October 25, 2021

Review: Aloha

Art by Tere Gott
Available now from Tere Gott
Review copy

Chilean artist Tere Gott frequently posts her art on Instagram, and the coloring-book pictures in Aloha are super Instagram friendly. There are succulents, yoga, and more. The theme of Aloha is the beach, but not all of the images are directly beach related. My favorite page features a UFO.

This coloring book includes 22 images and is $45. Yes, that is pricey. However, this is an oversized coloring book. The book itself is 17.4 x 11.8 inches and each page is perforated. These posters are pretty easy to frame in an 17 x 11" frame, which is an easy size to find since it is a common size for digital printing. 

In addition, the sheets are 0.5 lb duplex paper, meaning that they're thick and backed so that there is no bleedthrough, even if the page isn't removed before coloring. (The cover lies completely flat when opened.) Markers, watercolors, and more can be used on these pages. 

This is an incredibly designed coloring book. The designs are simple, though some of the detail work is difficult with mediums like watercolors. Most of the backgrounds are plain, allowing for personal creativity.

Aloha is an incredibly designed coloring book. I'd love to see more coloring books in this style.

October 21, 2021

Review: Banana Fox and the Secret Sour Society

Banana Fox and the Secret Sour SocietyWritten and illustrated by James Kochalka
Available now from Graphix
Review copy

Popular children's graphic novelist James Kochalka starts a new series with Banana Fox and the Secret Sour society. The titular Banana Fox is a detective who loves bananas, receiving adulation from his fan club, and saying, "Wowie pow!" He's aided by Sharyanna, or Flashlight, a kid who he meets at the beginning of the story and who is the much better detective.

The story of the Secret Sour Society is appealingly silly. There's mind-controlling soda and a giant turtle and plenty of fun things. Some of Kochalka's work has crossover appeal, but this one is aimed squarely at young readers. The art adds excellent context to help younger readers understand the text, in addition to being fun on its own. Kochalka's art is deceptively simple. He doesn't crowd the page, but there is plenty of dynamic movement to guide the eye.

 I found Banana Fox himself tedious. But that's fine. Six-, seven-, and eight-year-old kids will love Banana Fox and the Secret Sour Society and there's no inappropriate content. Nothing wrong with kids reading stories they find fun.

July 21, 2021

Review: Crush + Color: Twentieth Century Foxes

Crush and Color: Twentieth Century FoxesIllustrated by Maurizio Campidelli
Available now from Castle Point Books
Review copy

I think all of Maurizio Campidelli's Crush + Color coloring books are good fun, but the Twentieth Century Foxes pun in particular cracked me up. I think this is the first book in the series not to cover a single actor. Actors not pictured on the cover include Antonio Banderas, Patrick Swayze, Pierce Brosnan, and more. All have more than one coloring page. An index might have been a nice addition to this one.

Thankfully, the actors are identified on each page just in case I didn't recognize them. Their names are always used in the short fantasy bubble that appears opposite the coloring page. Only one page in a spread is designed to be colored and the pages are perforated, allowing for the pages to be removed and either shared or used for decoration.

The art on these pages goes almost to the edges, but there is a small border. I find most of the images appealing from a coloring standpoint, with a mix of detailed areas for when I want to focus and bigger areas for when I want to zone out. I feel like Campidelli is great at laying out a coloring page. The paper is nice too, much better than a children's coloring book. I used markers on one page without bleed-through to the next coloring page.

I do think that Campidelli's likenesses vary in quality. I don't particularly like his Denzel Washington or George Clooney. But I think his Antonio Banderas and Kurt Russell are great. There is more detail to the faces than the rest of the page, which doesn't always work for me.

Overall though, I very much enjoy this coloring series and think Crush + Color: Twentieth Century Foxes is a fun addition. These coloring books have a fun sense of humor and appealing subject matter.

July 17, 2021

Review: Just Like That

Just Like That
By Gary D. Schmidt
Available now from Clarion Books
Review copy

Just Like That is a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, both of which I haven't read. I thought it stood well on its own, although I did get the sense at the beginning that I was reading the sequel to a book I hadn't read.

Meryl Lee Kowalski is struggling with grief, or the "Blank," as she calls it. Every night on the news, she sees reports of soldiers killed in Vietnam who never got to say good-bye to their loved ones. She struggles to handle the weight of it and the way it mirrors her feelings about her best friend Holling Hoodhood, who died suddenly in a car crash. She never got to say goodbye to him. Her parents don't know how to handle her feelings and are secretly dealing with their own issues, and choose to send Meryl Lee to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls. 

Meryl Lee struggles to fit into the boarding school culture, which involves things like not talking to the girls who work around the school. It also requires doing a sport, which Meryl Lee had never considered before and initially fails at, until finding something strangely compelling about the violence of lacrosse. She also starts to notice a power struggle between the headmistress and some teachers with different political views.

In a parallel story line, Matt Coffin moves into a shack on the coast. He's on the run from someone, and dealing with his own grief. He starts to carve out a life for himself, a storyline that appeals to the part of me that loved rugged domestic stories like Hatchet and the first Boxcar Children. He also encounters some helpful adults that give him room to approach them - one of whom happens to be the headmistress of St. Elene's.

The eventual meeting of Meryl Lee and Matt is inevitable, but the path to that point is an enjoyable one. Just Like That is stuffed full of incident and ideas and interweaving stories. I never felt like Gary D. Schmidt had lost control of the plot, however. He masterfully balances the disparate elements of Just Like That, tying everything together with the themes of grief and the struggle to heal. Just Like That is  deeply sad novel, but also a very funny and hopeful one.

July 13, 2021

Review: U Up?

U Up?
Available now from Melville House
Review copy

I am a firm believer that protagonists do not have to be likeable. For me to be interested in their story, there must be something intriguing about them, but they don't have to be likeable. U Up? has a protagonist that tests my patience. Eve is relentlessly self-centered, judgmental as hell, and the sort of lesbian who throws around a slur every two seconds like her personal reclamation is activism. (It's a trait that made me wince multiple times a page, on average.) Reading her stream-of-conscious narration was often hellish.

This narration is only broken up by text messages. The poor decision was made, either by publisher Melville House or author Catie Disabato, to print a full-screen of text messages every time instead of just the new texts, often wasting entire pages with repeated texts. In other words, it isn't much of a relief.

In U Up?, Eve is on a rampage because it is the anniversary of her best friend Miggy's suicide and her other best friend Ezra is ghosting her after telling her that he broke up with his girlfriend the night before. Everyone they know tells her to cool it and let him lick his wounds in private, but she's determined that something must have happened to him since he's not answering her calls, and their friendship is extra special.

Oh, and Eve can talk to ghosts. The cover copy mentions that she texts her dead friend Miggy, but I thought that meant she sent texts to the void, saying things to a friend who could no longer speak back. No, she holds conversations with her dead friend Miggy, who also thinks she should cool her jets. Ezra's ex Nozlee can speak to ghosts too, and she and Eve were actually buddies back in New York before they met all their LA friends, because they met in witch school. 

Since U Up? is more literary fiction than speculative fiction, this aspect of the novel tends to recede into the background even though it is the most fascinating thing happening. It's an underbaked element that I kept wishing would be explored more, until it becomes integral to the climax.

I enjoyed the end of the novel more than beginning, partially due to the nature of story about the protagonist going on a journey means that Eve is more bearable by the end. But also because the end has a bunch of weird ghost stuff and that's the best part. 

I found Eve to be a very believable character, but she grated on me too much for me to vibe with her story. I might've enjoyed the full on crazy ghost version of this story, but the one I got dragged for far too long.


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