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Graphic Novel Challenge: The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) by Kazu Kibuishi

I read The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) by Kazu Kibuishi months ago when I was in Manila for a vacation. I brought it with me to the hair salon and was able to read a good chunk of it while I was there, and I finished reading the rest of it when I got home. Months have passed and it’s taken me this long to write a review. I was thinking about catching up on my 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge when I remembered that I had already read the first Amulet book and I just needed to review it.

Amulet The StonekeeperHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

After the tragic death of their father, Emily and Navin move with their mother to the home of her deceased great-grandfather, but the strange house proves to be dangerous. Before long, a sinister creature lures the kids’ mom through a door in the basement. Em and Navin, desperate not to lose her, follow her into an underground world inhabited by demons, robots, and talking animals.

Eventually, they enlist the help of a small mechanical rabbit named Miskit. Together with Miskit, they face the most terrifying monster of all, and Em finally has the chance to save someone she loves.

I can’t even remember who specifically recommended the Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet graphic novel series to me but I’ve had it in my radar for a while. For some reason, I was curious enough about it to grab a copy from Kinokuniya during one of their book sales. I’m so glad I decided to give the first book in the series a try because I had a lot of fun reading it! I was pleasantly surprised at how much depth there was to the story right from the start, something that I didn’t expect from a middle grade series. I sympathized with Emily, Navin and their mother and I wanted to give all of them a huge hug. The three of them bravely move to a new home, hoping to make a fresh start. Instead, they encounter one adventure after another and they all get to show their courage in unexpected ways. The Stonekeeper is an action-filled introduction to the series, and I can just imagine how fast the pace will be in the next installments in the series. It was really easy to get into The Stonekeeper – I liked all of the main characters and I wanted to keep reading to find out more about them. I found the worldbuilding intriguing and would be interested in learning more about it. The artwork reminded me of Japanese cartoons that I used to watch as a child, and it went very well with the story. This would definitely have been a book that I would have loved as a young reader, and something that I can recommend and give as a gift to my godsons and younger cousins. As it is, I have already passed along my copy to two other friends who have read and enjoyed The Stonekeeper too.

I’m looking forward to reading the sequels. I believe there are currently seven books in the series and I’m not sure when it will end. If you’re planning to read this series then I suggest having a few of the books on hand so you can read all of them together. I’m sure I would have enjoyed doing that if I had the chance. I saw copies of the other books in the series at a Manila bookstore, and wanted to get them but the lines to the cashiers were super long at that time because everyone was busy buying school supplies. Just means I need to find another way to get copies! In the meantime, I will keep my fingers crossed that I’ll enjoy reading the rest of the books in the series.

Here’s a link to the 9th Annual Graphic Novels & Manga Challenge 2016, credit to Kim for the graphic below:
graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream


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Graphic Novel Challenge: Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I feel like I’ve been waiting for Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda to be released for ages! I’ve been hearing good things about it from various sources since the first issue was released but I don’t want to start reading graphic novels per issue, so I to wait for Volume 1 to be released before I could read the series. I was thrilled to find that not only did Kinokuniya Singapore carry copies of Monstress, they also had a variant cover for it:

 

I recently finished reading a graphic novel that I wasn’t such a big fan of, which made me want to pick up another graphic novel that I was more likely to love and that led to me reading Monstress. I read this along with my good friend Kim of Dreaming of Espresso, who is based in Malaysia but was also able to get the Kinokuniya variant copy. Also, this counts as another book for me to include in my 2016 Graphic Novel and Manga Challenge, which hopefully I’ll be able to catch up on in the coming months.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both.

Monstress was brilliant! I loved reading every bit of it. If I wasn’t busy with work, I would have gulped down the whole thing in one sitting but I guess it was also lucky that I was able to stretch out my reading of this because I could savor both the gorgeous artwork and the intriguing storyline. I thought Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda did a fantastic job in collaborating on this graphic novel, and I could see why people have been raving about it. The first thing I noticed about Monstress was how detailed and intricate the artwork was, I couldn’t stop staring at the drawings. Looking at the artwork was like a visual feast. I’m not usually a fan of too much blood, gore and violence in graphic novels because I find them a bit more difficult to swallow than when I’m just reading about them as text. The violence was the one minor quibble that I had with this book, but that was overshadowed with how much I loved everything else about it. Monstress is dark in tone but I found that it was a necessary aspect of the storytelling. The setting of the story is not exactly a happy one.

The worldbuilding is incredible. It’s a world inhabited by humans, ancients, arcanics (half-human and half ancient), the old gods and last but not the least are (talking) cats. It’s a war-torn world with a rich history behind the current situation that the heroine finds herself in. I feel like we’ve only been shown the tip of the iceberg in terms of worldbuilding and there’s so much more that can be explored. I kept reading not just because I wanted to learn more about Maika and her past, but also about the world she lives in. Maika is not content to have survived the war, she won’t rest until she uncovers the secrets behind the psychic link that she has with the monster inside her. I thought the story was paced very well, and there was never a dull moment throughout the course of this volume. I loved that the setting is a matriarchal Asia in the 1900’s, and I thought it was awesome that I kept seeing strong female characters in this book. Considering the short length of Monstress, I was amazed at how it was able to tackle important themes such as identity, race, class, and power. There really was a lot going on in this volume and I have a feeling I’ll be itching to reread it sooner rather than later. Having said all of that, I guess it’s not surprising for me to say that Monstress is one of my favorite reads this year. I think the last graphic novel I loved this much was Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I really, really hope I’ll keep loving the series because I’ve come across two Image Comics series (Saga and The Wicked and the Divine that seemed promising at the start but I eventually decided wasn’t for me after reading Volume 3.

Sharing my other bookstagrams of Monstress so you can see for yourself the gorgeous artwork that I’ve mentioned:

 

Monstress readalong with @espressodream continues. I stayed up late reading this and I can't wait for the workday to be over so I can read more of it. Pretty sure I'll finish it tonight! I'm usually not a big fan of too much violence in graphic novels but the art in this one is beautiful and detailed, the storytelling is lovely, and it has strong worldbuilding. There's so much history behind this world and I want to find out more. Also, I noticed that all the major characters are female! And there are talking cats. What are your thoughts so far, @espressodream? Anyone else read this yet? . . . #Monstress #Awakening #Volume1 #MarjorieLiu #SanaTakeda #graphicnovel #comics #Kinokuniya #ImageComics #bookstagram #instabooks #IGreads #IGbooks #bibliophile #booknerd #bookblogger #book #reading #readalong #ChachicsBookNook

A photo posted by Chachic (@chachickenpie) on

 

And a link to the 9th Annual Graphic Novels & Manga Challenge 2016, credit to Kim for the graphic below:

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream


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Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

I recently read This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki for my book club’s discussion and I wanted to share a mini review while the story is still fresh in my mind. Also, This One Summer can also be a contribution to my 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge, which I’ve sadly neglected because real life got in the way of things. I thought one graphic novel a month wouldn’t be too challenging, but I overestimated myself. I’m hoping I’ll be able to catch up on this challenge! My bookstagram for this title:

 

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

AN UNFORGETTABLE SUMMER.

Rose and her parents have been going to Awago Beach since she was a little girl. It’s her summer getaway, her refuge. Her friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had, completing her summer family.

But this summer is different.

Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and Rose and Windy have gotten tangled up in a tragedy-in-the-making in the small town of Awago Beach. It’s a summer of secrets and heartache, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

I’ve had my copy of This One Summer for almost a year! I bought it back when I started to become more interested in graphic novels, and it took me this long to get to it. Sigh, the problems of an ever expanding TBR pile. I’ve seen mixed reviews from blogger friends regarding this title but I was feeling hopeful about it because I thought the summer setting would make for a fun read. Browsing through the pages, I could also see that the artwork is beautiful. And it really was, I thought the purple tones of the images and the artistic style fit the story well. However, I wasn’t such a big fan of this slice of life story. The writing flows in a stream of consciousness style and I found that a bit disjointed. Also, I felt that there wasn’t much that happened throughout the course of the book, which I wouldn’t have minded so much if I cared for Rose or Windy or the rest of the secondary characters a little bit more. As it was, I just wasn’t as invested in them as I wanted to be. I liked the friendship between Rose and Windy, and how they supported each other even though they bicker from time to time. I thought the other relationships in the book weren’t so great. I wish Rose’s parents were more open and honest with her about what was going on with their family. The local teens whom Rose and Windy were observing also didn’t feel like they had much to offer. The overall feel of the book was also bittersweet, so maybe I wasn’t in the right mood to read it. I might have enjoyed this more if I was the target audience for it, like if I read it as a middle grade reader. I feel bad that I didn’t enjoy reading this as much as I was expecting but I’m glad I finally picked it up because I’ve been curious about it for a while. As always, go ahead and give this graphic novel a try if you feel like it might work for you.

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream


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Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes

I’ve had Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions by Six de los Reyes on my wishlist for a while now. And I was pushed to grab a copy when I saw historical romance author Courtney Milan raving about it. I didn’t want to get left behind when it comes to supporting Filipino authors! I read it as soon as I could because I was curious. While I couldn’t say that I loved it as much as Courtney Milan did, I had a lot of fun reading this nerdy Filipino romance. I will definitely be watching out for other books written by Six de los Reyes.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Beginner's Guide - Love and Other Chemical ReactionsFalling in love is a chemical reaction.

Just ask Kaya Rubio, twenty-five year-old Molecular Genetics graduate student and research assistant. Fed up with her spinster aunts’ relentless reminders and unsolicited advice regarding her Single Since Birth status, she designs a scientific, evidence-based methodology to find her a suitable partner in time for her cousin’s wedding. As any good scientist knows, any valid experimental design requires a negative control. Enter the most unsuitable candidate for a potential boyfriend: the messy, easygoing, café owner Nero Sison. Her null hypothesis? Going out with Nero would establish her baseline data without catalyzing the chemical reaction she seeks.

But when Kaya’s recorded results refuse to make sense, she is forced to come to the conclusion that there are some things in life that are simply, by nature, irrational and illogical. And that sometimes, chemistry doesn’t always happen inside a lab.

I’ve always thought of myself as a nerd because I studied in a high school that had a strong focus on science and math subjects, and I majored in electronics engineering in college. Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions reminded me of all the subjects that I had in high school and college where we had to conduct various lab experiments. There was a time when I spent most of my hours in a lab too. I used to say that I loved science and math but they didn’t love me back because I never found both to be easy. Which was probably why I didn’t pursue a career in those fields.

Having read Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions, I can definitely say that I’m nowhere near Kaya’s level of nerdiness. It took a while for me to get used to her way of narrating but I eventually found her endearing. She’s super smart, but she’s socially awkward. The sad thing is she knows it too, and she’s given up on pursuing stronger social connections because of previous failed attempts. I would gladly have been Kaya’s friend if she was a real person! It’s a good thing she has the support of her large and crazy family, so it’s not like she’s entirely alone. But it’s also her family that drives her to try an unusual experiment to find a boyfriend. I think most Filipinos would be able to relate to Kaya’s extended family, even if our own families don’t plan such elaborate parties. The way the Rubio clan was described was just realistically Filipino. Including the presence of nosy relatives. And like Kaya, I have been the recipient of many, many questions about why I’m still single, when am I planning to find a boyfriend, and why haven’t I settled down yet. I guess that’s just how Filipino titas (aunts) are wired? So yes, I could understand why Kaya thought it would be worth her while to embark on an unusual experiment to find a boyfriend.

While Kaya’s experimental dates were fun to read, I liked her interactions with her friends even better. She’s always been on good terms with her colleague and flatmate Eugene, but their friendship becomes stronger as he tries to help her navigate the dating field. I hope Eugene will get his own HEA in a later book. Kaya also becomes more willing to open up to the interns in her lab, as well as other researchers in their science institute. And of course, there’s Nero. Good-looking cafe owner, part-time graphic artist and definitely more experienced when it comes to relationships. On paper, it doesn’t seem like Kaya and Nero would really get along but it was interesting to see them get to know each other. How they’re both in totally different fields and have personalities that are poles apart but at their core, they’re just both flawed individuals looking to find someone who can see and appreciate their true selves. I’m glad that Nero got enough page time for readers to understand him better, and to see that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Nerdy, sweet and cute, Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions is an enjoyable romance with strong Filipino values. I’m glad to have discovered a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) romance series that is set in the Philippines. Looking forward to the rest of the books in the series! I need to mention that this book is indie pubbed and there were some sections that could have been edited better (missing words, typos, tense changes, etc.) but I wasn’t bothered enough to be pulled out of the story. Just wanted to give a warning in case that’s something that other readers watch out for.

Other reviews:
Oops! I Read a Book Again
bibliophile soprano
Back Porch Reader


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Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge: Giant Days

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream

Image designed by my friend Kim of Dreaming of Espresso. Thanks for letting me use it!

Giant DaysThe only book challenge that I signed up for this year is the 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge, and I went for the Modern Age level. This challenge is kicking my ass! I thought it would be totally manageable, and I was half-right because it hasn’t been difficult to read at least one graphic novel a month. I just haven’t been able to keep up with the reviewing part. But hey, last month’s review was a 3 volumes in 1 review type of thing so I think I’m still good.😛 Giant Days, Vol. 1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman was supposedly my March graphic novel but I’m posting my review late, because this work week has been tiring and I wasn’t able to find time to sit down and work on a post.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Susan, Esther, and Daisy started at university three weeks ago and became fast friends. Now, away from home for the first time, all three want to reinvent themselves. But in the face of handwringing boys, “personal experimentation,” influenza, mystery mold, nuchauvinism, and the willful, unwanted intrusion of “academia,” they may be lucky just to make it to spring alive.

Giant Days, Vol. 1 was the book that I read during my birthday. I bought a copy of it earlier this year based on the recommendation of my good friend Maggie. I don’t think I’ve ever read a graphic novel with a college setting so I was curious when I found out about Giant Days. I was also drawn to the bright yellow cover and the illustration on it, showing a girl concentrating hard while she’s typing away on her phone. The art style seemed fitting for the storyline, and it reminded me a bit of some cartoons that I watched growing up. It had a young and fun vibe to it. Right off the bat, readers are introduced to Susan, Esther and Daisy. Three college girls who have totally different personalities but have become close friends in a short span of time. It was easy to sink my teeth into Giant Days and I found it an enjoyable read, but I couldn’t really say that I loved it. It was fun to get to know the girls and to see them supporting each other through their college-related adventures, but I wasn’t as invested in them as I would have liked to be. The length felt too short for me to get to know them enough. It would have been a stronger read for me if it had more character development. As it was, I felt that the storylines were spread a bit thinly to shine the spotlight on each of the girls. While it’s an interesting graphic novel, I’m a little undecided on whether I’d pick up the second volume due to be released sometime in April. I should probably read the rest of the graphic novels on my TBR pile before deciding to buy more.


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Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

I was introduced to Kirsty Eagar’s beautiful writing through Raw Blue, which I read and loved way back in 2011. Wowza, I didn’t know it’s been that long! I was pretty excited when I found out that she has a new book this year and with such a bright and fun cover too. I saw Aussie bloggers raving about Summer Skin, and I knew that I needed to have my own copy sooner rather than later. Thankfully, Book Depository now has stocks of some Aussie titles and I was able to order Summer Skin from their store. I couldn’t resist reading it as soon as my copy arrived. I was reminded of how good Aussie fiction is, and now I want to read ALL THE BOOKS.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Summer SkinJess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.

The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls.

The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold… and smart enough to keep up with Jess.

A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable?

It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.

It was a good thing I started reading Summer Skin just as the weekend started because I was engrossed from start to finish. I stayed up way too late (or too early depending on your definition) on a Friday night to read it. I would have gobbled it up in one go if I didn’t have plans to go out with a friend. As it is, I devoured it as fast as I can. I’m going to try and be coherent in this review, but I basically just want to say, GO FORTH AND READ THIS BOOK. Summer Skin is the kind of book that makes me want to go back in time so I can give it to my teenage self. I think it would have changed my life back then. The Aussie college experience described in this is different from my own experience in the Philippines in a lot of ways, but strangely similar in certain aspects, especially in the emotions involved. Like the feeling of having more independence than you had in high school, without the responsibility that comes with being an adult in the workforce. And also trying to make sense of things but feeling clueless. I felt that Kirsty Eagar did an amazing job of describing the crazy roller coaster ride of college days, when the highs were so high and the lows were so low.

Jess intrigued me from the first scene. I thought she and her girlfriends were all awesome. I kept wanting to cheer them on, YOU GO GIRLS. The four of them have such distinct and varied personalities, and it was fun to see how they balanced each other out. I felt that they have just the right mix of flaws and strengths for teenage girls. They were far from perfect and they made mistakes, but they also tried to learn as much as they can from those mistakes. And they showed their strengths in ways that suited their personalities. They’re in that stage of their lives where they’re still trying to figure things out, and they’re starting to gain more awareness about themselves. It was helpful that all throughout that process, they have each others’ backs. It’s always a pleasure to read about strong female friendships because that’s always something that I would be able to relate to. I met some of the best friends that I have during college, and I can’t imagine life without them.

It’s obvious from the book’s summary that Summer Skin has romance in it, and I thought it was very well-written. I seriously could not get enough of Jess and Mitch! I loved all of their interactions, and I kept waiting for scenes that had the two of them together. I’m normally not a fan of drama in a romance but everything that Jess and Mitch went through felt necessary. They needed to experience all of it to grow and develop both individually and as a couple. I wouldn’t call their romance slow burn because sparks fly the moment they meet and they do act on it, but the depth in their relationship is earned the hard way. Also, I thought it was really cute that their family and friends were invested in their relationship. One of my favorite scenes was Jess and Mitch’s brother trying to get to know each other better. The adults in this novel were pretty great, they treated the younger characters with respect – giving advice whenever necessary but ultimately letting Jess and Mitch make their own choices.

As an aside, there’s a lot of music mentioned in the novel and while there isn’t a playlist found at the end, it can be found here. Summer Skin is the kind of book that you would hug to yourself after you turn the last page. I have a feeling I’d be sorely tempted to reread this sooner rather that later. Definitely one of my best reads in 2016, I’ve already started book pushing this to all my reader friends. Immensely readable, Summer Skin deserves to be read by anyone interested in realistic fiction about college experiences. I will be anxiously waiting for Kirsty Eagar’s next novel.


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Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge: The Wicked + The Divine

graphicnovelmangachallenge by espressodream

Image designed by my friend Kim of Dreaming of Espresso. Thanks for letting me use it!

The only book challenge that I signed up for this year is the 2016 Graphic Novel / Manga Challenge, and I went for the Modern Age level. This means I need to read and review at least one graphic novel per month. On the reading part, that’s definitely not too difficult to accomplish! The reviewing part is more difficult. I received Vol. 1 of The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie (Illustrations), Matt Wilson (Colorist), Clayton Cowles last Christmas and I bought the next two installments right after. I read all three volumes together so I’m consolidating mini reviews of them in this post.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

The Wicked + The Divine - The Faust Act The Wicked + The Divine - Fandemonium The Wicked + The Divine - Commercial Suicide

Vol. 1: The Faust Act – So many people were gushing about WicDiv and it kept being mentioned whenever I asked for graphic novel recommendations. I was excited to get started on Vol. 1 because I thought the concept for the series was brilliant. I was intrigued when I read the premise, and immediately wanted to find out more about these young men and women who turned into gods, and manifested their powers by performing concerts. They thrived on these performances, and the audience loved them. Kind of similar to how much influence rock stars and pop stars have in the real world, just a little bit more intense. I thought the artwork was gorgeous and reminded me a bit of Jem and the Holograms, one of my favorite animated shows when I was younger. Vol. 1 served as a quick introduction to the series, showing readers a wide range of characters. I enjoyed reading it but I was mostly confused by the time I reached the end. I felt like I couldn’t get a clear grasp of the storyline. Good thing I already had a copy of Vol. 2 with me so I could dive right in.

Vol. 2: Fandemonium – Vol. 2 continues with the story that Vol. 1 started and introduced a few more of the gods. I went through Vol. 2 pretty quickly because I wanted to understand what was going on. And yes, I did get some of the answers that I wanted but even more questions were raised. Just when I thought I would finally see everything come together, BAM! Something else happens that I can’t figure out. I know I’m being very vague here but I don’t want to accidentally mention any spoilers. Similar to how I felt when I finished Vol. 1, I wanted the next installment ASAP. I was lucky I started reading these just as Vol. 3 was released.

Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide – I was so glad Vol. 3 was readily available in Kinokuniya Singapore. I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next. Going into Vol. 3, I had no clue that the illustrations would be different from the earlier two installments. Each chapter was illustrated by a different artist. While the idea may seem appealing to other readers, I really liked the original artwork and wanted the story to continue in that way. I found the abrupt changes jarring. On top of that, I still felt mostly confused even if I was already in the third book in the series. Sadly, it was a disappointing read for me. I just wasn’t invested enough in the story or the characters.

After reading three volumes, my conclusion is that WicDiv isn’t a series for me. There’s too much violence, too many questions, and not enough answers. I wouldn’t have minded the violence if I loved the story, but sadly, that wasn’t the case here. As always, I’m glad I tried something new. But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I would have a better experience with my March graphic novel read.