Eisner, Will. Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories.

NY: Norton, 2007.

Eisner is very much the godfather of the modern graphic novel. There’s a reason the field’s most important award is named for him. This fat compilation volume brings together five previously published pieces, two of them quite long, which are drawn from his own life and ancestry — and if not entirely in a factual sense, then in tone and in general approach.

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Backderf, John. My Friend Dahmer.

NY: Abrams, 2012.

Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t the only serial killer America produced in the late 20th century but he was one of the most disturbing ones, if only because, after he was caught in 1991, he was candid and forthright about what he had done. Unlike Gacy and others who come to mind, he didn’t make excuses or try to shift the blame. But he really didn’t know why he had killed sixteen men, either.

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Dessen Sarah. The Truth About Forever.

NY: Penguin, 2004.

I’ve become a fan of Dessen’s books, which are marketed as “young adult” but the themes of which are of interest to all readers. While there’s always a romantic element, it’s never cut-and-dried and absolutely never clichéd. Certain themes recur, too: The sibling who is either much more perfect than the narrator, providing a role model it’s impossible to live up to, or else a complete disaster, which reflects on the sibling and makes her life more difficult.

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Dessen, Sarah. Saint Anything.

NY: Viking, 2015.

I’ve become thoroughly hooked on Dessen’s novels, for all that they’re marketed for young adults. Her narrative and character-development skills make her books engaging reading for any age group. There’s rather more trauma this time, though. Seventeen-year-old Sidney Stanford used to practically worship her older brother, Peyton, the local golden boy, but that was before he started making bad decisions and getting arrested.

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Published in: on 2 October 2017 at 5:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Corey, James S. A. Gods of Risk. / The Churn.

NY: Orbit, 2012. / NY: Orbit, 2014.

It seems to have become a thing, when you’re producing a long science fiction or fantasy novel series, to take a break now and then and write a piece of short fiction in the same setting, but off at a tangent from the main plot line. Usually, the author takes the opportunity to explore in more detail some background topic or, as is the case with these two novellas, events from a character’s early life. The author always knows more than he tells the reader, but here the writing team of the excellent and immensely popular “Expanse” space opera series will let you on some of what came before.

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Tomine, Adrian. Killing and Dying.

NY: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015.

I’ve become quite a fan of Tomine, one of the best graphic novelists around, although what he produces are actually graphic short stories. Graphic fiction has to be successful both literarily and visually — otherwise there’s no point — and while Tomine’s art is first-rate, his storytelling skills are even better. His stories are entirely realistic, exploring the lives of the people next door. The quality of the writing is such that I don’t doubt he could leave out the drawing altogether and sell most of the six in this volume to New Yorker. What I especially like is that he doesn’t just tell you everything. You have to look and listen and fill in those often subtle gaps for yourself.

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Dessen, Sarah. That Summer.

NY: MacRae Books, 1996.

I discovered Dessen’s Young Adult novels awhile back and was taken with her abilities as a storyteller. She’s done about fifteen of them now, all of them very popular, and I had been reading them pretty much at random. I decided it was time to go back to her first published effort to see how her work had evolved.

Haven McPhail is fifteen, a high school sophomore somewhere in the southeast U.S., and she’s very tall. It’s now late summer and she’s grown four inches just since April, putting her a hair under six feet. This is one of the three main facts of her life.

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Published in: on 8 August 2017 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friedman, Aimee & Christine Norrie. Breaking Up.

NY: Scholastic, 2007.

This is a graphic novel about high school kids, undoubtedly aimed at high school kids, which is fine. But it doesn’t quite work. The focus is on four third-year girls at an arts magnet, each one of whom is (naturally) completely different from the other three. One is essentially a slut and the dominant personality, one is the shy hugger-peacemaker, one is being driven crazy by straitlaced parents, and the fourth, the narrator, is interested in a guy no one else approves of.

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Published in: on 5 August 2017 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.

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Scheer, Kodi. Midair.

NY: Little A, 2016.

The author teaches writing at the University of Michigan, and this may or may not be her first published novel, but it’s not a bad effort. It’s also quite short — barely 200 pages — but she packs a lot into it. It’s the summer of 1999 and Vanessa Baxter is eighteen, a recent high school graduate from a semi-rural Chicago suburb, and she has just arrived in Paris with three of her classmates. Her single-parent family, unlikely those of her friends, has no money to speak of, but the girls managed to find sponsors for the trip and now they’re settling into a tiny short-term apartment on the Île de la Cité. Nessie is the brainy one, and also one of the class rejects.

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