Sisters by Raina Telgemeier


Goodreads: Sisters
Series:  Smile #2
Source: Library
Published: 2014


Raina always wanted a little sister, but when Amara came, she wasn’t what Raina expected.  She typically wants to play alone and she and Raina are always having fights.  But then they take a road trip with their mother.  Can they find a way to get along and survive the trip?  A companion novel to Smile.


I admit I found this book even less engaging than Smile, even though I recognize that Telgemeier has an excellent sense of humor and that she depicts the relationship between the sisters excellently.  For reasons I find difficult to articulate to myself, I just did not find myself invested in the story.  It doesn’t help that the official summary promises more drama than the book actually contains.  I kept waiting for something major to happen, but it never did.

Sisters is a companion novel to Smile, taking place the summer before Raina enters high school.  The story of  the Telgemeiers’ road trip is interspersed with flashbacks of Raina and Amara’s relationship.  We get to see how Raina longed for a sister, only to have the grumpy and isolated Amara come along.  Worse, Amara ends up being an artist just like Raina.  And Raina feels like her sister is stealing what makes her special.

Sisterhood can be complicated and Telgemeier expertly captures the nuances of such a relationship as the girls argue, tease, storm, and support each other.  But the ending feels all too easy and takes something away from the previous story.  Perhaps it’s because Amara has seemed to be reaching out in various ways all along and it’s not clear why Raina suddenly notices.  Perhaps because it suggests that sisterhood from here on out is smooth sailing, even though readers know it is not.  Perhaps it’s because the cover blurb suggests for reasons unknown that they are banding together to save their parents’ marriage, imparting the final pages with far more significance than the pages themselves seem to suggest.  For some reason, it does not work for me.

Still, I recognize that many readers find this book special and that the depiction of sisterhood is sure to appeal to many.  Fans of Smile will certainly enjoy it.

3 starsKrysta 64

Smile by Raina Telgemeier


Goodreads: Smile
Series:  Smile #1
Source: Library
Published: 2009


In sixth grade, Raina trips while racing and suddenly her life is filled with dental appointments, braces, fake teeth, and a whole lot of embarrassment.  How can a girl feel like she belongs in high school when she feels like everyone is staring at her mouth?


It’s not difficult to see why Smile won an Eisner award and regularly flies off the library shelf.  Semi-autobiographical in nature, the book tells the story of Telgemeier’s tween and teen years, after she trips during a race and injures her two front teeth.  Faced with the possibility of having a misshapen smile for the rest of her life, or having to wear embarrassing dental equipment, Raina finds herself lacking self-confidence and struggling to fit in at high school.  It’s a coming-of-age story many will surely relate to.

Even so, I admit I did not really see myself in Raina.  I never understood why so many students hate braces because it seems like most people wear them at some point.  And it was difficult for me to understand why Raina took so long to realize that her friends were treating her badly, or why she cared that she had to wear awkward orthodontia at night in the privacy of her own home.  I suppose in many ways I was a much more self-assured and self-confident teen than Raina.  But I think her struggles at fitting in can still be relatable to readers.  Perhaps Raina is self-conscious about her mouth.  Most readers will be able to understand her self-consciousness in some way or another.

I was not totally blown away by Smile, as I expected to be based on its popularity.  However, it’s a nice story about one girl learning to find her way through high school.  And it’s engaging with its bright colors and the well-timed sense of humor.  I understand why younger readers like it so much, even if I didn’t feel particularly invested in the story myself.

4 starsKrysta 64

Avatar: Smoke and Shadow (Graphic Novel Review)

Avatar Smoke and ShadowInformation

Goodreads:  Smoke and Shadow
Series: Smoke and Shadow (3 volumes)
Source: Library
Published: 2015


Although it has been awhile since Zuko took control of the Fire Nation, he continues to face opposition from citizens still loyal to Ozai.  Then mysterious dark spirits demand Zuko’s death.  The price if the people fail to remove him: their children will disappear.  Zuko and Aang must address this new threat fast, before everything they worked to build crumbles.


Avatar Smoke and Shadow

Disclaimer: I checked out all three volumes of the story from the library and read them at once, so my review is focused on discussing the overall story, rather than evaluating each volume for pacing and such individually.

Smoke and Fire is the fourth graphic novel trilogy set after the events of the Avatar TV series.  It drops readers into the heart of the Fire Nation, revealing some of the nation’s history while showcasing the threats Zuko continues to face as the new Fire Lord.  Like any Avatar story, however, the focus here is often on family and friendship, not just an action-packed plot.

While fans might be skeptical that the graphic novels would have the heart of the show, their fears will be unfounded.  One only has to read the characters’ dialogue with their voices and personality quirks from the animated series, and the books immediately come alive.  Katara and Sokka make only a brief appearance in this series (though I’m okay with that, considering how mushy Katara and Aang can be together), but just about every other fan favorite character will be back. Iroh particularly is the start of this installment, in my opinion.

Though the graphic novels sometimes seem to rely too heavily on creating conflict between Aang’s and Zuko’s ruling styles, the plot in Smoke and Shadow seems believable to me in a way the plot of The Promise did not.  It’s quite reasonable that Zuko would face opposition from citizens who were loyal to Ozai or who simply are resistant to change and feel things must have been better for the Fire Nation before.  The conflict here is real, and this time the reasons Zuko and Aang disagree with how to deal with it also seem plausible, rather than a cheap attempt by the writers to create some drama.

I enjoyed learning more about Fire Nation history and seeing some of my favorite characters spring into action once again.  These, rather than The Legend of Korra, are the sequels fan of The Last Airbender will want.


Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer Parts I and II by Stefan Petrucha, Sho Murase, and Sarah Kinney

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew Vampire SlayerInformation

Goodreads: Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer
Series: Nancy Drew: The New Case Files #1 and #2
Source: Library
Published: 2010


The latest vampire film has River Heights obsessed with the supernatural, so when a dark and handsome stranger arrives in town, immediately gossip circulates that he’s a vampire himself!  Nancy Drew, girl detective, believes otherwise, but then why does his living room have a coffin?


I grew up with Nancy Drew and admired her for her intelligence, compassion, and love of adventure.  These new graphic novels, however, seem to use the name of Nancy Drew without understanding who Nancy is.  Nancy is not just any girl with curiosity or who enjoys mysteries.  Nancy is independent, caring, smart, sophisticated, and sometimes just a little reckless.  She is not air-headed, oblivious, and forgetful.  Those are not the traits that solve mysteries and, aside from ruining the character of Nancy Drew, they simply do not make a lot of sense as characteristics of any successful detective.  Without a signature Nancy to distinguish this mystery from the many others I could have read, this book simply fell flat for me.

Nancy herself obviously disappointed me on many levels.  She has a habit of forgetting to do things like charge her phone or her hybrid car, which seems to be an easy way to complicate the plot.  If readers think Nancy can easily solve her problems by calling for help or getting out of there–surprise!  Nancy conveniently went on a mission without preparing anything!  She also has a strange inability to read people or their emotions.  Or, at least Ned’s.  Nancy seems very intuitive about the handsome new guy in town, but somehow misses Ned’s obvious signs of jealousy.  Furthermore, her emotional intelligence is so lacking that she cannot comprehend why her boyfriend would be upset at her ignoring him for weeks to go out to dinner and movies with another guy while holding his hand.  After all, the hand holding is for, um, solving the mystery?

The focus on Nancy’s odd love life overshadows the main mystery, which apparently is meant to circle around whether or not mysterious Gregor is a real vampire.  Of course he is not and Nancy never even tries to solve that mystery, so the plot summary is rather misleading.  Luckily, in the second book Gregor reveals that he has a different mystery to solve–one which Nancy resolves rather by accident after doing almost nothing constructive.  She does not have to investigate anything or solve any clues–because there are no clues.  The answer to the case just walks into her.

After finishing the books, I was rather confused.  This Nancy Drew mystery not only features a completely unrecognizable Nancy, but also fails to feature a real mystery.  If readers want to see Nancy and Ned relationship drama, this is the book for them.  Otherwise, it really, I am sad to say, has little to recommend it.  Nancy Drew deserves better.

Krysta 64

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Elmo Bondoc

Ms. Marvel 3Information

Goodreads: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed
Series: Ms. Mavel (MARVEL NOW!) #3
Source: Library
Published: June 2015


Kamala Khan may be a superhero, but she’s still not allowed to go to the school dance.  Instead her parents are waiting for the perfect man so they can arrange a marriage.  But when Loki crashes the Valentine’s Day festivities, Kamala reasons that no one said Ms. Marvel can’t appear, at least long enough to save the day and the romance!


Ms. Marvel has done an excellent job of presenting a fresh, new heroine who both represents diversity and a commitment to speaking to the concerns of millenials.  The third volume of her story continues in that vein, illustrating the struggles Kamala Khan faces as  a Muslim American teenager and a superhero still struggling to find her way, all wrapped up with some action-packed adventures.

I will admit that I felt the first story to be weaker than the rest of the volume.  In it, Ms. Marvel faces off against the trickster god Loki and manages to save the day with very little effort.  Meanwhile, the personal aspect of the story falls flat.  Kamala wants to attend the school dance, but her parents will not permit in. Meanwhile, best friend Bruno pines after Kamala without her knowledge.  It could have been a heart-wrenching story, I suppose, but maybe one has to be a teen or relate more to them in order to feel all the agony of missing a school function (my high school’s dances were nothing to write home about).  As for Bruno–I felt bad for him, but it’s early on and his and Kamala’s friendship has just been established.  Why complicate it now with romance?

The story picks up after that, introducing a crush for Kamala while touching on issues of consent, victimization, and victim-blaming.  And by the end, the action is really solid–it doesn’t hurt that Phil Coulson and Jemma Simmons both make guest appearances.  If anything, I would have wanted more interactions with Kamala’s family to come into play, but I’m sure the story will continue to explore that aspect of Kamala’s life in the future.  In the meantime, I’ll just be mourning the lack of Ms. Marvel in my life.

Krysta 64

Captain Marvel, Vol. 8 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, and Lee Loughridge

Captain Marvel 8Information

Goodreads: Captain Marvel, Vol. 8
Series: Captain Marvel (MARVEL NOW!) #1
Source: Library
Published: 2014


Even in the midst of a new romance, Carol Danvers feels a call to space.  But when a people on an alien planet refuse to leave, despite the fact that their homeland is slowly poisoning them, can Captain Marvel find a way to make them feel respected and still save their lives?


Ms. Marvel was my first comic book, so of course I had to read the story of the superhero who inspired Kamala Khan.  I had little background entering this new world, other than having seen The Guardians of the Galaxy movie and vaguely knowing that Carol Danvers had taken on a new title (“Captain” rather than “Ms”) and was heading to space.  However, Carol’s fierce personality and determination drew me in from the start, so that I embarked with her on a wild ride with no reservations.

Because Carol is starting out on a new adventure, the volume proves an easy entry into her world.  After a short introduction to Carol’s current situation, which quickly touches upon her family life, her dating life, and her Avenging life, the story moves into space, all the while providing just enough information to situation readers without ever miring them in details.  The focus remains on Carol’s personal journey, rather than on the galactic forces surrounding her, making the volume feel safe and intimate; a reader can enjoy it without knowing precisely who Star Lord’s father is, who the Guardians are, or what their previous battles mean for the future.  All this information, presumably, will be divulged in time, when relevant.  Until then, there’s nothing to do but enjoy the story.

The story itself I did not find particularly compelling, even though it seeks to engage readers with its complexity and depth.  It focuses on the relocation of several peoples from their home planet, their struggles adjusting and their dismay at learning that they face relocation yet again.  Various political elements come into play as the inhabitants of the doomed planet discuss whether they will leave or stay, and how they will resist outside pressures that seek to influence them.  However,because I never identified with or felt much interest in the inhabitants of the planet, I could not feel for them, could not become engrossed in their lives.  I wished the best for them, of course, but never suffered with them.

Carol’s personality alone kept me reading.  When the plot failed to entrance me, her determination, spark, and sheer exuberance pulled me along.  I wanted to see how she would react to circumstances, wanted to learn how she would adjust to a new life.  Though this adventure did not draw me in, I hope to go along with Captain Marvel for many more.

Krysta 64

Apocalypse Meow Meow by James Proimos III and James Proimos, Jr. (ARC Review)

meow meowInformation

Goodreads: Apocalypse Meow Meow
Series: Companion to Apocalypse Bow Wow
Source: ARC (ALAAC15)
Publication Date: November 3, 2015

Official Summary

Brownie, Apollo, and their ragtag group of strays have raided the grocery store and defeated some very mean mutts–but now they’ve run out of food. So when the crew discovers a nearby Twonkies factory, and all the Twonkies they could ever eat, they think they’ve got it made.

The only catch is the cat guarding the factory–and this “cat” is MUCH bigger, and far more sophisticated, than any feline they’ve ever met. Can the dogs and their friends defeat their foe and claim the Twonkies for themselves?

The Proimos father-son team returns with another irreverent, dog-filled take on the apocalypse, told in a graphic novel paper-over-board format. The instantly accessible artwork and laughs on each page will charm everyone from the most reluctant reader to the coolest of cats (humans and animals alike)!


Apocalypse Meow Meow  is a ridiculous, fun-filled adventure–that takes place after the apocalypse.  All humans have disappeared from Earth and only the pets are left, which means they’re just waiting to get into wild adventures. And although they do have apocalyptic problems–such as missing their people and running out of food–the authors make sure things stay silly.  As the pets go on a quest to eat all the Twonkies they could possibly want from the abandoned Twonkie factory, it is easy to imagine the owners are just at work or about to come back.  Not to mention there are a few hints that someone might be trying to undo the apocalypse.

I have to admit that this book is not really my style.  Though I did find it amusing at times, it does not really align with my sense of humor.  I am also not a huge fan of the loose, cartoony art style.  However, the story is entertaining and the characters are pretty endearing.  I have not read the prequel to the book, but had no trouble following the plot, understanding the characters, or otherwise comprehending what was going on in this world.  The authors make enough allusions to past actions that it is possible to fill in the gaps of why some characters are distrustful of each other or make certain alliances with one another.

Overall, then, Apocalypse Meow Meow is pretty entertaining.  I can easily imagine this appealing to middle schoolers, particularly boys.  There are only a few words on each page (and oftentimes they’re words like “meow” or “grr”), so it’s a pretty quick read, which may also make it a good choice for reluctant readers.