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BOOK REVIEW: Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway By Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera

BOOK REVIEW: Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway By Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera

Reading GNB reminded me of the famous Muhammad Ali quote “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights”. One of my favourite parts of GNB was how it explores the decisions made by political and military leaders before the battles themselves. It is often here that the outcome of campaigns is decided.

The writing in GNB is slick and unhurried. There are often shifts of perspective. We see how everyone from sailors to spies to heads of state all react to the world around them. We witness the devastating consequences of their actions on each other. We are given time to care about the characters in each story, which means that the tension builds as you turn the page. Another joy of the book for me was reading about battles that I had not heard of before. I knew nothing about Tsushima and Jutland.

The art in GNB is an exercise in consummate refinement. The battles themselves are the obvious high point. The action is thrilling and easy to follow. The attention to detail meant many of the pages were utterly engrossing. The colouring was a bit too glossy for my tastes, and I felt a grimier look would have benefitted some of the pages. There are some truly gruesome scenes of violence which I felt were undermined slightly because of this. Overall though that is a minor quibble. The quieter slower character moments both before and after the battles were also handled skillfully. One of my favourite moments was the bickering sailors complaining about their superiors in Tsushima. It contrasted nicely with the political intrigue of the conversations between Commander Brunnel and Charles Emile in Japan where neither man wants to give too much away.  

The battles depicted in GNB are gripping and action-packed. The sections exploring the tactics used at sea and strategic decision of those that sent ships off to war are riveting. Highly recommended for both history buffs and those like myself who had little knowledge going in. 

Please consider buying Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway with this affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra and it helps me keep the lights on.

Book Review: The Sad Ghost Club Volume 1 by Lize Meddings

Book Review: The Sad Ghost Club Volume 1 by Lize Meddings

The Sad Ghost Club is both pleasant and charming. It has lovely artwork that absolutely captures the angst that teenagers suffering from anxiety feel. The writing here is perceptive and on point. It balances humour, pathos, and, sweetness exceedingly well. Sam is given to bouts of overthinking which give way to a sense of hopelessness and the self-doubt. Sam cares about his pets, parents, and cares about what people think of him. Socks also suffers from bouts of low feelings, but her experience and way of handling it are different from Sam’s. They are both characters you root for as they are sweet kids trying to do their best. It is a book that left me feeling warm all over. Without sounding too worthy, I think this is an important book. The stresses and strains that the pandemic has caused are likely to cause young people to become more vulnerable to mental illness. The message at the heart of the book is that you are not alone. You have a tribe that understands you. The hard thing sometimes is finding them. I was a shy teenager and grew up into the sort of bloke that you’d very much in the kitchen at parties. I would have very much liked to have read The Sad Ghost Club while I was growing up. It might have made things a bit easier. A lovely book.

Please consider buying The Sad Ghost Club with this affiliate link. It won’t cost you any extra and it helps me keep the lights on.

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

The Grémillet Sisters by Giovanni Di Gregorio & Alessandro Barbucci

An utterly adorable book. The Gremillet Sisters is a heartwarming story that is told with glorious eye-catching artwork. As a fan of Pixar and Studio Ghibli its lovely to read something that captures the same sense of adventure and emotional heft. Di Gregorio script does not treat the reader like an idiot. This is perhaps a more mature story than the initial impression of the artwork might lead you to believe. There is something here for both children and adults. I really enjoyed the interplay between Sarah, Cassiopeia, and, Lucille. The sibling rivalry as the sisters’ jockey for status and petty annoyances they inflict on each other is played both for laughs and dramatic purposes. There are hints of larger supernatural elements in the world of the story that were handled deftly. The core of themes of the novel though are memories, family secrets, and, what effect that hidden trauma has on loved ones when it is exposed.

Part Goonies with its mystery and detective elements and part My Neighbour Totoro with its fantastical creature designs and exploration of sisterhood deftly manages to blend moments of danger with moments of tenderness.

The dialogue is not as sharp as the art, and that does make me wonder if something was lost in translation. Also, at points, the pace does lag. However, these are minor quibbles Di Gregorio, and Barbuhave created a charming novel with a cast of characters that are memorable and who I, for one, would love to see more of.

BOOK Review: Odessa by Jonathan Hill

BOOK Review: Odessa by Jonathan Hill

Odessa by Jonathan Hill

Oni Press

Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 

Description
Three siblings search for their missing mother across a ruined America in this original graphic novel perfect for fans of Scott Westerfeld and Neal Shusterman. 

Eight years ago an earthquake—the Big One—hit along the Cascadia fault line, toppling cities and changing landscapes all up and down the west coast of the United States. Life as we know it changed forever. But for Vietnamese-American Virginia Crane, life changed shortly after the earthquake, when her mother left and never came back.

Ginny has gotten used to a life without her mother, helping her father take care of her two younger brothers, Wes and Harry. But when a mysterious package arrives for her eighteenth birthday, her life is shaken up yet again. For the first time, Ginny wants something more than to survive. And it might be a selfish desire, but she’s determined to find out what happened to her mother—even if it means leaving her family behind.

Review

Odessa is a good comic. The artwork is vibrant and engrossing. The characters, for the most part, are believable, likeable, and, well written. The opening three or four chapters are marvellous. However, the plot and uneven pacing let down the story resulting in a book which is merely good when it had the potential to be great. I would recommend buying the book because it is an enjoyable read.

Odessa follows the journey of a Vietnamese-American family trying to survive in a post-collapse society. It is a coming of age story and grand adventure tale that pits the wits of Ginny and her siblings against a harsh environment, and vicious gangs prowling the countryside.

The character designs are charming, and Hill does a splendid job of building a believably dangerous world in which the story takes place.

There are far too many coincidental meetings between key characters, and our heroes are saved once too often by friendly adults who just happen to arrive in the nick of time. Also, while the family is Vietnamese-American, I didn’t get a strong sense of any Vietnamese culture which would have given the characters greater depth. There also is little character development towards the end of the book. Ginny does most of her growing in the first half. Very few of the villans are as complicated or developed as our protagonists. Most of the baddies don’t have motivations that go beyond protecting their turf or being mean for mean’s sake.

Hill makes some bold choices with his art. Of particular note is the pink colour palette that creates some impactful juxtapositions. Some of the actions sequences are cinematic and dramatic. The panels are masterfully laid out, and the shot selection can’t be faulted. I genuinely liked Ginny, a hurt young woman looking for answers in an uncertain and treacherous world. She is resourceful, kind, and, determined. Being a teen, she also makes a lot of dumb decisions. She is a great heroine.

For YA readers there is much to enjoy. There are memorable characters, scenes of nail-biting tension, and, moments of tenderness and humour. For older readers, the story never quite reaches the heights one would expect considering how good the opening chapters are.

Book Review: The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend by Fabien Nury & Brünof

Book Review: The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend by Fabien Nury & Brünof

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend
by Fabien Nury & Brüno

Europe Comics
Pub Date 26 Aug 2020   |   Archive Date Not set

Description
A former Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran, Chris Kyle is the most lethal sniper in American military history. His autobiography, American Sniper, was a best-seller in the US. On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle is killed by another veteran, Eddie Ray Routh. The murder takes place on a shooting range in Stephenville, Texas. But that’s only the beginning of their story.

Review:

Don’t think I was the target audience for this book. It was fine, but it didn’t really have anything fresh or new to say about the tragic events. It is a rather shallow biography of Chris Kyle and his murderer Eddie Ray Routh. It covers events leading up to Chris’s death.

There is a lack of commentary about the actions of Chris and Eddie that took me out the story. I’m not sure if it was even-handedness or an attempt at impartiality, but it meant my own preconceived notions weren’t challenged. The art ranges from serviceable to chillingly good. The final few pages are especially impactful. Nury’s script, as far as the dialogue and descriptions go is good. Clearly, the creative team have gone above and beyond in researching the events and quite rightly so. However, I didn’t find myself caring about any of the characters in the book. Chris is held up as an American hero to some; he was also a liar and defamer, I would have liked a deeper examination of what compelled Chris not only to go to Iraq but also do what he did to Jesse Ventura. Similarly with Eddie if felt like a series of things that happened. It never managed to get under the skin of either victim or the killer.

Sometimes it is fine not to take an angle and let the reader make up their own mind. Here it didn’t work. The book is neither salacious nor exploitative, nor is it revelatory or particularly illuminating.

I don’t know, the book didn’t work me, I wasn’t bored exactly, but unless you have an interest in the Chris Kyle story, I would be difficult for me to recommend this. I didn’t emotionally connect with it.

Book Review: Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol

Book Review: Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol

Pistouvi by Merwan, Bertrand Gatignol
Diamond Book Distributors & Magnetic Press
Pub Date 10 Nov 2020 |

Description
Childhood should last forever…

Jeanne is a little girl who lies with a mischievous young fox named Pistouvi. They share a charming little treehouse surrounded by a magical prairie tended by a giant ‘tractor-man’ and the wind-spirit he loves. Together, Jeanne and Pistouvie spend frolicking days without a care, but soon, the birds arrive and everything changes…

A beautiful, lyrical fable about the inevitable transition from childhood freedom to adult responsibility, replete with laughs, nostalgia and heartache.

Review:
Sometimes a book gets you right in the feels. The art is breathtakingly good, and it is in service of a story and characters that immediately capture your heart.
It is a story about growing up, friendship, and, how eventually everything changes. Pistouvi is a rascal given to fits of tempers and acts of general cheekiness that are, for the most part utterly charming. Jeanne, his best friend and who I think the story is really about, is brave, kind, and, because of her curiosity is often impatient. They bring out the best in each other and I fell in love with them both.

Pistouvi is told in vignettes of almost self-contained stories. Some are eerie; others are wholesome. If I were to describe the tone and feel of the book, it would be somewhere between the melancholy weirdness of the Moomins and the eccentric fun of Adventure Time. A friend of mine once said Tove Jansen’s books taught her how to be human to other human beings. Relationships, especially the friendships we have as children are difficult things to maintain; people grow up, move away and change. Nothing lasts. Everything hurts more when you’re a kid. This book brought back a lot of emotions and memories I had growing up. I’m not saying I cried, but I’m not saying I didn’t.

This is a wonderful book. It does that Pixar thing of giving something substantial for both children and adults to enjoy. I loved this. I’ll be purchasing a copy for the little ones in my life, and I would recommend you do the same.

Book Review: The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama

Book Review: The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama

The Zolas by Méliane Marcaggi & Alice Chemama
Europe Comics
Pub Date 17 Jun 2020

Description
We know the brilliant writer of the Rougon-Macquart series and the committed author of the open letter “J’accuse…!” but what do we know about his private life?

Who were the women in his life? How did they help him to accomplish his work? At what sacrifice?

A remarkable fresco that takes us back to the end of the 19th century, to the heart of an ever-changing France and the city of Paris, full of artists and workers.

Review

really enjoyed this. It tells the story of Émile Zola and Éléonore-Alexandrine Meley. What begins as a rather tender love story unfolds into something more complex and nuanced. The Zolas’ are a charismatic couple who had an enormous cultural impact on French literature and they led an interesting life. The marriage between Émile and Alexandrine forms the bedrock of the story, it is a relationship filled with grief, heartbreak, betrayal, as well as bliss, contentment, and, comfort.

Chemama’s artwork is gorgeous. It is painterly with a watercolour-like aesthetic. At points it is exquisite, of special note is her ability to show the emotions in the faces of the characters. For me, there was a real air of authenticity through the book. Marcaggi’s script is superb. It manages to balance the flaws and strengths of each character without turning them into monsters.

I think parts of the book assume that you have knowledge of French culture and history. As a result, I felt that a lot of cultural references went over my head and I think I missed some aspects of the story because of this. There is a trial section where I didn’t really understand what was happening or why.

All in all, though this book is a very pleasant read with some of the best art I’ve seen this year and a memorable story that lingers long in the memory after you have put it down.

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Book Review: Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Rampokan 1: Java by Peter Van Dongen

Europe Comics

Comics & Graphic Novels | Historical Fiction
Pub Date 17 Jun 2020   |   

Description
1946: The Dutch have been driven out of Indonesia by the Japanese invasion, but they refuse to recognize the country’s declaration of independence. In an attempt to regain their former colony, the government mobilizes the Royal Dutch Indian Army. When they fail to take control, an unofficial force is sent to subdue the “terrorists.” Among the volunteers is Johan Knevel, who has personal reasons for joining: he wants to find out what happened to his Indonesian nurse. But far from rediscovering the lost idyll of his youth, he is confronted by the complex realities of a country in turmoil.

Review

I have been reading a lot of biographical or historical fiction graphic novels recently. When done well, they can be both entertaining and a fantastic way of learning about the past. They can be universal stories that remind us of what went before and how we must strive to be better today and tomorrow.

I wanted to like this book much more than I did. The history of the Dutch empire and its relationship with Indonesia is something I knew nothing about, and it seems to be potentially fertile ground for an engaging story. There is some good stuff here. The story explores how imperial ideals often produce hypocrites who commit barbaric, inhumane acts in the name of civilisation. It is its own way also explores what happens to generations of occupiers who love the country they live in being potentially forced back to a homeland that they have never lived in. Racism, corruption, incompetence are all themes that run through the story.

BUT, I felt it was all rather messy. For someone with no knowledge of this historical context, I felt that I was lost at the purpose of the political machinations of some of the characters. I struggled to read some of the pages due to the panel layout, which seemed to rely on the same structure repeatedly, which was rather frustrating. The pace of the story seemed odd; it never fell into a rhythm.

The art was serviceable. Van Dongen does a masterful job of creating a sense of place, that characters melt under the heat of the sun and colour palette sublime. That said he does things better than people. I genuinely struggled to tell some of the characters apart. There is a case of mistaken identity that occurs over in the story that did not work for me. Our protagonist Johan Knevel is a character I struggled to care about. I neither wanted him to succeed or fail. Which I think is where the book floundered. It is pleasant enough to look at, and action was good enough for me to keep turning the pages. However, without a character or set of characters that you can engage with I didn’t finish the book with much enthusiasm. There is some interesting stuff here, but it wasn’t as engrossing as it should have been.

There is a good story to be told about colonial powers seeking to hold onto their lands in Asia. This is average stuff that doesn’t do enough with historical material. One to borrow from your local library if they have it.

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Book Reeview Strange Fruit, Volume II
More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill

Strange Fruit, Volume IIMore Uncelebrated Narratives from Black Historyby Joel Christian Gill

Fulcrum PublishingComics & Graphic Novels | Teens & YAPub Date 1 Feb 2018   

Description

Like all legends, people fade away, but not before leaving an incredible legacy. Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the eight illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. Joel Christian Gill offers historical and cultural commentary on heroes whose stories are not often found in history books, such as Cathay Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier, and Eugene Bullard, a fighter pilot who flew for France during World War I. These beautifully illustrated stories offer a refreshing look at remarkable African Americans.

Review

Strange Fruit is a superb anthology of telling the stories of overlooked black Americans. Having not read Strange Fruit 1, this book reminded me very much of Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu. I loved that book. While Strange Fruit doesn’t soar to quite the same heights of Bagieu’s Eisner award winner, it accomplishes what it seeks out to do expertly.

The comic anthology is a smart way of telling stories about people that, most of the figures in this book I had not heard of before. All of them have fascinating stories and that their narratives aren’t better known is a shame.

As with all anthologies, there are weaker sections, the Cathy William’s section seemed to me to be underdone. Another weakness is the art. I found it adequate for the most part, but it only really excelled in the Willie Kennard, and Tom Wiggins. To my eyes, some of the facial designs across all the characters were similar. This wasn’t helped by the colouring, which was uniform throughout, it might have helped to choose different tones for each era or figure. Anthologies for all their strengths do have the inherent weakness of not being able to explore the tales in depth.

That said I would very much recommend this book. The writing and dialogue effortlessly carry you into the lives that these people lived and it certainly sparked an interest in my to find out more about them. The stories of these black Americans are fascinating and Strange Fruit does a fantastic job of bringing them into the light.