Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #40: Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula July 26, 2010

In keeping with my fascination with the macabre, I took a small detour to some nonfiction this time.  (I fully acknowledge that I need to read more nonfiction.)

This one of the slim volumes in Scholastic’s “A Wicked History” series.

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Vlad the Impaler:  The Real Count Dracula (A Wicked History) by Enid A. Goldberg & Norman Itzkowitz

Franklin Watts (September 2009)

Pretty standard cover fare. I like the graffiti-style scrawl overlay.

Also available in the Wicked History Series:

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As biographies go, Vlad was pretty straightforward.  It’s clearly a series built on the premise of snaring readers with a bit of sensationalism.  But, from the viewpoint of a teacher and librarian, I can’t say I completely disapprove.

Strengths: The publishers hearts appear to be in the right place.  Get them reading.  I think we can all appreciate that it sometimes takes some pretty flashy stuff to get the attention of younger readers.  This is a good way to whet their appetites for reading nonfiction.  There will probably be more than a few morbid-minded readers in the audience that may be driven to read more. There are maps, glossaries, timelines, etc., all of which are good additions.

Potential Flaws: What appears to be a boon is also something of a weakness here.  As a sampling, it’s somewhat interesting, but they do lack depth.  There is only so far you can go in a volume so slim.  A number of reviews I found (none by major publications, unfortunately) cite the viewpoints of these books to be pretty negative and one-sided.

My Rating:

If you take these books at face value, they’re at least a way to get some readers to foray into nonfiction.  While they rely on some sensationalism, it’s somewhat watered down.  Readers expecting a spectacle will be disappointed.

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What I’m Reading #39: Mercury July 16, 2010

After reading Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason, I decided to go back to a genre close to my heart: Graphic Novels.

Graphic Novels were an important part of my Master’s Project, so I’m always interested in what’s out there.

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Mercury by Hope Larsen

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010

A striking cover, one that in retrospect is particularly appropriate...

I wasn't able to find the real source of this postcard, but I like the color effects used here. The book itself is entirely done in black and white.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 8 Up—Set in Nova Scotia, this book relates two coming-of-age stories in tandem, showing how the past interweaves with the present. In the present, Tara and her mother have lost their old farmhouse in a fire, and Tara’s mother is struggling to support them from far away while Tara lives with relatives. She loved the old house and wants to rebuild it, but her mother is pressured to find a job elsewhere. In 1859, Josey, Tara’s ancestor, falls in love with a gold dowser who has convinced her father to open a mine. Her mother, who has supernatural sight, is sure that the dowser means no good. The stories collide as Tara goes searching for the gold said to have been hidden on her property, and Josey’s tale reveals how it came to be hidden. Elements of the supernatural echo in both settings as Josey experiences the same visions her mother has and Tara discovers that she has a knack for dowsing. Though the end of the story leaves things hanging for Tara and her mother, the actions that the girl takes to gain control of her destiny suggest that she will find a way to achieve her goals. The storytelling, both in words and pictures, brilliantly offers details from Canadian history and modern life. The dialogue varies from funny to poignant. An excellent graphic novel, particularly for fans of Faith Erin Hicks’s The War at Ellsmere (Slave Labor, 2008).—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Larson (Chiggers, 2008) won an Eisner Award for Special Recognition in 2007 and is establishing an oeuvre of thoughtful, girl-centric graphic novels that often feature touches of unobtrusive fantasy, lending a dreamy quality that helps characterize her distinctive storytelling style. Mercury tells two tales: one of Josey, who lives in a small Canadian town in 1859; and the other of her descendant, Tara, who has returned to the same town in 2009, a year after her house burned to the ground. Tenth-grader Tara’s burgeoning relationships and her difficulty reacclimating to her old school will be more identifiable than Josey’s forbidden courtship with itinerant prospector Asa, but the use of two time lines delineates the different eras’ outlooks on family and romance, which brings some immutable human truths into high relief. The gentle dose of magic realism doesn’t feel incongruous and underscores the powerful ways in which past touches present. The insights unfold leisurely, but patient readers will find themselves deeply invested. Comparisons to Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003) wouldn’t be inappropriate, but Larson continues to perfect her own unique style and offers something the graphic format is sadly short on: a coming-of-age story for girls. Grades 9-12. –Jesse Karp –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I like the Booklist review because of its focus on the coming-of-age story for girls.  I’d say I’m pretty much on board with both reviews here.

Strengths: This will have a broad appeal for many readers.  For obvious reasons, it will probably speak to girls more.  However, the appeal of the graphic novel will pull in other groups as well.  Graphic novels are excellent alternatives for those who may struggle with reading.  Larson’s illustrations are straightforward and the dialogue easy to follow:

A page from "Mercury," courtesy of ComicBookResources.com

Tara is a likable heroine, but not perfect, and many readers will identify with her social awkwardness.  As the narrative alternates between the past and the present, it’s easy to follow, not just by the plot changes.  Larson emphasizes through format and the use of black backgrounds on the pages of the story in the past.  It’s another helpful visual cue for a struggling reader.

A page from the past. Courtesy of ComicBookResources.com.

Overall, it’s a fast, interesting read.

Potential Flaws: I didn’t have too many complaints about this one.  The ending is a little abrupt.  Without giving spoilers, it’s hard to verbalize why I feel this way.  There are also details about Tara from before the beginning of the narrative that I wanted, as well as details about Josey’s life afterward.  I suppose it’s the author’s choice what to add and what to lose, but as a reader, I was left yearning for more detail.

My Rating:

A fast-paced, unique tale.  Applause to the author for featuring a girl’s coming-of-age tale in a graphic novel.  Excellent use of the alternating past/present narrative.