Thematic Recs: Graphic Novels

Well, it seems like I end up saying this every time I do a new Thematic Recs post, but… it’s been a while since the last time I did a Thematic Recs post! 😉 This time I wanted to share some of my favourite graphic novels with you all.

There are plenty of comics that I love, too (and I expect I’ll be doing a post on them at some point as well), but they’re often very interconnected, and their quality often fluctuates with their creative teams, so they can be difficult to recommend… So for now I’ve decided to stick to graphic novels (i.e. non-serialised publications) as well as a couple of limited-series comics (i.e. comics with a pre-determined number of issues), as their stories tend to be more self-contained than other comics. But enough rambling, and onto the recommendations!

[An aside: I just realised that three out of five of these are blatantly about death, even without going into spoiler territory (which might reveal that they’re all about death! Or not. 😛 ). What that says about my taste, I’m not certain. ^^’ ]

1) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isbel Greenberg. A wonderful story about a storyteller who’s travelling the world in order to find the missing piece of his soul, and telling all kinds of stories to the people he meets along the way. Greenberg’s art style is really cute, and complements the folk-tale feel of her writing perfectly; I stumbled upon this book two years ago, and it’s probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. Another Greenberg story, written in a very similar style, though this one is only a few pages long, and was never officially released. It tells the story of a young woman who follows her father into the afterlife, and ends up meeting – and marrying – Charon, the ferryman of souls. I’d actually be quick to recommend any of Greenberg’s work, but this, and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are probably my favourites.

3) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A single-volume limited series that’s set in Baghdad in the aftermath of an American bomb raid, and follows a pride of lions that escaped from the zoo. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly moving, and apparently inspired by a real pride! Vaughan’s Saga series has become really well known in the last couple of years, but Pride of Baghdad is every bit as excellent.

4) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. This is a spin-off from the Sandman series, but I’m recommending it here anyway because it’s a completely self-contained story, as well as a fantastic one. The personification of Death must live as a mortal for one day in every century, and this time, she’s spending her time exploring New York with her new friend Sexton – who’s pretty sure she’s crazy. The Sandman has some really great spin-offs, and The High Cost of Living is definitely one of the best.

5) The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff. A strange tale about a young man called Deshi who is tasked with finding a bride for his deceased brother (apparently an old tradition in Northern China). The story is both haunting and incredibly intriguing, and is accompanied by some really amazing watercolour illustrations. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the character design, but that’s a very minor complaint, considering everything else about this fantastic book.

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February Haul

SO TALL! (You should be able to see the titles if you click on the image to zoom in...)

SO TALL! (You should be able to see the titles if you click on the image to zoom in…)

Something else that I should’ve posted a while ago… :/ And as you can see from the lovely picture to your left, this post is certainly not late because I didn’t buy enough books to merit a haul post. Rather, it’s late because I’ve had to take a significant amount of time to recover from the shame of having bought so many (& most of them are comics, too, which are expensive). 😦 The reason for my sudden splurge? Chloë came to visit towards the end of the month, and when I am with other bookish people, I tend to go to lots of bookish places, and buy books. (Self-control? What is this “self-control” you speak of?)

But anyway, here’s what I bought:

1) Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. All I know about this is that it’s non-fiction (probably), which I’ve been wanting to read more of, and it was super-cheap, so I thought I’d give it a try.

2) Great Tales from English History by Robert Lacey. Another non-fiction book (obviously), which I bought as part of the same deal. My historical knowledge is sorely lacking, so hopefully this will teach me a few things…

3) Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. I don’t even know what this is, but I couldn’t resist…

4) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. A re-telling of Homer’s Iliad, which I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. I have heard super-good things about it, and I am a Classicist… 😀

5) No Life but This by Anna Sheehan. A sci-fi (possibly romance?) novel that I found at the second-hand book stall at the market. Of course, only after buying it did I discover that it’s a sequel, but both books sound interesting, so I’ll have to track down the first book (A Long, Long Sleep) soon…

6) Sasameke, Volume 2 by Ryuji Gotsubo. This is actually a bind-up of the last half of the Sasameke series, which is a sports manga about a boy who was really, really good at football, then went away to play abroad for a year, and came back having given up the sport completely. It’s been a while since I read the first volume, so it probably merits a re-read, but I remember enjoying it a lot, & I’m looking forward to finishing off the series.

7) Little Red Riding Hood & Other Stories by Charles Perrault. A beautifully-illustrated edition of several classic fairytales, including Little Red Riding Hood (naturally), CinderellaBluebeard and Puss in Boots.

8) Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean. A sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, which I don’t know all that much about, plot-wise, though I’ve been aware of it for a while…

9) The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips. A comedy set in Arthurian times, about the Knights of the Round Table. Again, I don’t really know anything else about it.

10) Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake by Natasha Allegri. A gender-swapped Adventure Time graphic novel, which I have already read and loved, so you can read about it in my February Wrap-Up.

11) Various DC New 52 comics, including: Volumes 2 & 3 of Teen Titans by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Scott Snyder & Tom DeFalco; Volume 3 of Red Hood & the Outlaws by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza & Scott Snyder; Volumes 2 & 3 of Nightwing by Kyle Higgins, Scott Snyder & Tom DeFalco; Volumes 2 & 3 of Batman & Robin by Peter J. Tomasi & Scott Snyder; Volumes 2 & 3 of Batman by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV; Batman: Night of the Owls by Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Tony S. Daniel, Scott Lobdell, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Gail Simone, Duane Swierczynski, Peter J. Tomasi, James Tynion IV & Judd Winick; and The Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder, John Layman, Ann Nocenti, Adam Glass, James Tynion IV, Gail Simone, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Kyle Higgins, Tom DeFalco & Peter J. Tomasi. This impressive number of comics takes all the series on my buy-list through the Night of the Owls and Death of the Family storylines, and up to volume 3.

12) Saga, Volumes 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughan. The first three volumes I got in a massive bind-up, which is that blue book labelled “Book 1”, and Volume 4 individually (because I couldn’t bring myself to wait another 3 years or so for the next deluxe edition). Again, I’ve already read this, & I talked about it in my wrap-up, but to sum it up, it’s a sci-fi series about forbidden love in wartime.

13) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A graphic novel about a pride of lions that escape from Baghdad Zoo, which, again, I’ve talked about already in my wrap-up.

14) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg. A collection of folk-tales set in “Early Earth”, a place that apparently existed before actual Earth. And, once again, I’ve already read this, & I’ll tell you about it in my March wrap-up, so there’s (thankfully, since my fingers are getting tired now) no need to say any more about it here.

February Wrap Up

February (particularly the latter half of it) turned out to be the month of the graphic novel. And I certainly read some excellent ones: the Saga series, Pride of Baghdad, and so on… In total, I ended up reading ten novels, one novella, and nine comic books, which is pretty good going for the shortest month of the year!

Patrick Ness//The Crane WifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. The story of a man called George, who saves the life of a crane, and then meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman called Kumiko. Also featuring prominently are George’s daughter Amanda, her co-worker Rachel, and a Japanese folk-tale about a crane and a volcano. A very emotional story, all about love and loss and forgiveness. As always, Patrick Ness’ writing is beautiful, and his characters very real, and the way that he spun the folk-tale into their lives was masterful.5 starsElizabeth Gaskell//North & SouthNorth & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. A classic romance set during the Victorian era, between the daughter of a parson fallen on hard times, and the master of a cotton mill. I absolutely loved this book – it kept me awake for a couple of nights, just wanting to keep on reading – and I’ve written a full review of it here.5+ starsGeorge Orwell//Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell. The story of a group of farm animals that overthrow their human masters and decide to run the farm themselves. As with 1984, which I read last year, I had mixed feelings over this novel. On the one hand, it is very interesting, and provides an excellent commentary on socialism and corruption; but on the other had, hardly any of the characters are developed in such a way as to encourage any kind of emotional attachment to the author – in fact, many of the prominent characters in the book are utterly unlikeable (the only notable exception is Boxer). That said, I enjoyed Animal Farm more than I did 19843 stars

20488847Master of the Mill by Cate Toward. A re-imagining of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, where Margaret’s mother passed away before the family moved to Milton. I thought that it had an interesting (and for the most part, quite well-executed) premise, but unfortunately none of the characters really rang true, and I was particularly frustrated by the characterisation of Mr. Lennox, who I feel was unjustly portrayed as the book’s villain, when (even though he was my least favourite character) his only real crime in North & South was loving a girl who did not love him back.2 starsTrudy Brasure//In ConsequenceIn Consequence by Trudy Brasure. Another retelling of North & South, this time speculating on how the story might have progressed had it been Thornton who was injured during the riot, rather than Margaret. I found this one much more realistic than Master of the Mill, and also more in keeping with the characters as they were portrayed in the original novel. It was also very nice to see how Margaret and Thornton might interact in a happy relationship, since in North & South we only got a glimpse towards the very end. The story did seem to be mostly fluff, however, and while that made me smile a lot, at times it became a little too cheesy…3 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (& illustrated by Fiona Staples). A sci-fi adventure following a married couple who belong to warring species, and are being hunted across the galaxy (and maybe beyond?) for their crime of loving one another. The story is narrated by their infant daughter (or rather by her older self), which gives an interesting perspective. But overall (though this is obviously just the beginning of the story), the characters are awesome, the story is fast-paced and exciting, and the art is gorgeous. I’m definitely excited to read more. 😀5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 2Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan. The second volume, which is also amazing. I’m a little worried about how quickly I’m getting through this series, since I know there’ll be a long wait before volume 5 is released… Also, I am becoming unexpectedly fond of both Prince Robot IV and The Will, despite the fact that they’re both hunting Alana and Marko.5 starsTrudy Brasure//A Heart for MiltonA Heart for Milton by Trudy Brasure. This is not a retelling, but a sequel to North & South (which I am still obsessed with), and has much the same tone as Brasure’s other book, In Consequence. I think that perhaps I would’ve liked this better if I’d read it before I read In Consequence, because, to be honest, the story felt incredibly samey. I actually ended up liking this a little less (though there’s not much in it, really), partly because of that similarity, but mostly because there was no real conflict in the story, to break up the fluff… :/ 2 starsChrissie Elmore//Unmapped CountryUnmapped Country by Chrissie Elmore. Probably the last fan-written North & South book I’ll be reading for a while, since I’m starting to feel ready to move on… This one is an almost-sequel, set after the events of North & South, but dismissing Gaskell’s ending to the book, where Margaret and Mr. Thornton finally resolve their differences. I found it a bit of a struggle to get through at first, since much of the story seemed to be focused on new characters, when all I really wanted to read about was Margaret and Thornton, but once I got into it, I found it very enjoyable. Of all the North & South spin-off works I’ve read, this is probably the closest to Gaskell’s novel in tone and content – my only real problem with it was that (much like North & South itself) we saw very little of Margaret and Thornton as a couple, having moved on from all the misunderstandings of the original book, which kind of defeats the purpose of looking for a continuation in the first place…4 starsBenjamin Alire Sáenz//Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. An introspective novel about two very different boys who form an unexpected friendship. I’d been meaning to pick this up for a while, but it seems that the last little push I needed was the Little Book Club – this was the January & February pick for the LGBTQ+ theme – and I am so glad that I have finally read it, because it was amazing! I loved Ari, and I loved Dante, and their parents were really fantastic (which is incredibly rare in YA fiction). I would definitely recommend this book to basically anyone. 😀4 stars

6250211Fire by Kristin Cashore. This is the second book in the Graceling Realm trilogy, and is my first re-read of the year! The story is set in what appears to be some kind of pocket-universe that can be accessed through a series of tunnels within the Graceling universe, so it’s only really peripherally connected to the other two books in the series, but it’s probably my favourite of the three. It follows a girl named Fire, who is a “human monster”, a creature that looks (and for the most part, acts) like a human, but is incredibly beautiful, with unnaturally brightly coloured hair and the power to sense and control people’s minds. Fire is a very passive heroine (though she’s definitely not a weak lead), which I appreciate, so instead of charging off into important battles, much of the book is spent exploring the Dells, and dealing with her emotional issues. Major themes in this book are guilt, love (romantic and platonic), forgiveness, and so on, and the whole series would definitely be a great read for any fantasy lover.5 stars

Philip Pullman//Once Upon a Time in the NorthOnce Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. A prequel-of-sorts to the His Dark Materials trilogy, detailing the first meeting of two of my favourite characters from the series: Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and Iorek Byrnison the armoured bear. It’s a short story, but very enjoyable, and it was a lot of fun to read about these characters again, and to be back in the His Dark Materials universe, which I seem to have missed more than I’d realised.4 starsDavid Almond//The True Tale of the Monster Billy DeanThe True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond. The story of a young boy who was raised in a locked room and not let out until he was a teenager, at which point he was perceived as some kind of saint because of his naïvety… It’s an odd story, and there are a lot of religious themes, which is unusual in YA literature. I found myself enjoying it quite a bit once I got into it, but it was very difficult to get into, mostly because it’s written phonetically. The almost post-apocalyptic setting was interesting, as were most of the characters, and the whole book had quite a creepy vibe to it.3 starsJudd Winick//Batwing vol. 2Batwing Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients by Judd Winick. Rather more episodic than I remember the first volume being, which I thought was not entirely to the book’s benefit. That said, I enjoyed the end of the Massacre storyline, the Night of the Owls and Zero Month tie-in issues were both good, and Dustin Nguyen and Marcus To’s artwork was striking (though not quite so striking as Ben Oliver’s in Volume 1).3 starsFabian Nicieza//Batwing vol. 3Batwing Vol. 3: Enemy of the State by Fabian Nicieza & Judd Winick. Batwing investigates a cult led by a brainwasher called Father Lost, then faces a billionaire industrialist who’s been bribing the police. Again, not quite so good as Volume 1, but a definite improvement on Volume 2. I enjoyed the backstory between David and Rachel, and the building tensions within the police department in the second story arc were interesting, too. With Batwing, at least, I think I tend to prefer the comics where there’s not too much involvement with of the rest of the DC Universe, so this book was right up my alley. 🙂4 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 3Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan. And the third volume, which was also awesome! So far I’m definitely impressed by how Vaughan has managed to show the sympathetic sides of all the characters in the story, even the ones who are technically the series’ villains… Also in this volume: Marko’s beard, which was kind of hilarious. 🙂5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Pride of BaghdadPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A standalone graphic novel about a pride of lions that escaped from Baghdad Zoo during a bomb raid. I don’t have all that many coherent thoughts about the story – it was so good that it seems to have short-circuited my brain – but all the characters were well rounded without seeming too human, and the story was incredibly moving. Niko Henrichon’s art was beautiful, as well.5 starsNatasha Allegri//Adventure Time with Fionna & CakeAdventure Time with Fionna & Cake by Natasha Allegri. Fionna and Cake save the Fire Prince from the Ice Queen! I haven’t actually seen much of the Adventure Time cartoon,  but I’m a huge fan of the Fionna & Cake episodes, so I thought I might enjoy this – and I did! The story is both fun and oddly touching in places, and the artwork is very cute. There are three short stories in the back, too (by Noelle Stevenson, Kate Leth and Lucy Knisley), which were all very funny.5 starsBrian K. Vaughan//Saga vol. 4Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan. The adventure continues! Now featuring Hazel as a toddler, and marital trouble for Marko and Alana (amongst other things). Alana’s new job is kind of hilarious, and I have high hopes for Marko and Prince Robot IV’s team-up. The only real flaw of this volume is that I’ve now finished it, and it’ll be another year or so before I can get my hands on volume 5… 😥5 starsMarkus Sedgwick//Dark Satanic MillsDark Satanic Mills by Marcus Sedgwick. A dystopian comic inspired by William Blake’s poem Jerusalem, set in a future where a fanatical religious cult called the True Church is on the verge of taking control of England after manufacturing a “miracle” in order to convert huge numbers of people. The book had an interesting premise, as a religious-dystopian, but in execution I thought it was too simplistic. I wasn’t a huge fan of the artwork, either, though I think it might’ve been improved if it had been done in colour.2 stars