09 December 2012

Book Review--A Wrinkle in Time - The Graphic Novel

A Wrinkle in Time - The Graphic Novel
Adaptation by Hope Larson
Original by Madeleine L'Engle
Farrar Straus Giroux

“A Wrinkle in Time.”  A book that has been around for almost 50 years now and still has a powerful following.  When you talk to folks that have read the book their eyes and faces light up with joy, as they recall the powerful story and characters of Meg, Charles, Calvin, Aunt Beast, the Red Eye Man...and the rest of the beloved characters.  You can almost see the characters come to life as people talk about the story and share their favorite parts of it.  And as part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary Hope Larson brings her considerable talents to bring the characters to life in a graphic novel adaptation of this timeless story.

Hope Larson is one of my favorite artists/authors out there and she’s the perfect choice for creating this adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”  In her first book, “Salamander Dreams,” she tells us a rather short story of growing up and finding where home is, but she layers deeper meaning within the well chosen words that will leave you pondering the story long after you’ve put it down.  Her simplistic illustrations conveyed depth and life to the characters she created.  Since I first read that book, I’ve eagerly read each new story that she’s put out.  She brings the same passion and depth that she’s created in her own stories, to this adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Since most folks that read this adaptation are going to be familiar with the original story (and because I can’t hope to even begin to describe the story well to do it justice) I’m instead going to focus on the adaptation of the book.  One of the great things, and most difficult things, about adaptations is you get to see a story from a different perspective as the author (or someone) choses which parts of the story to carry over into the new work.  It isn’t an easy task as not everything can be included and you’re bound to leave off a bit of the story that was someone’s favorite or you try to capture everything and it just becomes a weird mashup that doesn’t work.  But Hope has done an excellent job of capturing a lot of the depth of the novel and it’s characters in this 400 page adaptation.  While there are things that are left out, Hope captures the essence of the characters and what makes them tick while they undertake this arduous journey to save not only Meg’s father, but themselves as well. Fans of the original story will delight in seeing their favorite scenes brought to life,while newcomers to the story will see the journey into worlds unknown.  And everyone will want to pick up the original story to relive Madelieine L’Engle’s original stories.  

Hope’s artwork is fantastic.  It captures the essence of characters well, especially with Meg.  We see her fear, her hopes, and her dreams brought to life on the page.  We get a true sense of her humanity within the depictions.  Her brother Charles is also well captured, with big eyes, depicting his almost other worldly nature.  It is a bit off putting in some places because you realize he isn’t quite human...something more or something that wasn’t designed quite right.  The other characters and depictions are well done as well, such as seeing mathematical equations depicted.  Hope uses a two color toned system with a pale blue and black.  while at first it might seem that it would hinder the story being told, I found that it actually enhanced it and created something greater.  It helped create the sense of otherworldliness and the characters journey along their path.  It really feels like we’ve left our world and gone somewhere else.  

In short, this a powerful adaptation and fans of the original story and newcomers will all find something to enjoy.  Because it is an adaptation I do recommend that folks read or reread the original at some point, to be able to create their own imagery of the story.  But Hope’s adaptation definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

01 October 2012

Book Review--Tune

Derek Kirk Kim
November 2012

Andy is just your average guy. He knows what he wants to do in life--a career in comics--and he has it all planned out. So he leaves art school early to set off on his journey...and quickly finds himself unemployed. His parents soon becoming dissatisfied with his inability to land a job, (and his lounging around the house in his underwear) force him to find a job, any type of job,...or they’ll find one for him. And everything seems to hit rock bottom. No one will hire him, heck a crazy homeless guy gets hired ahead of him at a fast food joint. And then a magical day happens. Andy sees Yumi (his art school crush), discovers that she likes him, and finds a job to work at a zoo! There’s just one problem...the zoo job is an alternate dimension and Andy is one of the exhibits.

I’ve been following Tune since Derek started serializing it as a webcomic and it’s quickly become one of my favorites to keep up with. Although this first volume starts off a bit slow, as its setting up the world and the universe, it picks up pace in the following chapters (that can be viewed online.) In this volume though we get a good sense of the characters that we’ll be following in the series, especially Andy. I like that Andy is your average guy, for the most part. I can see elements of myself in his story, which of course makes me cringe at times (especially when he realizes that Yumi might actually like him) because I’ve made some of the same choices, the same decisions, and my life mirrors Andy in some ways. And that’s what makes this such a great story, that it is easy to relate to Andy and Yumi. We’ve all mapped out our life and had it veer off into different directions (hopefully no one is an exhibit in a zoo though.) I like the sense of humanity and humility that Derek brings to the characters and I can’t wait to see where he takes them next.

Derek’s artwork is very similar Gene Luen Yang, with expressive characters and movements that eerily resemble real life, even in cartoon format. It’s easy to imagine that you could walk out the door and meet Andy, Yumi, and the rest of the gang. Some of my favorite depictions are of the dad, mostly because he hides behind the newspaper and grunts. I love that we don’t get to see his face and the fact that he acts like many dads out there (no, not TV ones..those guys are just fantasy.) The one thing that I will note is that after this volume Les McClaine took over the artwork so that Derek was able to put out the story more often. He has a similar style to Gene’s but he really makes the characters his own (but that’s a discussion for the next volume.)

One thing to note, volume one of Tune is just about to come out in print with volume two scheduled for next year, but if folks don't support the comic by buying the book the series can't continue!  So if you like the comic make sure that you buy the book so that we can keep on seeing the series.   You can read more about why this needs to happen over on the comic site here.

This story has a nice blending of sci-fi and real life, which makes it easy for folks to dive into and read. It’s a story that I highly recommend and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4 out of 5 stars.

30 September 2012

Book Review--Sumo

Thien Pham
December 2012

Scott had dreams of being a pro football player and when those dreams comes crashing down so does the rest of his world.  He doesn’t have a good job, his girlfriend dumped him, and about the only thing left to him is to move to Japan and become a sumo wrestler.  So...Scott leaves his old world behind him, even his name and hair color, to pursue this new dream.  And through the struggles and turmoils he endures, he begins to find a new focus in his world.

The approach to the story is very different that what someone would normally expect.  The story follows Scott through three key turning points in his life and only those three points.  We see Scott as he makes his decision to leave all that he knows behind, the first few weeks of his new life, and the point where he must make the next step in his journey.  Even though many readers are not likely to have experience with sumo wrestling we can relate to the struggles that Scott goes through to find his place in life, to find the balance that he seeks. And at the end of the story the three sections weave together to create a greater story and the hint of something greater.

The great thing that Thien does is the colors used on the pages help the reader know which time period the story is currently in.  The orange/brown shows the present, Scott's training in Japan; the blue pages show Scott’s past back in the states; and the green pages depict Scott upon first arriving in Japan those first few weeks of trying to figure out where he is.   Even better is that the page icons change based upon where you are in the story, with a plate being associated with the present, a water tower for the states, and a fish for those early days.  It’s an interesting way to tell a story and one that I’ve seen Jason Shiga (the color changes at least) use before, but Thien's method seems to be more effective to me.

Thien’s art style in this book reminds me a lot of old woodcuts, both German and Asian.  German with the seemingly heavy figures and the mostly monochromatic pages, and Asian because of the line use that forms the characters and the backgrounds...seemingly wandering around the pages and giving emotion to the people that we meet.  I really enjoy the heavy, yet fluid grace of the artwork.  I also really dig the big wide margins on the page, because it helps draw focus to the story and it helps make the page icons stand out a bit more and help them feel like a part of the story.  Although I initially thought the book should be printed on something with a nice texture to mimic woodcuts, but I like the semigloss paper that they chose, it really makes the colors stand out well.

This is one of those books that when I first read it I felt like I was missing something.  Perhaps it was the fact that stories weaved back and forth and I missed the color changes, or perhaps it’s the fact that I wasn’t quite sure to make of the ending of the story.  So I reread it and upon doing so found the things that I was missing and discovered the depth to this short, yet powerful story.  This is going to be one of those books that isn’t for everyone, because some folks won’t like the setup of weaving back and forth through three points in time.  And yet it is a book that everyone should read at least once and ponder on.  And for those that enjoy it they’ll really treasure it.  4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

12 August 2012

Book Review--Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson
Mark Siegel
October 2012

One hundred years ago a steamboat traveled along the Hudson River, captained by a man named Twain.  One dark rainy evening Captain Twain rescues an injured mermaid, carried her back to his cabin and began nursing her back to health.  And from that one act of kindness a terrible event is set in motion, that will shape the lives and destiny of all involved--the captain, a French nobleman named Lafayette, and a reclusive author named C.G. Beaverton with a secret.  For the mermaid has a secret and a curse...and she seeks to ensnare anyone that she can to help her.  There’s only one proven method for breaking the mermaid’s curse.  How many will fall prey to her powers?  And how many will come out whole in the end?

Sailor Twain.  That name just conjures up so many different memories if you’re familiar with literature and Mark Twain.  And while this story doesn’t have Mark Twain in it (it doesn’t reference him though) it does capture that essence of the river and its denizens.  The characters are captivating and from that very first page you want to know what happens to them, what made them be the way they are, especially Lafayette, the French nobleman.  And the situations the characters are placed in feel real, they make you wonder what you would do in a similar situation.  Would you be able to avoid the temptation of the mermaid’s call?  

The thing I love most about this book is the sheer amount of research and historical content that Mark adds to the story.  Dropping in names, characters, and places from the real world to create a fantastic and jaw dropping tale.  FirstSecond is one of my favorite publishers, in part because they’ve been taking chances on the stories they tell and how they deliver these stories to the world.  Lately they’ve taken to serialize some of the comics online--such as Tune, Friends With Boys, and this one--which gives readers a chance to build a community around the work, which ties into my favorite part of the historical context of the story given just how much is shared by Mark and the community at large.  I love the fact that he shares in the blog what influenced him while creating this work, as well as sharing images and articles that fans dug up.  I could see this being a great a book to use in a history class to help reluctant students see history come to life.  Ok yes the teacher would have to explain the mermaid but still...even that was a part of lore during the time period.  I wish that the printed book could capture all of the blog posts and the community built around this story.  Hopefully once the book is printed the posts and comments will remain because they offer such great additional material. 


I absolutely love Mark’s illustrations.  The smoky charcoal quality adds an air of mystery and suspense to the story.  It makes it feel like we’re really reading about something that happened on the banks of the Hudson a 100 years ago and I feel like I can hear the river lapping against the shore and the sound of the boats upon the river.  And that’s a feeling that I love.  Mark’s style reminds me of one of my other favorite FirstSecond works, Three Shadows.  Although Three Shadows, charcoal lines are much more fluid and dynamic on the page, Mark captures some of that same intensity within the way his characters move and float on the page.  The one thing that caught me a bit off guard with the print book vs the webbased comic is the paper choice.  In the webbased version you can see that Mark choose a stark white paper to sketch upon, which adds an interesting dynamic to the story with the stark white vs. the stark black.  The printed version is more of a cream color, which helps age the story and adds a different dimension to it, almost as if we’re reading the diary of Captain Twain from a 100 years ago.  I’m a little bit more partial to the webbased version paper, but for those that are just encountering the story for the first time the print version makes it feel like we’re really diving into history.  ***It should be noted that Mark draws the mermaid in her natural state, ie topless (I mean seriously what self respecting mermaid would war clothes?) Just in case you don't like that sort of thing.***

While the story stands alone, I recommend that readers also go and take a look at the blog and the community built there for some great extra material.  This is great addition to any collection and I highly recommend it.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.  

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

07 August 2012

Book Review--Broxo

Zack Giallongo
October 2012

Princess Zora is lost in a strange and desolate land. She's been looking for the Peryton clan so that she can lead them back to her father who hopes to unite all five clans together...and where she hopes to win the approval of her family.
 But at the moment she’s lost, cold, and far from home on a desolate mountain where she's being chased by beasts and by zombies coming from all directions.  And the only person that she finds on that mountain is Broxo, a young warrior with no memory of his origins. Can Broxo and Zora solve the mystery of the missing clan? And can they stop the zombies before the zombies stop them?

The premise of the story is absolutely fantastic. I mean how can you go wrong with a missing clan and a princess warrior attempting to find them while avoiding zombies? And the story has so many familiar elements to it ranging from The Walking Dead to Bone to Avatar the Last Airbender. And that combination should create one of the most epic adventure stories ever.  And it does...for about half the book. The good half is where we see the characters of Zora and Broxo finding their place in the world, discovering that they can do more than they think they can and together they can accomplish great things. And of course there is Migo (a giant bear/horse/mountain goat type creature) who is ten kinds of awesome and should have his own book.  And...then in the other parts of the story it feels like we're missing pieces to the puzzle. For me it almost feels as if we're trying to combine too many different things together: Zora and Broxo finding their way; the mysterious villain, the missing clan, the zombies, and the death ritual of the clan.  And I’m thinking that part of the problem is that the story is really built like Bone, in that it needs the gradual buildup to the climax and then an epic conclusion for the last battle sequence...and that just can't happen in 230ish pages. I think the work would have been better suited to be divided up among multiple volumes, where more depth can be added to the story line or to have one 400ish page story. That being said some younger readers may enjoy this story line and feel that it's absolutely perfect to their tastes (which maybe where the author was going.)

I do like the art style in the book.  Much like the storyline it feels influenced by Jeff Smith’s work with Bone, with fluid line work creating interesting characters (especially Migo) and backgrounds to help draw the reader into the story.  While the colors are somewhat muted, they really capture the intensity of the world, especially in the mountains and the storms that are constantly brewing and swirling. There are also some nice contrasts of lights and shadows that really help set the mood. I also like the character design, especially the nonhuman character, such as Migo. They just have a lot of life and vitality to them that make them entertaining to follow.

Although I think we're missing part of the story, I’d still give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars.  I think this book could appeal to young middle school readers, especially those coming across zombies for the first time.  I also hope that we get to see more of Broxo and Zora in another book to find out more about their universe.   

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

02 July 2012

Book Review---Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
First Second
Ben Hatke
September 2012

I remember discovering Zita in webcomic format several years ago and being entranced, not only with the character of Zita and the adventures she took, but Ben’s incredible artwork as well. Sadly at some point I lost track of the site and Zita. And then...last year Zita the Spacegirl was released and Zita was able to tell us her full story of how she got into space. And why she was a hero.  I feel in love with Zita all over again and I couldn't wait to read more about her adventures.  Thankfully Ben is continuing the story and now we get the next chapter in Zita’s life as she attempts to make her way home.

In a junkyard on a planet far, far away a robot, a imprint-a-tron, crawls out of the wreckage around it and discovers a poster of Zita.  Meanwhile not too far away Zita's ship has just touched so that she can meet her fans and continue to look for a way home.  Of course her newest fan, the imprint-a-tron, will be there and it will be made up too look just like Zita!  Zita, looking for a few moments to herself, takes advantage of the doppelganger and  heads off for her own little adventure.  But troubles ensues as the robot decides it wants Zita’s life! And its off on a mission that it may not return from, as well as creating some trouble along the way.  Zita in pursuit of her friends quickly finds herself on wanted posters and the space police will stop at nothing to catch her. Can Zita make her way back to her life and those of her friends? Or will she end up wandering the far reaches of space for ever trying to get back home?

As much as I was looking forward to this second volume, I have to admit I was a bit worried when I started reading the story. The beginning seemed a bit slow and the story was almost predictable.  But I needn't have worried, because as soon as Ben entered the second chapter the story went down a path I could have never imagined.  It was like being on a good roller coaster ride, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat and cheering Zita on as she makes her way across the universe with good surprises waiting for you just around the bend.  Like the characters we get to meet!We get to meet a group of performers, one of whom has ties to Piper.  And we get to learn more about Zita's companion Mouse and that there is more to him than meets the eye.  Even better, we get to see Zita grow and mature in this volume as she continues her journey and learns some powerful lessons.

Ben’s artwork remains captivating, for the young and old alike. He wields colors deftly, creating masterful illusions of shadows and light, such as at the circus where colors spin madly in the air. The characters dance on the pages as they rush about the universe helping to save it. In many ways the design of the characters reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibbli’s work. The design of the spaceports is sure to keep readers enthralled as they look at the detail in the work. And the character design will keep readers captivated wondering what the next person we meet will look like.

I highly recommend this next volume in the Zita series and I can’t wait to see where Ben takes the story next. This is such a great series for young readers and I really like that Zita is such a strong female protagonist. 4 out of 5 stars.

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

30 June 2012

Book Review--Victory (Resistance Book #3)

Victory (Resistance Book #3)
First Second
Carla Jablonski (author) and Leland Purvis (illustrator)
July 2012

It's the final battle. World War II is drawing to a close and the allied forces are moving to retake France from the Nazi’s. Paul, Marie, and Sylvie Tessier continue fighting for the Resistance in their own way. Paul’s drawing almost land him in jail, but he is saved by Lucille’s father. Sylvie continues to date the young German solider next door and getting information that is saving lives. And Marie...Marie finds a downed place and a young man badly injured. She nurses him back to health and discovers that he has important information for the Resistance movement in Paris. Paul must take yet another journey into the heart of Paris in the hopes of helping end the conflict for once and all.

The entire trilogy is perfect from beginning to end and is great for all ages.  Carla has crafted a story that helps the reader understand history, what the time period was like, not only for the resistance but some members of the Nazi party as well and that they too were human.  This is displayed even more clearly in this final chapter where we see the conflict within Paul's family that is torn over lost memories, things they've had to do to survive, and choices they made to live.  I think what I like most about this series are the memorable characters that Carla creates, especially with Marie.  Through the course of three books we see how she grows and matures to help the resistance, and yet...in many ways is still just a young girl wanting her family back again.  It’s hard not to connect with the characters and allow us to see the war through their eyes, their reasons for choosing what they do and don’t do.

Leland continues to create beautiful artwork for the series, I especially enjoy the charcoal drawings by Paul that aid the resistance.  I love the contrast between the two mediums that it creates to the rest of the story. One of my favorite things about the artwork though is the details that can be found in the lines. The lines around their eyes, they mouths, even their hands that give them character and makes them come alive. I especially like the scenes when they are out in the fields at night. It feels like we’re with them under the starry skies, can feel the wind blowing against us, and the grass rustling quietly beside us.

I highly recommend every book in this series, its absolutely perfect for helping readers understand this aspect of World War II and would also be helpful in discussing conflict in family during war times. 5 out of 5 stars

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

30 May 2012

Book Review--Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued

Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued
First Second
Jessica Abel & Matt Madden
May 2012

Matt and Jessica have extensive experience creating and teaching comics and in their first book, Drawing With Words and Pictures, they shared a portable classroom.  Now they come back to us with further lessons in this companion book.  The book covers more advanced topics in creating a good comic, such as story composition; coloring and formatting pictures; and even more importantly it has a section on how to self-publish and getting published, surely to be helpful to young writers/artists just starting out.  Just like the first book, this one is divided into easy to read sections so the book can be used as a textbook or for an individual course study, which is extremely helpful and makes the book very versatile.

This text is heavily illustrated with examples to help guide readers on seeing the lesson in action.  Jessica and Matt use examples, not just from their own works, but examples from other professionally published artists so that readers have an extensive bibliography of images to look at (and look for.)  They also supplement the text with “further reading” sections, which allow a reader/student to continue their learning and more importantly to get an additional point of view from other working artists.  I also really like how they've broken down homework assignments in the book.  Not only do they put assignments at the back of each chapter to help readers learn the concepts that they've been reading about, but they also put some right after they've talked about a particular aspect, such as scriptwriting.  They walk the reader through how to start the process step by step and offer examples of things to do along the way.

My favorite section in this book might just be “The Horror of the Blank Page,” which lists ways to overcome the fear of a blank page and getting some ideas on where to go next.  It’s helpful to know that even the authors, experienced artists that they are, still struggle sometimes with overcoming that scary empty white page.  And I think that's something else that is helpful, that Jessica and Matt share some of their own personal experiences in this book, which for me helps make reading the book easier knowing that yes, they've encountered some of these same issues that have plagued me.  An important addition to this book Matt and Jessica talk about webcomics, even encouraging the students to give them a try to gain experience with not only how they work, but to help artists/writers improve upon their skill set.

This this is a great book for providing practical lessons that will be useful to readers whether they are doing a self study or in a class.  Even more so it’s a great book for fans of comics/graphic novels to see what type of work goes into creating the these items that they enjoy.  I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

29 May 2012

Book Review--Marathon

First Second
Boaz Yakin & Joe Infurnari
June 2012

Athens faces its greatest battle...the Persian army has come to defeat them and accompanying them is their ex-tyrant of a king, Hippias.  The Athenians are hopelessly outnumbered and their city may fall without help.  They need assistance from the Spartans, who live 153 miles away.  And their army can only hold back the Persians for so long.  They send their greatest runner, Eucles, to ask them to come to their aid.  Eucles must run 153 miles in three days...and back again to Athens.  And thus begins the greatest race ever known...and an event that continues to inspire mankind to greatness today.

What really attracted me to this book was the artwork.  That striking image on the front cover, of a man running as fast as he can, sweat pouring down his brown, and the world seemingly on fire behind him, but he's on a mission and he won't let anything stop him.  That evocative art style remains throughout the book, easily capturing the expressions of fear, triumph, and hope on the characters faces.  It's easy to get swept up in it as you move from page to page to follow the story and getting lost in all of the details.  It's easy to see that Joe spent a great deal of time creating the art and capturing the detail that makes it seem like the characters are ready to leap off the page with their battle.  And his art style reminds me a lot of Rembrandt's pen and ink drawings, that lose sketchy feel, but powerful.  I wish more books had this style...but I guess then it wouldn't be unique. 

While I like the overall content and story told, the execution at the beginning of the book is a bit confusing and jumbled.  In the first 15 or so pages we alternate between present, three days ago, and fifteen years ago seeing Eucles at different points of his journey and the transitions aren't always smooth.  Sometimes the panels of alternating timelines are right next to each other and it isn't always clear who we're looking at.  And I think it's that switching between three different timelines that bothers me.  Me personally, I would have preferred a small prologue that set up about Eucles past or to have left it out entirely.  Without that then the switching between present and two-three days in the past would have been easier to follow.  Once you get past those first 15 pages though, the story settles into a more recognizable format and presents a gripping tale of one man and what he's willing to do to help save his city and his people.  I really enjoyed the heart of this tale and it made me interested to learn more about Eucles and his life.  I think it would have been great if a bibliography could have been included in the back of the book.

Even though the first 15 pages are a bit jumbled, overall this is a solid book that I have no problem recommending to readers, especially teen readers who are interested in sports. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond

24 April 2012

The Google Drive is finally here

I haven't had much of a chance to start playing with this yet (they have to prepare my drive before I can play with it actually...whatever that means), but wanted to go ahead and post about it...

After being talked about forever and ever and ever...well at least for the last two years, Google has finally launched the Google Drive.  You can read their actual launch post here, but here are the highlights as relayed via their post:
  • automatic 5GB of storage for free
    • You can upgrade for more storage at fairly reasonable prices (about $30 a year for 25GB and so on)
  • It integrates easily with other Google Products, such as Google Docs 
    • You can upload anything--PDF, Images, Spreadsheets--and have folks offer comments on it without it having to be in Google Format
  • Access from anywhere including mobile devices via apps (they say they're still working on the iOS app but it's coming)
  • Search for anything--this is a cool feature you can even search for text within a scanned image via Optical Character Recognition.  And they're using image recognition software so it will recognize say photos of the Andes mountains when you search for it.
  • They are also working with third party developers so that you can collaborate on say...webpage design with files stored in Drive via Chrome apps.
There's also a great write up by ReadWriteWeb (who have used it) on what it offers and looks like.

Obviously GDrive enters an already somewhat crowded marked with ADrive, Dropbox, Amazon Storage, Microsoft's new project (which I missed) etc. But...it seems like it has some benefits, as well as some downsides.

Obviously there are folks that are going to be concerned about the privacy factor.  This new drive will just give Google one more place to find out even more about you.  What will they do with the information?  Well they swear they won't do anything like sell it and I haven't had problems with it (and half of my life lives in Google) but this is something that you'll want to think about yourself.  Does having lots of your life and files in one place with one company work for you? Do you want to give Google just one more piece of your life?  It is a big question...

For me...I'm willing to give it a try because of some of the positive factors, such as the enhanced collaboration abilities which will be great for working with colleagues on documents, videos, photos, whatever the case may be.  And just to see how it works.  Am I going to keep everything on the GDrive?  Probably not...I do like having aspects of my life in a few different places.  And not all of my life needs to live in Google Domains. 

Once I actually get in and play with it I'll post again.

19 April 2012

CIL 2012 presentation

My apologies folks I honestly meant to get this up two weeks ago and I didn't....but here it is now.

For posterity's sake:
In March 2012 I gave a presentation at Computers in Libraries titled "Getting to Yes After the Conference" (the CIL program called it "Getting to yes after CIL" but that wasn't my call.) In this presentation I shared tips and tricks that I've learned over the last 5 plus years of getting support for projects after the conference and buy in from administration.  For the first time ever I've also typed up my notes (hopefully they'll make some sort of sense to someone other than me.)

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, etc. feel free to leave a comment

Slide notes:

Slide 1:  I am me.

Slide 2:  Why am I talking to you guys about this?  Because selling ideas after a conference can be difficult.  You know it, I know it, well all know it.  So what do you do?  How do you get your admin to buy into what you're selling?  Well I'm going to share some tips and tricks I've learned over the past few years that can help you out.  First thing that you should do before you get back:  takes note and names.  yes take names.  if you hear a presentation or an idea that you like get their info so that you can ask them questions later.

(look below for two bonus content slides)

Slide 3: 
This is the most important thing that I can think of:  know who your audience is: who do you need to sell to, what do they like, brief convo, live demo, written report?
have a friend on the management team, someone that supports what you're selling 
Slide 4: 
users matter.  cool things are great, but if it isn't what your users are going to do or use and you already know it (example you work in a library that only serves the amish, don't push text messaging.) 
know why you're suggesting that the library invest time and energy in it. make sure it's meeting a need.  make sure you discuss what it will take to get it going...because
Slide 5:  
remember the investment:  even if it's free, it is isn't free.  it's like free kittens..and a bunny.  there's still time and money involved in it (mostly in the form of staff)  if you've got a small library and your systems department consists of one guy carrying everything but the kitchen sink, don't try to sell something that will require a lot of time and energy on their part to get going/maintain.

Slide 6: 
sell it to your colleagues. let them get excited about it. the more backing you have the better it's likely to go.
share with them what you learned, share slides, tweets, whatever works best, but let them be advocates for you as well.  if they're interested and support you it helps.
this can also include non co-workers, find someone to brainstorm with, how to approach the problem to get at a solution. people on campus, people online wherever.
in other words don't go it alone

Slide 7: 
find someone that can help you sell it.  your yin to your yang.  spock to your kirk

Slide 8: 
free is your friend.  if you can do it for free try it.  its a great way to sell a new service to admin.  down the road you can always say look it's working here's why we should move to this pay for service.  only go for pay for first if it's the only option or clearly the best option for what you're trying to do.
Slide 9: 
explore what's out there.  what's new, perhaps it simplifies the process, offers more, makes it easier to do, it improves efficiency 
Slide 10:
be willing and prepared to fail.  things aren't going to work.  it's a fact of life.  live from it. and learn from it.
don't be afraid to fail.  not everything is going to make it through the first time, come back a second and third time. if it's a good idea stick with it. listen to why folks are saying they aren't interested in it

Slide 11: 
give back to the community.  you've tried something. it worked. it didn't work.  let others know, even if its just a blog post.

Slide 12:  last unwritten rule and this depends on your pow, do first ask questions later--only for certain things though. don't redesign the webpage without telling people. 

Slide 13:
Slide 14:

And as an added bonus, two extra slides! (since it was pointed out that I neglected to include something from "Lord of the Rings"  These slides would be right at the beginning of the presentation.

Sometimes it seems like when we get back from conferences and try to talk to administration about what we want to do it's like talking to the Ents from "Lord of the Rings"

"Harummm....you want to do what with what?  Hmmm....we'll have to gather the ents to discuss it.  Don't worry we'll have things a decision for you in the next two to three years"

Or it's worse and it's like trying to wage war with these guys?  Not pretty is it?

17 April 2012

Book Review--"Hades: Lord of the Dead (Olympians)"

Hades: Lord of the Dead (Olympians)
First Second
George O'Connor
January 2012

Our tale begins in the land of the dead.  We hear what it's like when we die--how we meet Hermes who guides us to the river Styx, the need for a coin to pass down the river, the river Lethe where we forget everything, and the waiting...the endless waiting. But this is only the beginning of the story.  But the true tale is about the abduction of Persephone, also known as Kore, by the Lord of the Dead, Hades. And the destruction and sorrow it causes on the mortal world as Persephone's mother, Demeter, searches the world over for her.

And what a tale it is. I've always been fascinated by Greek and Romany mythology and I love how O'Connor puts this book together. It's an easy read, but he gives so much information to the reader and lays it out much better than the boring old books I remember reading about Greek myths. O'Connor makes the world come to life by the story he weaves and by giving personality to the gods that we meet so that we can understand why they did what they did. In every other tale Hades comes off as a villain, but here we see he really isn't. He's just lonely and looking for a chance to have a shot at a relationship. This is an excellent book to introduce Greek mythology and now I really want to read the other books in the series as well.

One of my favorite parts of the book is actually at the end, the little feature at the back that talks about the different characters, who they are, and other details to help you learn more about the Greek world. Even better, from a librarian perspective, they have a bibliography! A list of websites and recommended reading list to go to get more information.

I really like the artwork in this book. It has such great use of color and shadow in the depictions of the world, especially the underworld. Instead of depicting it all flames and fire (which seems to be something some artists like these days) it's more of a darker, almost hopeless place...much like it's described as in the original myths. It might be a bit creepy for really young readers, but middle schoolers and above will enjoy it. I enjoyed most of the character design, although at times it looks like Hades has a goatee (I think it would actually fit him well) and he looks a bit...well too much like an emo kid. I mean I know he's depressed and all, but..couldn't he be less of a blue shade?  Overall though I do like the depiction of the other characters, especially the depiction of the many handed ones, the Hekatonchieres.

This is the perfect companion for people that have been enjoying the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and want to know more about the Greek/Roman gods and how they work. It would be ok for elementary school age (3rd and above) but they would probably need to read it with a parent. But this would be an excellent book for a middle or high schooler (or even adult) that wants to learn more about the world of Greek mythology. I can't wait to read the previous volumes and to read what comes next.  I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond.

28 March 2012

Book Review--Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual

Kindle Fire: The Missing Manual
Peter Meyers
O’Reilly Press

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

The bad thing about purchasing the first generation of a device is the lack of material written on how to find all of the hidden features and best use the product. Sure tech geeks and hackers try all kinds of things as soon as they can, but what about the average person that just wants to use the device? And that’s the best thing about this book. It’s written for the nongeek/nontechie so that they can figure out what they can do with the device and the best way to use it.

Written in a clear easy format, Peter includes step by step instructions for navigating the Kindle Fire and provides copious illustrations to help you make sure you’re in the right place. Peter provides information on:

  • How to get started with the device
  • How to get materials on your fire from ebooks to magazines to newspapers
  • How to watch movies
  • How to add music to the device
  • How to open documents such as PDFs and Word files (and more)
  • And perhaps most importantly to readers not familiar with apps, how to find them, load them, and use them.
  • Lastly the appendixes, which provide a number of helpful hints on troubleshooting the device such as getting/using wifi.

One of the things I liked most about the book is that Peter offered feedback on common criticisms of the Kindle Fire, such as the location of the power button, and ways to avoid the problems that people are complaining about, which is a nice addition to the book. My one quibble about Peter’s writing style is that in a few places he mentions something, such as the startup bar, but then says he’ll explain what that is in a few pages. It just caught me off guard that there wasn’t an explanation right on that page and I can see that giving some readers trouble. Overall though it’s written in a logical, easy to follow, straightforward format.

This book is perfect for that person just entering the world of tablets and isn’t quite sure what to do with one. It’s also a good book, even for the tech savvy, to see many of the things that the Kindle Fire can do. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

22 February 2012

Book Review--The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

The Linux Command Line:  A Complete Introduction
William E. Shotts Jr.
No Starch Press

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

The command line can be one of the most intimidating aspects of learning Linux, I know it was for me.  And while the command line gives you an awesome amount of power with using Linux, it also makes it entirely to easy to destroy and delete entire directories without trying.  It’s like what Uncle Ben said in Spider Man “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Learning the command line is one of those things that takes a good guide and clear instructions (and warnings on what not to do), and while I had friends who helped me walk through the process, it still seemed intimidating.  And after reading this book, I wish I had it when I started out.  William makes the command line less intimidating, provides clear instructions, and lets you know the pitfalls to watch out for.

The book is broken down into four major sections:
Learning the shell
Configuration and the environment
Common tasks and essential tools
Writing Shell Scripts

with easy to navigate chapters.  Some of the chapters include: file navigation, Vi and Vim, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more.

Where this book excels is that it is written with the novice in mind and presents the information clearly, with easy to read instructions, and plenty of examples so that you can see what its supposed to look like.  The best part of the examples, William truly presents them as what the reader will see when they first start out vs. using his own personalized environment (which some instructors have a tendency of doing.)  This means that the reader will instantly know where they are in the process.  Even more importantly he tries to eschew the technical jargon that can overwhelm a novice.  While at times he might go overboard with wordage in explaining things, it is still sure to help the novice answer many questions they might have while learning the command line.  

While the chapters may not cover a topic in depth, such as the one on Vi and Vim, they provide the reader with enough information to be comfortable with what they’re learning.  The section that I found most helpful, was the last section dealing with writing shell scripts.  William gives a solid foundation to learning this helpful tool, provides plenty of examples, and makes it seem easy to set up.  Even better, he gives a brief lesson on Regular Expressions, which will help with writing the scripts.

Even though this book is written for the novice user, I still found it a good refresher on what commands do what.  I would highly recommend this book for users just starting out in Linux and for those that need a refresher on how to navigate the command line.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

20 February 2012

Book Review--Baby's In Black

Baby's In Black
First Second
Arne Bellstorf
May 2012

This book is based upon a true story.  

Astrid Kircherr is a young photographer in 1960 Germany, when her life is thrown for a loop.  Through Klaus, her sometimes boyfriend, she is introduced to a new band from the UK that is performing at a local bar.  The Beatles...before they were the Beatles.  Astrid and their bassist Stuart Sutcliffe quickly fall in love.  When the Beatles have to return to the UK, Stuart quits and stays behind.  He picks up the paintbrush again and is quickly accepted as a rising star in the modern art world.  He and Astrid, madly in love, are soon engaged.  Their life seems absolutely perfect.  And then...the unthinkable happens.

There’s something special about this book.  Not that it focuses on the Beatles, but because Arne crafts a tale of personal relationships and what makes them work.  He makes it easy to relate to the characters, to sympathize with their struggles of communicating across language but being united by some of the things that make us who we are--music, art, hope, friendship, love.  It sounds sappy I know, but I left the book feeling like I really knew the people that were introduced in the story, especially Astrid and Stuart.  It’s easy to see that Astrid and Stuart care about each other, even while struggling to communicate in different languages.  I think one of my favorite parts is when a friend is asking Astrid how Stuart’s German is coming and she says “he could speak old Siberian and I’d still be in love.”  My one minor grip, and this maybe due to differences in culture since the book was written in German, is that sometimes the transitions between stories are a bit rough.  It seems like we jump scenes and times in a couple places, with no warning or no advanced knowledge, we only know that time has moved forward by comments the characters make, which is a bit different from what we see in typical American story telling.  Once you get into the story though, its easy enough to recognize the pattern.

The artwork really reminds me a lot of David B’s (author of Epileptic) and the type of style that he taught to his students, which includes Marjane Satrapi author of Persepolis.  It’s a very sparse line drawing that captures just the bare essence of the characters and surrounding world, yet is very evocative, especially in capturing the smoky essence of the bar.  In just a few lines Arne captures the the characters and the emotion, the tenderness, the hope that the Astrid and Stuart felt for each other.  I love how in some places the lines leave the panel, as if the energy being created by the characters is powerful enough to transcend the boxes that we may put them in.  Some of the most powerful scenes are the ones right at the end, where Arne captures that feeling of being told bad news.  Where people are speaking around you and you can’t hear them.

I do want to make special mention of the fonts chosen, as it is something that folks are likely to notice.  There are two different types, one hand drawn for the noises (such as ring) but a typewriter type font for the spoken word.  While it might appear a bit different this is what the original looks like as well (at least based upon image searches that I was able to find) so it remains true in style to what Arne chose.  

I really enjoyed this book and found that it made me want to know more about Stuart and Astrid’s lives, before and after the events depicted in the book.  I would highly recommend this book, not just to fans of the Beatles, but to people that enjoy a good biographical story.  5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond.

06 February 2012

Book Review--"Giants Beware!"

Giants Beware!
First Second
Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado 
April 2012

Claudette is a warrior, just like her dad (and perhaps her mom as well.)  She doesn’t want to be anything else in the world.  And after hearing the story of how Marquis Pierre the XXXII chased the giant out of town, but let it go, Claudette wants to find it...and kill it.  But no one is allowed outside of the gate surrounding their town.  How can she be a warrior if she can’t leave the town?  With the help of her best friend Marie (an aspiring princess) and her brother Gaston (an aspiring baker) they escape the town and go hunting for the giant.  Along the way the discover hidden secrets about their town and why they can’t leave.  They also discover a bit more about themselves and what bravery truly means.  Will Claudette, Marie, and Gaston be able to find the giant?  Or where their parents stop the first?  Or will disaster befall everyone?  Read on to find out.

I love First Second titles and this one is no exception. This is one of those books that has something to appeal to everyone, from a well written adventure story to great artwork.  Story wise I really like the character development that occurs during this book's journey, especially with the three young children.  It’s nice to see a female character that doesn’t want to be princess when she grows up, but a warrior.  And that the male character, even though he wants to make swords, likes to bake as well (and is quite good at it.)  Even Marie, who wants to be a princess when she grows up, shows from the very start she has a good head on her shoulders and by the end is considering being a diplomat.  In other words, the book defies some of the typical stereotypes that you see.  Its a joy to watch these three young children interact and react with the world and discover who they are during the adventure.  I can see this type of adventure/interaction being something that young readers in particular can relate to.  It seems like the creators are hoping to make this a continuing series and I’d definitely be interested in learning more about this town and the secrets it holds. 

One thing that does bother me a bit about the writing in this book is that some times the words chosen don’t fit the age range of the book.  I see the book as being for the elementary school range, but they use words like odoriferous or the discussion on politics at the beginning that just don’t fit that.  While it would let the child come and ask their parents questions about what it means it just seems to be a bit of a deterrent to me for a young reader to really enjoy the book.

I really like the artwork in this book, especially in the opening sequence.  It’s a bit different than the rest of the book as it uses more muted colors and shadows, but it’s really well done.  The rest of the book is done in brighter colors, still very well drawn, and perfect for a young reader.  In fact the style reminds me a lot of Jeff Smith’s Bone, especially in the way the background and older characters are depicted.  They have a lot more detail to them, more age lines on the faces of the older characters, while the children in the story are almost less defined.  It’s as if the artist is giving readers a chance to put themselves in the main characters places, making it easier for the reader to identify with them.  My absolute favorite character designs are Zubair and Claudette’s father, Augustine.  I love the way they move while on their journey to rescue the children and the grizzled looks on their faces.  One of my favorite scenes in the book though is where the children are interacting with the Mad River King and his underwater palace and just the depth and imagery created by the fantastic coloring job in these scenes.

I’d highly recommend this book to any elementary school/middle school reader, especially young girls that are looking for a story where the girl isn’t a princess.  I really hope there are sequels, just to answer some of the questions the author raises, but doesn't answer.  But, even if there are no sequels this is a good coming of age tell with strong characters and I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond.

05 January 2012

Book Review--"Friends With Boys"

Friends With Boys
First Second
Faith Erin Hicks
February 2012

Maggie McKay is a bit lost at the moment.  See she’s entering high school for the first time.  Which would be bad enough, but Maggie has never been in a traditional school before.  She’s only been home schooled with her older brothers by their mother...who by the way has left the family for pastures unknown.  So now Maggie’s facing the real world for the first time, without her mom there for support, and to top it off her brothers seem to be busy with their own lives and forgetting about her!  And oh yeah, there’s a silent ghost that follows her around.  So Maggie has to face the real world for the first time, attempt to grow up a bit and find her own place in the world and in her family.  Along the way perhaps she’ll make a new friend (one who isn’t an older brother) and solve the mystery of the quiet ghost who has followed Maggie her entire life.

I’ve been following the webcomic release of this book for some time now and I’ve really enjoyed it so far, in part because the author’s commentary provides such great insight.  And...in some ways I really wish the book had the commentary because it describes so much of what the author is really thinking and it’s just nice to be able to read that part of the creative process.  Alas the book does not have this, but I’m still excited to have this review copy.  Faith accurately captures that feeling of confusion, of hopelessness when entering high school and does a fantastic job of making the characters feel real.  You can easily identify them as someone that you may have come across in your own school and identify with that sense of confusion, of loss, of discovering who you are.  It’s a good coming of age story and it’s nice to see how Maggie grows and changes during the pages of the book as she finds her place in the world at large.  And in her family.  And I love the other characters in the story, especially Lucy.  She’s so energetic, so confident in who she is and what she is that I love seeing her on the pages of the story.  What really stands out to me though is the fact that Maggie and Lucy are both strong female characters.  They’re completely grounded in reality so they have their faults, but they don’t ever fall into that “woe is me, I’m a girl and can’t do anything mode.”  

I really like the artwork in the book.  Faith has a way of capturing the characters perfectly.  They have a lot of depth to their expressions so that even without the words of the story you can tell what’s going on.  I get lost looking at the expressions sometimes while reading, because it is just so pitch perfect.  Faith also has a way of capturing the feelings and movements of being in high school.  That sense of being crowded and all alone at the same time.  And that sense of relief at finding someplace to be yourself.  And I love the maps that Maggie draws to find her way around the school and identifying the places not to go, like the makeout corner.  

It almost feels like maybe this is part of a series as there are a couple of questions left unanswered, such as where is Maggie’s mom and what’s the story with the ghosts?  Even if there are no sequels this is a good coming of age tell with strong female characters and I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.  

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond