it’s been four months. how do i like my kindle?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 | | 4 comments
I resisted getting an e-reader for a long time. At the beginning of the rise of ebooks (it sounds kind of apocalyptic written out like that, right?), I was dead broke and a grad student. My money was going towards essentials, and as much as I love them, books are not essential to human survival. Neither is toilet paper. TMI? Anyway, I didn’t have money for an e-reader and friends & family didn’t gift me one, so I didn’t have one.

Then I left grad school, moved across the country twice, and got an office job. While I was slightly less broke, I couldn't justify the purchase of a dedicated device while I had a perfectly serviceable iPhone and Kindle app. This whole time, Amazon sent me “deal of the day” emails, and I bought so many discounted ebooks that browsing my ebook library started to scare me. Also by that point people in my book club were shocked I didn't have an e-reader and maybe everyone in my life assumed I was making a deliberate choice not to own one?

Fast forward another couple of years, and I fractured my eye socket playing rec league floor hockey (...). While my face healed and my vision got back to 20/20, the muscles around my eye deteriorated *just* enough that reading on my phone late at night wasn't fun or easy anymore. So it was e-reader time! And that's how I bought a Kindle Paperwhite.

What do I think of it? Well, it’s perfectly nice. I don’t mind reading on/with it. It’s certainly easier on my eyes than a phone screen. And yet… it functions more as a security blanket than as a reading device. I take great comfort in the fact that I can stick it in my bag and have hundreds of books at my fingertips. I do not actually take it out of my bag to read that often (sighhhhh). So, that’s where we are.

I may still change my habits with time and find it really useful, but in the meantime I will continue to load my Kindle up with ebooks that I very rarely read, and take pleasure in the opportunity rather than the reality.

Do you have an e-reader? Do you use it regularly?

interview with molly knox ostertag - comics extravaganza blog tour

Today’s post is part of First Second’s Comics Extravaganza blog tour. It features an interview with the super-talented Molly Knox Ostertag. Ostertag did the art for one of my favorite books of the year, Shattered Warrior, and both wrote and illustrated one of my most anticipated 2017 reads, The Witch Boy. Read on to learn more about her!

I’ve been reviewing (and reading!) more graphic novels, and I’ve been so lucky to find not only fun books, but also discover brilliant artists. From Alex Puvilland, the artist behind Scott Westerfeld’s magnificent Spill Zone, to Matt Phelan (Snow White), to Andrea Offermann, I’ve been checking out and getting a feeling for different art styles in young adult graphic novels. And today I get to feature an interview with Molly Knox Ostertag – I couldn’t be more excited. Check it:

Tell us your first memory of reading a comic or graphic novel.
My very first comic books were the Tintin comics. For some reason we only had the French editions in our house, but Hergé is such a clear and dynamic cartoonist, so I could follow the action perfectly even without understanding the words. In high school, The Sandman series showed me that adult comics didn't have to be exclusively about superheroes, and I was hooked! 

What's your favorite comic or graphic novel, and what do you love about it?
This is one of those impossible questions, but one I think about a lot is THAT ONE SUMMER by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. I love how the story is structured, the drawings are detailed and gorgeous and restful and full of atmosphere, and I appreciate how it's a young adult book that doesn't talk down to its readers.

Tell us a little about your latest graphic novel. 
I have two out this year. SHATTERED WARRIOR, out from First Second, is a collaboration with fantasy/sci fi romance novelist Sharon Shinn, and is about survival and finding love in a dystopian society ruled by tyrannical aliens. THE WITCH BOY, out from Scholastic this fall, is my first solo project, a story about a boy who wants to become a witch, even though in his family traditionally only women are allowed to be witches. 

What comic or graphic novel are you reading now? 
I just read ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson because I'm trying to catch myself up on all the excellent middle-grade graphic novels that have come out in the past few years. I loved it! It's a sweet and boisterous story about roller derby and pre-teen friendships with a moral that I really appreciated. 

Molly Knox Ostertag grew up in the forests of upstate New York and read far too many fantasy books as a child. She studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys the beach year-round but misses good bagels. While at school she started drawing the award-winning webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, which continues to update and be published through Kickstarter and Top Shelf Comics. She draws comics about tough girls, sensitive boys, history, magic, kissing, superpowers, and feelings.

Interested in reading more from comics authors and artists? Check out the full tour info here, or just click on any of the links below!

7/10 – YA Bibliophile interviews Shannon Hale
7/10 – Fiction Fare interviews Tillie Walden
7/11 – A Backwards Story interviews Landis Blair
7/11 – Bluestocking Thinking interviews Mike Lawrence
7/12 – Book Crushin interviews MK Reed
7/12 – Miss Print interviews Scott Westerfeld
7/12 – Ex Libris Kate interviews Box Brown
7/13 – Love Is Not a Triangle interviews Nick Abadzis
7/13 – I’d So Rather Be Reading interviews Alison Wilgus
7/14 – The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia interviews Molly Ostertag
7/14 – Adventures of a Book Junkie interviews Nidhi Chanani

Oh, and if you haven’t checked out Shattered Warrior yet, you totally should! Here’s the synopsis (or read my review!):

shattered warrior by sharon shinn and molly knox ostertag book cover
It is ten years after Colleen Cavanaugh's home world was invaded by the Derichets, a tyrannical alien race bent on exploiting the planet's mineral resources.

Most of her family died in the war, and she now lives alone in the city. Aside from her acquaintances at the factory where she toils for the Derichets, Colleen makes a single friend in Jann, a member of the violent group of rebels known as the Chromatti. One day Colleen receives shocking news: her niece Lucy is alive and in need of her help. Together, Colleen, Jann, and Lucy create their own tenuous family.

But Colleen must decide if it's worth risking all of their survival to join a growing underground revolution against the Derichets.


At fourteen, I was that student determined to read every single book on the pre-college reading list that my freshman year English teacher handed out. I didn’t care that there were well over a hundred “classics” listed, and that you only had to read two for her class. I was determined to be well read by the time I graduated high school, through sheer determination if need be. Luckily, I started with Jane Eyre (which I loved to pieces). With a good experience at the start, I forged on. Not every book hit the right notes, but between the failures *cough*Lady Chatterley’s Lover*cough* I scoured my local library for books about magic and dragons. And so I discovered McCaffrey’s Pern and Wrede’s Enchanted Forest at the same time as Austen and Hardy and the Brontë sisters, and I loved both kinds of books with different but equal passion. Elle Katharine White’s Heartstone is a mashup for every reader who grew up loving both dragon books and Jane Austen.

heartstone by elle katharine white book cover
A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers…something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

I went into this book thinking it would have some vague Pride and Prejudice vibes, like Jo Walton’s dragonish comedy of manners, Tooth and Claw – but I was wrong. This is a straight up mythological creature retelling, with almost-identical plotlines, similar names (Aliza Bentaine instead of Elizabeth Bennett, anyone?), and even some of the same exact language in the epistolary sections. If you’ve read P&P, there will be few-to-no surprises. And that’s okay! But be aware  - it’s basically a fanfiction AU with dragons (and gnomes, and gryphons, and so on).

So, how was it? So-so quality-wise, and yet enjoyable. Heartstone is dialogue-heavy (to the point that sometimes you’re not quite sure who is speaking). It is also written from a first-person perspective (rather than the omniscient narrative of the original), without much set-up or description. It doesn’t feel like epic fantasy, which is usually heavy on worldbuilding. I’m sure this is due in part to the fact that most readers will already be familiar with the source material, and not need introduction to the characters, their situation in life, or their relationships to one other. There’s also the juxtaposition in this case of titles, manor houses, and a class hierarchy, and informal language. It’s a bit jarring at the start, and something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (if you read that).

I didn’t like: the baby talk and dialect of the hobgoblins (when no one else seemed to have appreciable accents, even when noted in the text), that there was no resolution to the *spoiler* Elsian Minister’s plot *end spoiler*, and the necessary narrowing of perspective and characterization that a first-person tale necessitates.

In a case like this, where most of the work of plotting and characterization is either already set or expected, it is up to the author to surprise the reader, and if possible, to improve upon the source work. Heartstone didn’t accomplish either task, but it was an agreeable read, and I don’t regret spending my time with it. I think it will appeal greatly to anyone who, like me, loves both dragons and Austen.

Recommended for: devoted fans of both Jane Austen and dragons.

snow white

Do you keep track of the different publishers and imprints of the books you read? I didn’t for the longest time, even when I started blogging – I thought that the good books would rise to the top, and I’d find them no matter what. Well, my feelings have changed a bit – I have imprints or publishers that I *know* will put out good books, or that I can trust for a certain kind of experience (arty, dreamy, plot-driven, and so on). When I figure this out, I end up paying a bit more attention to their catalogs, their tweets, and I’m more likely to put their books on hold at my library. I know from experience that Candlewick publishes thoughtful, beautiful books, so that’s how Matt Phelan’s graphic novel Snow White ended up on my to-read list. Well, that and I’ll read almost any fairy tale retelling under the sun. ¯\_()_/¯

snow white by matt phelan book cover
The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

As you might expect from a book called Snow White, this graphic novel is a fairly faithful retelling of the popular fairy tale. The back story will be familiar: widowed father raises his daughter alone, then remarries – to a beautiful woman – who becomes increasingly jealous of the daughter. A “huntsman” is dispatched to kill the girl, but has a change of heart (punnnnnnnnnn). The daughter (Snow/Samantha), alone now, falls in with a group of seven little men (orphan boys), etc., etc. It’s all recognizable, and the ending is assured. So, why read this book?

The art, of course! Matt Phelan’s past work is award-winning, and he is no less talented in this volume. The mix of watercolor and pencil/ink line work is subtle, dark, and atmospheric. It fits this 1930s, noir-ish iteration of the fairy tale very well. While there aren’t any true plot surprises, the enjoyment is in the subtle changes, differences, and the play of dark and light through the lens of Depression-era New York City. I also LOVED the Art Deco typeset used on the front cover – actually the simplicity and design of the front cover may be my favorite thing about the book.

From the story, I liked that there’s a hint of uncertainty about whether it’s actually magic that the stepmother uses, or solely allure. I also thought the use of the ticker tape instead of the mirror on the wall was a clever substitution. The evil queen re-imagined as the star of the Ziegfeld Follies fit the time period, but the Follies and their context might not be familiar to readers in the intended age group. In some cases, that’s fine, because it will prompt research, but in this case it’s doubtful (tweaks to a familiar plot may trump interest in context).

Things I didn’t like: this story is very light on dialogue. Since this story will be familiar to many readers already, not a fatal flaw, but in parts it simply feels quiet, rather than menacing (which I’m going to hazard a guess is the intent of some of the panels, but certainly not all).

The second (and more substantial) criticism I had was from the point in the story where Snow White referred to opulent Christmastime department store window displays as a demonstration of ‘the magic of the city.’ The beautiful ‘magic’ of the displays in itself was not a problem – in fact, that window dressing is famous (and now traditional) and rightfully so. My issue was Snow’s audience: homeless boys who must huddle around a trash can fire for warmth, and to whom she was not offering (or able to offer) and real change in their circumstance. This juxtaposition lacked nuance and verged on needlessly cruel.  Snow entreated them to find magic and beauty in something they could not have and would not have (at that point of the story), while they were struggling for survival. Some readers may not notice this scene, or dismiss it given later developments in the story, but to me it struck a tone of privilege.

In the end, Snow White is a beautifully illustrated, if not innovative, take on the popular fairy tale.

Recommended for: die-hard fans of fairy tales, and those with an eye to beautiful graphic novel design and illustration.
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