Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #5: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

ImageRaina Telgemeier’s latest graphic novel is a delightful romp through a middle school drama production.  Ms. Telgemeier is also the author of Smile which is an autobiographical account of when she had to get braces in sixth grade.  It was a cute story and well illustrated, but I vastly preferred Drama.   Of course, I’m biased.  I’ve been involved in various theatrical productions from all aspects since I was five.

It was refreshing to see a school setting that was sweet, happy, and embraced creative kids. The main character, Callie (with adorable purple and pink hair!), knows she can’t sing for a lick but still adores all things Drama. Since she wasn’t meant to be on stage, she’s a dedicated and happy part of the tech crew, ready to dive headfirst into her middle school’s new production of “Moon Over Mississippi.”

Callie builds props and is working on an impressive canon that will fire on stage while her best friend Liz is the costume designer. Various other characters put on the play, and the course of mounting it and performing it provide many pages of warm, colorful reminders of the good and bad parts of middle school drama. Oh, the boys you’ll want to date but who like someone else! Oh, the unlikely friendships you’ll make! Oh, the crazy props that are a pain in the butt to build and only work half the time!

Telgemeier deals gently but favorably with homosexuality, communication, creativity, teamwork, preteen romance, and friendship. The reading level is not challenging, but it makes a joyful and breezy read. I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #3: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

ImageI’m crazy behind in both reading (I’ve only just finished my 11th book this year, which means there are 41 left to read in just over 6 months) and writing (this is only my 3rd review of those 11 books.  Oy.)  But!  I’m here!  I’m reading and reviewing!  Soldier on!

Julie Kibler’s novel Calling Me Home intrigued me from the cover.  I know, I know.  “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”  But, seriously?  Take a look at it. The simplicity, what’s missing and what’s present, the serenity of the composition, and tell me you’re not even a little bit curious about the black boy sitting next to the white girl and their story.

Because my god, what a story.  At the heart, it’s a simple love story but the color of the two people’s skin, the location, and the time period, quickly take shape into a story that is anything but simple.  Set in both 1939 and present day, Calling Me Home is about Isabelle Mcallister, a white physician’s daughter growing up in a white’s only town (no, really.  They kick black people out at night.  There’s a law and a sign and everything.  You can work there during the day, but god help you if you’re found there at night without a white adult escort or repute.  Idiots.)  in Kentucky, and Robert Prewitt, a black boy a year her senior who wants to be a doctor.  He is also the son of her family’s housekeeper.

That’s right: Kentucky. 1939. Segregation. You know from the start that this love is doomed.  But how it comes about in the first place, what they do to try to make it work, what people do to stop them, and the ways that love can stay alive even in the face of horrific cruelty is what makes this book glow.  The narrative is also entertaining because Isabelle, nearly ninety in present day, narrates her own story while on a road trip to a funeral with her black hairdresser, Dorrie.  Picturing the pair, a feisty little old white woman and a single, black mom in her 30’s, on the road together makes me want to be a fly in the backseat.  And Dorrie’s got her own set of problems, which offset Isabelle’s well.  Her son has gotten himself in a whole heap of trouble, which comes out while this mom and Isabelle are on the road.  She’s not sure if her current boyfriend is one of the good ones or a deadbeat like her ex-husband.  Dorrie also doesn’t trust her ability to tell the difference, something I can relate to all too well.

Overarching themes like how to tell if you’re in love with the right person, teenagers and how they have their own ideas of how, when, and who to love, the bonds of family and just how strong they are and aren’t, dynamics between different types of husbands and wives, various ways to neglect or abandon someone, and infidelity and how it can affect or sometimes not affect relationships come up and are dealt with in ways that I, at least, found fresh, funny, heartbreaking, and quite profound.  It’s just a fantastic book.  I adored it.

The dialogue changes perfectly between 1939 and present day, the character growth is amazing over the course of the book, and the plot twists and turns had me crying and once I even gasped.  Literally.

Calling Me Home skillfully and often painfully crosses color lines and cuts straight to the heart.  I got this out from the library, and I’m trying to streamline my possessions, but I plan to buy this book at some point.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #2: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiels-Dart-Jacqueline-CareyFor whatever reason, I don’t generally read sci-fi or fantasy – unless there’s a heavy magical slant.  This is probably why I missed Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series when it first came out over ten years ago.  However, yet another friend suggested I read it and I finally decided to give it a go.

Overall, this book is utterly fantastic…both because it is literally a fantasy novel where the author spins an entire world that is just enough like our Renaissance to be familar but different enough to be incredibly intriguing and progressive, but also because it is a fascinating saga of an amazing heroine.  Said heroine’s name is Phèdre, and she narrates her own life.  The book starts with her recollections of childhood until she is sold (at the age of 4 due to financial issues her parents had) into one of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flower, an elite group of courtesans divided into 13 houses based on individual skill set.  Phèdre is raised in one of the houses until a patron takes her on as his own pupil.

Because her left eye bears a scarlet mote,  Phèdre is regarded by some as a little freaky, but Anafiel Delaunay recognizes that she is a chosen one. He sees that she is a true anguisettte – one with the rare gift to transform pain into pleasure. Delaunay takes Phèdre in once she’s completed her cursory training amongst the Night-Blooming Flowers.  Under his care, she learns tumbling, multiple languages, politics, customs, oratory skills as Delaunay shapes her to be a spy of sorts to him.

The story moves effortlessly from Phèdre’s childhood to womanhood, from the tranquil home of Terre d’ Ange to the bitter, war-hungry vestiges of the Skaldic territories, and then back again, culminating in a war rife with betrayal, heroism, bloodshed, and glory.  One of the things I found most intriguing, though, was the novel’s treatment of sexuality, sexual preference, and BDSM.  For the most part, at least in Terra d’ Ange, bisexuality is common and widely accepted. Especially as it pertains to adepts of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flowers, where Courtesans are free to choose male and/or female patrons on a case by case basis. Sex itself is literally paying homage to a god’s sister, Naamah, who laid with strangers to keep her brother safe.  And two of the houses in the court deal with the “darker arts” of sadism and masochism, but they’re accepted as part of the human experience.

If you’re looking for a heroine and a storyline to grab your attention, beat it, sleep with it, and in the morning, pay you towards a really awesome  tattoo, this is a beautiful beginning in fulfilling that desire.  The review for book two will be coming soon.