Little Mama – Halim Mahmouidi

This is a confronting and brutal depiction of child abuse and family violence. Brenda’s only a small child when she earns the nickname ‘Little Mama’; she takes on adult responsibilities, looking after her own mother. Brenda’s mother is abusive and while Brenda’s bruises don’t go unnoticed at school, no one intervenes.

Brenda’s life becomes even more volatile when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in. The only good thing in Brenda’s life is her new baby brother, Kevin, who she cares for and adores.

Told mostly in flashbacks while adult Brenda tells her therapist about her traumatic childhood, this is not a fun read. The long term effects of trauma are evident in this story – Brenda’s guilt and shame, the effects on her self esteem, the intrusive nature of the memories – but you also get to see her resilience, despite experiences that understandably made her want to give up at times.

Because this story is told throughout therapy sessions it can feel disjointed at times, but each memory adds to the overall picture. I felt uncomfortable the entire time I was reading, always dreading the next violent act. This made the story feel more authentic to me because that’s what ongoing violence feels like – unable to enjoy any respite because you’re always waiting for the next time.

I fumed at the inaction of everyone who knew (or suspected) what was occurring in this home and failed to protect these children. We can always do better where child protection is concerned; I can only hope this is a story of how things used to be.

The colour scheme felt in keeping with the atmosphere of the story, essentially black and white, offset by a muted green throughout. I may be overthinking this but I did wonder if the green used was intended to mimic a faded bruise, even though it was a softer and prettier green on the screen I viewed the graphic novel on than a bruise is.

Content warnings include physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, animal abuse, family violence and suicidal ideation.

Thank you to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Life isn’t easy for little Brenda, whose single teenage mum is immature, selfish, and prone to violent mood swings. Brenda takes care of her as best she can, missing out on many childhood joys to be her mother’s Little Mama. Sadly, her already challenging existence gets even worse when her mum’s abusive boyfriend moves in. Brenda loves having a new baby brother, but her home life soon turns into pure living hell. Finally, she reaches her breaking point, and must find the courage to save herself and embark on the difficult road towards recovery. A heartbreaking and inspiring tale of abuse and survival.

Hopping forward and backward through time through the framing device of therapy, the story unfolds as young Brenda recounts her tale, visibly maturing as the book (and sessions) continue. At first, we think it might be a child psychology session, but slowly we realize that it is in fact the adult Brenda merely feeling like the child she was at whatever age she is at during her storytelling.

A powerful story about child abuse, spousal abuse, and surviving the trauma toward hopeful blue skies.

Sheets – Brenna Thummler

I was bowled over by Brenna Thummler’s illustrations in Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel so when I heard she had written her own graphic novel I was all in. I simply adore Brenna’s ability to capture an image and present it in a way that I want her to draw the entire world for me. Seriously, I can’t get enough. Her use of colour is absolutely gorgeous and she’s able to evoke the emotion of a scene through colour as well as the images. I enjoy finding Easter eggs so I loved that Anne of Green Gables is in view a couple of times in Marjorie’s school library.

As soon as Sheets downloaded on my iPad I devoured it. That was months ago and I never got around to telling anyone how amazing it was… until now. This graphic novel is amazing!!! I’ve just read it for a second time and I’m still in love with the artwork. I felt there was something missing in the story that I couldn’t put my finger on during my first read but I didn’t feel that way during my reread.

Marjorie’s mother died last spring and since then her father has been essentially MIA, holed up in his bedroom most of the time. Marjorie (at 13!) has been left to singlehandedly run the family laundromat business, do the household chores, look after her father and younger brother, and attend school. Any combination of these would be a monumental ask and that’s before you take into consideration that she’s grieving her mother and feels completely alone. The family business is in danger of closing, with some help from Mr Saubertuck, who is the dastardly villain of the story.

Wendell is also lonely. He died a year ago and doesn’t fit in with the other ghosts. Wendell discovers the laundromat and accidentally makes life more difficult for Marjorie, but perhaps there’s a way for these two lonely kids to help each other.

During my first read I had trouble getting past the fact that 13 year old Marjorie is effectively running the family business by herself because her father’s grief has made him withdraw from his life. I couldn’t believe that the customers could be so mean to a kid who shouldn’t have been doing all of that work in the first place and that no one who was alive stepped up to help her or her family.

During my second read I focused more on the friendship between Marjorie and Wendell. It’s such a sad story, dealing with the pain of grief and feeling all alone in the world. However it also touches on forgiveness and perseverance, and is ultimately hopeful.

I’m really keen to see what Brenna comes up with next. I don’t care what the story is; I just want to see more of her beautiful illustrations.

Thank you very much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen year old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she’s worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt’s Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain. 

Noble Volume 1: God Shots – Brandon Thomas

Illustrations – Roger Robinson

Colours – Juan Fernández

The blurb for this graphic novel sounded like a mash up of lots of movies I’ve enjoyed and while it’s not an especially original concept, it sounded like it would be fun. We have astronauts on a suicide mission to save Earth from an asteroid (Hi, Armageddon, etc). Somehow while saving the world one of the astronauts learns a new trick. David now has telekinesis (Hello, Carrie and Matilda).

For some reason David can’t remember much of anything at all (Hiya, Dory). There’s a villain (Hey, every action film ever!) and a wife that’s fighting to get her husband back (take your pick!). Astrid, David’s wife, is a real badass and I would’ve liked to have seen her in action some more because she had potential to wreak havoc.

Unfortunately there was so much jumping around that if I hadn’t already read the blurb I would have been completely lost and even with that information I still couldn’t really connect the dots with any consistency until around the halfway mark. There were so many time shifts, back and forth to different time periods both before and after the ‘event’.

The main character has no idea who they are so they’re no help to the reader but they do get flashbacks, oftentimes in the middle of a fight scene. There’s a lot of action, with people fighting all over the place as David’s powers continue to grow stronger for some reason.

Had there been smoother transitions and some more information early on to help readers get into the story and get to know the characters this could have been a winner. As it stands I really struggled to make it to the point where the story was starting to make sense and I never really connected to the characters.

While the story will be continuing I won’t be following along, which is a shame because the illustrations were really well done and the story itself had a lot of potential. There are some explanations given along the way but not enough to balance out the frustration I felt at the frenetic time shifts.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Astronaut David Powell was one of the team of five astronauts who took on the suicide mission of destroying the Icarus2 asteroid before it could collide with Earth and annihilate all life on the planet. The team succeeded, but as a result of the explosion, David gained the ability of telekinesis, the means of moving matter with one’s mind. David also lost his memories.

Now, back on Earth, David is travelling throughout the world, taking on different identities and jobs, helping people while his powers grow. Fighting to stay alive and out of the reach of the Foresight Corporation and its CEO, Lorena Payan. Hoping to one day remember his life, his name, and the mysterious woman and young boy in his memory flashes. His wife and son.

David’s wife, Astrid Allen-Powell, has been receiving secret messages from an informant within Foresight, confirming David is alive and his movements. Astrid is now on a mission: to get her husband back. To put her family back together. Astrid Allen-Powell is much more than most people realise, and she will use every skill and weapon in her arsenal to get back the man she loves. 

The Scarecrow Princess – Federico Rossi Edrig

”You know what, Morrigan Moore? Your endless whingeing is wearing a bit thin.”

I couldn’t say it better, Mr King of the Crows. Morrigan Moore is a fairly impressive tantrum thrower. Throughout the story she winds up yelling at pretty much everyone.

Morrigan is fourteen and isn’t happy about moving (again!) to the middle of nowhere. Edgar, her older brother and Sophie, her mother are gathering information about the King of the Crows and the Scarecrow Prince for their next book in the Myths of Albion series.

After a crow steals her hair pin and she gets cranky (again!), Morrigan winds up meeting Alma, a potential friend if she can put up with Morrigan’s anger issues, and Dandelion, one of the dogs Alma is paid to walk by rich people.

When Dandelion pulls hard on her leash to chase a crow (yes, they’re everywhere in this story) Alma’s bracelet breaks and ends up in Widow Abbott’s yard, a recluse and the oldest woman in town. Although Alma tells her not to, Morrigan decides to find the broken bracelet.

As soon as she retrieves it, Widow Abbott appears, warns Morrigan that she’s exposed, that shiny objects attract him and he has eyes and ears everywhere, before hustling the new girl inside. Who has eyes everywhere? The King of the Crows and apparently underestimating his threat only makes him more dangerous, so pay attention! Arming Morrigan with a button for protection, Widow Abbott sends her on her way. Yeah, that’ll help! Thanks, scary old lady!

Then there are some action scenes and kidnapping, followed by watching Morrigan masturbate before she has a suggestive conversation with the creepy Crow Man, who incidentally is not just her senior but at least several hundred years older than her. That’s if he’s not immortal. I don’t know. I’m pretty sketchy on some of the details. Maybe I missed some of the really important links but some of the scenes appeared jumpy, without the connection needed to get the full picture.

Morrigan has some wicked eyebrows and one of the best angry faces I’ve ever seen,

but I don’t know why a fourteen year old is wandering around preparing for battle yet forgets to put on her underwear. Seriously! Why did we need a naked fourteen year old girl facing off against a naked man of indeterminate age but somewhere in the ‘why aren’t you dead already?’ range?!

While I’m asking questions, why are Morrigan’s older brother and her mother consistently referred to as her folks? Was something lost in the translation? Why does Morrigan’s brother look positively evil in some of the panels where he’s smiling?

While I was really interested in this graphic novel based on the blurb and cover image I found a lot of the scenes with Crow Guy really hard to decipher. There’s plenty of black swooshing around the pages but it’s hiding the detail of what’s actually happening a fair amount of the time.

While I was initially hooked because we were setting off to investigate a local legend and that should be awesome, I wound up disappointed. I guess I should’ve listened when Morrigan’s mother said at the beginning:

”It’s not the job of an author to give the reader what they want … It is the job of an author to give the reader what they need.”

I didn’t get what I wanted or hoped for. Did I get what I needed? I guess the author thinks so. Unfortunately I won’t be recommending this one.

Thank you to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Morrigan Moore has always been moody, but her new home is the worst. Her novelist mother has dragged her to the countryside, drawn by the lost myth of the King of Crows, a dark figure of theft and deceit, and the Scarecrow Prince, the only one who can stand against him. When Morrigan finds herself swept up in the legend, she’ll have no choice but to take on the Scarecrow Prince’s mantel, and to stand and fight. For her town, her family, and her own future. This lushly drawn graphic novel will pull you into its sinister secrets and not let go till the final page. For fans of Coraline and Over the Garden Wall.

Wrapped Up Volume 1 – Dave Scheidt & Scoot McMahon

Wrapped Up Volume 1 features Milo, a twelve year old mummy who’s passionate about pizza and skateboarding. If you want to embarrass him just call him ‘Beetle’. Milo lives with his mummy Mum, archaeologist stepfather Henry and older stepsister Jill. For some reason poor mummy Dad lives with this blended family and no one seems to be weirded out by this. The next door neighbour is a wizard that has no name and is friends with Milo.

I’m not sure how this works but mummy Mum and mummy Dad wound up with a mummy son, even though, being mummies, they’ve been dead for quite a while. This is one of those graphic novels where you need to suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow. For example, in the introductory story a gorilla interrupts the family’s pizza dinner by crashing through the wall and then falls in love with Milo.

In Night of the Pizza Knight Milo wishes he could have pizza every day and No-Name-Wizard who appears perpetually drunk and/or stoned (potions are mentioned) grants Milo’s wish. They hadn’t counted on the arrival of the Pizza Knight or the ire of a cheesed off (sorry!) pizza delivery guy.

In Mummy vs Wild Jill asks Milo to meet her at the zoo. Amira, who we haven’t met until now, tags along with Milo. Once at the zoo the three split up and all of a sudden Milo is being chased and crawled over by zoo animals. This was my least favourite story in the collection.

In The Babysitter’s Flub Milo’s mummy Dad is going on a date and has arranged for Milo to have a witch in training babysitter that is younger than he is. This story features a chocolate milk cow and a psychotic pizza.

In The Ewww-y Decimal System Milo’s mummy Mum has a job for Milo at the library where she works. She needs him to locate the book that someone shelved after vomiting in it as the smell is (obviously) bothering the customers.

In Killer Cats and Mummy Wraps the wizard next door is certain that evil cats are trying to kill him.

In Keep It Down Milo can’t sleep because of the teenage jock frogs having a party in the back yard.

In Hungry, Hungry Kaiju it’s up to Milo to save the day when a ravenous monster causes havoc.

In Children of the Night Jill is having a picnic with her vampire friends one night in the cemetery (as you do). They realise they’ve been caught and have to bail, leaving their snacks behind 😢, but the person behind the torch light isn’t who they thought it was.

In Night of the Creepy Kewpie think Chucky but it’s a Kewpie doll instead and it’s decided Milo is its father.

In Halloween Treats Milo and the Wizard-With-No-Name learn what becomes of the discarded Halloween candy that nobody likes.

My favourite character in this strange family is Jill. She rocks awesome purple hair, loves vampires, has great clothes, jewellery and makeup, and works in a comic book store.

There were several artists involved in this collection. My favourite artwork was by Scoot McMahon and would have preferred it had they illustrated the entire book. There wasn’t anything wrong with the other artists’ work. I just really liked Scoot’s style.

My favourite panel features a gigantic purple cat doing a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man impersonation by reaching for Milo and Wizard-Man who are on the roof of a building. The awesome thing about this gigantic cat is that it’s actually all of the cats joined together to form the shape of the “man-cat”.

This collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were a couple of stories I wasn’t a fan of and I felt the others needed to be fleshed out (apologies again!) some more. I enjoyed the stories more once I stopped questioning everything that didn’t make sense to me and let them flow over me instead. The series itself has potential and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

Thank you very much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Milo is just your average twelve-year-old boy. His loving parents are mummies, his best friend is an old wizard, and his babysitters are witches. When Milo isn’t busy at school or visiting the comic book store, he loves to hang out with cool teen vampires, play with magical kitties, feed a hungry kaiju, and avoid a love-crazed gorilla at all costs. You know, typical kid stuff.

Generations – Flavia Biondi

Translator – Carla Roncalli de Montorio

Starting this graphic novel I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was initially wary because I knew it had been translated from Italian. I always worry I’m going to miss key elements in translated works but Carla Roncalli De Montorio has done a wonderful job.

Beginning with Matteo’s train trip to his home town after three years in Milan with his boyfriend, he is certain he will not be welcomed into his father’s home. Returning with no money, job or relationship, he lands on his Nan’s doorstep, greeted by his pregnant cousin Sara. Matteo is surprised to see his aunts A, B and C are now living with his Nan. He also meets Odina, his Nan’s caregiver and Francesco, his Nan’s nurse.

Through interactions with his family, Odina and Francesco, Matteo begins to learn to deal with his problems rather than running away from them. His individual family members, some more accepting of him than others, teach him about love, support, strength and what the generations can learn from one another.

I certainly didn’t expect to cry while reading something with so few words. I guess that tells you something about how powerful this story is. Flavia Biondi, who incidentally has done a brilliant job conveying the story both in words and images, created a cast of complex characters who I came to love more because of their flaws, not despite them.

The analogy of people being apples and our family being a tree was just beautiful. Exploring themes of love, loss, grief, sexuality, homophobia and acceptance, this graphic novel’s depth pleasantly surprised me.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After three years in Milan, Matteo returns home to the provincial country town where he was born and from which he had fled. Coming out as a young gay man in a provincial country town had led to ugly clashes with his conservative father, and the urban metropolis of Milan had been a welcome change from the stifling small town life of his childhood and the anger and bewilderment of some members of his family. But now, Matteo finds himself with little choice but to return home, with no money, no job, and an uncertain future, like so many other young people of his millennial generation. Afraid of encountering his estranged father, he instead takes refuge with his extended family, at a house shared by his grandmother, three aunts, and his very pregnant cousin. As he tries to rebuild his life, reconnecting with the women of his family and old hometown friends, he warily confronts a few truths about the other generations of his family – from their bigotry to their love, and tolerance, and acceptance – and a few truths about himself, including his fears of confrontation and commitment.

The Little Red Wolf – Amélie Fléchais

Illustrations – Jeremy Melloul

Spoilers Ahead!

Well, that was dark and depressing. The young wolf is on his way to his grandmother’s house to deliver a freshly slaughtered rabbit and is warned to stay away from a certain area of the forest because that’s where the horrible hunter and his daughter live. On the way he gets distracted, hungry and lost. He eats the rabbit intended for his grandmother and then worries about getting into trouble.

Along comes a nice young girl who offers to take him to her place for a replacement rabbit and he naïvely follows, unknowingly walking into a trap. We end up hearing two versions of the same story at the end of the book, both told as songs to the same tune. In one version the wolves killed the hunter’s wife. Therefore, wolves are evil and we must kill them all. In the other version the hunter’s wife was friends with the wolves and when the hunter couldn’t find his wife one night he got worried and searched for her. Seeing her with the wolves he was afraid and shot at the wolves, accidentally killing his wife.

While some of the illustrations are intricate and gorgeous, others are dark and would most likely give young children nightmares if this was their bedtime story. I know that generally the fairy tales we’ve known all our lives didn’t originate with the Disney version we’re used to but that doesn’t mean I want to read them to a young child. I can see this book being appreciated by some older children and adults but I personally wouldn’t want to buy it.

Thank you very much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A young wolf, on a journey to bring his grandmother a rabbit, is charmed by the nice little girl who offers to help him … but nice is not the same as good.

Taproot – Keezy Young

I was drawn to Keezy Young’s Taproot by the paranormal story elements and the interesting use of muted colours on the cover. Both indicated that this graphic novel would stand apart from others I’ve previously read. While I’m used to graphic novels that are brightly coloured and full of action sequences, I felt like I was floating through a dream while reading Taproot.

Hamal has been able to see ghosts since childhood when he thought they were imaginary friends. Hamal works as a gardener at Mr. Takashi’s Flowers and has conversations with his ghost friends while he’s working, which causes his boss and customers to find him odd but he’s so good at his job that it doesn’t cause him any real problems.

I’m usually quite allergic to love stories but this one between Hamal, the gardener and Blue, the ghost was so sweet that my allergy didn’t flare up once. Blue was lonely when he first started hanging around Hamal. Blue was shocked to learn that Hamal could see and communicate with ghosts. A friendship formed between the two before blossoming into mutual love.

Besides his friendship and love with Blue, Hamal is also friends with two ghostie girls, Joey who is a child and April, a mischievous teenager. All three are in-betweeners, ghosts that for whatever reason haven’t moved on yet.

Something strange is happening in the spirit world. The ghosts are being pulled into a dark forest for short periods of time but no one knows why. One time Blue is pulled into this mysterious forest he meets a reaper who wants to make a deal. Will Blue make the ultimate sacrifice for love?

I did have a bit of trouble connecting all of the dots during my first read as there was a lot covered in a short story and it seemed to jump around a bit. I enjoyed my second run through a lot more and found it a much more cohesive and satisfying read, getting my head around connections I’d missed the first time.

I loved the use of colour throughout this graphic novel, with the contrast between a dominance of soft greens and blues in Hamal’s world and the harsh black and dull greys and browns of the forest. The colours and style of Keezy Young’s illustrations added to the overall mood of the graphic novel, something that would have been diminished had bright colours been used. I adored the continued use of flowers throughout the story.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Lion Forge and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Blue is having a hard time moving on. He’s in love with his best friend. He’s also dead. Luckily, Hamal can see ghosts, leaving Blue free to haunt him to his heart’s content. But something eerie is happening in town, leaving the local afterlife unsettled, and when Blue realizes Hamal’s strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means … leaving him.