Library Haul #2: Love, Loss & the Search for Identity

This week, I picked up a mix of Juvenile and YA graphic novels and fiction. Some of the books on my wish list were already checked out, but several were on the shelves waiting for me – along with a few other titles I picked up on a whim.

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.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo (author), Louise Simonson (adaptation), Kit Seaton (art) (2020)

  • Summary: “Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law, risking exile, to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl, and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world. Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer – a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery. Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies – mortal and divine – determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.”
  • Reaction: This book has some great characters in Alia and her circle, and for me, they were definitely the stars. Although I appreciated the extra details of Diana’s background provided here that I didn’t learn in Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, her character arc felt mostly like a device for developing the other characters around her. Her commitment to Alia, and the development of their bond, is the point on which the entire story turns, and overall, I felt like it was pretty well done. (“Sister in battle, I am shield and blade to you. As I breathe, your enemies will know no sanctuary. While I live, your cause is mine.”) That said, the notion of the warbringer itself – a being whose very existence heralds an age of war – seems at odds with other ideas expressed throughout the book about the nature of humanity and the inevitability of injustice. We see it when Alia and Diana go to the store and are continuously followed by the “shop cop,” which Alia attributes to her race and dissheveled appearance. And we hear it again from the villain, who says, “Humans aren’t made for peace. We’ve proven it again and again. We’ll always find something to fight over. Territory. Religion. Love. It’s our natural state.” So, what will cutting the line of warbringers actually accomplish? This is a question continuously contemplated throughout the book but never convincingly answered. Still, it is an enjoyable read. As for the art, the illustrations themselves were quite lovely – detailed, emotive, beautiful – but the color palette really bothered me. Or more specifically, the way the palette was used. Pages and pages and pages of nothing but blues and grayscale, with only the occasional splash of reds and oranges to highlight warbringer visions and intermittent explosions. While Tempest Tossed also had a limited color palette, it included complementary colors on nearly every page, offering a kind of balance that this book lacked. Why couldn’t it have been colored the way the gorgeous cover art was done? I really loved the watercolor skies near the end, though. Overall, despite my quibbles and questions, I did enjoy the book. Recommend.

The Stonekeeper (Amulet #1), by Kazu Kibuishi (2008)

  • Summary: “There’s something strange behind the basement door…. After a family tragedy, Emily, Navin, and their mother move to an ancestral home to start a new life. On the family’s very first night in the mysterious house, Em and Navin’s mom is kidnapped by a tentacled creature. Now it’s up to Em and Navin to figure out how to set things right and save their mother’s life!”
  • Reaction: This book was an emotional rollercoaster, from the heartbreaking opening scene through moments that are, by turns, tender and funny, nerve-wrecking and triumphant. Once the action gets going, it doesn’t stop – right up through the cliffhanger for Book 2. While the characters helping Em and Navin on their venture may seem all fun and fluff, the themes underlying the story – love and loss, regret and redemption – are deeper than first glance. The world in which the bulk of this story is set is interesting and engaging, and although I’m not sure where we’re headed after this first installment, it’s been a fun ride so far and I’m ready to see what lies ahead. Highly recommend.

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #1), by Rick Riordan (author), Robert Venditti (adaptation), Attila Futaki (art) (2010)

  • Summary: “Mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking out of the pages of twelve-year-old Percy Jackson’s textbooks and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Now, he and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. Series creator Rick Riordan joins forces with some of the biggest names in the comic book industry to tell the story of a boy who must unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.”
  • Reaction: This one was a slow start for me, to the point where I wondered if I was actually going to DNF it and chalk it up as not worth the hype. But the pace improved through the middle and by the end, I was really enjoying it. Certain plot points were more predictable than I would have liked, while a couple others caught me off-guard and were more enjoyable. The characters were mostly solid (although I think several are drawn significantly older than the age they’re supposed to be), and the plot is intriguing. I’ll come back for the next installment and see if it suits me better. Despite my hesitancy in the beginning, I was glad to have pushed through and quite liked where we ended up. Overall, it was a decent read. Recommend.

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 4, by Kamome Shirahama (author & artist) (2018)

  • Summary: “Twisted Paths. The ruin of an ancient nation’s pride is stage for three apprentices to prove how deftly their concealment abides, for stealth and honor both a witch behoove. But Richeh bridles at the test’s constraint, preferring magic of her own design, and Euini finds expectations faint, a student by his master oft maligned. In prying from despair a shadowed grace, now Euini has seized a slender hope, but triumph is with creeping dread replaced as from the dark a fearsome evil gropes. Forbidden magi’s nightmares come afresh in shadow-shrouded horror freed from flesh.”
  • Reaction: This was my first manga, and the library had only volumes 4 and up on the shelf, so I picked up #4. I read a couple chapters and like what I’ve read so far, but I really want to go back and start from the beginning to get more immersed in this world first. So I’m going to put this one on hold for now and come back to it when I’ve had a chance to read #1-3.

King and the Dragonflies, by Kacen Callender (2020)

  • Summary: “The dragonflies live down by the bayou, but there’s no way to know which one’s my brother. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands… King is sure that his brother, Khalid, has turned into a dragonfly. After Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed his first skin for another and found refuge in the backwaters of their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, a secret King must keep to himself – that, and the fact that he might be gay. As King watches grief transform his family, he comes to understand the beauty and redemption of learning to fly past the secrets that keep him from rising to his truest self. In this raw and exquisite story from the Stonewall Award-winning author of Hurricane Child, we see that love sets us all free.”
  • Reaction: *CONTENT WARNING: Family violence/abuse (happens off-page, but signs of the abuse are discussed and it’s a significant plot point in the book), racism and homophobia.* I really loved this book, which deftly explores loss and grief, love, identity and belonging, through the wonderfully complex character of King. Having suffered a life-changing loss not so long ago, I saw my own grief in much of King’s thoughts and feelings about his brother’s death, and his journey to learn to live through that loss was clearly heartfelt and compellingly written. The friendships in the book perfectly capture the tumultuous middle-grade years, a time when the petty squabbles of childhood collide with larger questions of who we are and who we want to be in the face of real-world pressures to be something other than our authentic selves. Despite the heavier themes, the message of the book is ultimately hopeful and uplifting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommend.

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister, by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Emma Trevayne (2014)

  • Summary: “Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities. Please enter. No, really, come in. The Curators are delighted you are here. They invite you to turn a page, pull open a drawer, peek inside a room, slither into a nook. In fact, they insist. Sometimes visitors to the cabinet find it rewarding to dive right into the middle. You could try that. You could flip back and forth. Start your exploration at the very end. Or the beginning. The important thing is that you are here. Oh, do come in! The Curators guarantee you will find something… curious. The Cabinet of Curiosities is a collection of eerie, mysterious, intriguing, and very short stories presented by the cabinet’s esteemed Curators, otherwise known as acclaimed authors Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, and Emma Trevayne.”
  • Reaction: Added to my TBR for the upcoming week.

A Magic Steeped in Poison, by Judy I. Lin (2022)

  • Summary: “For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her mother – the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu. When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi – masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making – she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life. But between the backstabbing competitors, the bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.”
  • Reaction: Added to my TBR for the upcoming week.

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