Review: Island Book

Island Book

Goodreads Rating: 3 stars
NetGalley Rating: 3 stars

I’ve been a fan of Dahm’s work for many years now and count Rice Boy as one of my favorite books/graphic novels ever, so I jumped at the chance to read an ARC of his latest work.

I didn’t know it was a middle grade book at first, and while it didn’t bug me that it was, it definitely meant that the surrealness of Dahm’s usual works was toned down. Where the surreal illustrations and pop-surreal color schemes dominant Dahm’s webcomics, the surreal architecture wasn’t there (aside from some Kay Sage inspired architecture on the White Island) and the color palettes were more muted. The color-washing of the background/sky boxes though were still inherently symbolic and thematic with the worlds, which was nice. The artwork overall is also lovely in its own right, don’t get me wrong! It’s just not the style I was expecting.

The story itself was definitely on par with the standard questing tropes that Dahm’s other works focus on, but with more of a purpose and moral this time. Sora has been “cursed” by the Monster and quests to go find it and learn why it singled her out. Along the way she falls in with a small group of misfits who are also seeking the Monster for their own reasons, and Sora visits islands she never knew existed before (I liked the pseudo-elemental themes of these).

While the moral of the story is two-fold, in my reading–Sora faces her fear/the unknown and returns wiser for doing so, while also learning that people can view fear/the unknown in different ways (fearing it, worshipping it, denying it, fighting it, accepting it)–the ending definitely was lackluster and anti-climactic. I can’t really even spoil the ending, as it really just came to a head and then immediately cut to our crew members returning to their home islands. These bits did show that each character had taken their own lessons from their journey, but it still didn’t explain the overarching reason why the Monster existed in the first place, what it was, or why Sora was singled out.

It definitely felt more like the first book in a series (a la Amulet), setting up worlds and characters for further exploration; however, I haven’t seen anything mentioned about this being a series.

It was a great read, and considering the target audience, has some great themes to it. However, the ending just fell too flat for me to enjoy it, and I was expecting the heavily surreal style that makes Dahm’s other works so awesome.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

Island Book will be available May 14, 2019 from First Second Books.
Author & Illustrator: Evan Dahm
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Review: The American Museum of Natural History and How it Got that Way

The American Museum of Natural History and How It Got That Way

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars
NetGalley Rating: 5 stars

I’ve always loved museums and their history, so I was quite excited to see this. When I first scrolled through my Galley copy, I was worried that the book would be too technical, or too reliant on the reader already being familiar with the museum itself–but that was thankfully not the case! It was engaging and not at all technical and helped give me an appreciation for the process of establishing a museum.

Davey constructs a comprehensive history of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from its first inklings through to modern day revampings of exhibits and the planetarium. He does so by combing through immense amounts of primary sources, citing letters, figures, and speeches from museum board members about how to best expand and fund the museum. It gives a human connection to what might have been a very dry timeline of facts and figures.

The little maps of the museum, showing the new buildings added, were immensely helpful to understanding how the museum grew–Davey definitely wants this to be accessible to more than just frequent museum goers. I have never been to the AMNH, or New York itself, but I easily understood what buildings faced what and where exhibits ended up.

In addition to the general museum history, Davey provides deep dives into the dinosaur exhibits, the history of the Peary Arctic Expedition, and the Akley African Expeditions. Both of the expeditions were heavily funded and influenced by the museum and it’s members, bringing back and influencing key exhibits. These are the only bits dedicated to the collections/exhibits–if you are wanting a detailed history of these, this isn’t where to look; rather, it’s a history of the museum building, first and foremost.

The book closes out with a comprehensive history of the Hayden Planetarium (now the Rose Center) and its history of exhibits over the years.

This was a very enjoyable read, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the AMNH itself, museums in general, or architecture.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

The American Museum of Natural History and How it Got that Way will be available May 14, 2019 from Fordham Press.
Author: Colin Davey
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Review: Kahlo’s Koalas

Kahlo's Koalas: The Great Artists Counting Book

Goodreads Rating: 3 stars
NetGalley Rating: 5 stars

A cute introduction to a variety of artistic styles and counting. The illustrations accompanying each number encapsulate the visual cues of each artist’s style fairly well, but I felt the illustrations lacked a “depth” of style that the artists’ works have. However, this is a board book focusing on learning to count, first and foremost, so I’m not going to nitpick on that too much! It still provides a fun foundation to art–as much as I hate the STEAM acronym, I do love a good math/science lesson hidden in art–as well as a new variety of animals beyond your basic lions and tigers.

There are a few brief blurbs about each artist at the end which I can imagine being helpful for creating little lesson plans or discussions about a style of art.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

Kahlo’s Koalas: 1, 2, 3, Count Art With Me will be available April 9, 2019 from Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Author/Illustrator: Grace Helmer
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Review: A Colorful Tail

A Colorful Tail: Finding Monet at Giverny

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars
NetGalley Rating: 4 stars

A bright and colorful book about a fox learning to paint! Fox appreciates the colors of all the seasons, but misses them in winter, when everything turns white. He tries various ways of capturing the colors of the seasons, but none are permanent–until he spots Monet painting one of his paintings in the garden. Fox trots over to give it a try and finally finds a way to keep the colors close to him year round.

The colors are vivid and there’s a fun play of simple geometrics for backgrounds and the detailed work of the flowers and pebbles. I also loved following the little butterfly around the pages.

It’s a book that encourages kids to find different ways to make art and to experiment until they get the desired results. While Fox is looking for a permanent memory of the colors, the methods he tries before he discovers painting are still forms of art on their own! It would be a fun lesson to explore all the types of “image capturing” Fox tries, seeing how to capture a flower’s colors in different natural mediums.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

A Colorful Tail: Finding Monet at Giverny will be available March 28, 2019 from Schiffer Publishing.
Author: Joan Waites
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DNF Review: The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library

DNF at 43%.

I just about got a headache from how tedious these chapters were to read so far, and seeing as I have lots more interesting and fun books lined up at the moment, this is going to have to be a DNF.

It felt like a haphazard attempt at very specific history of Renaissance sciences and culture through the life of Hernando. I was hoping for an actual biography of Hernando, focusing heavily on his book and image collecting, with the inevitable brief forays into the culture and ways of the times and places.

However, this was just so tedious and didn’t hold my attention at all, which made being able to focus on the narrative thread of each chapter almost impossible. The book brings together an abundance of seemingly insignificant observations and bits of history, deeply over describes them, and then tries to tie it together by transitioning to Hernando’s (insignificant) place in it all with a vague connection (“Hernando used this word!” “Hernando was inspired by this one tiny random thing he saw, maybe, what a coincidence possibly.”)

It also didn’t help that the first quarter of the book was focused on Hernando’s early life, which with the things the author chooses to focus on, meant it was mainly a biography of Columbus himself during his last two voyages–something I am not interested in at all, and didn’t care for (I knew there would inevitably be some biographical references to him, but not nearly this much).

The subject matter had much potential, but the way it was presented was just not at all for me.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library will be available March 12, 2019 from Scribner.
Author: Edward Wilson-Lee
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Review: Chasing American Monsters

Chasing American Monsters: Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts

Goodreads Rating: 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2.
NetGalley Rating: 2 stars

This might have been a better read for me had the cryptids been separated by creature type, rather than by state. While many states do have their own unique cryptids, there were many instances of similar/the same creatures occurring in a multitude of states (the “over 250 creatures” in the subtitle is a stretch). I felt it would have been more cohesive and much less repetitive to have these “common” monsters in their own section, while allowing more opportunity to focus on the state-unique creatures.

I found that I was more interested in the historical cryptids–ones that had been seen pre-1930s or so–as well as the ones that had more native mythology to them. More modern sightings of any creature I wasn’t interested in, so I tended to skim these bits. And given that many of the cryptid sightings are from after this, that was quite a lot of the book.

While many cryptids are a one-and-done sort of sighting or have very little written about them in general, I was still hoping for something more out of the entries, especially those about state-unique monsters. Rather than expanding upon some of these (which is what I originally thought the book would do), Offutt seemed to opt for quantity of quality, and included very brief entries about fleeting instances of weirdness instead. It just ended up feeling quite repetitive.

Overall, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, but at the same time, it does cover a wide variety of cryptids and mysterious creatures throughout the US. Just not as extensively and in-depth as I was hoping it would.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

Chasing American Monsters: Over 250 Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts will be available March 8, 2019 from Llewellyn Publications.
Author: Jason Offutt
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Review: PTSD

PTSD

Goodreads Rating: 3 stars
NetGalley Rating: 4 stars

I wasn’t much a fan of the artwork; it was too sketchy and busy, without adding any definition. I’m not sure if this was the final style or not, since this was an advanced copy I read, but I think even if it’s polished up, it’s just still not my thing.

The story was not exactly what I was expecting when I requested the book, but it was engaging and powerful nonetheless. Jun is living in a post-war world where veterans are treated as third-rate citizens, having to live on the streets and having to deal with their mental injuries without proper support systems. Some turn to violence, others to drugs, some to both, all making it more difficult for passers by to sympathize for them, despite doing their best with the nothing they’re given.

Jun’s story is one of healing, but it’s not without the dark, dark corners and dead ends that come with the process of healing. She eventually does come out of the maze, and the story ends on a relatively positive note, but it didn’t seem to address the underlying issues with the system as a whole not treating veterans as humans and understanding their need for support (at least I didn’t feel it did).

Despite the fact that I didn’t like the art style, it was an engaging story to read for a few hours, and it raised quite a few important issues. I can see it being an interesting addition to a literature or psychology class that focuses on PTSD and/or war trauma.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

PTSD will be available February 26, 2019 from First Second.
Author & Illustrator: Guillaume Singelin
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