Library Haul #1: Myths & Magic & Murder, oh my!

After finishing The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985), I was looking for something different, and maybe lighter, for my next library haul and found myself drawn primarily to the YA Graphic Novels section. I also took a spin through Juvenile Fiction.

Of course, few of the books I chose are actually “light” in the sense of not dealing with heavy themes. Whether it’s confronting the dark side of ambition or facing social injustice and figuring out how to make a difference, most of these books deal with significant “real world” struggles, no less than Atwood’s novel. But at least they allowed for a change of pace.

Anyway, here’s the haul:

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

I’ll share my thoughts below, along with their book jacket summaries.

Macbeth, by Gareth Hinds (author of adaptation from Shakespeare & artist) (2015)

  • Summary:Something wicked this way comes… Dark ambitions, madness, and murder. Shakespeare’s classic story of a man’s reckless quest for power springs to life in a masterful new graphic novel from Gareth Hinds. Macbeth, a general in the king’s army, is returning from battle when he comes upon three witches who tell him that one day he’ll be king. At first Macbeth dismisses their predictions, but an evil seed takes root in his mind, and soon he is both convinced and impatient. At the urging of his wife, he resolves to take the throne by the most direct path: a dagger in the heart of King Duncan. But blood will have blood, and when others grow suspicious of his sudden rise to power, is Macbeth prepared to commit more murders to keep the crown? Set against the moody backdrop of eleventh-century Scotland, this captivating, richly illustrated tale takes readers into the claustrophobic mind of a man driven mad by ambition.”
  • Reaction: This was my first Gareth Hinds read, and I am definitely a fan. Hinds takes the original play, retains iambic rhythms in abridging and adapting the text, and lends his incredible artistic talents to bring the story to life on the page. I loved the storyboarding, the line work and coloration, and in particular, his use of light and shadow. Bonus: The story map and Dramatis Personae in the front and the notes section in the back, where Hinds explains his approach to adapting and illustrating this classic, were especially appreciated. Highly recommend.

The Odyssey, by Gareth Hinds (author of adaptation from Homer & artist) (2010)

  • Summary: “Fresh from his triumphs in the Trojan War, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, wants nothing more than to return home to his family. Instead, he offends the sea god Poseidon, who dooms him to long years of shipwreck and wandering. In his efforts to get home, Odysseus must battle man-eating monsters, violent storms, and the supernatural seductions of sirens and sorceresses. He will need all his strength and cunning – and a little help from Mount Olympus – to return to Ithaca and seize back his kingdom from the scheming suitors who seek to wed his queen and usurp his throne. With bold imagery and an ear tuned to the music of Homer’s epic poem, artist Gareth Hinds masterfully reinterprets a tale from ancient Greece that has been told and retold for more than 2,500 years – though never quite like this.”
  • Reaction: Another Gareth Hinds stunner, of epic proportions. This one cemented my love for Gareth Hinds graphic novels. The level of detail in the illustrations, the visual cues he created to signal certain story elements (which I won’t spoil here), not to mention the sheer amount of work and dedication it took to storyboard and illustrate this lengthy tale and truly do it justice – all of it is just stunning! Highly recommend.

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion, by M.T. Anderson (author of adaptation from Chrétien de Troyes) and Andrea Offermann (artist) (2017)

  • Summary: “Sir Yvain, a knight in King Arthur’s court, sets off into the enchanted forest of Broceliande in a bid to earn honor and fame, and unknowingly intertwines his own future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful and grieving widow of a man he has killed, and her adroit, sorcerous maid, Lunette. Renowned author M.T. Anderson embraces a new form in this graphic novel adaptation of one of the first Arthurian epics. This ancient and ironic tale challenges the role of hero and delves into the ludicrous and tragic anguish of love. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann evokes twelfth-century France and elucidates the lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette.”
  • Reaction: I think I’m just not the target audience for Arthurian tales. I liked the uncharacteristic strength of the two leading ladies; I disliked that, strong as they were, they were still trapped in a world built for their male counterpart. Pretty much anything else I say about the story itself will boil down to that core point. I really liked the art, though. With bold lines and colors, and deft changes between rigidly rectangular panels for staid scenes and more dynamic storyboarding for chaotic action, the artwork drew me along and provided the excitement otherwise lacking in this story for me. Overall, I thought the book was OK.

The Daughters of Ys, by M.T. Anderson (author) and Jo Rioux (artist) (2020)

  • Summary: “Ys, city of wealth and wonder, has a history of dark secrets. Queen Malgven used magic to raise the great walls that keep Ys safe from the tumultuous sea. But after the queen’s inexplicable death, her daughters drift apart. Rozenn, the heir to the throne, spends her time on the moors communing with wild animals, while Dahut, the youngest, enjoys the splendors of royal life and is eager to take part in palace intrigue. When Rozenn and Dahut’s bond is irrevocably changed, the fate of Ys is sealed, exposing the monsters that lurk in plain view. M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux reimagine this classic Breton folktale of love, loss, and rebirth, revealing the secrets that lie beneath the surface.”
  • Reaction: I had a mixed reaction to this one. On the one hand, I liked some of the changes Anderson made to this folktale. In particular, I loved Rozenn (Is this the first retelling that gives Dahut a sister?) and her bending of the narrative back toward the natural world. And I loved Corentin and his “infinite” fish. (“We live by devouring those we love. How can we help it? They’re the ones within closest reach.” So good.) But still, something about both the setup and the ending felt disjointed and unfinished to me. How does Gradlon not know? Or if he does know, what’s with his reaction? I’m just not understanding him as a character. And who exactly is the antagonist in the end? I understand what role they played, but am unclear on how we got from here to there. As for the art, it’s not my favorite style, but it’s well done. I especially like the fluidity in the lines and the way they evoke the ever-present sea beyond the kingdom’s walls. Despite my questions, I did enjoy the book overall. Recommend.

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, by Laurie Halse Anderson (author) and Leila Del Duca (artist) (2020)

  • Summary: “Princess Diana of Themyscira believes that her 16th birthday will be one of new beginnings – namely, acceptance into the warrior tribe of the Amazons. But her birthday celebrations are cut short when rafts carrying refugees break through the barrier that separates her island home from the outside world. When Diana defies the Amazons to try to bring the outsiders to safety, she finds herself swept away by the stormy sea. Cut off from everything she’s ever known, Diana herself becomes a refugee in an unfamiliar land. Now Diana must survive in the world beyond Themyscira for the first time – a world that is filled with danger and injustice unlike anything she’s ever experienced. With new battles to be fought and new friends to be made, she must redefine what it means to belong, to be an Amazon, and to make a difference.”
  • Reaction: Ok, confession: Before reading this book, I was unfamiliar with Wonder Woman’s origin story. In fact, I don’t think I had ever read a single Wonder Woman comic, nor seen any of the movies in which she’s featured. But that all ends here. This book felt like coming home, in a way, because it so explicitly gave voice to the part of me that looks at the world every day and just says, “Why?” Why is it like this? And what can I do to make it better? Because there has to be a better way. The art for this one is great, very ‘classic comic meets modern aesthetic.’ And the color palette, while limited, is beautiful. I also love that we have a Wonder Woman who can wield the lasso and cuffs while still wearing pants. Like, hello!?! But on the whole, it’s the story for me. In some ways it has all the trappings of a hyperbolic comic book story line – and yet, it’s also evocative of the real world we’re living in these days. And I think that’s really what gets me the most: the hyperbole of comics has become the reality of our present. And it’s anything but comical. The world feels like it needs a superhero, and Diana Prince is ready to serve. And I’m here for it. Highly recommend.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy, by Kami Garcia (author) and Gabriel Picolo (artist, with Rob Haynes) (2020)

  • Summary: “Garfield Logan has spent his entire life being overlooked. Even in a small town like Eden, Georgia, the 17-year-old with green streaks in his hair can’t find a way to stand out – and the clock is ticking. Senior year is almost over. If Gar doesn’t find a way to impress the social elite at Bull Creek High School, he will never know what it’s like to matter. Gar’s besties, Stella and Tank, don’t understand why he cares what other people think, and they miss their funny, pizza-loving, video game-obsessed friend. Then Gar accepts a wild dare out of the blue. It impresses the popular kids, and his social status soars. But other things are changing, too. Gar grows six inches overnight. His voice drops, and suddenly, he’s stronger and faster. He’s finally getting everything he wanted, but his newfound popularity comes at a price. Gar has to work harder to impress his new friends. The dares keep getting bigger, and the stakes keep getting higher. When Gar realizes the extent of his physical changes, he has to dig deep and face the truth about himself – and the people who truly matter – before his life spirals out of control.”
  • Reaction: What a fun read this one was! I read this after my (formerly?) reading-avoidant 9-year-old son finished it and couldn’t stop talking about it. (I had pre-skimmed it for language/content, but didn’t read it immersively until afterward.) As a parent, I love the themes of self-love and self-confidence running through this book, and Gar’s friend circle is a great example of supportive relationships. And I love that my son read the promo for Beast Boy Loves Raven at the end of this book and insisted on checking it out, too! As a reader, this book was just plain fun to read. The dialogue is great – natural, funny, relatable; the plot is engaging; and the artwork is in perfect harmony with the story. I especially like the way key parts of each panel or scene are fully colored while the background is mainly line work and a pale color wash. It’s one of my favorite styles of contemporary graphic novel illustration. I finished this one eager to start the next installment. Highly recommend.

Teen Titans: Beast Boy Loves Raven, by Kami Garcia (author) and Gabriel Picolo (artist, with Rob Haynes) (2021)

  • Summary: “It seems like years, but it’s only been a few days since Raven Roth recovered her memories, trapped her demon father, Trigon, in her amulet, and had her heart broken for the first time. But she doesn’t have time to worry about the past… she has to focus on finding a way to get rid of Trigon for good. Garfield Logan still can’t believe he has the power to transform into animals. But controlling his newfound abilities is difficult, and their unpredictable nature could have dangerous consequences. Knowing his parents kept this secret hidden from him only makes Gar feel more alone. They’re both seeking answers from the one person who seems to have them all figured out: Slade Wilson. When their paths cross in Nashville, Raven and Gar can’t help but feel a connection, despite the secrets they try to hide from each other. It will take a lot of trust and courage to overcome the wounds of their pasts. But can they find acceptance for the darkest parts of themselves? Or maybe even love?”
  • Reaction: Another fun read, this time with romance brewing and some other interesting seeds sown for future reaping. I enjoyed this installment quite a bit and, again, really like Picolo’s illustration style. I do wish Teen Titans: Raven hadn’t already been checked out from our library, so I could’ve read it before seeing their story lines merge, but there’s enough backstory sprinkled in to get the main points. I still want to read Raven, though, to learn more about her time in New Orleans (although seeing it written as “N.O.L.A.” makes me a little nervous for how accurately the city will be portrayed) and learn more about Max and her mom. I’m also looking forward to Robin when it comes out in March 2023. Overall, this is looking like a fun little series, and I’m happy to go along for the ride. Highly recommend.

Willa of the Wood, by Robert Beatty (2018)

  • Summary: “Willa, a young night-spirit of the Great Smoky Mountains, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the homes of day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work – the day-folk kill whatever they do not understand – but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people. When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day world, she calls upon an ancient, unbreakable bond to escape. Only then does she discover the truth: not all day-folk are the same, and the magical foundations that have guarded the Faeran for eons are under attack. As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her home, Willa must decide who she truly is. To save the day-folk family that has become her own – and lfit the curse that has robbed her people of their truth – Willa will meet deadly force with trusted alliance, violence with shelter, and an ever-changing world with a steady heartbeat of courage.”
  • Reaction: To be continued… Still reading.

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