Tag Archives: Publisher: First Second (Macmillan)

Be Prepared: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Be Prepared by Vera BrosgolVera has been trying hard to fit in with her friends in the suburbs. After carefully studying all of the ingredients, Vera knows exactly what she needs to have the perfect birthday party. Except the end result doesn’t turn out quite right. The Russian pizza place doesn’t stuff their crust with cheese. The Russian bakery doesn’t have ice cream cake. And Vera’s single mother can’t afford a big house like the other girls so the sleepover is more cramped than fun.

As summer approaches and all of her friends talk about going to camp Vera is reminded that her family can’t afford camp and she’ll be spending another summer at home with her siblings. Until Vera finds out about something amazing at church: Russian summer camp!

Vera is certain that Russian summer camp is her chance to finally fit in and make friends. And even if things go wrong, it’s only two weeks, right?

Unfortunately things go wrong almost immediately.

Vera winds up at a camp filled with Russian history lessons, older girl drama, no candy, and worst of all outhouses instead of indoor plumbing! When her two weeks turn into a full month Vera will have to see if she can use her love of art and (some) animals to try and turn things around in Be Prepared (2018) by Vera Brosgol.

Brosgol’s latest book is an excellent addition to the increasingly popular graphic novel memoir arena. The story is inspired by Brosgol’s own childhood and includes an author’s note at the end explaining how she adapted her real life experiences into a compelling graphic novel.

Be Prepared has a palette of green, black, and white lending a natural feel to the artwork even before Vera (and her younger brother who is forced to tag along) show up at camp. Brosgol’s artwork has bold lines that help to convey expressive characters and detailed backdrops. Young Vera’s drawings are also integrated well into the comic with a less polished pencil-like drawing style.

Be Prepared is an utterly sympathetic story of plans gone wrong, scary bathrooms, nature, and learning to adapt. Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeie or Shannon Hale.

Possible Pairings: El Deafo by Cece Bell, Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Smile by Raina Telgemeier

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

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Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour: Featuring Cucumber Quest!

Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour HeaderI always love finding new graphic novels and comics so I was thrilled when I got the chance to join First:Second’s Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour.

While all of the comics were delightful, a new favorite quickly emerged the moment I opened Cucumber Question: The Doughnut Kingdom (2017) and its sequel Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom (2018) by Gigi D. G.

In Dreamside in a house in the Doughnut Kingdom a young rabbit named Cucumber is preparing to head to magic school. His plans are dashed when his parents reveal that Cucumber is the latest in a line of Legendary Heroes and it is his destiny to save The Doughnut Kingdom and Dreamside from the Nightmare Knight.

While Cucumber appreciates the predicament, he’d much rather go to magic school and leave saving the world to literally anyone else. Luckily (or perhaps not) Cucumber’s younger sister Almond is all about adventure, swords, and fighting so she is more than ready to drag Cucumber along on this epic quest.

Saving the kingdom won’t be easy when allies include a hapless Dream Oracle and a knight armed with little more than charm and a flimsy spear. The quest will take both young rabbits far from home as they travel across Dreamside to gather the tools they need to save the day.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom is a great introduction to D. G.’s vivid and bizarre world (which started life as a webcomic before the volumes were collected by First:Second) as Cucumber and Almond embark on their journey to try and stop the Nightmare Knight. The adventure continues in Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom when (spoiler) the Nightmare Knight does in fact return and he and his minions need to be stopped–one kingdom at a time.

The first book includes a great map of The Doughnut Kingdom (shown above) and trading card style intros for all of the characters. Volume Two’s bonus material has more character trading cards and a tourist guide to Cucumber and Almond’s next stop: The Ripple Kingdom. D. G. uses a surprisingly color palette that is bright without being jarring. The comic panels are dynamic and filled with amazingly expressive characters.

These comics are zany and incredibly clever. The cast is filled with strong characters including the mysterious thief, Saturday, and the charmingly forgetful Princess Nautilus. Then of course there’s Almond, the girl who would happily save the world if only any of the adults in Dreamside would let her. Cucumber astutely engages with a lot of the obvious flaws in quest stories (How is Cucumber really the best choice for this? Why is it so easy to resurrect the Nightmare Knight anyway? What’s up with his dad in that cell?) while also embodying everything that makes quest stories so fun (reluctant hero! adventure! mayhem!).

I can’t wait to see what happens when Cucumber, Almond, and the rest of their team head to The Ripple Kingdom.

Be sure to check out all of the titles featured on the blog tour too:

  • Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor: A Victorian tale of derring-do and also girls fighting monsters.
  • Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G: A bunny-filled fantasy adventure of a kingdom in distress and some reluctant (and non-reluctant) heroes.
  • The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson: A historical San Francisco adventure of a girl who accidentally ends up in fairyland.
  • Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence: A girl scout adventure–but in outer space!
  • Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado: A fantasy adventure of defying expectations and friendship (and monsters).

You can also check out these blog tour stops:

The Prince and the Dressmaker: My Favorite Panels Blog Tour (and Review)


cover art for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen WangEverything is starting to change in Paris. Department stores are coming, fashions are rapidly evolving, the modern age is almost here.

Frances can’t wait for more changes to come. She’s tired of working in traditional styles catering to the boring tastes of her clients. Frances wants to be more than a dressmaker. She wants to be a designer. She wants the chance to design clothes in the styles she dreams of–the ones that most of her clients can’s possibly imagine wearing.

When she crosses paths with Prince Sebastian, Frances’ life takes a sudden turn. Sebastian’s parents want him to look for a bride. But Sebastian would rather spend his time becoming a sensation in Paris nightlife as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. Sebastian feels like a disappointment to his parents and ill-prepared to become king one day. But as Lady Crystallia he has the chance to not just be someone else but, thanks to Frances’ amazing designs, to be a fashion sensation.

Frances is happy to help Sebastian step into the limelight. But to help protect his secret, Frances also has to stay in the shadows hiding her own talents and ambitions. As Frances and Sebastian grow closer both will have to decide how much they’re willing to give up to protect each other in The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018) by Jen Wang.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a delightful standalone graphic novel with the feel of a modern fairy tale. Wang’s bold lines, dynamic panels, and lush full-color illustrations fully immerse readers in Frances and Sebastian’s story. The use of color here also makes all of Lady Crystallia’s dresses even more vibrant to behold.

This story remains hopeful and idealistic throughout, even as Sebastian struggles with how to tell his parents about his nights spent as Lady Crystallia and Frances is forced to quash her own dreams while keeping Sebastian’s secret. Sebastian’s relationship with Frances forms the backbone of this story and helps to highlight both characters’ strengths throughout. I loved the gentle affection and humor Wang brings to both her artwork and the dialog as this story unfolds.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a winning tale of friendship, romance, and fashion. Absolutely impossible to read without a smile on your face. Highly recommended.

As part of this blog tour I also get to talk about my favorite panel from this book. There are a lot but I decided to go with one that isn’t too much of a spoiler. My favorite panels can be found on page 134 in the book.

I love the way that this panel reinforces the friendship between Frances and Sebastian and hints at how close they have grown throughout the story. You can also see the beautiful color work here which manages to be soft hued but also still bold and bright. The changes in panel design and the speech bubble layout also illustrates what I mentioned before about how dynamic the panels are in every spread.

Be sure to check out the full blog tour schedule to hear more about the book and see more favorite panels.

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

Pashmina: A Graphic Novel Review

Priyanka doesn’t feel like she fits in at her high school where she tells everyone to call her “Pri” to avoid any questions about pronouncing her name. She doesn’t feel confident about her artwork even when her teacher nominates one of her comics for an art contest.

At home Pri’s mother refuses to answer questions about her father. When she finds out that her uncle Jatin and his wife are expecting a new baby, Pri isn’t sure what that will mean for their relationship. Nervous that she is being displaced, Pri prays to Shakti.

Pri is guilt-ridden and terrified that her prayers have been answered in the worst way when baby Shilpa is born premature. She finds unexpected comfort in one of her mother’s old pashmina shawls. Wrapped up in the shawl Pri is transported to a colorful and vibrant vision of India that only furthers her interest in the country and her mother’s past.

When Pri’s mother surprises her with a trip to India she is thrilled to have the chance to visit and meet her mother’s sister. Arriving in India is thrilling and offers so many new experiences but as Pri explores more of the country and learns more about her family, she realizes that the visions from the shawl are far from the truth in Pashmina (2017) by Nidhi Chanani.

Pashmina is Chanani’s debut graphic novel.

Chanani’s artwork is whimsical and carefully detailed. The comic uses color to draw a neat contrast between Pri’s real life which is shown in pale neutrals and her fantastical visions of India that are vibrant in rich colors reminiscent of the cover art.

Although Pri is around sixteen (one plot point involves Uncle Jatin teaching her to drive), she reads much younger as a character–something that is also reflected in the story making this feel more like a middle grade story than one about a girl in high school. Some aspects of the plot remain vague (how Pri can travel to India on such short notice for instance) but these pieces do little to diminish the effect of the whole. The plot stops short of exploring some of the more complicated issues like the sometimes strained relationship of Pri’s aunt and uncle in India, although overall this comic is nuanced and thoughtful.

Pashmina is a clever story brimming with positivity. Chanani blends fantasy elements well with accurate and honest portrayals of Pri’s life as the child of an Indian immigrant as well as the hardships, cultural heritage, and beauty that can be found in India.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

Decelerate Blue: A Graphic Novel Review

In the future the world is obsessed with efficiency. Adjectives are a waste of time. Reading needs to be streamlined. Even conversation is utilitarian with “goes” at the end of every sentence.

Angela’s parents are on board with everything the Guarantee Committee is selling. Why would they do anything to jeopardize their guarantee and its promise of a better life?

Angela isn’t so sure. She wants a chance to slow down. To think. To feel.

After reading a book called Kick the Boot Angela realizes she isn’t alone. Soon she finds herself at the center of a radical movement determined to slow society down in Decelerate Blue (2017) by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.

This standalone graphic novel offers a startling view of a bleak dystopian future where human interaction and contemplation are secondary to speed and efficiency.

Rapp’s fascinating and disturbingly possible premise is dampened by a simplistic plot and world building that falls short of developing many of the story’s most interesting points. Who are the Guarantee Committee? What exactly is a Guarantee? Decelerate Blue is short on answers.

Cavalarro creates some interesting spreads but the impact is often diminished by the comic largely being in black and white. (Blue is a key color to the story–a fact which is often lost given the black and white palette.) Although the comic does some clever things with full color panels contrasted with black and white it isn’t enough to make the artwork cohesive. A blue and white palette might have been more effective.

Angela has a romance with another girl during her (brief) time with the underground resistance. But instead of creating an empowering queer relationship readers instead get yet another tragic lesbian death.

Decelerate Blue takes on a lot of things to create an interesting sci-fi dystopian comic but it doesn’t always negotiate the form well leading to questions of how the story might have functioned with different artistic choices or even as a novel with a bit more development.

Readers looking for an intriguing piece of flash fiction or a superficial treatment of dystopian themes might find what they’re looking for in Decelerate Blue.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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

Spill Zone: A (Blog Tour) Graphic Novel Review

No entry. No photos. No survivors.

No one has been allowed in the Poughkeepsie Spill Zone since the night of the Spill. Addison Merrick was out of town and came back to a town she didn’t recognize, missing parents, and a sister who hasn’t spoken since.

With nowhere else to go she’s kept herself and her sister near the border of the Spill in their family home. From there it’s easy for Addison to periodically sneak into the Spill and snap photos of the weird aftermath to sell to art collectors.

No one knows what happened the night of the Spill but when Addison receives an offer to venture farther into the Zone than she ever has, she might be closer to finding out–whether she wants to or not in Spill Zone (2017) by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland with color by Hilary Sycamore.

Spill Zone is Westerfeld’s latest graphic novel and the start to a new series. You can find a copy at your local library, buy a copy, or you can read the entire comic online with neat blog posts from Scott and Alex talking about their process at thespillzone.com.

Spill Zone starts with Addison getting ready to venture into the Spill Zone to take another batch of photos. By this point Addison has the process down from sneaking through the border to how to get out of the Spill in one piece and protect herself and her sister while selling the highly illegal photos to art collectors like the owner of the Vandersloot Gallery (which you can find online). It’s risky but, thanks to Addison’s meticulous rules, it’s manageable.

Inside the Spill is dangerous and eerie. No one knows what happened. Time doesn’t seem to work the same way. Dangerous creatures are everywhere. Even colors are different. When Addison receives an offer she can’t refuse she’s forced to travel even further into the Spill Zone and confront dangerous truths about that night and the aftermath. The combination of Westerfeld’s story and Puvilland’s art keeps the tension taut throughout this volume as it builds to the dangerous climax and, of course, leaves readers with more questions.

Spill Zone is a fascinating and fast-paced story perfectly situated to appeal to both fans of speculative fiction and comics. Spill Zone is a deceptively fast read that packs a punch–guaranteed to reward multiple reads and close examination of each panel. Highly recommended.

As part of the Spill Zone Blog Tour I also have an exclusive photo from inside the Spill Zone!

This photo was taken by artist Alex Puvilland during his research for this book in Poughkeepsie. Spill Zone has had a lot of fun publicity that started well before its publication including the Spill Zone site where you can read the entire comic (and cool blog posts about Scott and Alex’s writing process) and also a web presence for the Vandersloot Gallery which displays some of Ms. Vandersloot’s impressive collection of Addison’s photos from inside the Spill.

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour for more exclusive photos. You can find the full schedule here: http://fiercereadsya.tumblr.com/post/160085874816/no-entry-no-photographs-no-survivors-three-years

The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksKaidu and Rat are still recovering after stopping the assassination of the General of All Blades. In the wake of the assassination, the Nameless City seems peaceful and there is reason to hope things will stay that way.

The General of All Blades and Kaidu’s father are working to create a council of all the nations that claim the City as their home to stop the constant fighting to claim the City as territory. But not everyone supports the idea of a council and its promise to change the Dao way of life in the city forever.

As conflict begins to fracture the Dao nation from within, Kaidu discovers a formula for a powerful weapon–a secret that has been protected for generations and something Rat might be able to decipher. Sharing the formula with the Dao could mean giving the City’s current conquerors a dangerous edge. Hiding it could make peace even harder to achieve. Kai and Rat already did the unthinkable by becoming friends and saving the General of All Blades. Will they be able to do it again to bring peace to the City before its too late? in The Stone Heart (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.

The Stone Heart picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of The Nameless City bringing readers back to the City that Rat calls home and the place Kai is coming to care about.

Hicks uses the relative calm at the beginning of this installment to expand the world of the City as Rat shows Kai more of her world and introduces her to several new characters. This expanded view helps to bring the City into clearer focus and situates the story within the larger context of the world Hicks has created based on thirteenth century China (as mentioned in an author’s note which talks a bit about her research process). Hicks’ full-color artwork is as stunning as ever and once again brings Kai and Rat’s story vividly to life.

When the uneasy truce that Kai and Rat helped bring to fruition falls apart spectacularly,  the story moves in an unexpected direction and new villains emerge. Will Kai and Rat be able to save the City? Will the mysterious formula Kai and Rat found fall into the wrong hands? Readers will have to wait for trilogy’s exciting conclusion to see how everything comes together. Recommended for readers looking for a new comic adventure and those who enjoy their adventure served with a side of strong-but-unlikely friendships.

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