Tag Archives: illustrated

Bonus Review! Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger


Raven GirlAnother short story that doesn’t count toward my CBR goal.

This wasn’t a great read for me.

A human and a raven fall in love and have a daughter who is neither human nor raven. She knows something is wrong and doesn’t fit into either world. Science tries to make her whole but will she become what she was born to be?

This is a super quick read, complete with Niffengger’s illustrations. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it. I think part of it was the Detective Boy who follows the Raven Girl on her secret travels. Although his character and the scientist do play against each other, making you wonder if either is the bad guy.

Not a favorite, but in no way a waste of ink and paper.

Bonus Review! Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge, Illustrated by Andrea Dezso

lies knives girls in red dressesThis one is too short to count toward my CBR goal but I didn’t want to leave it off my review list because I really enjoyed it.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses is (are you ready?)  a collection of retold and re-imagined fairy tales.

I love this genre.  I don’t know if it’s possible to have a favorite of any type of book when you love books so much, but fairy tales and folklore are way up on the list, and when they turn into retold tales and urban fantasy, my knees get weak.

There are twenty two stories here, including Rapunzel, the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Hansel and Gretel, the Ugly Duckling, Rumpelstiltskin, Red Riding Hood, and the Princess with that damned pea.

The tales are told as short poems without much introduction.  We know who Cinderella is, so when we hear the aftermath from the stepsisters’ point of view, we don’t need to hear all that crap about the ball again.

To make these stories all the more sweet is the amazing mix between Once Upon and Time and Modern Time.

Cinderella’s stepsisters have surgery instead of their mother hacking off their toes.

Rapunzel’s mother talks about her three times a week therapy appointments.  The prince meets other princes in rehab while he waits for his eyes to heal.

The Little Match Girl is selling her CDs on the corner.  The cops find her dead, but what are you going to do?

A soldier makes a pact with the devil where he’ll wear the bearskin for seven years so his PTSD will stop.

The Beast is a bit bored now.  The weather is perfect, he’s a man again, but sometimes he really misses those fangs.

Hansel and Gretel?  Oh, they are pissed.  So very pissed.

Death makes his godson an amazing football player, poised to win the Heisman.  Things don’t go so well.

If you spit jewels when you speak and your sister spews toads, how on earth to you expect to keep a husband?

When you’re the only one speaking the truth about the Emperor’s New Clothes, how long can you hold out?

The miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin?  Life is so boring after you’ve won a dangerous game.  Surely there’s got to be something much more dangerous out there in the woods.

Little Red Riding Hood is trying to tell the story to her mom, but god, stop interrupting me!  The whole thing was, like, gross?  But whatever.  I let him.  And then some dude shows up with scissors and it’s wicked gay, but whatever, I’m hungry and you need to get off my back, OK?

I love it.

The illustrations are amazing.  Koertge wrote some beautiful lines, but without Dezso’s art, this book wouldn’t have been as good.  The art is all black on white in  woodcut style.  The lines are sharp and deep.  Shadows and movement surround the cuts and you can almost see the red of the blood as it drips down someone’s chin.

Even better?  Dezso is an art professor at Amherst College, so I bet I could go see her work in person somewhere.  http://andreadezso.com/

Hole.  Lee.  Shit.  She did embroidery of things her mother said to her as a child.  Transylvanian moms are AMAZING!

I need to stop looking at her page or I’m going to stay up for another hour and I should really go to bed.

In conclusion:

If you like folklore, fairy tales and slightly fucked up shit, get this book.  It’s much tamer than the monkey sex in Robert Coover’s Briar Rose but not purified like Disney.


#39: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay, Inspired by Siobhan Dowd

How do you grieve for something that isn’t over?  If you acknowledge your fears, does that mean you’re giving permission for the end to happen?

Thirteen year old Conor has been having nightmares.  12:07 on the dot.  Wide awake, trying not to scream, wishing he  had someone to talk to.  He’s been alone since everyone found out his mom has cancer.  The kids at school figured out that the best way to deal with their own unease is to ignore him.  The bullies know he won’t fight back or tattle, so he spends his school time invisible and bloodied.  His only friend betrayed him and he can’t look at her without feeling angry, and he doesn’t want to feel anger because that reminds him of the dreams.  Reminds him of the monster.

But then a different monster appears.  Huge, reaching branches.  Roots that could crush his house in a moment.  A gaping maw that can swallow him whole.

But he doesn’t care.  He’s not even afraid.

This isn’t the real monster.  It’s not his monster.

But why is it here and why does it insist that Conor has a story to tell?

This book is beautiful, and that’s before the illustrations.  Siobhan Dowd began to create this book but died before she could start.  Patrick Ness, who never met her, was asked to complete her work.  Wisely, he realized he couldn’t tell her story in her voice.  What he could do was take her ideas in, let them grow, and tell a different story to honor her characters.  It’s not Dowd’s story, but it is her reflection.  Jim Kay finishes the tribute with black ink and textures to capture Conor’s fear and hope along with his helplessness and isolation.  It’s painful and perfect and I had to keep putting the book down to scrub away the tears that were running back into my ears and into my pillow.  The hazards of reading in bed.

There is so much to like about this book.  My favorite genre is folklore and retold tales, and Ness pulls from the Green Man legend to create a character that is made of shades of gray.  There are stories within the stories and Conor, and you, aren’t sure who the bad guy is.  What enemy are you supposed to be paying attention to?  What do you hold on to and what wishes to you make when nothing makes sense?  Maybe the new monster is actually black and white with nothing in between.

The most powerful thing about this book was the idea of grief as permission.  Conor and his mother refuse to let her cancer take them down, but things are getting worse.  She’s fighting and she’s pulled through before.  But what if…  What happens if you finish that sentence?  If you admit that bad things can happen, are you letting them in the door?  If Conor allows himself to feel fear, does that mean he’s giving up on her?  If you grieve for something that’s in process, does that mean you’re admitting that it’s over and you no longer trust your mother to live?

Did I mention I had to keep putting the book down to deal with the tears?  Have you ever gotten to that point where you’re not actively sobbing anymore but tears continue rolling down your face?  And then you think you’ve pulled yourself together so you can keep going and you take a deep breath to steady yourself and you hear your breath catch and skip and you realize you’re not done crying but you’ve got to finish this book because who is the monster and what is going to happen to Conor’s mom?

It hurt so much because the story and words were so true.  Kay’s artwork is a perfect match to the fear and overwhelming helplessness that Conor feels.  When you’re thirteen, you have moments where you already feel minuscule and when you add cancer to the mix, you might as well disappear.  Kay pulls these feelings in and his pictures capture those moments where you’ve trapped all of your emotions into a tight ball into the center of your chest, but you know at any moment it’s going to explode.  He smears blackness across the pages and it is a perfect companion to Ness’ story and Dowd’s beginning.

I highly recommend this book, but you probably don’t want to read it in public.  So much sniffling and tears.