Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw

After 40-years of marriage, Maggie and David Loony inform their three adult children that they are getting a divorce. As part of a final reunion, the family gathers at their parents beach-side home for one last time. Dennis, the eldest of the three children, brings his wife and baby son. While trying to understand the reason for his parents' breakup, he ends up gaining insight into his own marriage. The middle-child Claire, meanwhile, struggles to assert her own identity after undergoing her own divorce, while raising her teenager daughter Jill, who is also at her grandparents house. Finally there is Peter, the youngest son, who is overcome by feelings of being an outcast, something he has felt all his life. To symbolize this feeling of being different, Peter's character is drawn with a frog's head. His feeling of alienation, however, is soon shaken up, when a chance encounter with a woman on the beach blossoms into an unexpected romance.

This graphic novel left me with mixed feelings. At its best, the story comes across as an incredibly honest portrayal of a family, to the point that parts of the book seem like you are flipping through an intimate photo album. Some panels are particularly moving, and certain stretches of the story contain beautiful artwork. On the downside, certain sections of the story felt like scenes from a pretentious art film, with overly dramatic landscape shots and panel combinations that seemed to sigh, "look at my, I'm so deep."

By the final stages of the novel, however, the positives started to outweigh the negatives. What started out as a shrug of my shoulders (especially in the beginning, when I felt very little connection to the characters, and some of the artwork came across as weak), soon changed into strong interest, as I eagerly turned page after page to see how the Loony family story would play out. To summarize, this story did not make a good first impression on me, but with each page that I turned (this graphic novel is more than 700-pages) the story got better and better, and the book was even more impressive when I re-read parts of the story line.

3 out of 5 stars

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe knew something was wrong when her fiancé, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, stopped going to his garage, while mumbling about the horrible things that he had done in his life. Worried about this strange turn of events, Mma Ramotswe soon discovers that her beloved is suffering from depression, and that his condition is more complicated than she first thought.

While dealing with her love's unexpected problem, Precious is hired by a Government Man to investigate the allege poisoning of his brother, while her assistant detective, Mma Makutsi, is busy looking into the moral character of the final contestants in a beauty pageant. In the middle of these adventures, a strange boy is found in the wild, without a name or apparent family, which leads some to think that he may have been raised by a pack of animals.

In this third installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the reader is able to continue their "friendship" with Mma Ramotswe, the lovable proprietor of Botswana's only female detective agency. With positive and life affirming stories, this volume touches on such issues as mental illness, the abuse that some domestic workers undergo in Africa, and the ability of women to rise up in the traditionally male business world and be first-rate managers. While not as captivating as the first two books (which were very good) this novel is still quite enjoyable, with its heartwarming characters and excellent writing. By the end of the book, I wanted to continue reading the series, so I could find out more about life of the affable and kind Precious Ramotswe.

3 out of 5 stars