Boxers & Saints vs. Far Far Away

As I write this up, I have a confession: Like Brandi before me in her decision regarding Fangirl vs. In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I don’t know which book I will pick yet. I’ve always been someone who has to talk things out before I can come to a decision and until I finish this post, I will be in as much suspense as you are right now reading this – except I can’t scroll down to the last paragraph to peek at the final answer! Enough delay, on to the analysis.

eye-in-woundI think I will analyze in the order I read these, so let’s begin with Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang with coloring by Lark Pien. I read these for the first time back in October and loved learning about a part of history that I knew next to nothing about (and the little bit I do know is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it doesn’t count, right?). If you can untangle it from the magical realism, Yang has packed a ton of historical detail into both the story and the illustrations. After reading both volumes, I felt I had a fairly clear picture of the causes and course of the rebellion. Yang isn’t just talking history though. Boxers & Saints has a lot to say about faith, loyalty, belonging and compassion. Choosing to make this a duology strengthens every theme Yang explores because we see how those themes thread through both Bao’s and Vibiana’s very different journeys. What struck me the most on this first read through, in fact, were full page spreads that echoed one another in each volume – on pg. 282 of Boxers and pg. 158 of Saints. In each case, that full page spread stops you dead in your tracks. In Boxers, it’s a portrait of “Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion – the goddess with one thousand eyes to look for suffering and one thousand hands to relieve it.” In Saints, it’s a portrait of Jesus as he speaks to Vibiana and commands her to “Be mindful of others as I am mindful of you.” Each figure is surrounded by hands that all have an eye in a center of their palm – an image that speaks strongly of compassion – and each portrait is surrounded plotwise by events that lay bare the lack of compassion that war requires.

On my second read, I mostly found myself contemplating two things that Karyn Silverman over at Someday My Printz Will Come (http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2013/11/25/boxers-saints-or-what-defines-book-anyway/) commented on. One was whether Bao and Vibiana are actually seeing visions of Gods and Saints or if they are simply a little crazy. Are they just trying to find comfort and direction and, without any reliable adults to turn to, creating their own spirit guides from the corners of their minds? I doubt this reading would ever have occurred to me on my own, but, for me, it deepened the themes of faith and belief. The other think Karyn mentioned was Lark Pien’s coloring and on the second time through – the coloring is brilliant. The majority of the panels in both volumes are done in muted, sepia tones. In Boxers there are pops of color for when the Boxers become Gods, blood, and occasional pivotal panels – one of soldiers in uniform, another of Bao backed by fire. Then comes Saints, and the only color pops are the gold that Pien has used for the spirits Vibiana sees – bringing home the contrast these ghostly visits bring to Vibiana’s cramped, narrow, bleak life.

But enough about Boxers & Saints. What about Far Far Away by Tom McNeal? I faced a bit of a conundrum far far awaywhen reading this one – I had read so much about it online that I already knew major plot points, most importantly, the identity of the villain, the Finder of Occasions. I was worried this would ruin the suspense of the book for me, but it turned out not to bother me in the slightest. In fact, I loved seeing the clues that had been laid to the Finder’s identity all along – piecing together the puzzle of how the Finder came to terrorize Never Better. I had read a lot about how many weren’t sure this was suitable for under a certain age, and, while the Finder’s methods are certainly disturbing, I was relieved that there was not appreciably gory violence involved. Far Far Away contains elements from two of my favorite genres, mystery and fantasy, so I went into this match expecting it to walk away the easy winner. However, fairy tales form the backbone of this book and, in the end, I think that’s why I didn’t connect with it as much as I had hoped. The characters didn’t feel full except for Jacob Grimm and Jeremy and while that wouldn’t bother me so much in fairy tales, which are constructed around archetypes, in a novel it bothers me much more. The women in particular seem to be either perfect (Ginger, Jenny Applegarth) or terrible (Jeremy’s mother). McNeal has written a great book here, but since I have to pick only one winner, the flat characters knock this one out for me.

So, there you go – I’ve talked myself to a winner: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang for the successful meshing of fantasy and history in service of theme and for that brilliant coloring by Lark Pien.

Winner: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, coloring by Lark Pien

boxers and saints

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock vs. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

 The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick are two very coldest girl in coldtowndark, compelling novels with extremely different plots. The former is a dystopian thriller and the latter an emotionally intense realistic fiction novel.

Holly Black creates a terrifying world in her novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown where a mother infected by the vampire infection can turn against her own daughter when thirsty for blood.  Vampires are both feared and awed, as they are in many traditional vampire stories.  Unlike many paranormal novels, this one is chilling and bloody with a unique, steadfast heroine named Tana. The story is wildly imaginative and richly detailed with memorable characters, which creates quite the page-turner.

From the other end of the YA spectrum we have a realistic fiction novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Matthew Quick writes stories with some unforgettable characters, Leonard Peacock being one of them.  He is a loner and an outcast who sees himself as worthless. The entire story takes place in one day, in the tortured mind of a self-loathing, darkly humorous boy on his eighteenth birthday.  The story moves quickly, is tense and heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful. Quick is a master at using internal dialogue to create a cold and distant character who we eventually see as a troubled, uncertain boy who just needs someone who understands what he is going through.

While The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will be a favorite amongst fans of suspenseful, paranormal thrillers, for me, I have to go with the darkly humorous Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.  Leonard’s problems are more relatable and even though he isn’t always proactive and he makes bad decisions, his story will still resonate with readers. The book will make you feel angry, and frustrated, and disturbed, and yet still hopeful.  That is the indication of a novel worth reading.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a story that you will keep thinking about long after you’ve finished reading.

WINNER: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

forgive me, leonard peacock

Santa Want Brains – Zombie Novels to Reanimate Your Holidays

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Don Borchert

A modern author takes Mark Twain’s coming-of-age classic and infuses it with a taste of the macabre, as the world of Tom Sawyer becomes overrun with zombies, chief among them being the Zombie Injun Joe.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Inventor Leviticus Blue creates a machine that accidentally decimates Seattle’s banking district and uncovers a vein of Blight Gas that turns everyone who breathes it into the living dead. Sixteen years later Briar, Blue’s widow, lives in the poor neighborhood outside the wall that’s been built around the uninhabitable city. Life is tough with a ruined reputation, but she and her teenage son Ezekiel are surviving until Zeke impetuously decides that he must reclaim his father’s name from the clutches of history.

The Boy Who Couldn’t Die by William Sleator

When his best friend dies in a plane crash, sixteen-year-old Ken has a ritual performed that will make him invulnerable, but soon learns that he had good reason to be suspicious of the woman he paid to lock his soul away.

Brains for Lunch:  A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!? by K.A. Holt

At a middle school where zombies, blood-sucking chupacabras, and humans never mingle, “lifer” Siobhan and Loeb, a zombie who likes to write haiku, share an attraction. Story written entirely in haiku.

The Death Collector by Justin Richards

Three teens and a curator of unclassified artifacts at the British Museum match wits with a madman determined to use unorthodox methods to reanimate the dead, both humans and dinosaurs.

The Enemy by Charles Higson

In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone older than 16 is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh–teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food; when a mysterious traveler offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

When the fence that surrounds her village and protects its residents from the Forest of Hands and Teeth is breached, danger strikes the only home Mary has ever known and forces her to decide between saving everything she loves or pursuing the life she has always dreamed of having.

Generation Dead by Dan Waters

When dead teenagers who have come back to life start showing up at her high school, Phoebe, a goth girl, becomes interested in the phenomenon, and when she starts dating a “living impaired” boy, they encounter prejudice, fear, and hatred.

Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez

Hired by the owner of an all-night diner to eliminate the zombie problem that is costing her customers, werewolf Duke and vampire Earl tackle an even stickier adversary who is out to take over the diner, in an adventure involving an amorous ghost, a jailbait sorceress, and a pig-latin occult.

How to be a Zombie: The Essential Guide for Anyone Who Craves Brains by Serena Valentino

Discusses various aspects of zombie lore from popular culture, covering how to identify what type of zombie one might be, how to blend in with the living, and more, with short graphic novels based on zombie themes.

I Kissed A Zombie, and I Liked It by Adam Selzer

Living in the post-human era when the undead are part of everyday life, high schooler Alley breaks her no-dating rule when Doug catches her eye, but classmate Will demands to turn her into a vampire and her zombie boyfriend may be unable to stop him.

Infinity:  The Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon

A first novel in this new series introduces Nick Gautier as a teenager: at 14, Nick thinks he knows everything about the world around him, until the night his best friends try to kill him; saved by a mysterious warrior, Nick is sucked into the realm of immortal vampire slayers called the Dark-Hunters.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies : the classic Regency romance — now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem! by Seth Grahame-Smith

A mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton–and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy.

World War Z by Max Brooks

An account of the decade-long conflict between humankind and hordes of the predatory undead is told from the perspective of dozens of survivors–soldiers, politicians, civilians, and others–who describe in their own words the epic human battle for survival.

You Are So Undead To Me by Stacey Jay

Megan Berry, a Carol, Arkansas, high school student who can communicate with the Undead, must team up with her childhood friend Ethan to save homecoming from an army of flesh-hungry zombies.

Zombie Blondes by Brian James

Each time fifteen-year-old Hannah and her out-of-work father move she has some fears about making friends, but a classmate warns her that in Maplecrest, Vermont, the cheerleaders really are monsters.

Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

Joss’s life sucks. She’s in the middle of university exams, up to her neck in student loans, and when she’s attacked by zombies, her roommates have the nerve to think she’s making it up. But when the zombies turn out to be terrifyingly real, only Joss knows how to survive the undead invasion: by following the Rules of Zombie Movies.

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

A guide to surviving an attack by hordes of the predatory undead explains zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective weaponry and defense strategies, how to outfit one’s home for a long siege, and how to survive in any terrain.

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier & Holly Black

Twelve short stories by a variety of authors seek to answer the question of whether zombies are better than unicorns.