Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This Savage Song: A Review

“Nobody gets to stay the same.”

This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabNo one knows what happened in Verity to make monsters appear in the wake of violent acts. The only certainty is that two factions struggle to maintain order in a city where safety has become an illusion.

The Corsai who prey in shadows, and the Malchai with their eerie red eyes and pale skin, listen to Harker and spare those who can afford to pay for his protection. Kate Harker wants to mold herself in her father’s image. After years of training herself to emulate her father and hide her weaknesses (like her deaf ear and the nightmares that sometimes still haunt her), Kate finally feels ready to meet her father on his own terms. She is prepared to be as ruthless as he is and prove that she can one day take on his mantle leading Verity’s monsters.

Flynn, meanwhile, tries to bring together those who can’t afford Harker’s brand of safety and believe that working with monsters can only end one way. Flynn’s secret weapons against Harker are Verity’s Sunai–rare and powerful monsters born from the most horrific acts of violence who feed on sinners to keep themselves alive. If it wasn’t for their coal black eyes, you’d almost think the Sunai are human.

August Flynn desperately wants to be human like his adopted parents, the Flynns. He dreams of being able to play his violin without fear, without feeding. He starves himself, trying to push himself past hunger and beyond his own monstrous Sunai tendencies. He hopes that by helping protect the innocent he can become more human than monster. August jumps at the chance to help his father’s cause by spying on Kate and figuring out what Harker is up to as the city’s uneasy truce threatens to break.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are on opposite sides in a city on the verge of war. When everything in Verity begins to go wrong, they are also the only ones who can keep each other alive in This Savage Song (2016) by Victoria Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Savage Song is the first book in Schwab’s new YA series, Monsters of Verity. The book alternates third person close POV between Kate and August throughout.

Schwab presents a world that is eerily plausible in This Savage Song. Some aspects of this world are more developed than others but the key pieces to the story are completely realized. Being the first book in a new series also leaves room for further development in future installments.

Verity is one of several supercities across what was once the United States–a country that disbanded after unrest over the Vietnam War. The supercities were born in the wake of this upheaval and order was restored. Until a few years before the start of the novel when violent crimes began to leave echoes in the form of monsters. Six years ago Harker and Flynn called a truce but with promises broken and more monsters being born, the balance of power may be tipping as the novel starts.

Kate and August are opposites in every sense of the word (although both are described as fair and pale, respectively). Kate is cold and calculating. She struggles to suppress any traits that might be conceived as weaknesses by others–especially her father. August, meanwhile, is desperate to be warm and, well, human. Anything to prove he isn’t entirely a monster and still has some humanity left to save. Throughout the story Kate and August serve as counterpoints and foils for each other with each representing, in various ways, something the other can never hope to achieve.

This Savage Song is a fast-paced urban fantasy that still manages to deliver subtle character studies of monstrous humans and humane monsters. A larger conspiracy unfolding throughout the story adds a bit of mystery to an already taut plot and lays groundwork for events to come in later books.

This Savage Song is a thoughtful and nuanced story about light and dark, about resisting change and accepting it, as well as the fragile nature of what makes us human … or not. In a world filled with monsters, it turns out that there are no easy answers about right and wrong. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Fracture by Megan Miranda, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at ALAMW 2016 (thanks to Nicole!)*

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth DurstSophie has always loved her parents’ secret shop, the one hidden below their book shop, where dreams are bought and sold. The business of distilling, bottling and sorting dreams has always been fascinating to Sophie, especially since she never has dreams of her own.

When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie will have to follow the clues to try and save them. With her best friend–a snarky monster named Monster–at her side, Sophie will have to decide who she can trust and who she can ask for help in order to protect her family and their secrets in The Girl Who Could Not Dream (2015) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream has a carefully executed fantasy system that makes sense for the plot and also immediately draws readers into the story. Durst expertly evokes the dream shop run by Sophie’s parents as well as the complex distillation process. Moments of humor and often improbably creatures (ninja bunnies!) blend well with genuinely scary nightmares as Sophie follows the trail to her missing parents.

Sophie is a determined protagonist even as she struggles with trying to make new friends and keeping her family’s secrets. Along the way Sophie also gets help from equally entertaining characters including Monster (her best friend) and Ethan, a classmate who suffers from terrifying nightmares.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream is a charming fantasy novel perfect for readers of all ages. Highly recommended for readers who like their thrills and chills tempered with some good laughs.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand, Mister Monday by Garth Nix

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this novel!

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.”

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve TucholkeViolet’s grandmother, Freddie, told her to be careful of the Devil countless times. But with Freddie dead and her parents indefinitely traveling through Europe, it’s hard enough just to survive without thinking about the Devil. There are bills to pay, a twin brother to fight with and a neighbor to try and avoid.

In need of money, Violet takes a gamble and tries to rent out her family’s guesthouse. She doesn’t expect anyone to come. No one in the small town of Echo thinks much of Violet and her formerly-rich family.

Then River West drives into town all sly smiles and lazy grace to rent the guesthouse and turn the whole town upside down.

The closer Violet gets to River the more she finds herself drawn to him. But as she learns more about River and her own family’s past the more obvious it becomes that Freddie was right all along. It’s easy to lose sight of the Devil when he’s the one giving you a crooked smile like no one else in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2013) by April Genevieve Tucholke.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is Tucholke’s first novel. It is also the first of a duet. (The second volume Between the Spark and the Burn will be published in 2014.)

Violet is a great narrator with a cadence reminiscent of lazy days telling stories in a summer haze. Low level swear words (there are a lot of things that Violet has damn strong feelings about) and references to classic movies and books (like Casablanca and Hawthorne’s short stories) are woven seamlessly into the story to give the whole novel an otherworldly air.

This story is also strangely devoid of theology or other non-secular discussions for a book that focuses so heavily on Devil mythology and the idea of evil. In some ways that is a good thing as it makes the book approachable for a wider audience. On the other hand, even for someone who is not religious, it felt strange to see so much concern for the Devil but no mention of God except to say that there must be some kind of god if there is, in fact, some kind of devil.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is an enjoyable book for readers who don’t mind skipping over small details that don’t quite make sense. Because it is often the little things that make this story frustrating. Where, exactly, is the town of Echo located? Why does Violet not question her strange and instant attraction to the stranger in her guest house? How many times can two teenagers realistically sleep in the same bed (naked) with nothing happening?

And, of course, the biggest question: How many chances for forgiveness does a sociopath really deserve?

Which leads to the biggest problem in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Almost none of the characters are likable. While Violet is a sympathetic (if naive) narrator, none of the secondary characters are likable. Violet’s twin brother is a brute, her neighbor friend is vapid to the point of meanness. River, the supposed male lead, is a villain in every sense of the word: he kills people, hurts people and creates mayhem everywhere he goes not because he has no choice but because he can. Because he enjoys it.

While there is always room for anti-heroes in literature–especially ones that readers will want to root for–it is impossible to find any redeeming qualities in River. He is a sociopath. The only times he is angry or shows regret about his actions is when he is caught in the act. Otherwise it’s all in good fun. River is meant to be sympathetic but in the face of so many wrongs, that sympathy was never warranted. More to the point, River being so awful also drags down the other characters. Instead of seeing Violet and others who try to help River as steadfast or strong they only come off as enablers who are painfully, dangerously ignorant of the devil who has just come to town.

This blend of gothic horror and devilish anti-heroes will appeal to fans of Hush, Hush and Beautiful Creatures. Readers looking for a book with characters who are actually likable instead of just characters who say they are likable will be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Compulsion by Martina Boone, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creature by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Beautiful and the Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan1899: Ingrid Waverly is ruined in London, her reputation in tatters and her friendships irrevocably broken. In the wake of a disastrous summer, Ingrid can hardly bring herself to care when her mother uproots the family to open an art gallery in a Paris abbey.

Both Ingrid and her younger sister, Gabriella, are horrified by the sorry state of the abbey and the prospect of actually living in it. Worse, upon arriving in Paris the family soon learns that Ingrid’s twin brother Grayson is missing.

As Ingrid struggles to find some trace of Grayson she is drawn into a strange underworld of Paris filled with demons and monsters that boggle the mind. But not all of the grotesques Ingrid encounters will lurk in shadows. Some will be closer than she could ever imagine in The Beautiful and the Cursed (2013) by Page Morgan.

The Beautiful and the Cursed is Morgan’s first novel and the beginning of a series. It also started life with the much fiercer title of Grotesque.

A combination of a picturesque setting, an impossible romance and living gargoyles guarantees that The Beautiful and the Cursed will be wildly appealing to many readers. Particularly to readers who enjoy paranormal romances.

Unfortunately other pieces of this novel do not come as smoothly together.

Many aspects of the story do not make sense ranging from unlikely names* to poor plotting. The incident surrounding Ingrid’s departure from England seemed particularly unconvincing to the point of either being contrived or completely fabricated by an unreliable character.**

These problems could have been forgiven and the story truly has potential. The real problem, the one that became impossible to ignore, was how the romance aspect of the story progressed. Ingrid is immediately drawn to one of the abbey’s surly servants–a young man named Luc. While (rightly) Gabriella notices something with Luc, all Ingrid sees are his vivid green eyes. He is at times dismissive, arrogant, rude and brash in his interactions with Ingrid.*** There is absolutely no reason to believe Ingrid would ever be attracted to someone beneath her (albeit sullied) social station and given her supposed independent and pragmatic nature there is even less reason to believe that person would be Luc if such a thing were to happen. Readers who enjoy an unlikely romantic pairing and instantaneous attraction may still find redeeming qualities in Luc (much as Ingrid herself does).

Although the romance is fraught with problems and numerous narrators add unnecessary complications (and repeated information reveals) to the story, The Beautiful and the Cursed is an interesting historical fantasy romance. The story has suspense, drama and even some swoon-worthy moments. Morgan also does an admirable job creating a mythology for gargoyles that is all her own.

*Calling proper English girls Gabriella and Ingrid seemed strange to me. Perhaps with a French mother Gabriella makes sense, but Ingrid? Really?

**She started a fire. By accident. Really?

***I don’t care how tragic the backstory. Luc is a jerk. Really.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe Jacobs, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Darker Still: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Darker Still by Leanna Renee HieberOddities have always clung to Natalie Stewart. Some are tame like the art objects her father collects for the new Metropolitan Museum. Some are stranger like the Whisper that sometimes tugs at the edge of her hearing.

Some are so terrifying that they took Natalie’s voice, leaving her Mute from a young age.

Then there are the things that defy all description like the portrait of Lord Denbury–a painting that seems to call to her, changing as if Lord Denbury himself were beckoning Natalie.

Stranger still, when Natalie answers the call of the portrait she finds much more than a painting. Soon she is drawn into the uneasy world of magic and possession where paintings can act as traps and a body can be stolen with the right words.

In this dangerous word Natalie may love and even her voice. But other, darker things, may find her as well in Darker Still (2011) by Leanna Renee Hieber.

Darker Still is the first in Hieber’s Darker Still trilogy, followed by The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and The Double Life of Incorporate Things which is currently being presented in serialized form on Hieber’s blog (and will culminate with the publication of the complete novel).

For obvious reasons, Darker Still is an epistolary novel–written as Natalie’s diary. The format makes sense and provides opportunities for interesting passages of time and an interplay between “present” moments and Natalie’s narrative asides. However during high action sequences the journal entry form does stretch the limits of believability as Natalie rushes to jot down key scenes.

Hieber’s writing is delightful with Natalie’s breezy, sometimes even impertinent, tone. Natalie is refreshingly brash and independent as she does a lot of the wrong things throughout the plot (for all of the right reasons). Being Mute, Natalie’s narration also offers a unique perspective on life in general and specifically 1880 New York.

While Natalie shines as a heroine, the format and pacing of Darker Still did not leave much room to build up the setting as a backdrop for the story. The journal also created limitations in pacing as Natalie “rushes” to write everything down.

While Denbury is an admirable male lead in terms of looks and personality, his immediate connection with Natalie felt almost too immediate. It works because the entire novel is a bit of a whirlwind but if you think too much about their connection it starts to fall apart.

Darker Still is a fun, generally satisfying, riff on themes found in many a gothic classic with obvious nods to The Picture of Dorian Gray. A great read for anyone eager to try reading historical fantasy, gothic tales of suspense and even steampunk.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Every Other Day: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2011)

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn BarnesAfter reading and loving Barnes’ Trial by Fire I decided to pick up Barnes’ latest (standalone) book even though the mechanics of Kali’s day-to-day change gave me pause. My expectations were probably too high and too reliant on comparisons to Barnes Raised by Wolves series.

Kali’s shift every other day between human and more than human was a great premise and made for an interesting premise. No one writes tough, action-ready heroines better than Barnes. That said, having Kali transform every other day into a super hunter made it really hard to connect with her character even as I wanted to sympathize with her feelings of being torn in two by the constant changing.

The pieces just didn’t come together as well as I wanted them to between slow pacing in the beginning and an ending that felt unsatisfying. While the alternate history Barnes created is genius, the characters and story did not stand up to the Raised by Wolves standard. This book does still have all of the pieces for a great action-filled, girl power-ed story. It will appeal strongly to fans of Buffy, adventure, and Barnes’ signature mix of sharp-tongued heroines and action.

The Demon Trapper’s Daughter: A(n Excited!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Demon Trapper's Daughter by Jana OliverIt’s 2018 and the city of Atlanta is going to Hell. The economy is in shambles, the city is practically bankrupt, and Lucifer’s demons are everywhere. Angels wander the streets but they keep a low profile and tend to stay in the background.

Demons have no such scruples. Whether it’s a Biblio, a Magpie, or one of the Geofiends there is no forgetting that things are bad and on their way to worse.

Especially for seventeen-year-old Riley Blackthorne. An apprentice demon trapper learning the ropes from her father, Riley already sticks out as the only girl apprentice in the local demon trapper’s guild. When she botches a routine trapping, that’s bad. When her father is killed and Riley is left on her own, that’s a whole lot worse.

Riley is alone in a hostile city. There are some in the guild eager to see her fail. There are some, like really cute fellow apprentice Simon Adler, who want to help. Denver Beck, her father’s trapping partner and a near constant annoyance to Riley, wants nothing more than to run her life. At least, sometimes he does. Sometimes he just wants to be nice to her. It’s confusing.

Either way, Riley doesn’t want help. She wants to get by on her own and prove herself.

In a city where the demons know your name and the old rules are changing, working alone might get Riley killed. Or worse in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter* (2011) by Jana Oliver.

There is a lot to love about The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Jana Oliver takes the old conventions about demons and demon hunting and  turns them upside down in this dynamic start to what promises to be a thrilling series. Oliver’s world building is phenomenal. Riley and the other characters, particularly Beck, jump off  the page in an evocative story where readers will smell the brimstone and feel the swipe of every demonic claw.

The story is written in the third person and alternates between Riley and Beck’s viewpoints. The one weak point in the writing are the italicized thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative which are a bit jarring–particularly Beck’s since his are written in the vernacular to convey his Georgia accent. Riley can be a frustrating protagonist especially with her low opinion of (the obviously awesome) Denver Beck. But Beck is just as stubborn. By the end of the story the two balance out even though they might not see it that way.

There are a lot of urban fantasies out there. There are a lot of books about demons. There are a lot of books about a young woman trying to prove herself. This book is all three. Gritty, funny, and exciting The Demon Trapper’s Daughter is a charmer with equal parts action and heart. Highly recommended.

*This book is also called The Demon Trappers: Forsaken–that’s the title for the UK edition. Thanks to the author, Jana G. Oliver, for commenting on the review I posted on Amazon to confirm this information! (I prefer The Demon Trapper’s Daughter as it points more to the crux of the story. Either way, this is the first book in The Demon Trappers series.)

Possible Pairings: The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Exclusive Bonus Content: Did you catch by now that I have a ridiculous literary crush on Denver Beck? Seriously, he’s awesome. I can’t even tell you how awesome he is because it gets too far into plot details but I expect him to play a BIG role in the rest of the series (and hopefully not die tragically because that would make me sad). In all seriousness (no really) Denver Beck joins Tom Imura, Alan Ryves and Tucker Avery in the very exclusive Literary Guys I Wish Were Real Club.

Also, if I had a club for Book Covers I Love this one would definitely be in it. I think it not only captures the essence of the book but also the essence of Riley as a character in a weird way. I read this book as an arc so, tragically, I do not have information on the who designed this delightful cover.

Mostly Monsterly: A Picture Book Review

Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott MagoonOn the outside Bernadette is mostly monsterly. She has point ears, huge eyes, fangs and even a creepy necklace. She can lurch, growl and cause all kind of mayhem. But underneath the fangs and the fur, Bernadette has a deep, dark secret.

Sometimes, when she’s all alone, Bernadette likes to pick flowers, and pet kittens, and do all kinds of things that aren’t monsterly at all.

When Bernadette starts school all of her classmates act like total monsters but with a few secret weapons and some quick thinking Bernadette should be able to win them over and still get to be herself in Mostly Monsterly (August 2010) by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon (illustrator).

Sauer’s writing is perfect for reading aloud with built in pauses for suspense and surprises and a lot of humor. Bernadette is a lovable monster who learns that sometimes being different is okay but some concessions might be needed to make friends. The message is never heavy handed or otherwise over the top.

Magoon’s illustrations add the perfect blend of creepiness and cuteness to the story to create a book that will be perfect for any monster fans but not too scary for younger readers.

Excellent possibility for a storytime program about being yourself.

Possible Pairings: A Girl and Her Gator by Sean Bryan and Tom Murphy, Bark, George by Jules Feiffer, Presenting . . . Talulah by Tori Spelling and Vanessa Brantley Newton

*This book was received for review at Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview in May*

Jellaby: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) review

Jellaby by Kean SooI don’t think I mentioned this on the blog yet, but I spent the last two weeks writing two 20ish page papers about graphic novels. I can rattle off titles, a brief history of the term, benefits of the format, the difference between graphic novels and comics (trick question!), and even how to develop a graphic novel collection at your library. Having become one of those experts on graphic novels without reading any graphic novels, I decided to read Jellaby (2008) by Kean Soo yesterday. I also decided to cross-post its review as this week’s CLW post and my inaugural graphic novel review. (I could have merged this with another category, but graphic novels/comics are so unique I thought they needed a different category.)

Having read Kean Soo’s Eisner nominated graphic novel Jellaby (2008) in a couple of hours, I can see why Lea over at Library Voice selected it as a reluctant reader pick. How cool is it for a child who dislikes reading to pick up a title and be able to read it in a few days?

This story does not, however, start with Jellaby. It starts with a ten-year-old girl. Portia does not like her new school. In fact, almost everything about school bores her. Even having the freedom to write her book report on “Reason and Emotion: Classical and Romantic Philosophies in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia” doesn’t do much to challenge Portia let alone engage her. Liking school is even harder when no one in school seems especially fond of Portia. With the added problems of a missing father and a busy mother, it’s no wonder Portia seems less than happy.

When Portia hears something outside her window in the middle of the night, she isn’t sure what to expect. But being a resourceful child, Portia takes a flashlight and goes out to investigate.

She finds a large purple monster who tries to eat said flashlight. Instead of being scared, or running away, Portia invites the monster inside and makes him a tuna sandwich. Suddenly Portia has exactly what she needed: a friend.

Matters get more complicated when Portia’s classmate finds out about Jellaby and insinuates himself into Portia’s decision to help Jellaby find his home. Thus begins a journey that, I should warn you, will not finish in this volume.

The illustrations are drawn primarily with purple, lavender, and black (with yellow and orange accents). I was impressed with how much variety Soo was able to get so much variation from such a small palette. I also liked the configuration of this graphic novel. The panels flowed in a sensible way so that sequencing wasn’t a challenge (sometimes I have a hard time reading comic book panels in the correct order). The writing is also large enough to make it easy to read without eye strain.

My Mom doesn’t agree with me on this–I think the word repulsive might have been used–but I think Jellaby is adorable—possibly cuter than either Portia or Jason, though I don’t know that they had a chance when being compared to a lovable, large purple monster. The story here is complex, but clearly plotted out, with a lot of fun characters. Like many other graphic novels, this title is one that will likely appeal to readers of multiple ages from a variety of age levels, which as far as book recommending goes, isn’t too shabby.

This is Kean Soo’s first graphic novel–hopefully the first of many about Portia, Jason and of course Jellaby. Oh, and Jellaby started out as a web comic which you can find at The Secret Friend Society along with Hope Larson’s comic Salamander Dreams which is archived on the site.