Charlie–a new girl in town who refuses to let anyone else define her–Aster knows he has to keep following his dreams in The Witch Boy (2017) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Witch Boy is the start of Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel series which continues in The Hidden Witch.

Ostertag’s full color illustrations are approachable and vivid. Panels are full of motion and varied design (complete with witchery runes!) that draw readers through the comic. Entertaining characters and strong friendships more than make up for an otherwise slight (and sometimes not subtle) plot.

The Witch Boy is a great graphic novel for readers of all ages with a message of inclusion that is much needed and very welcome.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix,  Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Aquicorn Cove: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'NeillLana isn’t sure what to expect when she and her father return to their seaside hometown. It can’t be the same–not when Lana’s mother is gone–but maybe helping her aunt and  the other locals clean up after the latest big storm can make it close to the way it was.

The last thing Lana expects to find while picking up debris on the beach is a magical seahorse. It turns out that the aquicorns have always lived near the village in the coral reef. But as the local fishermen take in larger and larger catches, the aquicorns aren’t sure how much longer they can stay.

The village is only a small one and Lana is only one small girl in it. But as she learns more about her family and the aquicorns she starts to realize that sometimes even small actions can turn into big changes in Aquicorn Cove (2018) by Katie O’Neill.

This standalone graphic novel blends fantasy elements with a strong message about environmental conservation and one girls efforts to move on after an unthinkable loss.

Aquicorn Cove is filled with cute characters and adorable creatures in equal measure. This story also has a very clearly defined arc giving the narrative a strong focus and a satisfying level of closure. Finished copies of Aquicorn Cove will also include back matter about ocean conservation.

O’Neill’s artwork is vibrant and whimsical. Bright colors and bold lines bring Lana’s village and the underwater home of the aquicorns to life. Rounded edges and a consistent palette also help to imbue the artwork with a soft and calm quality as well.

Aquicorn Cove is a sweet and gorgeously illustrated story. A unique premise, thoughtful fantasy elements, and a winning case of characters makes this one a winner. Recommended!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Check, Please!: #Hockey: A Graphic Novel Review

Check, Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi UkazuBitty is a former junior figure skating champion, a vlogger, and a master baker. He’s also a freshman at Samwell University where he has a scholarship spot on the hockey team. Bitty is known for his speed on the ice, but he isn’t sure he’s ready for college hockey–especially if it means getting checked!

The Samwell team is . . . different than Bitty expected. There’s a lot of swearing and a lot of nicknames. Shitty (Bitty doesn’t know his real name and isn’t sure if anyone does), and Holster and Ransom are quick to welcome him, but Bitty still doesn’t know what to make of the team captain Jack who is as cute as he is moody.

As Bitty finds his footing in college and on the ice, Bitty starts to think he might just have found his place at Samwell. But only if he can get over his fear of getting checked and find a way to get past Jack’s aloof exterior in Check, Please!: #Hockey (2018) by Ngozi Ukazu.

Check, Please!: #Hockey collects part of Ukazu’s popular Check, Please! webcomic. The story is broken into seasons and this volume collects seasons one and two (Bitty’s freshman and sophomore years at Samwell). A second volume is set to follow which will cover junior and senior year.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Bitty or anyone else on the Samwell team when I started this comic. I never imagined I could actually become invested in a sports comic or laugh out loud learning about hockey butt and flow. But all of those things happened in this magical, hilarious comic.

Bitty is definitely an outlier on the team with his small stature and his penchant for baking. He’s also worried his teammates won’t accept him if they find out he’s gay. But Bitty, and readers, will be pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie and loyalty of the Samwell team. These guys are family and they are a damn delight to read about.

The fate of the Samwell team’s standing on the ice is interspersed with Bitty’s misadventures during hazing, inevitably bizarre course work, and some crazy intense tension with Jack. Is Bitty crazy to think they might become friends? Is it even crazier to hope for more?

Ukazu’s artwork is almost as cozy as Bitty’s kitchen with bright colors and smooth line work. The panels are often larger than you’d expect (especially for a story that’s adapted from a webcomic) and because of that all of the characters have extremely expressive faces too.

Check, Please!: #Hockey is a hilarious introduction to a series that is as entertaining as it is endearing. A must read for all–even the non-hockey fans. Recommended!

Making Friends: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Making Friends by Kristen GudsnukSixth grade seemed so much easier to Danielle. Her friends were all together in the same class with her. She knew all the rules in school and how things worked.

Seventh grade isn’t like that. Danielle is in a different class and her friends are making new friends without her. Nothing is the same. Even making new friends feels harder now than it did when she was younger.

Drawing in the sketchbook she inherited from her great aunt Elma is way simpler. At least until Danielle realizes that her new sketchbook is magical. Everything she draws in the book comes to life–even the head of Prince Neptune, the dreamy misunderstood villain from her favorite show.

When Danielle starts thinking about the perfect best friend, the solution seems obvious. She can draw a friend! The only problem is Madison doesn’t know that Danielle drew her. And Danielle isn’t sure they can still be friends if she finds out.

With her secret looming and Prince Neptune whispering terrible advice in her ear, Danielle’s friend troubles are certain to get even worse. It will take some magic sketches and a lot of friendship to stop Prince Neptune before it’s too late in Making Friends (2018) by Kristen Gudsnuk.

Gudsnuk’s latest graphic novel is a wild mashup of contemporary middle school antics and magical adventures sure to appeal to fans of Sailor Moon. Danielle’s real world problems are tempered with the more fantastical question of what to do about the floating head she accidentally brought to life and how to convince her best friend Madison that she can be her own person while still starting life as one of Danielle’s drawings.

Gudsnuk’s style is sharp with a cartoon vibe in this full color comic. Panels are dynamic and make a nice distinction between Danielle’s life and her drawings. Readers can only hope that this standalone volume will be the start to a new series.

Making Friends is a wild genre bender with humor and heart in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stephenson, Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi, Audrey’s Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey