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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 post shared 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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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.


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Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Act Like It by Lucy Parker surprised me with how good it was. I even included Lainie and Richard in my recent list of favorite literary couples. I immediately wanted to read more books written by the author but saw that she only had one title that was out. Then I followed her on Twitter and discovered that she self-published another book under a different name: Artistic License by Elle Pierson. To make things even better, the Kindle edition was available for free for a few days. Of course, I grabbed a copy and read it as soon as I could (also because I was gently nudged by my friend Angie).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Artistic LicenseWhen of the world’s prestigious art collections comes to the resort town of Queenstown, New Zealand, shy art student Sophy James is immediately drawn to the pieces on display – and to the massive, silent, sexy presence keeping watch over them. She’s completely fascinated and attracted by the striking planes and angles of his unusual face, and can’t resist sneaking out her pencil when he’s not looking.

Security consultant Mick Hollister is used to women looking at his ugly mug – but not with the genuine pleasure he sees in the face of the girl with the charcoal-smudged fingers and terrible skills at covert surveillance. A security breach brings the two into fast and furious collision, and an unlikely friendship begins to blossom. And an even more unlikely – and very reluctant – love.

Introvert Sophy is content with her independence and solitude. She’s never looked for a long-term relationship, and isn’t sure she wants one now. Mick, apparently born with a face that not even a mother could love, has given up all hope of having one.

They have nothing in common. They shouldn’t even like each other. And they can’t stay away from one another.

Going by how Act Like It sucked me in, I knew I should start reading Artistic License on a weekend or I would lose a lot of sleep. I was right. I read most of the book on a Saturday and ignored everything else that I had to do (as usual, I was supposed to do some chores). I couldn’t put it down once I got in the swing of things. It was just too much fun to read about Sophy and Mick. I liked the unusual circumstances of their meeting, and how that incident brought them together. While there’s initial attraction, both of them weren’t looking for a relationship so they started off as unlikely friends. Unlikely because at first glance, it seems that they don’t have much in common. In spite of their differences, they soon realize that they’re able to read and understand each other very well. Sophy is an introvert and is painfully shy. She rarely opens up to strangers, only her family and friends truly see her bright and vibrant personality. She’s happy in her solitude and she immerses herself in her art. For some reason, she instinctively trusts Mick from the moment they meet and she quickly lets her guard down around him. Mick has a tough exterior, matched by his looks, but is really such a sweet guy. He’s had some nasty experiences in the past and definitely deserves all the friends that he could get. He needs people to back him up and stand up for him, and Sophy becomes on of those people in just a short amount of time.

I think the transition from strangers to friends to lovers felt very natural in Artistic License. Even as friends, both Sophy and Mick were wary of each other. They’re both observant types, and they were careful around the other person. I thought Sophy’s introvert nature was a huge factor in this. Also, Mick has his own reasons for not getting too close to someone else. I also think it gave their romance an unusual flavor. While I have always been classified as an extrovert, there are times when I think I’m an introverted extrovert. I could relate to Sophy needing her alone time, and trying to reconcile the idea of opening herself up enough to let another person into her life. She’s worried of what she has to give up in order to be in a relationship, even if she does want to be with that person. It is a pretty big step for anyone, especially for someone who recharges by being by herself. Mick is the perfect gentlemen in the sense that he gives Sophy all the space that she needs. I really liked that there wasn’t any unnecessary drama between them. They were honest with each other and there were no mind games. All the conflict were from external factors. There’s a dash of mystery and suspense in this story, but the focus is definitely the development of Sophy and Mick’s relationship. I really liked how the secondary characters played a part in the love story, like Mick’s best friend Sean had some fun scenes and Sophy’s mom also gave some great advice.

I also enjoyed reading about the Queenstown setting of the book. It’s a refreshing choice of setting, not the more common US or UK locations in romances. I’ve never been to New Zealand but now I want to visit it because of the descriptions in Artistic License. Seems like a great place for a vacation. The author shared this picture of the setting on Twitter:

No matter what name she writes under, I will definitely be watching out for this author’s next book. I hope one will be released sooner rather than later!


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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’ve heard of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy but I’ve seen mixed reviews of it so I’ve always been hesitant about picking it up. Especially now that we’re so close to the end of the year, I feel like sticking to books that come highly recommended. So when my good friends Angie and Michelle started raving about Six of Crows, I paid attention. If they both loved it then I knew chances were high that I would enjoy reading it too. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Six of CrowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price — and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Six of Crows was such a fun read! I would have devoured it more quickly if I wasn’t having such a busy work week. The pace was a bit slow at the start but quickly picked up after the crew of six has been assembled. And what a crew! I’m normally not a huge fan of having too many POVs in one novel but I didn’t mind getting a glimpse inside the heads of Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, and Jesper. Only Wylan didn’t get his own POV but he was very much a part of the story. I couldn’t imagine the story being told any other way. I really liked all six of these characters – they were all well-developed and complex, with a full backstory of how they found themselves in the slums. I found all of their stories interesting, and I liked how their layers were peeled away throughout the course of the novel. Kaz and Inej are probably my favorites of the bunch. Kaz the scheming, lying and brilliant thief that he is. And his right hand, Inej, unparalleled in moving undetected and collecting valuable information. A thief and a spy, two types of characters that I thoroughly enjoy reading about! An early non-spoilery snippet that I think describes the characters well:

Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”

“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.

“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.

“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.

“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.

Kaz rolled his eyes. “The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch. You take his attention and direct it where you want it to go…”

Words of wisdom from Kaz Brekker, ladies and gentlemen. It was just a pleasure to see all six of them working together, doing their best to trust and rely on each other. Even if they don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Even though they know each person in their group has done things he/she is not proud of. Each of them had their limits stretched during the time they’re all together. Their adventure kept me absorbed because the action never let up. I had no way of predicting how things will turn out and how these characters react to the situations they found themselves in. I was rooting so hard for them to get the prize that they all deserve. I also enjoyed the worldbuilding in this one. I was a little confused by the different kinds of powers the Grisha had (Six of Crows is my introduction to the world) but I became more familiar with them as the story progressed. Based on the descriptions, I think Ravka is based on Russia while Fjerda is probably one of the Scandinavian countries. I was also a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s writing in this one. I felt like the story just flowed smoothly, and there were lines from the characters that I kept highlighting. Last but certainly not the least, there’s more than one slow burn romance in Six of Crows with flawed characters that totally deserve to be together even if they don’t realize it yet. I can’t wait to see how these romances develop, especially the one which is the most subtle out of all of them. It must be noted that the story is not fully finished in this novel, and there will be a next installment due to be released next year. I was mildly surprised to reach the end, partly because I wanted to keep reading, and also because I wanted to know how the story ends. The second book can’t come soon enough.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Ivy Book Bindings