Category Archives: graphic novel/memoir

Review: A Matter of Life by Jeffrey Brown

19th September 2013

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Top Shelf Productions in exchange for an honest review.

Jeffrey Brown tags this book as “an autobiographical meditation on fatherhood and faith” – and it’s an apt description. A series of moments reflecting on both subjects, the book is full of moments of wisdom and humor.

A Matter of Life is dedicated to Brown’s father and son, and throughout, Brown teases out moments of poignancy. At one point, he and his brother are sitting down to pizza with his father. His father has filled glasses with ice, but one son drinks out of the can while the other prefers a glass without ice. The dad remarks that he’s only trying to help as they sit down to eat. The last frame shows two glasses with ice sitting on the counter. I can’t quite put into words why this particular snippet stuck out to me, but it did. I thought of my own parents and the small things they do for me that perhaps I don’t fully appreciate or even recognize.

Though A Matter of Life is a series of meditations and not one continuous storyline, it was still an enjoyable, quick read. Brown’s questioning nature and difficulties with his faith seemed sincere, particularly after he details his youth when he is passionately spiritual, giving rote answers at summer camp or Bible study. picky3

Plus, Brown’s style is pretty recognizable, so much so that when I stumbled across Darth Vader and Son, I instantly knew it was the same artist, even before the name clicked. And I must say, even though I’ve never watched Star Wars, it’s pretty brilliant.


A Matter of Life is on sale for $7.50 for the print copy or $5.99 for digital through September 27. Add it to your Goodreads shelf.

Review: Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf

21st August 2012

*I received this book from the publisher MacMillan via NetGalley.

Before Ringo, there was Stuart Sutcliffe. Artistic, dark, and handsome, Stu was the “fifth Beatle” – the one you didn’t know you didn’t know about (unless you’re of a certain age or pop culture knowledge level). Astrid Kirchherr is instantly drawn to Stu. An artist herself, Astrid is a big part of the Beatles’ time in Hamburg, snapping photos and giving Stu the bowl haircut that would contribute to the group’s image. But there’s a reason you may not know about Stu. Shortly after he and Astrid were engaged, Stu quit the Beatles and died within the year.

I’m not giving anything away. A. It’s nonfiction. B. Every blurb I’ve read gives it away. So why does it matter? And why would the author choose to focus on it? Hamburg is arguably a pivotal and formative experience for the band, and it also reveals a bit of their youth and inner lives from the perspective of an outsider.

ButBaby’s in Black , (the song which was written for Astrid) is a love story. It’s a brief story, but it shows the beauty and passion of two equally-matched, intelligent people. The artwork is top notch as well, a couple of the scenes mimicking photos Astrid actually took.


Pick up Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf if you’re into the Beatles, art, and/or love.

Check out what others say or add it to your shelf on Goodreads.

Reading the old year out…

31st December 2011

And I must say, I’m not at all sad to see the back end of 2011. It was a very tumultuous year, and I am very happy to be ringing in a new year this evening with a mini-readathon cooked up by two other bloggers (Becky and Tasha) and myself. There will be champagne, so in the infinite wisdom and singing voice of Bing Crosby, let’s start the new year right.

But. Before we get to that, I wanted to do a year end post. As of midnight on December 30, I have read 121 books. Of these, 46 were written by men and 75 written by women (wow!); 109 fiction and 12 nonfiction. This year I read 9 audiobooks, and considering I read none last year, that’s quite a jump. Also, just so you can see my habits, 42 of these books came from the publisher/author/publicist, but I bought 52 and checked out 26 from the library, a pretty decent statistic. Now down to brass tacks….

Least favorite books of the year: Let’s just get this one out of the way. I only really disliked two books this year, and if you’ve been around for a bit, you can probably guess the first one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The other I just finished this morning: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. I’ll put up a review next week with details. Suffice it to say, memoirs are tricky.

Best New-to-Me Series: Well, obviously I love the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver books, but seeing as they were written in the last century, I won’t call them new. If you’re looking for a vintage mystery, give these a go. Also consider joining me for Miss Silver Saturdays through 2012.

Best New Series: I just finished Discovery of Witches and am pretty much in love with it. I can’t wait for the next one. Many compare it to Twilight, but for me, it was much more reminiscent of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I loved it!

Funniest Book: Hands down, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. In fact, this is a book that I plan to re-read soon, I liked it that much. Definitely keep an eye out for debut author Matt Norman.

Best Dark Comedy: Funny Man by John Warner. I’m really surprised this book hasn’t gotten more attention, as I think it’s pretty genius in a lot of ways. I’m really eager to see what else Warner writes.

Book that Made Me Think Rainbow Rowell stole my life and wrote about it: Attachments. Runner up for funniest book of the year, it was just so perfectly me. Sadly, many other bloggers have said the same thing, so obviously I ain’t anything special. Distinctive? Pshaw.

Book That Seriously Creeped Me Out and Blew My Mind: The Magus by John Fowles. Review next week, and boy howdy, what a book. Thanks so much to Sean at Read Heavily for the gift.

Best Middle Grade Book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Absolute fun and super smart. Reminds me of books written when I was young.

Book that Made Me Cry: Thankfully there were only two of these this year (one sparked this post about crying in reading). The other is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. This is nonfiction and about the women of the French Resistance. It’s incredibly moving to see just how much the human spirit can endure.

Most Beautiful Book: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. This is physically just a beautiful, beautiful specimen of a book. The cover art, the inside art, the paper. It’s technically the biography of a woman artist, but it’s so much more than that.

Biggest Surprise: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. Yes, he can be a misogynistic, slightly-racist ass, but damn, these books are good. If you think you know Bond from the films, think again and join Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred challenge. You won’t be disappointed.

~and last but not least~

Best Book of 2011: Galore by Michael Crummey. I read this book in April, but it will not leave me. The story is timeless, the writing superb. If you haven’t read it, make sure you add it to your list for the new year. I compare it to East of Eden by Steinbeck and House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. One of my favorite passages from the book is below:

~Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it out before him like a taunt. Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.

So that’s my list. I wish you all the best in 2012 and hope to see you back here. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing, etc. I so enjoy your company.

And on that note, what was your favorite book this year?

The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai

3rd November 2011

*I received this book (in exchange for an honest review) from Gabrielle Gantz who is with Penguin.

If you haven’t yet checked out the manga biographies from Penguin, I would really encourage you to do so, particularly if you teach or have reluctant readers. This book is the first of three I received from Gabrielle, and I have really enjoyed each one.

The 14th Dalai Lama is a biography of, none other than, the 14th Dalai Lama, from his childhood all the way to 2009, demonstrating his loyalty to his people and to non-violence. It also details the strife China has caused Tibet. The only real introduction to Tibetan culture or the Dalai Lama I have had was when Seven Years in Tibet came out, so I was really interested in this bio.

Tetsu Saiwai’s illustrations are really nice, as is the cover, which I think is simply fantastic. I love the colors, the black and white image of the Dalai Lama, and the typeface. Sometimes in comics, I have trouble keeping track of the characters because they look similar. Saiwai does an excellent job of distinguishing each. One funny aside: the characters all seem to sweat a lot. I believe the artist was drawing attention to the stress in the Tibetan’s struggles, but it was kind of humorous. Also, there were some typos, which made me twitch a bit.

However, I really love the idea behind these books and am adding them to my ESL library because I think they will really engage my students, many of whom dislike reading.

Read this: if you’ve been hesitant to pick up a graphic novel but are interested in history. Also, recommended for use in the classroom.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

11th October 2011

You have to page through this book to appreciate its breathtaking beauty. Crafted like an old family scrapbook, The Arrival by Shaun Tan is one of the most beautiful stories told: the immigrant’s story. It’s been told by so many people in so many different ways, but this wordless graphic novel illustrates the story in a very vivid way.

A young father leaves his family to move to a new land to find work. The animals, the people, the buildings – all are new and foreign to him, and Tan emphasizes this by creating buildings and machines and animals wholly unlike any you’ve seen before. The man is lonely but goal oriented, and he communicates with drawings and hand gestures. He comes home in the evenings to a picture of his family, waiting for the day he will be reunited with them.

Tan uses both panels and full pages of illustrations, and the endsheets are an amalgamation of faces – European, Asian, Middle Eastern. Many of the illustrations almost appear to stand out from the page, pasted in with care by a loving family member. Thumbing the pages in quiet, looking and appreciating the bravery and ambition it takes to pack up, leaving family and friends and culture behind, only to arrive somewhere so different, so unfamiliar, and often, so unfriendly, was a singular experience and one I’ll not forget soon.

The imagination and creativity in the drawings is key in depicting just how different the immigrant views the new country, but the genius (in my opinion) in this book is the choice not to use words. By removing any words, Tan reinforces the silence of the immigrant’s experience. As a new ESL teacher, this honestly stopped me in my tracks. Often, my beginners have no idea what I’m saying, and I have to strive, through word choice, gestures, and sometimes, badly-drawn pictures, to get my meaning across. Though it is certainly not easy for me, I know it is much more difficult for them, and I admire their determination to learn a new language. It can’t be easy.

For a small experience of The Arrival, scroll down: