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Things have been quiet over here, so wanted to pop in and just say hi. I’ve been reading and commenting on other blogs and vlobs, tweeting, but lazy about writing my own posts.

Still, I’ve had read a really good book life lately. May’s readings ranged from a Russian historical mystery to Southern family drama, from a Swedish suburbia tearjerker to non-fiction about British early Renaissance. In between I squeezed in some feminist essays and superhero comics.

Also started re-reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. This time around I’m determined to get every single obscure reference. I even got a dedicated notebook. It’s been great in a history nerd kinda way.

I gave into the hype and started The Raven Cycle. No regrets… except about wishing there was more Blue in it. Also worth mention the amazing River of Stars audiobook narrated by Simon Vance. Guy Gavriel Kay recently released Children of Earth and Sky also read by Vance and set in an past Dubrovnik-like city (get out of my brain!). It’ll be the perfect beach audio. I’m almost afraid to start it, the expectations are so high.

Also in May I went back to Brussels for a friend’s birthday and bought some comics in French (they’re double the price here in Geneva).

I’m especially curious about La Dame à la licorne, a collection of stories by different authors (art students) inspired on The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Re-read Tracy Chevalier’s book about them recently and last year finally had the chance to see the tapestries live at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. I was mesmerized. In turn, they (and the whole museum, really) made me want to read more Dunnett. And that’s the way life and books intersect and complement each other 🙂

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This is my plan for #comicsfebruary.

Some old- and new-school super-hero stories, some high-brow Franco-Belgians. Some fantasy, some sci-fi, one memoire, one just plain… literary?

Are you joining the fun?

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Finally got my hands on Lumberjanes because I’m nothing if not a slave to your recommendations.

I get the love: the art is fresh, the girl-power theme is amazing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s all that so it deserved a bit more… depth. It felt really short mostly because its 24 pages are action-oriented and don’t leave much room for character development or exploration of their world.

In stories about a group of people I immediately find a favorite. In Lumberjanes I had some difficulty making that call – there’s just not much that distinguishes them (apart from Ripley being The Crazy One). In the end I went with Jo because she had books and pictures of stars and planets in her bunk:

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To be fair, it’s only the first in the series and there’s a hint of background stories to come, like Molly’s fear of her family being informed about their adventures. But I can’t help but compare it to another very short, very popular, first-in-the-series, action-packed, kick-ass girl gang comic that takes the time to tells us (and make us care) about individual characters: Rat Queens.

The world-building in Lumberjanes also left me a bit confused: Magic? Fairy tales? Greek mythology? All? Two weeks after reading it I’m left with a vague sense of The Goonies meets Chamber of Secrets with a bit of Percy Jackson.

All this to say that I really had fun and will definitely pick up the next one in the series. I just wish it went a bit deeper with the story and its people, even if it’s “just” a first volume.

I’m ready for the rotten tomatoes to fly now… *ducks*

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Book 2 of the Aya series (thoughts on the first one here) about four families in Yopougon, a neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory’s Coast’s capital. It’s set in the 70s, when the country’s was going through an economic boom and it continues to be refreshing to see a side of modern Africa that’s not filled with war and AIDS. If you know of any other comics like these let me know.

Like Book 1, it’s not an action-packed story. I’m actually approaching it as a really smart and funny twist on a soap-opera: Adjoua’s new life as a young single mother, Bintou’s fashionable new love-interest from Paris (or is he?), the mystery around the girl with the wig, dramatic cliffhanger ending. Book 3 is called “The Secrets Come Out” and like another episode of an addictive soap-opera I’m really really want to know them!

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If I had one less positive point to make is that, although Aya is the name on the cover, she was rather passive, basically just a shoulder for her friends to cry and lean on. She has the potential to be such an interesting character – a steady young women who wants to be a doctor – that I’d like to know her a bit more.

This book also included a “Ivorian Bonus”, including a recipe for Chicken Kedjenou, a guide on how to wrap a baby on your back and a great short “essay” on how a popular Ivorian proverb is put into practice everyday.

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Other thoughts: Page 247, largehearted boy, My Favourite Books (yours?)

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image (2)Read for the A More Diverse Universe Challenge
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This was a such a fun and vibrant reading, exactly my cup of tea.

The author Marguerite Abouet spent her childhood in Ivory Coast in the 70s before moving to Paris, and Aya is based on her memories of those happy days. It was a time when Ivory Coast was going through a peaceful economic boom and this book is meant to portray an Africa that’s not about war, disease or poverty. I does exactly that, but I just couldn’t completely escape the knowledge that it won’t last.

But anywhoo. I loved Aya. It’s one of the best comics of the year so far and I can wait to read the second one. There’s nothing mind-blowing about the story, it’s just a snapshot of the lives of a group of middle-class teenagers: they study, date, are acutely aware of social norms, follow the fads and rebel against strict parents. And yet, Yopougon in the 70s is a fascinating place to read about, full of colour, hope and energy. It’s at the same time familiar (heavily influence by their former French colonizers) and completely foreign.

AyaAya, the title character, is a steady-fast teen that seems to be the moral compass of her friends and neighborhood – not in a holier-than-thou way, she’s just reliable and principled. Her father’s reaction when Aya told him about wanting to become a doctor is a great example of how this apparently mild book is in fact about more serious social topics.

Clement Oubrerie’s illustrations perfectly complement Abouet’s writing, with their vibrancy, warm and creative angles.

At the end of each book there’s a section about Ivory Cost, where different characters give us recipes, teach us how to tie a skirt the Ivorian way, etc. It’s a cute detail that helps us connect even more with this small community.

I think this is the one comic book I’ve ever read not only written by an African author, but actually set in Africa – can you recommend any others?

The story has been adapted for the big screen, here’s the trailer in French. It gives you a good feeling for the book.

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Other thoughts: Brown Paper, Good Books & Good Wine, the book nest, Escape in a book, Book Addiction, Page 247, Buried in Print, Biblioglobal (yours?)

La fièvre d’Urbicande (Les Cités obscures, 2) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

Les Cités obscures or Cities of the Fantastic is one of my favorite comics series. I’ve spoken about them before and I’m looking forward to the day they’ll finally explode in the Anglo-Saxon literary world.

Each City in this universe has a distinct architectural style that influences and is influenced by its political structure, life-style and even in the way people dress. Urbicand is a city of massive structures that evokes the Futurist architects popular in the early 20th century. Buildings are huge and the few inhabitants seem insignificant is comparison.

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We follow Eugen Robick, a urbatect (architect who designs entire cities) who is obsessively pursuing permission from Urbicande’s austere government to build a bridge. Without it, there’s an unbalance in the symmetry of his ambitious plans for the city.

Off-scene, some friends sent Robick a small, mysterious black cube built from an unknown material. Shortly after, he notices the cube is slowing multiplying and expanding. It continues to do so over the next months, passing through everything without damaging it and expanding to a point where it becomes a network that facilitates communication between different areas of Urbincande, areas that until that point had been mostly isolated.

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In the style of many Franco-Belgian comics, La fièvre d’Urbicande is a surrealist story with lots of food for thought. I especially appreciated the way architecture/aesthetics and politics mix and reflect each other. There is something inhuman about Urbicand, a city seemingly not designed with the human scale in mind. It reminded me of the plans by Nazi architect Albert Speer.

It’s a complex book, unapologetically intellectual, and really rewarding to read.

L’archiviste (Cities of the Fantastic spin-off) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

The Archivist is almost like a coffee-table book. There’s a story, but it’s clearly meant to be eye candy.

Isidore Louis is an archivist that is given the task of debunking the myth of the Cités obscures. Each page includes one of the visual materials he’s unearthed and with each page we also see him slowly becoming convinced of the Cities’ existence.

There are also a wonderful connections with Jorge Luis Borges. Because of spoilers I can’t say much about the main one, but the story is very similar to Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

I want to cover a wall just with posters from L’archiviste.

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Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery by Wiebe & Upchurch

Even if I’d been immune to all the rave, Rat Queens would still have had me at this synopsis: “Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all gods’ creatures for profit.

The plot is not ground-breaking and doesn’t deviate from the typical story about a group of coarse, bad-ass, bad-mouth, swashbuckling, bordering-on-mad mercenaries. Actually, I suspect the whole thing is a spoof of role-playing games that’s not taking itself too seriously.

Unlike unlike plot, character development is taken seriously and in this volume we’re already presented with interesting backstories that made me want to know more. Just the fact the mercenaries are all women (and such a diverse group is so many aspects!) gives Rat Queens extraordinary freshness. It’s impossible not to have a favourite but right I’m still divided between Dee and Violet.

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Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor by John Layman, Rob Guillory

Another outrageous plot and I loved every minute of it. Not much more to say.

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It was a hit & miss month:

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Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Still not exactly sure how I feel about Preacher. I’ve the notion it’s very clever and deep, but ended up feeling I didn’t quite get it. Maybe because I’m not religious and the point is to ruffle believers’ feathers? Maybe because, in a story so full of layers and questions about Good and Evil, the villains are 100% bad, no grey areas?

Glad I’ve read it, but will file it under “Good, but not for me”.

Ms. Marvel, #1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona 

Hurrah for books that live up to the hype! Both the story and art felt so refreshing, and unlike Preacher, it was written just for me. Most reviews focus on the fact that Kamala is the first Muslim super hero, but for me the innovation is that’s not the most important thing. Ms. Marvel is still a classic story of a superhero’s origins, where the superhero just happens to be a girl, and a person of colour and a Muslim. Like Peter Parker before her, Kamala also struggles with her costume and the “with great power…” thing, she’s still trying to figure out who she is. The book is good because it has characters that are genuinely interesting, writing that’s full of smart humor, a gripping plot gripping and attractive artwork.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore

Oh Alan Moore, you’re losing me. With every new League book I’m trying to regain the magic of the first two, without success. Were they also this trippy, full of naked women for no apparent reason, and I just didn’t notice?!

Saga Vol. 2 and Vol.3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The series just keeps getting better and better. I’m loving every new character, from Gwendolyn to Upsher and Doff, as well as all the backstories (Alana’s love for that book!). I could have done without the implausible black-whole baby in Vol. 2, the “He’s the man I love!” line in Vol. 3, and still not convinced about the opposite of war thing, but hey, who’s counting?

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So I spent last week in New York, and between a visit to Forbidden Planet and Strand, this happened.

Some are series I already follow (Serenity, Saga, Chew, Fables), others were your recommendations (Ex Machina, Ms Marvel, Runaways, Rat Queens, Hawkeye) and other were pushes from the nice staff at Forbidden Planet (Locke & Key, Preacher, Planetary).

They’ll keep me busy for a while and fully supplied for the Graphic Novels Challenge 2015.

chew_vol1_tpbChew Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory

I got this recommendation from RonLit’s vlog. Chew’s wacky premise: Tony Chu gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats (except beets). This is very useful for his job at the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, but he often has to eat rather, er… unsavory things.

In the background we’re introduced to a conspiracy theory around the government’s ban on poultry due to a recent Bird Flue pandemic and the FDA’s power growth.

Written like this it sounds very weird and kind of gross, but trust me: it is absolutely disgusting at times and absolutely hilarious practically always. There are cannibal serial-killer chefs and speakeasy restaurants, an old-fashioned cop that speaks like a Victorian and… llama sex (don’t ask, just read).

As Kat said, you’ll be “fascinated but repulsed at the same time. And you will enjoy every little bit” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples 

Hurrah – Saga lives up to the hype! The first five-stars of the year. The amazing art comes hand in hand with a great story and greater storytelling – there’s humour and serious stuff, background information and hints about big mysteries to be unfolded in the future, just as I like it.

Staples’s personal style is realistic, but the lines are not clean (you can see her scratching), giving the art a lot of personality. The coloring is vibrant and adds to the story, especially in the impressive 2-page-wide drawings.

The pace has a good mix of action and background information, but for me it was the characterization that did it. Apart from the kick-ass main characters, I sort of developed a crush on bounty-hunter The Will and was utterly spellbound by Gwendolyn. I never get as emotionally invested with audio or comics as I do with a paper books, so Saga was ground-breaking for me. I got a serious Firefly vibe about it all, which is by no means a bad thing.

I’ll going to NY for work next week and plan a big comics shopping spree. The remaining volumes of Saga are already on the wish-list.

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gn2015-640x270-2Read for the Graphic Novels Challange

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