Tag Archives: Adventure

I Know Here and From There to Here by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James

I Know Here and From There to Here

Absolutely no doubt that you could read either of these titles separately and find two engaging standalone stories. But read them together and you’re guaranteed a much more satisfying experience that reveals Kathie’s love of frogs, the significance of “[only] me in grade three” meeting someone “[e]ight, almost nine,” the importance of the sketchbook, and so much more.

I Know Here – a Canadian mega-award winner – captures all that is familiar for a little girl about to move from a nameless “yellow dot” somewhere in Saskatchewan to the big city of Toronto. Her “here” is close to Carrot River where her baby brother was born, and Nipawin from where the family’s groceries get delivered. “Here” is an enclave of 18 trailers, of which her “school is the trailer at the end of the road.” “Here” is where the dam her father is building “will send out electricity far across the prairies,” signaling that “[s]oon we will all be leaving.” What the little girl knows are the forest, the howling wolves, the tobogganing hill, the moose and rabbits on the Pas Trail – and somehow she’ll need to figure out how to take some of “here” to “there.”

Four years after Here, the sequel hits shelves next month. “Here” trades places with “there” when the family arrives in Toronto: “It’s different here, not the same as there,” the little girl narrates. “There” is where her father’s dam stretched across the Saskatchewan River, and “here” is where his next project is a city highway. From a “road without a name,” the family now lives on Birch Street, even though the birches “must be hiding in the backyard behind the fences.” Doors went unlocked there, but not so here. There the aurora borealis “dance[d] just for us”; here the street lamps keep darkness at bay. But best of all, here is something – someone – new: Anne, who knocks on the door to ask if the little girl is “ready” … for new adventures and new friendship.

Author Laurel Croza, whose back flap bio reveals her peripatetic past, uses her own Saskatchewan-to-Toronto childhood relocation as inspiration for both titles. Her co-traveler, artist Matt James, presents a rich, saturated palette to give textured energy to Croza’s memories. His intentionally naive, guileless style captures just the right balance of longing for the familiar, intertwined with the excited anticipation of discovery. Croza and James twice prove the strength of their complementary collaboration, creating a poignant journey both timely and timeless.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010, 2014

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian

Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers by John Harris Dunning, art by Nikhil Singh

Salem BrownstoneSalem Brownstone, once the proprietor of the Sit & Spin Laundromat, gets an ominous telegram (on Halloween, naturally) calling him to New Mecco City, Azania to “take immediate possession of his [late father's] house and the contents therein.” His mourning – “[a]fter all these years of wanting to know my father, now it’s too late. I’ve lost him” – is short-lived when he discovers an intruder in the manse …

Before Salem has time to get better acquainted with visiting Cassandra Contortionist, who knew his father, the Shadow Boys descend. Uh-oh. Cassandra passes Salem the “scrying ball” which belonged to Salem’s father, with warnings that he must always keep it safe. Injured during their escape, Salem wakes up surrounded by the many creatures of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights. As Salem recovers, many strange occurrences happen, not the least of which include evil, dark plans to take over the universe. Salem, of course, holds the key – I mean the ball – to keeping the world in balance.

While the plot follows a rather straightforward good vs. evil narrative, the art is anything but predictable. As revealed in artist Nikhil Singh’s bio notes, the panels were seven years in the drawing with a major move in between for both creators from South Africa to London. From Salem’s single expressively squiggly eyebrow, to the mysterious Lola Q’s eyepatch, to Ed Harm’s stages of mutant transformation, and so much more, Singh’s irreverent, protean imagination is clearly manifested in the myriad tiny, peculiar elements of each panel.

Reading swiftly through will restore your sense of goodness and safety, but you’ll find you need to go back again and again)to make sure you haven’t missed any important details. After all, the fate of the universe lies between these glorious, mercurial pages.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010 (United States)

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, British, British Asian, South African

The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy (I and II: Apocalypse) by Filipe Melo, art by Juan Cava, colors by Santiago Villa, translated by Raylene Lowe (I) and Philip R. Simon (II)

Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy 1.2

While watching evening TV that’s been interrupted by a special bulletin about the unending “wave of child abductions in Lisbon,” Eurico nods off, only to be jarred awake by the ringing telephone. He’s late again to his pizza delivery job, where his boss thinks he’s “a half-wit,” his best (only?) friend Vasco mops floors, and he dreams about asking out the love of his life Ana.

Finally out on delivery, Eurico gets his scooter stolen. When the police laugh off his sketch of the hooded culprit, Eurico seeks the help of “occult detective” Dog Mendonça who works with a chain-smoking little girl named Pazuul (who’s really a 6,000 year demon kicked out hell for not being “bad enough”). Eurico doesn’t exactly get his scooter back, but he does get the thief – at least the guilty gargoyle’s head whose missing body doesn’t deter his chatterbox tendencies.

Then child-like Pazuul – remember those kiddie kidnappings? – disappears and Dog, Eurico, and Gargoyle head for the sewers, where they end up having to save the rest of the city while they’re looking for their girlish demon buddy. Who needs a night job when you’re suddenly a superhero?

Alas, hero-ing apparently doesn’t pay the bills because five years later in Volume II, Eurico is stuck at a desk providing technical support. Dog and Pazuul reappear to rescue him from boredom, collect Gargoyle after severing his loquacious head yet again from the rest of his regrown body, and visit a bookstore (they’ll be needing a certain holy book). Thus begins their battle to save the world, this time taking on the Apocalypse (you did notice the subtitle, right?) in an epic battle of biblical proportions (couldn’t resist!). The volume ends with a bonus prequel, The Untold Tales of Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy, which reveals how the original gruesome twosome (Dog and Demon) came to be – via family circus, immigration, ‘the code,’ and even the Loch Ness Monster.

So you could read these ‘incredible adventures’ – the two volumes are 2/3 of a trilogy – for the sheer guffaw-inducing, over-the-top entertaining stories that they are, splendiferously enhanced with eye-popping, jaw-dropping art … and be utterly satisfied. But, of course, these saturated pages hold so much more. Take, for example, who wrote the forewords: Volume I by John Landis (think Animal House, Thriller, An American Werewolf in Paris) and Volume II by George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead and the zombie genre that never died). Those are major hints to some deeper references and meanings.

Then you have multi-levels of sly humor: that first German scream on p. 67 in Volume I roughly translates to “If you read this, then you understand German!” which actually has nothing to do with the action on the page; the type in the dialogue bubbles is printed upside down when the speakers are thusly hanging; in Volume II the would-be saviors choose a cuddly cutesie kiddie Bible because it’s not $30 and it “looks much better”; and I can only barely mention the whole religious (or not) meta-narrative going on. Oh, be still my ongoing giggles!

“[H]ow long do we have to wait for the next one?” Landis asks in Volume I; with II+just out, the question begs asking again. Our answer: Volume III: Requiem hits shelves November 10, 2014. Click here for the sneak-peek trailer, but before you hit play, be warned – you’ll be wanting more, more, more. Patience certainly isn’t my virtue!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 and 2013 (United States)

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, European

Avatar: The Last Airbender | The Rift (Part One) created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, script by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, lettering by Michael Heisler

Avatar Rift1Although our son incessantly watched various versions of the Avatar series on television and even more often on DVD, I had little knowledge for years of who’s who or what’s what. The casting controversy of the 2010 film version disastrously directed by M. Night Shyamalan is what actually made me take close notice (not to mention the ridiculously official email requests for assistance with finding the nameless “Asian-looking” faces for the anonymous large crowd scenes; nasty replies flew back!). And then 2006 and 2013 National Book Award finalist Gene Luen Yang took over the printed storyline in 2012, and I’ve been utterly hooked since!

The third and latest three-part adventure from Yang and company, The Rift, hits shelves mid-March – get your pre-orders in now! To find out how the city of Yu Dao – which both the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom cohabit peacefully – has become “the example” that the other colonies are all trying to emulate, you’ll first have to read The Promise and then The Search to get the full picture – highly encouraged!

While celebrating the announcement of Yu Dao’s new coalition government, Aang is visited by the spirit of Avatar Yangchen, Aang’s predecessor “four Avatars ago.” She’s obviously in distress, but Aang is unable to hear her warnings. He later realizes that he’s being called to observe the Yangchen Festival, “one of the highest holidays on the Air Nomad calendar,” which “hasn’t been celebrated in over a hundred years.”

Gathering Katara, Sokka, metalbending buddy Toph Beifong, and three Air acolytes, Aang flies Appa (their fluffy mode of transport) to “a cliff overlooking the ocean” where the festival traditionally begins. As the motley crew parades down to the meadow, what they see, smell, and experience is not the “sacred place” it should be: “This is what Yangchen was trying to tell me,” Aang comes to understand her silent entreaty. Keeping the newfound peace here is going to be quite the challenge.

Yang makes Rift especially contemporary, adding environmental health to issues of loyalty, power, parent/child filial duties, sacred bonds, gendered expectations, and (of course) much more. Intertwined with all that swashbuckling flying and bending entertainment are always subtle reminders to think and act beyond one’s comfort zones. Lessons to be learned for us all.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

2 Comments

Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Chinese American, Pan-Asian Pacific American

The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay

Map of Lost MemoriesThis has been my go-to article of late: “The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don’t” by Gracie Jin. In the few blurbs I’ve briefly perused online about Lost Memories, I haven’t seen any mention of author Kim Fay‘s ethnic background (by photograph, she does not appear to be of Asian heritage), although I have come across a few commendations about her familiarity with Southeast Asia. The reviews seem mostly full of praise, and it garnered an Edgar Award nomination for Best First Novel in 2013.

But of course, I have to be the contrary one (think of this is as a public service announcement?), because Lost was surely a prime example of exoticized literary colonization. Irene Blum, not yet 30, doesn’t get the museum curator position she insists she deserves, mainly because she’s a woman in 1925. Her angry devastation proves brief, however, when her wealthy, dying mentor gives her the opportunity to discover a legendary temple in Cambodia which allegedly holds the secrets of the lost Khmer civilization.

Irene leaves Seattle for Shanghai where she convinces Simone Merlin, a Cambodian-born Frenchwoman with a reputation as temple raider and Communist sympathizer, to join her quest. After the two ambitious adventurers not-quite-on-purpose kill Simone’s abusive husband, they land in Saigon on their way to Cambodia. Both women pick up a lover – Simone’s old, Irene’s new – and eventually the foursome trek into the jungle, each with quite the contrasting agenda.

Irene’s motivation is purely personal gain: she plans to steal her Cambodian treasure to present to the American museum of her choice, cementing her career as a formidable curator. Hundreds of tedious pages later, she does indeed have some sort of too-late revelation (surprise!) about her self-absorbed greed and seemingly repent. In between, many – many – subplots meander and distract: lost parents, abandoned children, murder and other unsolved mysteries, secret pasts, orphan scribes of hidden libraries, and most prevalent of all, enough white privilege to keep the cringe-factor relentlessly zinging. Too much of Asia is but an exotic landscape to be manipulated, robbed, and colonized by the powerful, entitled white elite.

Hopeful that my tenacity (almost 13 hours stuck in the ears; narrator Karyn O’Bryant gallantly bears the weight of the faulty text) might somehow be rewarded with at least one character’s redemption, I grudgingly lasted through to the final track. Talk about misguided – lesson learned yet again: in the new year, literatus interruptus is a viable option that must be liberally exercised!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Cambodian, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian

The Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Jennifer Wood

Year of the HorseGet ready to ring in the new year … we might know it as 2014, but by the lunar calendar, January 31, 2014 through February 18, 2015 is also the latest Year of the Horse. Thanks to Oliver Chin, founding publisher of San Francisco-based indie press, Immedium, each lunar year gets an energetic, giggle-inducing welcome with his Tales from the Chinese ZodiacHorse marks the ninth installment (already!) in the 12-part series.

Meet Tom and Hannah – gleefully gracing that grand cover – who are new best friends who share quite the sense of adventure. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi receives a royal summons for a new painting, she’s at a loss as to how she will deliver her art to the capital so far away. Intrepid Tom volunteers, but he can’t possibly go alone! After interviewing many possible companions, the best candidate is none other than Hannah herself. “‘Trust in each other and move as one,’” Lao Shi advises as the pair head off to make their precious delivery.

As she did in The Year of the Dragon and The Year of the Snake, illustrator Jennifer Wood continues to provide the same delightfully equitable page time for all the zodiac animals, adding another engaging level of ‘hide-and-seek’ for younger readers. Author Chin again introduces rollicking exploits to inspire and entertain, all the while celebrating the Asian culture that infuses our daily American lives.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, adventurous new year indeed!

Tidbit: In case you’re wondering about the equine members in your stable … “People born in the Year of the Horse [1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026] are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention. But they can be impatient, hot-blooded, and headstrong. Though they are free spirits, horses are steadfast and resilient companions.” Going on a trip? Make sure to take a Horse along with you!

To check out some of the other Tales from the Chinese Zodiac on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Children

Published: 2014

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Chinese American

Line 135 by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine

Line 135Clearly this image is not doing justice to the book’s spirited cover with its bright lime green train and fluorescent orange doors. To appreciate its vibrancy is reason enough to go find the real book! See that jauntily ponytailed, smiling little girl? She’s definitely inviting you to join her whimsical, thoughtful adventure …

“There are two places I belong in the world,” the girl explains – her house in the city and her grandmother’s home in the country. Her mother has helped her board the train to visit her grandmother who lives “practically on the other side of the world.” Savvy traveler that she already is, someday, the little girl is going to go “everywhere” and “know the entire world.” Her mother and grandmother warn that’s “impossible … it’s difficult enough to know yourself.” But the tenacious child rightfully insists, “when I am big, I will make sure that life moves with me.”

Contrary? Courageous? “I will go everywhere,” she asserts. She doesn’t need to wait to be “big” to know her future: “I will go here. I will go there. I will go this way and I will go that way. I will know the entire world.” With youthful exuberance, she affirms, “it is possible.” She’ll make you believe …

Beyond author Germano Zullo’s encouraging, inspiring prose, Line 135 is a visually enchanting delight. The titular ‘line’ travels directly across every page, each double spread enhanced with black-and-white, pen-drawn, exquisitely detailed views of changing landscapes as the technicolor train journeys from city to country. That the ’135′ is made up of three prime numbers in sequence – 1, 3, 5 – seems to be a nod to the indivisible connectedness of family (mother and grandmother literally ground both ends of the line from start to finish) in the midst of going here and there and everywhere.

“When you move between two places, it’s called traveling,” the wise young girl explains, as illustrator Albertine felicitously complies with beckoning scenes of stretched skyscrapers, mod shopping districts, stacked apartments, busy factories, overcrowded superhighways … that soon give way to gracious homes, wildflowered fields, uniquely rotund animals, and a few chimerical places that just might be out of this world. Echoing a child’s endless imagination, words and pictures work intricately together to remind us to never let limits keep us from going forth … onward ho, indeed!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

2 Comments

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European

The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry Chronicles, Book 1) by Sarwat Chadda

Savage FortressWell, I seem to be totally out of order here: so I read The City of Death (Book 2) first because I had a judging deadline, then backpedaled to catch up by sticking this Fortress (Book 1) in the ears (Bruce Mann narrates well enough, although I think Sunil Malhotra would have been the better choice), only to learn that Ash Mistry and the World of Darkness (Book 3) which hit shelves on the other side of the Pond last summer, doesn’t even have a Stateside pub date scheduled yet!

Harrrummmphhh. Talk about literatus interruptus (especially since Book 2 ended with quite the shocker)! And while it’s true that you don’t need Book 1 to enjoy Book 2, obeying the order will make you more enlightened.

Meet Ash Mistry, your average city teen: “All-day gaming sessions. His mates. McDonald’s. These were the best things in life.” He’s been sent to India with his younger sister Lucky for some cultural rediscovery with Uncle Vik and Aunt Anita. While he might not be British enough back home, he’s certainly made to feel like a London oddity on the other side of the world. Two weeks into their trip, he doesn’t know how he’s going to survive “the oppressive temperatures, the stench, the crowds, and the death.”

And then he lands at the Savage Fortress, owned by Lord Alexander Savage, who has the world convinced he’s nearly a saint with all his many charities. Savage has summoned Uncle Vik and offered him two million pounds to translate ancient scrolls written in a lost language. Hidden behind proverbial curtains, Ash witnesses the exchange with mounting horror; his nightmares becomes real when he literally falls into a hidden portal from which he glimpses his own mysterious past …

“‘I’m tired of being poor,’” Vik initially replies to Ash’s protestations, but Vik’s conscience makes him tear up the check when he catches a glimpse of Savage’s true nature. Not used to being challenged, Savage is less than pleased, setting off a violent chain of events that send Ash and Lucky running for their very lives. Survival will depend on a holy man, a shapeshifting demon, and a street urchin … and the odds just aren’t looking so good.

Who needs video games, when you’ve got deadly monsters chasing you 24/7 in real time? So much for a typical summer vacation …!!!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, British Asian, Indian

The City of Death (Ash Mistry Chronicles, Book 2) by Sarwat Chadda

City of DeathOkay, so we’re skipping ahead here, because I had to read this for a book judging requirement – and, in reading out of order, also confirm that it can narratively stand alone even without its prequel. I can’t reveal any trade secrets, but I can confirm that Book 2 of Sarwat Chadda‘s Ash Mistry series doesn’t need Book 1 (The Savage Fortress), but if you decide to turn back time, you’ll appreciate filling in a few details. That said, to maximize your sense of adventure, I would definitely stick to the 1 – 2 – 3 (3 being The World of Darkness, available on the other side of the Pond, but a U.S. pub date is still pending).

After a serious makeover summer in India, Ash is back home in London with his old friends, starting a new school year. He’s lost his adolescent pudge, learned how to kill with a single touch, and can run to Edinburgh and back in a single night (those nightmares about past lives keep the shuteye away). He might be the reborn “eternal warrior” of Kali, goddess of death and destruction, but he’s also still the same socially awkward teenager he was before his transformation; alas, none of his newly acquired skills are helpful as he fumbles to ask the gorgeous Gemma out on a date.

Then his old friend Parvati shows up to warn him that their nemesis, evil Lord Savage, is after the legendary Koh-I-Noor diamond, part of the British Crown Jewels – it’s the last relic he needs to unlock the secret to eternal life. Savage’s hench-monsters wreak havoc hunting down the priceless jewel, and in the violent skirmish, Gemma dies in Ash’s arms. Bent on revenge – not to mention saving the world yet again – Ash returns to India with Parvati to stop Savage once and for all. His not-so-secret determination to resurrect Gemma repeatedly impedes him from thinking clearly, even as his trust meter is tested again and again. But being a superhero when you’re still just a kid – with ever-growing powers you haven’t quite mastered! – is no easy job, especially when those new skills just might come at the cost of your own humanity.

Chadda updates ancient mythology to fit into a brave new world of instant access driven by cell phones, video games, and the world wide web. Technology might have advanced, but the war between good and evil remains forever timeless: get ready for young Ash Mistry, the latest vanquisher-in-training the world has been waiting for …

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, British Asian, Indian

Recipe by Angela Petrella and Michaelanne Petrella, illustrated by Mike Bertino and Erin Althea

RecipeIn case you weren’t already aware, whenever you happen upon a McSweeney’s McMullens title, get ready for unpredictable high-jinks and not a little guffawing. Also, always remember to start with the cover: go ahead, it’s made to come off … this one is a two-sided poster that just might leave you … bug-eyed!

For would-be mini-chefs, here’s an adventure of the ‘don’t-try-this-at-home’-variety … unless you have the most indulgent parent in the whole wide world. Kristen, who decides “it was time for me to learn to cook,” has already secured her mother’s helpful agreement: “I’m the boss when it’s my turn, if I ask nicely. And yesterday she said it was my turn.” In case anyone had any doubts, check out Kristen’s definitive orange shirt: “Boss of Sauce”! Go, girl!

Her grocery list is long – not to mention rather eclectic – including 20 bags of marshmallows, a new puppy, a Cleveland Browns sweatshirt, horse meat substitute (she settles for tofu delivered on horseback since “‘tofu tastes good when you dump it into sauce’”), and the all-important helmet!

With Mom’s help, Kristen boils the water but hands over the hot bowl (some kiddie precautions are necessary no matter what!), gives Mom instructions while she takes “the puppy outside to think about my next moves,” goes back to add hot dogs, squirts a duck full of water, and adds the burnt french fries. Her deliciously mountainous creation is so large she decides she needs to share. Come and get it: “Recipe is served! No refunds.”

In an interview included with the PR packet (sadly, I can’t find an online version, although I did stumble on this one which is almost as funny), the Sisters Petrella reveal that their culinary adventure is “an homage to our now-departed great-aunt Katy, who was a nutty old bird with whom we created recipes every weekend.” As for the rambunctiously imaginative chef-in-training, she’s their younger sister: “We named the main character after her so we wouldn’t get grounded from our bikes for not including her.” No clues as to the true identity of the puppy, though. They do applaud their honey and Sriracha-eating illustrators, Mike Bertino and Erin Althea, for being “in sync with our syncs.” And how!

Family affair aside, they also admit to their ultimate goal: to “[empower] reckless children to make giant messes and waste food. Yes.” I have to admit, Recipe sure seems quite timely given our overprivileged post-Turkey weekend food coma hangover, ahem. Besides, the raccoons gotta eat, too, right?

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

Leave a comment

Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific