Friday Reads: MS. MARVEL, Vol. 1: NO NORMAL

Regarding Graphic Novels

Read my introduction below, or skip ahead to the review.

I’m going to preface this with the disclaimer that I’ve always loved superheroes, but comics were not easily available to me as a child. I didn’t know anyone at school who was into comics, and on the rare occasion I was far enough away from my rural upbringing that I could get my hands on comics, I’d grab a single issue. I was often disappointed in the lack of variety, the women without agency treated more like scantily clad objects of desire or killing rather than heroes. I watched Batman and Spiderman cartoons and loved Supergirl.

Pre-internet, I grew up thinking that geek girls were an endangered species.

Now I have immediate access to comics thanks to the internet. I live in a city with comic book stores and a huge interlibrary loan system.

I’m a small-town girl late to the game, but I have every intention of catching up. And let me tell you, there’s never been a better time to get into comics, especially if you’re a woman or a child.

More female characters are being given agency—they are treated as individuals, not objects. More are fronting their own series. Women comic creators are generating a ton of amazing content online and in print.

Our library separates the adult graphic novels from the teen ones, and the teen ones from the children’s ones, a division I’m very thankful for as a mother.

Go to your library, browse the spines, judge them by their covers, and take a stack home. This week I picked up Saga vol 1 (Mature: contains very graphic sex in chapter/issue 4), A Boy & A Girl (pg-13 for brief nudity and language), This One Summer (pg-13 for language and sexual references), Ms. Marvel vol 1, Misfits of Avalon, and a stack of Star Wars ones for the Captain.

I’ll likely be reading and reviewing newer releases, ones that are either stand-alones or the first in a new series. This isn’t a comic or graphic novel review blog—it’s a blog about writing and editing—so I’ll be reviewing ones with a broad audience, ones that should be available at local libraries or bookstores.

But do comment below with your favorite graphic novels! It’s no secret I’m a fan of The Dreamer, but I won’t be reviewing it, since Vol. 3 is out in stores now.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal

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This is a very mild origin story (think Peter Parker without Uncle Ben dying), so whether you’ll like it or not depends on how well you connect with Kamala.

Kamala Khan is the kind of superhero I craved as a preteen. She’s geeky and spunky and relatable. (Again, a lot like early Spider-Man.) I can see why some might consider her a Mary Sue character, but in #5, when she had her first “victory,” I was hooked. If the conflict and stakes don’t keep intensifying, then I’ll probably walk away, but for now, I’m so in.

kamala-khan

If you have daughters that want to get into comics, I’d recommend Kamala for 8+

Writing Exercise

Pick up a copy of Ms. Marvel Volume 1 from a library or bookstore (you could read the whole thing just standing in between stacks). Then write a 15-blinker origin story.*

*It doesn’t have to be a superhero story. It could be about your origin as a writer.

And don’t forget to comment with your favorite graphic novels, comics, or webcomics below, if you’ve got some!

Friday Reads: THE BASEBALL PLAYER AND THE WALRUS

I received an ARC of The Baseball Player and the Walrus and am excited to share this picture book with all of you!

Image links to Amazon Smile. With Amazon Smile, every purchase helps the charity of your choice!

Short Version

A sweet, surprisingly deep*, story about balancing responsibilities with pursuing dreams. Children will empathize with the characters, and adults will enjoy the details and theme.

*This isn’t to say I’m surprised that any picture book would be deep, since most have a lesson or takeaway element (that, and the illustrations, are why I love picture books!)—I just expected this to be a fun, silly story, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was much more than that.

Illustrations

Alex Latimer’s illustrations are packed with amusing details that demand encore reads. My favorite are the suitcases overflowing with bills and fish, and the trophies scattered haphazardly on the bedroom floor.

Story

Ben Loory has written a crafty tale about the unfortunate choice between work and passion. While the recommended age for this book is 5-8 year olds, I (mother, writer, artist) read it to my four-year-old son. He enjoyed it and was emotionally attached to both the baseball player and the walrus. I don’t want to give spoilers, but when I asked him what he didn’t like and what he liked about the book, his answers were dependent on the emotional state of the characters, rather than, like, a dragon or explosion or something “cool.” I can’t recall him empathizing with a picture book character before now, so that’s something I’m really pleased about. That’s why I advocate all people read—reading makes us empathetic humans. Every online troll should read picture books with empathetic characters. Maybe they’d learn something.

Oh, the preschooler also said he liked the walrus’ tusks. So there’s that.

Recommended for

Besides trolls who need a lesson, I’d recommend this book to elementary teachers during read-aloud time, since some of the words might be difficult for early readers. But I’d also recommend it to high school seniors and adults. The subtext and some of the humor will be appreciated by adults who live the dilemma posed in the book, asking themselves whether it’s more important to have “lots and lots and lots of money” and a job they succeed at, like the baseball player, or to invest time and energy into something more fulfilling.

On our first read through, the theme spoke to me as a mom trying to decide between working full time and staying at home. But on the second read, it spoke more to me as a creative, one who is constantly deciding between good paying jobs and really exciting ones.

Have you ever heard the quote “You can never step into the same book twice, because you are different each time you read it”? It’s attributed to John Barton. I think it only applies to books with relatable, human experiences. With theme and subtext.

It applies to this book.

Buy Links

Benefit a local, independent bookstore by preordering via IndieBound.

Benefit a charity by pre-ordering online via Amazon Smile.

The Baseball Player and the Walrus will be available for purchase on February 24, 2015.

Writing Exercise

Write a 15-blinker about a choice between passion and responsibility.

Friday Reads: AFTER I DO by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’m starting a new series on the blog! I haven’t blogged about books in forever, so the hope is one per week. I’ll only be blogging about my favorites (no room for negativity here), and I’ll end with a writing prompt. Ideally I’ll post ever Friday, but life happens! So be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and then you can be sure to not miss out. Adult fiction, YA fiction, MG, graphic novels, picture books—I’ll cycle through them all.

Starting off, After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’d heard so much about this novel on Twitter, I had to pick it up, even if Women’s Fiction isn’t usually my bag.

First Impressions

The Title

“After I Do” is a great title. Immediately we know it’s about what happens after a wedding, rather than before, regarding a married couple.

The Cover

The color, the illustration that leans on the doodle side, the tagline—these tell me this is women’s fiction, possibly bordering on “chick lit.” The hip, handwritten typeface tells me this is a contemporary novel.

The illustration itself, with the knocked over champagne glass, tells me the celebration—the honeymoon—is over. This isn’t a romance after the wedding, this is about a broken marriage.

The Blurb

From the publisher:

From the author of Forever, Interrupted—hailed by Sarah Jio as “moving, gorgeous, and at times heart-wrenching”—comes a breathtaking new novel about modern marriage, the depth of family ties, and the year that one remarkable heroine spends exploring both.

When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.

Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?

This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.

Let’s break this down.

“They decide to take a year off … anything goes.” Already I think this is a stupid idea, that if two people want to fix their marriage, they should learn how to communicate, not take a break and do whatever falls under “anything goes.” But I’m intrigued. I’m just expecting some dumb choices from the characters.

“Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery …” This tells me that this book will be an emotional journey, with plenty of introspection, and probably not much action. It also tells me that this book is primarily about Lauren, not about Lauren and Ryan.

“This is a love story about what happens when the love fades.” This is what really sold me on reading the book. It’s a love story but not a romance. I’m not a fan of romances—the tropes, the miscommunications, the lies. But I love love stories.

Reading

This is a character-driven, theme-driven novel. It’s not plot- or action-driven. So if you start reading and don’t like Lauren, or if you aren’t interested in exploring marriage from all different points of view (in the book, the opinions come from the surrounding cast of characters), then this isn’t the book for you.

I like Lauren’s voice. The tone is depressing but funny, and I really enjoy that contrast. It’s like grief. Sad one moment, funny the next.

The way Reid can characterize through her characters’ dialogue makes me excited about any future movie deals. All of the characters are three-dimensional, even if they only make cameos. Even if I didn’t agree with their opinions or decisions, I felt like they were complex, real people, and not just that, but they were all sympathetic characters. Reading is an exercise in empathy, and I think I’m a more empathetic person after reading After I Do.

I really enjoyed this book. I even marked the letters in the book to have my husband read them (don’t tell his fellow Marines he enjoyed it). It sparked a great discussion. Reading it was almost like preventative couple’s therapy. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s married or who plans on becoming married—it’s definitely a cautionary tale.

Author Chat

Taylor Jenkins Reid talks about After I Do in this interview from USA Today.

Recommendations

If you like After I Do, you might like books by Emily Giffin or Amy Hatvany.

If you’d like a personalized book recommendation from Penguin Random House, check out The Penguin Hotline.

Writing Prompt

One of the plot devices this novel employs involves letters written between characters. Choose two people at odds with each other, whether fictional or real, and have one write a letter to the other. Let the writer assume that the reader will never receive the letter, so he or she can be completely honest and uncensored.