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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Andre the Giant: Life and
Legend by Box Brown

Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: First Second
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 240
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Andre Roussimoff is known as both the lovable giant in The Princess Bride and a heroic pro-wrestling figure. He was a normal guy who'd been dealt an extraordinary hand in life. At his peak, he weighed 500 pounds and stood nearly seven and a half feet tall. But the huge stature that made his fame also signed his death warrant.

Box Brown brings his great talents as a cartoonist and biographer to this phenomenal new graphic novel. Drawing from historical records about Andre's life as well as a wealth of anecdotes from his colleagues in the wrestling world, including Hulk Hogan, and his film co-stars (Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, etc), Brown has created in Andre the Giant, the first substantive biography of one of the twentieth century's most recognizable figures. 

Look, when someone writes a graphic novel biography of Andre The Giant, I have no choice but to read it.  Call it fate or destiny or nerd cred, but it had to be done.  And thank goodness, because Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown was a trip worth taking.

Even though I grew up with this gargantuan man in my pop culture lexicon, I still know next to nothing about him except that 1- he wore that one-arm outfit for wrestling that caused my husband & I to refer to all shirts/dresses with one arm as "Andre The Giants," 2- he's hilarious and adorable in the 1987 classic The Princess Bride, and 3- he has a posse.  I can imagine it's pretty much the same for many others of my generation, and I expect it's even worse for anyone younger than me.  He really is a mythical figure for anyone born after his death in 1993.

The novel is touted as a biography, and it certainly is, but it's more of a series of stories told in a linear timeline than a traditional biography.  Box Brown's note at the beginning explains where the stories came from and why they can be taken with a grain of salt.  The drama of wrestling is also explained very well in the author's note, so I wouldn't skip it.  The world of entertainment wrestling has changed so much from the old days, and even though I knew some of these terms by hanging out with wrestling fans, there's even more to the world that never occurred to me.  It only makes Andre's story more interesting.  You can tell Brown is a true wrestling fan; his meticulous words clearly show that.

The graphic novel format is the perfect way to go to tell these stories.  It's one thing to hear Hulk Hogan talk about their "rivalry" or read Billy Crystal's account of a passed out Andre.  It's definitely better to get the visual version, especially for moments like these where there were no cameras rolling.  My favorite panels were of Andre and Terry Funk watching The Princess Bride together and Andre's guffaw at his own "anybody want a peanut?" rhyme.  It adds a level of humanity to this icon in a way little else can.  I just love that.

Brown does a great job of showing you exactly what you need to see without showing you too many details.  It's simple, but it works here. The stories speak for themselves, and the art is here to enhance that.  This is best displayed during the illustrated fights, in which the artwork and Brown’s fight commentary go hand in hand.  Brown takes you on a journey through every side of Andre-- the good, the bad, the occasionally drunk, and the uncomfortably cramped.  I especially liked the full page panels that explained acromegaly, which was why Andre was The Giant.  Within these pages, no panel is wasted.

This is a great book for anyone who's ever heard of Andre Roussimoff, the Eighth Wonder of the World.  Alternately poignant and fun, angry and silly, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend lives up to its name and its subject matter.  You should read it, boss.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Blog Tour: NIL by Lynne Matson

Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Age Group: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 384
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days--to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing Charley remembers is blacking out in an Atlanta parking lot, and when she wakes up, she’s naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley hunts for a way out. She discovers desolate beaches and human remains, but no sign of civilization--until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with hidden dangers, their greatest threat is time.

They can’t stop the clock. They can only hope to beat it. 

About the author
Lynne Matson grew up in Georgia in a house full of books and a backyard full of gnarly pines. Back then, Lynne would stay up late, reading Nancy Drew books under the covers (with a flashlight . . . a weak attempt at ninja stealth). Now she still stays up late reading books and writing them. When she doesn't have a book in her hand, you'll find her listening to music, messing around with paint, or hanging out with her husband and their four boys . . . or all of the above.

Find her online... 

On Nil, the countdown is the only thing that matters. Everyone's days are numbered, and as the old saying goes, when you're numbers up...

A wild ride full of moments that will have readers anxious for what comes next, the simple but compelling concept behind Nil is executed with utter finesse. After a single chapter,  I couldn't stop. Steady pacing, a healthy balance of action and emotion and self-aware characters with heart made for an intense but easy read.

Charley's a rookie. Thad's a veteran. Survival on Nil is no game.

Snatched out of a Target parking lot in Georgia on a hot summer day by a shimmering wall of air that couldn't possibly be real, Charley's world changes in an instant. She's whisked away to the most exotic island she's ever seen, then confronted with the harsh reality that if she fails to catch a ride back on one of the strange gates within a year she'll die. Inside the Nil City, where the teenage band of castaways lives, the ominous crosses on the naming wall serve as a grim reminder of that.

They've adopted a societal organization that places priority on those who are down to 60 days or less. There are search teams who look for gates and the naming wall to record who made it and who didn't. Throw in some gutless gate stealing and things only get more exciting.

Thad is mere months from running out of time. He's preparing the city to go on without him, whatever his end may be, when Charley arrives. As he shows her the ropes of navigating the dangerous island full of extremes, they predictably fall for each other; however, some of the moments between them are so wonderful that their near betrothal didn't really bother me. They give each other hope and inject lightness into an otherwise bleak landscape.

Lynne Matson does an outstanding job of telling this story with a straightforward, uncomplicated style, which I found very refreshing. This novel is unencumbered by genre or machinations, making it clear from page one that survival on Nil isn't living. In many ways, it's just waiting for death.

What lent believability to the the story is the characters' recognition that life in a hell with the appearance of paradise is full of ironies that can drive you mad. Very early on, Thad is at the naming wall tracing his name and says he's "earned the right to a few whacked-out rituals" after nine months on the Nil. Matson also does a great job of not over explaining how island society evolved and where their tools came from. More often than not Thad just acknowledges the item or structure was made by someone who came before him.

If what you're craving is a dystopian tale with a solid plot that's not too far-fetched or buried in world-building, then Nil is your book. This well-done take on the genre is definitely one I'll be recommending to anyone with a taste for dystopian and a low-tolerance for literary learning curves.