Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Phoebe and Her Unicorn

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Andrews McMeel, 2014).

Dana Claire Simpson draws an incredibly cute and often hilarious comic strip called Phoebe and Her Unicorn and, let's get this out of the way, it's a lot like Calvin & Hobbes. Phoebe even looks like Calvin's nemesis, Susie Derkins!

The biggest difference is that other characters can interact with the unicorn, whose name is Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. Marigold is enormous fun. She's so absolutely full of herself that Phoebe meets her as she is so entranced by her own reflection in a pond that she doesn't notice a human kid stomping around in the woods. Thereafter, Marigold casts a spell so that nobody sees anything particularly noteworthy about a haughty unicorn hanging around.

The comic is suitable for all ages, and I approve of having a fun heroine for little girls to enjoy. The collected edition collects the original run of the strip as it appeared online - it entered print syndication a couple of months ago - and is similar in shape and appeal to the book versions of another great schoolage comic, Big Nate. Happily recommended for all ages.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a (VERY) brief review of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (Twelve, 2006).

Several months ago, I wrote about Chop Suey, USA by Yong Chen, and found it dry and barely-penetrable, in that cold, academic way. Chen referenced a book by the unusually-named Jennifer 8. Lee called The Fortune Cookie Chronicles in his text, and I'm happy to report that her book is so much friendlier, more fun and readable, and anybody who has an interest in the development of American Chinese food really is sure to enjoy this.

I kind of hit a wall here. I mean, I try to dig a little deeper than two paragraphs when I write about something here, but this kind of stumped me, how best to explain to you good people how I felt about this fun story.

Basically, I learned so much by reading this. I even learned that Atlanta is home to the only kosher Chinese restaurant for 400 miles. We'll check that out for our food blog one day. It's a really neat and interesting story, tackling everything from smuggling to the Greyhound routes for itinerant cooks to all those little clear packets of soy sauce to the development of fortune cookies. It's just a terrific little read and absolutely ideal for anybody interested in the history of food. I loved it to pieces and recommend it happily.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The ABC Warriors: Return to Mars

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The ABC Warriors: Return to Mars (Rebellion, 2015).

There's a bit in the introduction to the latest collection of 2000 AD's The ABC Warriors in which writer and creator Pat Mills takes a passive-aggressive swipe - yeah, another one - at the comic's former editor Andy Diggle, and I read it and just rolled my eyes and said "Let it go, guys, you're all brother robots under the synthi-flesh." But if it weren't for the circumstances behind that swipe, this book wouldn't exist in the form that it does, and that would be a great shame.

I really enjoy reading what Mills has been doing with this timeline of future Earth over the last several years. As I mentioned when I wrote about the most recent book of Savage a couple of months ago, a lot of it seems to come from Mills stepping back and looking at the canvas of a quarter-century of stories and finding places where he can connect odd little trinkets and throwaway continuity points into sweeping stories. For example, a big chunk of Return to Mars, which originally appeared across three months of 2000 AD early last year, stems from a one-off line in a 1984 story explaining that, as the ABC Warriors reassembled as supporting characters in the pages of Nemesis the Warlock, one of their members had been killed in a bar fight.

Return to Mars shows us that fight, and the character, Happy Shrapnel, meeting his grisly end, and then, centuries later, being resurrected along with every other dead thing on the planet - a plot point from a one-off episode that was published something like fifteen years later and had nothing to do with Happy Shrapnel. And then Happy, working as armorer and mechanic for his robot comrades, is seen to be working in the background of all the subsequent stories that Mills has written over the last decade and change, including the one that sparked the argument between Mills and Diggle.

The amazing thing is that this doesn't feel at all like obsessive continuity porn from some lunatic obsessed with finding every last point that needs a resolution. Happy's tale weaves in and out of many previous adventures, but familiarity with them isn't at all necessary to following - no, loving this story. It's marvelous. Mills takes a character who hasn't been used since 1979, treats him as brand new, not counting on nostalgia, and recasts him as the cowboy who does not want to kill again but is forced to. When, against his wishes, a human teenager adopts him as his "father," you'll be counting the pages until the boy's murder will bring Happy out of retirement - it's an obvious enough trope that this shouldn't be a spoiler - but the circumstances are sure to surprise everybody.

The artwork is by Clint Langley, who's illustrated all of the Warriors' more recent adventures. As with the previous story, it's a mix of his beautifully bizarre computer manipulation for the "present," with pen and brushwork for most of the flashbacks. He's equally comfortable with his own outlandish designs for new characters as he is reusing, for example, Mick McMahon's old "humpies" from much older stories. It all looks beautiful, and the flow from computer color to pen-and-ink black and white never jars.

It's all packaged in a gorgeous hardback that can be shelved alongside the previous five Langley-illustrated editions, and it sets up the action in the next ABC Warriors installment, which will begin serialization a little later this year. Of course, having said that, there are so many plot threads in this adventure that it might be setting up the action for the next nine or ten installments. For longtime readers, it's a thrill from start to finish, and for new readers, it might even be the best jumping-on point that the characters have ever had. Happily recommended!

A PDF of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.