Book Review: Family Tree (Volume Two) “Seeds” by Jeff Lemire, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester & Ryan Cody

TL;DR – the journey continues as Loretta tries to stop Meg’s transformation from happening. Pieces start coming together as the story jumps between past and present to unveil the full apocalyptic picture.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for my review of Family Tree (Volume 1) and what has happened so far.

Young Meg is fast turning into a tree. Leaves, bark, and branches. The full caboodle. Meg’s mum and brother, Loretta and Josh, are riding in a car with a doctor (who comes off like a voodoo witch) in the driver’s seat trying to outrun some pursuers looking to hunt down Meg and capture (or kill) her. They eventually stop on the side of the road, rain pouring down, and manage to move Meg to the edges of a forest. Her feet have transformed into roots and though she tries to tell her mum that she’s okay, Loretta watches in horror as her daughter turns into a full fledged tree.

The story then jumps to the future where the world has been overrun by vegetation and an adult Josh is wandering the wilderness trying to survive.

It then jumps again to the past prior to Meg’s transformation where we see the events of Meg’s father, Darcy, reuniting with Meg’s grandfather at a bar, and Darcy revealing to his father the same vegetative affliction (i.e., Darcy was also turning into a tree).

We are brought back to the present where Mr. Hayes (Darcy’s dad) is tied to a chair all beaten up after defending Loretta and the kids against a group of thugs seeking to hunt Meg down. Thanks to Mr. Hayes, he was able to provide enough time for Loretta and the kids to escape with the good witch doctor but was captured as a result. Here we learn, that the organisation hunting down humans-turning-into-trees is being led by a mysterious woman whose father also suffered from the same transformation. She believes she is protecting humanity from sort of disease, but Mr. Hayes believes that her mission is wrong because no matter how many her organisation has killed to date, the transformation keeps happening to others.

Review

The second volume of Family Tree goes deeper into a war between two opposing factions. There is the faction that is seeking to destroy the humans that have turned into trees, and there are those who believe the transformation is meant to happen.

While the second volume conveys the turmoil and horror being experienced by Loretta in seeing her daughter turning into wood and leaves (and the illustrations convey this horror very well), the story itself does little to progress from the first volume.

Nothing is revealed as to why or how this is happening. There is no explanation as to why the faction seeking to literally uproot and chainsaw all human-turning-trees is doing what they are doing. Do they perceive the transformation to be a disease? A curse? Or something else?

All we know is that certain people are experiencing it, and there appears to be no cure. So, while the story jumps between past and present, little light is shed on why the hell it is happening in the first place.

By the end of the second volume, Meg has turned into a giant tree and is able to communicate telepathically to her mother that everything is going to be okay, and she knows what is going to happen. To demonstrate this belief, when their pursuers appear on the scene with chainsaws in hand, Meg releases a pollen from her flowers and everyone not wearing a mask suddenly bursts into vegetation. Of particular note, none of Meg’s family is effected. Loretta and Josh get to witness first hand the instant eruption of more trees that were once human.

This is meant to be shocking but loses its lustre because the story hasn’t progressed enough to keep me engaged. For what it’s worth, there are only three volumes to Family Tree so it’s not like it’s being dragged out, but there isn’t enough in the story to make me think it is anything amazing. I’ll pick up volume three from the library only because I want to see how they explain the mystery, but I’m not expecting any monumental twist.

2 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Twelve) “Sour Grapes” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – To prevent the end of the world, Tony Chu has to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

By committing suicide, Mason Savoy forces Tony’s hand and results in him having to cannibalise Savoy in order to uncover the truth behind the alien fire writing and the avian flu that previously killed millions and resulted in the prohibition of chicken.

Using his cibopath powers and slowly, painfully acquiring all of Savoy’s knowledge and experience, Tony learns that the avian flu was triggered by Senator David Hamantaschen who hired the specialist services of three food-powered individuals to “broadcast” a contagion that would target any individual who consumed chicken. The reason for the Senator unleashing the mass murder of millions was in response to the fire writing in the sky. Hamantaschen deciphered the writing was from a highly advanced, alien race of chickens that have the technology to destroy planets. The writing is a warning that the denizens of a planet must stop eating chicken lest it be blown into oblivion.

Unfortunately, Hamantaschen deciphered the timing of when the chicken aliens would arrive to pass judgement incorrectly and unleashed the contagion early. The chicken aliens would not arrive for many more years, which thus follows the events in the volumes of Chew.

Now, with the end of the world just around the corner, Tony realises that the only way to survive judgement that doesn’t result in the obliteration of Earth is for all people who are eating chicken to die. However, the price that Tony has to pay to save Earth is not one he is willing to pay.

Review

The finale of Chew created from the marvellously deranged mind of John Layman and the stunning art of Rob Guillory left me speechless. In many ways, the previous volumes provided enough insight and shocking twists to try and prepare me for what would be unleashed in this final volume.

My attempts failed. I was utterly unprepared for the brutality and emotional knives that would slice me up into bite sized pieces to be cooked and stewed for days to come.

In volume eleven, I wrote about how Mason Savoy and Tony Chu had conflicting philosophies. Savoy was willing to sacrifice the few in order to save the many, but Tony did not hold to this principle. For Tony, he could not tolerate the lengths that Savoy would pursue in order to uncover the truth.

But with the knowledge that only Savoy knew how to save Earth, Tony had no choice but to take large literal chunks out of Mason and absorb his power and knowledge using his cibopath abilities.

This is when everything goes sideways.

Tony learns that the dire prophecies from The Church of the Immaculate Ova are actually true and that they’re not some simple mad cult of vegans. Their dire warnings to the world to stop eating chicken hold truth. And that truth is that an alien race of technologically superior chickens are coming to judge Earth and will wipe out the planet unless humanity stops consuming chicken.

But that’s not the worst of it.

The worst of it is a now dead Mason Savoy in psychic ghost form whispers into Tony’s ear that the only way to stop Earth’s obliteration is for Tony to eat Amelia (his wife).

Amelia, like Tony, has her own food-related power. And this power has evolved over time as she has been consuming the alien fruit (that tastes like chicken) known as Gallsaberry.

Tony has all the ingredients to do another “broadcast” that will target and wipe out all people who consume chicken just as Senator Hamantaschen unleashed years ago. This would coincide with the arrival of the alien super chickens who would see that humanity have stopped eating chickens and would pardon the rest of Earth from destruction.

However, one crucial ingredient that Tony is missing is Amelia’s power to evoke a reaction from people who read her writing.

When we first met Amelia, she was a journalist and food critic and had the ability to describe a dish with such accuracy that anyone who read the article would taste the dish. Through consumption of the Gallsaberry fruit, Amelia’s powers have slowly evolved to the point where she is close to being able to write fiction stories and evoke reactions from people including lethal food poisoning.

But Tony refuses to sacrifice Amelia to save the world.

When the alien fire writing appears in the sky once more, they both know it’s the last day before the end of the world. Tony wants to spend the day with Amelia, treasuring what time they have left. Tony wants it to be a romantic day, but instead they end up helping Tony’s older sister, Rosemary, who has her car stolen.

There is one particularly beautiful sequence where at the end, the pair are sitting on a bench, and Amelia says:

“That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with you. Because you do the right thing. You help people. You make things right. Even when you pay a price. Even when it’s awful for you.”

And though they go home together, make love, and Tony falls asleep, Amelia takes matters in her own hands. She heads to her computer and starts writing a story, tapping into her power even though she is not ready for it and in the process dies.

When Tony awakens, he sees in horror what she has done. The story she has written has a coded message that will attack anybody with chicken in their system. All Tony has to do is broadcast it using his existing powers.

John Colby (Tony’s FDA partner and long time friend) arrives and together they go on one last case to hunt down a bad guy. They succeed in stopping the bad guy, and John convinces Tony that he has to read Amelia’s story and save the Earth even if it means committing mass murder on a global scale.

But little does Tony know, John has recently been eating chicken also and while Tony ends up saving the world by broadcasting Amelia’s story, he unintentionally ends up killing John.

Thus, does Tony lose arguably all the most important people in his life. Amelia his wife, John his partner, and previously Toni his twin sister who was killed by The Vampire.

And in the end, Mason Savoy succeeded in forcing Tony to go against his principle. It’s gut wrenching.

In the final chapter of this final volume, the timeline fast forwards to when Tony is now an old man. He has been invited to the “Landing Ceremony” where the alien chickens will arrive to meet with Earth’s humans for the first time to negotiate peace.

In a final act of defiance, an act of revenge, Tony moves through the crowd of onlookers to the stage where the spaceship lands and the alien chickens disembark. He pulls out a knife and lunges at the alien leader and plunges it into his chest.

Thus, the story of Chew ends.

To the bitter end, Tony could not let go of his anger. The perceived injustice that he had to sacrifice all those he loved (as well as the murder of millions of lives) to save a planet held hostage by an alien species that acted as judge, jury and executioner was too much for him. So, he bided his time and sought revenge (or justice depending on your point view) in the only way he could, by killing the alien responsible for making him kill so many.

Truly, unreservedly, epic.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Eleven) “The Last Suppers” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Tony Chu faces off against Mason Savoy.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

The Pope has declared, “Chicken is DOOM!”

The proclamation occurs during Easter to millions of people televised worldwide. Applebee assigns Tony and John to investigate why the Pope has now become an egg worshipper and converted follower of the “Divinity of the Immaculate Ova” church. The Pope has gone on to say that eating chicken is a sin and that anyone eating chicken must die.

The pair are led back to the Pacific Island of Yamapalu where the alien fruit that tastes like chicken, Gallsaberry, grows. There they encounter Mason Savoy who convinces Tony to have a sit down, which turns out to be more precarious than either of them thought as they psychically “time-travel” back to the dinosaur ages (with the help of a food-powered individual) where they discover a species of animal that is half-human, half-chicken. Or at least, they have chicken heads with a humanoid body. Savoy reveals that this species would have become the dominant life form on Earth had they not been wiped out by an errant meteor that wiped out the Mesozoic era.

Meanwhile, Tony’s wife, Amelia has been continuing writing her novel using her food-power that allows her to write about the origins of the food that she eats (her writing so believable that anyone who reads it can taste the food also). She has been taking bites out of her own Gallsaberry and receiving images of an alien detective fighter against a mad tentacled alien eater.

Add to this that NASA have discovered another planet with alien fire writing encircling its skies and things are coming to a head.

Review

How much is a life worth? Would you kill one life to save the lives of billions of others?

For Anthony “Tony” Chu, the answer is every life is equally precious. For Mason Savoy, the answer is the lives of billions outweighs the life of one.

This philosophical conundrum is at the crux of the conflict between Tony and Mason. As two of the three known remaining cibopaths on Earth (the third being Tony’s daughter, Olive), their power to obtain the origins and events of things that they eat combined with their ability to absorb others’ food-related powers (should they decide to cannibalise them) makes them pivotal in unraveling a series of mysteries including:

  • The so-called avian flu pandemic that wiped out millions of people (including Mason’s wife).
  • Subsequent conspiracies around the government’s prohibition on chicken
  • The sudden appearance of alien fire writing encircling the Earth
  • The rise of “The Divinity of the Immaculate Ova” cult that believe that chickens should not be consumed and all chicken eaters should be killed
  • The rise of individuals who have a vast array of food-related powers, some using it to further their own ends, some seeking to serve the greater good.

For Tony and Mason, they initially started out on the same page, but they quickly diverged as Mason was willing to torture anyone who might have information to uncover the truth surrounding the mysteries listed above and would go so far as killing anyone standing in his way.

Of course, Tony stood in his way and thus an indelible chasm has separated the pair. In this volume, Mason makes one final attempt to extend an olive branch. He knows that together, they can get to the truth.

Their last supper involving psychic time travel and the revelation that a specifies of humanoid chicken once existed leads much to be speculated. But not even this can sway Tony to Mason’s side, much to Savoy’s fury.

This gives the impression that Savoy has determined that Tony must now be removed from the equation, which leads to the events in the epilogue of Volume 10, where inexplicably we see Tony holding what appears to be a murdered Amelia in his arms.

What is revealed, however, is that Amelia is actually attacked by E.G.G. terrorists and it is Mason who comes to save her. Further, Amelia, while seriously injured, is not dead. She reveals to Tony that after Mason made quick work of the terrorists, he stole the final chapters of her book and the Gallsaberry fruit that she was eating.

This leads to some brilliant writing by Layman and art by Guillory. Spattered throughout each chapter of this volume, we see Mason doing a monologue. At first, it gave me the impression that Savoy had broken the “fourth wall” and was talking to the me (the reader) directly.

His monologue revolving around why he will do anything to uncover the truth even if the path he goes down causes him to become a monster. However, I realised that he is actually talking to Tony.

I then thought that perhaps this monologue was somehow set in the future, and Mason had successfully captured Tony and is trying to explain his actions before the inevitable “now-I-have-to-kill-you moment” (thanks for listening!)

But I now believe this monologue is a message left for Tony as one of Mason’s memories. Similar to when Tony’s twin sister, Toni, was murdered by The Vampire. She took specific steps to be able to communicate to Tony even after her death.

And in a twist that I did not see coming, we discover on the final page that Mason has hung himself and left one final note for Tony which simply says, “Eat me.”

Absolutely brilliant stuff.

In this penultimate volume, Chew has surpassed my expectations and kept me guessing. I don’t want the ride to be over, and I have a feeling that the final Volume 12 will be bittersweet.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Ten) “Blood Puddin'” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Finally revealed what Tony’s twin sister whispered into his ear in order to give Tony the key to defeating The Vampire.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

John Colby’s attempts at reconciliation with his partner, Tony Chu, go bust. Tony still blames John for working with wanted fugitive Mason Savoy and roping in his daughter Olive to try and take down The Vampire. The casualties were high in the last volume, and Tony is holding onto a lot of anger.

Tony ends up working with D-Bear who reveals he has some intelligence beneath that giant Afro as they bust a couple of food-powered baddies. But these are side stories for the main one, which sees Savoy and Olive awaken in hospital and escape to hunt down the location of The Vampire once more. And this time they have Tony’s wife, Amelia, in tow.

It takes OIive’s words to strike home how much Tony has failed her as a father, going so far as to say that Savoy has taught her more and been more of a father than Tony ever has been. This makes Tony realise how important relationships are in his life, and he seeks to be better not only towards Olive but also John.

When it is finally revealed how Tony can defeat The Vampire, Tony and John have been on the same page all along. The key to The Vampire’s defeat is to eat Poyo the rooster; the greatest crime fighting rooster in the history of all roosters (and humankind).

Oh, and Mike Applebee and Caesar Valenzano, who both looked like they were on death’s door after the failed assault on The Vampire, get turned into a robotic centaur and man with a cyborg lobster claw respectively. Great stuff!

Review

Cibopaths are individuals who have the strange power to know the origins of anything they eat. For example, if they eat an apple, they know what tree the apple came from and where it grew. If they eat a steak, they get all the gruesome details of how the cow died in order to become a steak. Further, cibopaths can acquire the strengths and abilities of those things they consume. So, if they go so far as taking enough bites out of a person who has other food-related powers, then the cibopath will acquire that other food-related power also.

There are four known cibopaths: Tony Chu, Mason Savoy, Olive Chu and The Vampire. Of the four, The Vampire is the primary antagonist of the Chew series. He has been hunting down every person with food-related powers, all around the world, to kill and consume them in order to acquire a new power.

The Vampire is responsible for the murder of Tony’s sister, Toni Chu (who had the food-related power to see into the future of those she takes a bite out of). Toni left a piece of her toe for her brother to consume, so she could communicate to him (by him eating her toe) after she gets murdered. In that exchange, she whispered something into Tony’s ear telling him how to defeat The Vampire, but we don’t get to see what she said until this volume.

And now, it all makes sense.

The last volume (Vol Nine) saw the shocking end of Poyo the killer rooster. John Layman has done something very clever. Poyo has been a recurring character since the beginning, and while integral in demonstrating the ongoing ‘food-related theme’ of the series and showing Poyo is the baddest and most deadly of all poultry-related creatures, he was presented as a side character in following volumes. In fact, his appearance was usually in a two-page spread that gave artist, Rob Guillory, the freedom to go crazy showing Poyo fighting against some super food-powered monster. The two-page spread was often a ‘Street Fighter’ style depiction that would look cool on a poster, but it always felt like a strange side-bar in the Chew series.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Poyo had his neck broken, not by a super food-powered monster, but by John Colby. The fact that they are both on the same team, looking to stop The Vampire and solve food-powered murders, allows John to get close enough to Poyo and unexpectedly breaking the poor bird’s neck. The subsequent confusion (and ending of volume nine) was both brilliant and agonising as I had to grab the next volume post haste.

And like I said, it now makes sense. John realises that the only way Tony can stop The Vampire is to acquire all the fighting knowledge, anger, skill and downright bad-ass attitude of Poyo by eating the bird. But, initially, Tony doesn’t want to hear anything John has to say after Colby’s failed incursion on The Vampire’s compound led to Olive badly hurt and in hospital.

After much butting of heads, the pair finally come together and reveal what the other doesn’t realise they already know. Tony reveals his sister told him to eat Poyo, and John reveals his belief that the only way to stop The Vampire is to eat Poyo. The moment is both funny and marvelously well-timed.

Thus, Tony fulfills his destiny and kills The Vampire. The confrontation is action packed and clever as Tony ends up killing The Vampire the same way The Vampire killed Tony’s sister, by breaking his neck. The Vampire believes, however, he has the last laugh as he thinks Tony will take a few bites out of him to acquire all of The Vampire’s collected food-related power. The Vampire conveying mirth at the idea that he will live on in Tony, but to his surprise, Tony says he doesn’t want any of those powers and finishes his arch nemesis off.

But the series is not over. There is still much that is unresolved including the alien fire writing in the sky, the mystery of the avian flu, the origins of the individuals who have acquired food-related powers and the space fruit known as Gallsaberry, which tastes like chicken.

And in the epilogue on the final page of Volume Ten, we inexplicably see Amelia (Tony’s wife) dying (or dead?) in his arms. What? Why? Who? How?

Layman and Guillory are not holding anything back. Riveting stuff from first page to last.

5 out of 5.

Book Review: Family Tree (Volume One) “Sapling” by Jeff Lemire, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester & Ryan Cody

TL;DR – an apocalyptic tale with elements of fantasy and horror about a young girl who starts to turn into a tree and her family seeking to save her.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Loretta is a single mother working at a convenience store, trying to support her two kids, Josh and Meg. When Josh’s high school calls, she needs to pick him up because he’s in trouble for being found in possession of marijuana, Loretta drives by and picks Meg up from her school first. In the car, Meg complains that her skin is itchy and shows her mum a nasty rash. Loretta intends to take her to the doctor, but they have to pick up Josh.

While Loretta meets with the principal, Meg is left waiting in the hallway outside the office and an old man comes up to her and hands her a bag saying she is going to need it.

After a somewhat heated debate with the principal, Loretta takes her kids home and Meg shows her that her back now feels itchy. When she lifts her shirt up, to their horror, they see Meg has a tree branch growing out of her and other parts of her body now look like tree bark.

Loretta and Josh attempt to rush Meg to the hospital but a van collides with their car. A group of men with weapons jump out and try to grab Meg, but the old man appears with a shotgun and starts firing away at Meg’s assailants. The old man turns out to be Josh and Meg’s estranged grandfather.

Thus begins a journey to uncover the mystery behind Meg transforming into a tree, and whether it can be prevented. Why are there people looking to kidnap Meg? What happened to Josh and Meg’s father (Loretta’s husband who abandoned them)? And what does the grandfather know?

Review

Family Tree is a graphic novel series about a mother seeking to save her daughter from turning into a literal tree. The first volume – Sapling – is comprised of the first four issues and mixes current events of Loretta trying to understand what is happening to her daughter with past events involving Loretta’s husband who was cursed with the same fate.

Turns out Meg’s father also succumbed to the horrifying transformation, which is kept a mystery in volume one as to whether it’s a disease, some mad scientist experiment gone wrong, or something else.

Past events show Meg’s grandfather on the run with his son and being hunted down by a group of people whose origins are unknown. Who are they? Who do they work for? How do they know about Meg’s father’s transformation? What are they after?

While the premise sounds ludicrous, the writing of Lemire combined with the effecting art of Gapstur, Hester and Cody create a surprisingly atmospheric story that has just enough mystery that you’ll want to find out what is happening.

Lemire instills emotional pull, especially with the short scenes of dialogue we see between Meg’s grandfather and practically-turned-into-tree Meg’s father in a motel room that you can’t help but be drawn into their predicament.

Meg’s grandfather then sets off to find Loretta and the kids knowing somehow that Meg will be soon suffering the same change. There are hints shown in an other-worldly scene where Meg spiritually connects to her deceased father, and they speak of living together within the confines of a giant tree (a tree so large that it is another world unto itself).

But volume one focuses primarily on the family being hunted. The ending strikes a brutal chord as we witness the grandfather go down fighting against the group of thugs hunting Meg to give Loretta and the kids the chance to escape.

Overall, the first volume gives the feeling there is no messing about. There are three volumes in total to Family Tree so story and art are not given the luxury of diving more in-depth into backstory like other lengthy graphic novel series such as The Walking Dead (which gave me a similar sense of that apocalyptic dread even if The Walking Dead has a completely different story).

Without that luxury of extra pages of both text and art, Family Tree has not grabbed me around the neck from its opening foray simply because you’re thrown right into the thick of it without much exposition. This is both a strength and a weakness in the first volume.

Probably the most glaring omission are the group of individuals hunting Loretta and the kids down. There is no glimpse into their motives or who they are, so you get no feeling other than they are the ‘bad guys’. They might as well be one-dimensional robotic mannequins programmed to hunt.

I assume volume two and three will provide that detail and build up to make it an effective trilogy as a whole, but that is yet to be seen.

Time to pick up volume two.

3 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Nine) “Chicken Tenders” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Against Tony’s warnings, Colby and Savoy convince Applebee and the FDA to try and take down The Vampire. Things are about to hit the fan, and it’s going to be bloody.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

With the knowledge of future events imparted by his deceased twin sister, Tony now knows the actions that he needs to take in order to bring The Vampire (aka The Collector) to justice. Until such time, he is seeking to embrace his life a little more and finally ties the knot with his girlfriend, Ameila, with a gunshot wedding in Las Vegas.

Tony’s partner, John Colby, who has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with their boss, Mike Applebee (Director of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)) also ends up tying the knot after a drunken night of drinking too much vodka. This devastates John’s prior boss, Holly Penya, who he also had an on-again off-again relationship and runs the USDA (U.S Department of Agriculture).

Last but not least, we dive into the many missions of our returning killer rooster, Poyo, as he faces off against an assortment of food-related monstrosities and even travels to another dimension to save a different world from killer vegetables. Poyo is the terminator with feathers. He saves the world and protects those who cannot protect themselves. Nothing can stop him. At least, that’s what we think.

Review

Volume nine sees Tony accomplish a number of missions using his cibopath powers. After his gunshot wedding, he is called back to the job and successfully retrieves a prototype blaster that shoots hot fudge that freezes people in place when it hardens. The theft appears to have been done by the religious cult, The Church of the Immaculate Ova, but Tony’s food-related power identifies that the individual behind the scenes is actually The Vampire looking to make it appear that the cultists are responsible. Tony successfully foils The Vampire’s attempts to acquire the knowledge and skills of the scientist responsible for designing the hot fudge blaster.

Tony is then sent on a mission to an underwater sea station near the island of Yamapalu where it has been discovered that the strange chicken-tasting fruit known as Gallsaberry is growing on the ocean seabed. He is there to identify the murderer of an agent known as Sammi (an intelligent seal that worked for the USDA special operations division). Thoughts are that an E.G.G. terrorist spy may be responsible, but it turns out to be a scientist who acquired a food-related power that allows him to grow his brain by eating fish, and he took exception to Sammi eating his fish.

Everything seems to be going well for Tony, but unknown to him is that Savoy, Ceasar, Colby and Olive convince Applebee to bring in FDA resources and work with them to bring down The Vampire. A couple of things to point out from previous volumes:

  1. Tony is unaware that his partner Colby is working with Savoy, who Tony considers a criminal and murderer. While Savoy has committed a number of atrocities, he is looking to uncover the truth behind the avian flu and subsequent prohibition of chicken by the government.
  2. Tony is also unaware that Savoy has recruited his estranged daughter Olive, who not only inherited cibopath powers from her father but is much more powerful. In working with Savoy, she has absorbed powers from other individuals with food-related powers and is looking to take The Vampire down for murdering her aunt, Toni.

With the FDA on board, they locate The Vampire’s current location and touchdown at one of the mansions where The Vampire resides. Colby attempted to bring Tony also, but Tony declined saying that it is not the right time and explaining his interactions with his deceased sister, which was shown in the previous volume (Family Recipes). Tony tells Colby that the team should withdraw, but Applebee convinces Colby to proceed with the mission explaining they not only have the element of surprise and the forces of the FDA behind them but also back-up assistance from the USDA who will bring in Poyo if all else fails.

However, everything goes sideways and then down the tube as forewarned by Tony. The Vampire demonstrates fighting skills collected from all manner of food-powered individuals and inflicts massive casualties on the entire team; Applebee gets gutted in half by a pizza cutter, Savoy becomes a pin cushion of chopsticks, Colby gets stabbed in his robotic eye, Ceasar has his hand dismembered by a butter knife and Olive gets sliced across her eyes.

When the USDA are called in, they cargo drop backup and we’re all expecting it to be Poyo. Instead it’s a squirrel named Babycakes with a cybernetic eye and the poor thing gets shot to pieces. Holly Penya is a woman scorned and has not forgiven Colby for dumping her, so her help ends up being a betrayal.

With everything going south, I half expected this massacre at the hands of The Vampire to be some sort of dream sequence, but with some clever writing from John Layman, the team is rescued by Paneer Sharma (Director of NASA). Paneer was briefly married to Toni Chu and loved her deeply. Toni made Paneer promise that he would look out for her brother (but she didn’t specify which one as Toni has several brothers). We then get to see events leading up to the FDA’s failed attack on The Vampire as Paneer tries to stay in touch with all the Chu brothers without much success. Almost a forgotten character, when Paneer receives satellite imagery of the FDA team entering The Vampire’s compound. He then sends his NASA forces involving “Star Wars” level technology to stop The Vampire from killing everyone and rescuing Colby and company.

The tragedy of the failed attack leads to the entire team in critical condition in hospital. Tony confronts Colby and the pair get into a fist fight because Tony now knows all the secrets Colby has been keeping from him. Tony essentially throws away their decades long friendship and not giving Colby the chance to explain..

Dejected and depressed, Colby ends up at a bar with Poyo and unloading all his woes onto the rooster. And then a rather shocking thing happens on the final page of this volume.

Poyo, the terminator with feathers, the protector of Earth and other worlds in other dimensions, suddenly has his neck broken at the hands of Colby. It’s a shocking end to an action packed volume. Plenty of questions now pop in my head.

Is that really Poyo? Because in this volume, we see that Poyo has plenty of doubles (roosters who are made to look like him to present to the people).

If it really is Poyo, why did Colby kill him? Is it because Colby wants to get back at Holly Penya for failing to back-up the FDA mission on The Vampire? Or is there some other reason?

New questions in an ever evolving and wonderfully complex story. One of Chew‘s greatest strengths is that characters you assume are on the periphery end up playing a key role. At its core, there are three mysteries that we keep coming back to: 1) what are the origins of the avian flu and what is the truth behind the government’s subsequent chicken prohibition? 2) what is the alien fiery writing in the sky (we saw in previous volumes) and the alien Gallsaberry fruit? and 3) how did people start obtaining food-related powers?

Combining all these colourful characters and intricate plot with Guillory’s brilliant art and you’ll throw yourself willingly into the world of Chew.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Chew (Volume Eight) “Family Recipes” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Pieces start coming together as Tony Chu gets a little help from his deceased twin sister, Toni.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series.

Flashbacks prior to Toni’s death are revealed as she puts in motion a plan to help her brother solve the mystery surrounding the flaming script in the sky, the avian flu, and stopping The Vampire.

Along the way, we see Mason Savoy is hatching his own plan with the help of John Colby by infiltrating a maximum security prison that holds criminals with food-related power. Mason successfully gets his hands on Jack Montero, a man who sought to profit from the avian flu outbreak and the eventual prohibition on eating chicken. Savoy knows that somehow Montero knew the pandemic would occur before it did, and he wants to know how and why. Savoy (like Tony Chu is a cibopath) takes a literal bite out of Jack and receives the information he needs.

Meanwhile, Toni’s machinations to assist Tony after her murder involve her severed toe, a gallsaberry fruit (alien fruit that tastes like chicken), chogs (genetically combined frogs and chicken), and the help of Amelia and Olive. Tony goes on a very psychedelic trip indeed.

Review

I took a break from this series after Volume Seven felt somewhat flat. In a sense, this was expected after Volume Six shook me to the core with the brutal murder of Tony’s fraternal twin sister, Toni. She was a shining light and valuable counterpoint to Tony’s dead serious character. With her death, Tony dived deeper into the darkness and commenced a mission of revenge to find and kill Toni’s murderer, The Vampire.

So, you can imagine my surprise when Volume Eight opens with the story focused squarely on Toni Chu and the events that occurred in the months leading up to her grisly death. As we know from previous volumes, everyone in the Chu family has a food-related power. For Toni, she is able to glimpse future events when she takes a bite out of any living thing. And she foresaw her own death and thus prepared to leave key items to help her brother, Tony, bring The Vampire to justice.

At the end of Volume Seven, we see that one of those items was Toni’s toe. In Volume Eight, we see through flashback that she cut off her own toe knowing she would leave it in Tony’s freezer to find.

We also get to see, for the first time, Sage Chu. Sage is the younger sister of Tony and Toni. Sage is a cipropanthropatic, which is a food-power that allows her to access the memories of anyone close to her who is eating the same thing as she is. Sage often orders weird dishes to avoid her food-power from activating. Unfortunately, even with her best efforts, she ends up eating the same dish as a Mr. Biscotti. The memories she receives from Mr. Biscotti are violent and gruesome as he turns out to be a mobster and killer.

Sage enlists the help of Toni to arrest Mr. Biscotti and successfully does so. Toni also ends up taking a bite out of Sage (I assume because Toni knows she will die soon and wants to see how things will turn out for her younger sister). We don’t get to see what Toni sees, but she says to Sage that her life will be happy and she’s proud of her.

Events then come back to the present, where Tony, his girlfriend, Amelia, and his estranged daughter, Olive have discovered Toni’s present in the freezer. Tony sits down, stares at the dismembered toe, and takes a small bite. Tony’s food-related power allows him to see the origins of the things that he eats. So, when he nibbles on Toni’s toe, he is confronted by an image of Toni that is best described as a combination of a pre-recording mixed with her being in spiritual ghost-form. Toni explains to Tony why she left her toe and how she will help him stop The Vampire.

Toni also leaves a recipe for Amelia for a dish that combines the mysterious gallsaberry fruit with the psychedelic chogs. With the help of Olive, who Amelia convinces to impersonate as an FDA agent by borrowing Tony’s badge, they talk their way into the research lab at the FDA and secure some chogs. They then cook it all up and feed it to Tony, who then goes on a drug-induced out-of-body psychedelic trip to an alien planet (Altilis-738) where he meets with his ghost sister.

She describes to him the phenomenon of the flaming script that appeared in the sky circling Altilis-738 and how subsequently the planet was destroyed. This is the same flaming script that had appeared around Earth in previous volumes.

Toni then goes on to whisper in his ear how Tony can stop The Vampire (of course, we don’t get to read what she says). Tony’s response is that he can’t do that, but his ghost-sister says he can and he will. She warns him that if he continues down the path he is travelling seeking revenge then he will end up just like The Vampire.

Before she disappears, she asks Tony to give the rest of her severed toe to Olive for consumption. It’s gross and funny at the same time. Olive is also a cibopath like her father but she has far greater control in her food-power. Whatever she learns from ghost-Toni after consuming the toe is not revealed, but she smiles and says, “Cool.”

A jam packed volume that finally progresses a number of story lines while also leaving enough mystery that you’ll want to read on.

Every scene with Toni is a delight. And when she finally disappears into the void after bidding farewell to Tony, it genuinely choked me up. I can only hope that somehow Toni’s spirit will re-emerge in future volumes. The art by Guillory is beautiful and captures all the characters (especially the Chu family) vividly and with distinct traits.

Buckle up and get back on the Chew train!

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

TL:DR – a tale of a young girl looking to bring colour back into the life of her father.

Summary (warning: spoiler)

Olive doesn’t know what to do. Whenever she sees her father, there is a grey elephant with him. An elephant that casts a giant shadow and weighs her father down in a way that makes him look exhausted all the time. If she could only figure out how to get rid of that elephant then she knows there is a chance for the light to penetrate the darkness that envelopes his heart.

Thankfully, she has her grandfather with her who has moved in, and she can always talk to her best friend, Arthur, at school. Surely, the three of them can come up with a way to remove the elephant.

Review

I’m a big fan of picture book author and illustrator Peter Carnavas. When I met him at Maleny on the Sunshine Coast, I bought his picture book ‘Oliver and George’ for my daughter and got his autograph. There is a certain whimsy and nostalgia to his stories and illustrations that remind me of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang by comic strip legend, Charles Schulz.

The Elephant is Carnavas’s debut novel and first foray outside of the picture book realm. Aimed at junior fiction readers, the story examines grief and sadness through a child’s eyes, and how a child can learn about ‘old and wonderful things’ (i.e., the past) to help heal the present and move forward.

For Olive’s father, he is still mourning the death of his wife. Olive is old enough to understand that the manifestation of this sadness in the form of a giant, grey elephant is metaphorical. Conjured by her own imagination. However, its existence is real enough to her that it impacts all her interactions with him. She can tell his mind is elsewhere, full of untold stories and memories that she cannot access.

This naturally causes Olive to feel sad, but she obtains comfort from her little dog, Freddie, and her grandfather who picks her up after school and enjoys spending time with her. She especially gets excited whenever grandfather picks her up wearing a purple backpack because it means he is taking her somewhere she hasn’t been before. Their afternoon field trips include a second hand store filled with old and wonderful things, a nature reserve and a cricket oval where they throw paper airplanes.

The loving relationship between Olive and her grandfather is obvious, but things take a turn when Olive falls out of the jacaranda tree in their backyard. The nasty accident leaves her unconscious for a week and when she wakes up she sees her grandfather looking sad, worried and weary. More so, she notices that he now has a grey tortoise following him around. Her grandfather is guilt ridden because he normally makes sure she puts on her helmet when she climbs the jacaranda tree, but on the day of the accident, he didn’t.

Thus, with the help of her schoolfriend Arthur, she goes about getting rid of the tortoise first. She does this through the school, which is celebrating its one hundred year birthday, and the kids are presenting to their families things that are ‘old and wonderful’. Olive chooses to sing a song that she and her grandfather always sings on their field trips. She then explains to the audience that her grandfather is also ‘old and wonderful’ and her love heals her grandfather causing the grey tortoise to disappear.

Together, they then set up a plan to try and get rid of the elephant. The plan is inspired by all the things Olive has learned about ‘old and wonderful’ things she has seen and experienced. When the plan works, the elephant finally departs, and her father lets in some sunshine in the form of her daughter.

In an unexpected twist (at least for a junior fiction novel), there is a touching scene at the end where it is revealed that Freddie the dog is also imaginary. When she thanks Freddie for being there during all the times she felt sad and says he can now also leave, it is poignant and effecting.

The Elephant is a must read for junior readers but is the type of story that adults (especially parents) will be moved by. We all need colour in our lives, and I can’t think of a better way than reading this delightful story with your child.

5 out of 5

Book Review: Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell

TL:DR – Young adult novel containing two short stories about connections and the changes we go through during our teenage years.

Summary (warning: spoiler)

The first short story titled ‘Midnights’ is about Margaret (nicknamed ‘Mags’) and Noel who are best friends. He remembers their first meeting on New Year’s Eve in 2011 where she saved his life. She doesn’t quite remember it that way, but every New Year’s Eve since then, Noel has tried to dance with Mags in celebration of this “life-saving event” before the final countdown to the New Year. And every year, Mags has politely declined and instead watched, from afar, Noel end up dancing with some other girl and kissing her when the clock strikes midnight.

On New Year’s Eve in 2014, Mags and Noel reunite after attending colleges in different states and not seeing each other for months. Noel finally convinces her to dance with him, but as it draws close to midnight, he gets whisked away to dance with another girl. Will this be another New Year’s Eve with the same outcome?

The second short story titled ‘Kindred Spirits’ is about a teenage girl named Elena; a die-hard fan of Star Wars who lines up for the midnight premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII) four days before it opens. She had expected a huge line of die-hard fans ready to do a week long celebration of Star Wars before the midnight screening. Instead, she meets only Troy and Gabe. Two others who are crazy enough to camp outside the theatre during the cold, winter nights.

With an over-protective mother checking up on her several times each day, Elena is determined to do this. Her step towards independence and making her own decisions, regardless of how foolish they may turn out to be. Will she make it through the four days sleeping outside on the hard ground? And more importantly how will she go to the toilet if she needs to pee at night?

Review

Rowell manages to balance sentimentality and sweetness in a way that isn’t overly romanticised, so it will appeal to young readers while also being a nostalgia trip for older ones.

In ‘Midnights’, she is able to capture the angst and wanting that comes from two friends attracted to each other but somewhat stuck in the friends zone. Neither quite being brave enough to walk out on a limb to see if their friendship can be something more. Told from the perspective of Mags, you can understand her hesitation when Noel appears to be carefree with his affection and is happy to share a New Year’s kiss with any girl that raises her eyebrows at him.

Mags is never quite sure whether Noel feels anything more than friendship towards her. Their first New Year’s Eve encounter revolving around Noel revealing to her that he has a severe allergy to tree nuts (and shellfish and strawberries…) as he asks her whether the cracker she’s holding with pesto and cream cheese has pine nuts in it. An amusing dialogue ensues where Mags successfully stops Noel from eating the cracker, pesto and cream cheese combo and thus ‘saving his life’ for another year.

Two subsequent New Year’s Eve parties later and Mags and Noel are friends at the hip, but his urging of her to dance with him before the clock strikes twelve always fails. Mind you, we know Noel wants to share his New Year’s kiss with Mags but Mags never gets up onto the dance floor with him, so he ends up snogging someone else. In truth, Noel sends out all the signals but Mags doesn’t act on them so one could argue she has only herself to blame for being stuck in the friends zone.

When the fourth New Year’s Eve rolls around and Mags finally relents and has a slow dance with Noel, he pretty much confesses he can’t live without her, and you think finally they will kiss. Instead, another girl grabs Noel away and Mags walks out of the house party not being able to bear witnessing Noel kissing another girl. When the countdown to midnight happens, Noel appears outside looking for her and viola Noel makes it clear that the only girl he wants to kiss is her.

Rowell does a clever bit of plot twisting at this point. When Noel and Mags kiss, Mags has totally forgotten that she has been eating Chex mix which contains cashews. Mags saves Noel again by getting Benadryl from his car to prevent him from swelling up like a balloon and being covered in hives. Thus, they live happily allergy-free ever after.

In ‘Kindred Spirits’, the story of Elena looking to camp out for the opening of Episode VII of Star Wars is surprisingly funny and heart warming. Rowell is cognisant of the fact that in 2015 when the sequel came out, people could just buy tickets online and guarantee themselves a seat. But this isn’t the point for Elena. She wants to line up with other die-hard fans and party for a week on all things Star Wars related. And she thinks there’ll be a massive gathering based on social media posts. However, what she discovers is that the line is compromised of only two other people.

Instead of a party, it feels like stranger danger and the scenes where Elena argues with her mother who keeps periodically checking up on her is very funny.

Troy and Gabe turn out to be Star Wars geeks and nothing more predatory and Elena slowly gets to know both of them.

What is clever about the story is that Gabe turns out to be Elena’s classmate, but because he is shy, quiet and keeps to himself and she has her own group of friends, she has never noticed him. Here we have a showing of different perspectives. Elena feels genuinely bad that she didn’t recognise Gabe, but Gabe says that’s fine because he wouldn’t expect her to notice him since she’s part of her own clique.

This raises Elena’s hackles who tries to convince Gabe that she’s just a nerd, but Gabe sees her as one of the ‘popular’ girls. The ensuing debate manages to change both their perspectives and the assumptions they made about the other.

Plus Gabe helps Elena survive the nights by finding a way for her to pee in a cup behind a dumpster while he hums loudly ‘The Imperial March’ from Star Wars. That’s the type of embarrassing experience that makes two people bond whether they want to or not.

The ending is quite funny and another clever twist by Rowell. When the midnight premiere finally arrives, Gabe and Elena are so excited, and they get prime seats being at the head of the line. As they sit together in the cinema, they comment on how wonderful their seats are. So warm and comfy and as the opening crawl begins, they end up… falling asleep.

When they wake, to their horror, they’ve slept through the whole thing, but all’s well that ends well because Gabe has bought extra tickets for a second screening ahead of time (yep, he’s a diehard fan alright) and ends up inviting Elena to go see it.

Overall, I preferred ‘Kindred Spirits’ over ‘Midnights’ only in that there was more humour and the scenes with the mother trying to convince her daughter, Elena, to come home were believable and comic.

Rowell does use some interesting turns of phrase in her writing. Some works better than others. Specifically in ‘Midnights’ she writes, ‘he smelled warm’ and then later writes, ‘he smelled like skin’.

I’m all for a good synaesthesia. For example, ‘a gravelly voice’, or ‘the warm colours of a painting’, or ‘that’s the smell of victory’.

But I’m not sure that ‘he smelled like skin’ works, especially given it is meant to be an intimate moment between Mags and Noel. Still, young adult readers will likely gloss over this.

The art of a short story is a tricky process, and Rainbow Rowell does an admirable job in capturing the essence of that period in your life when insecurities and awkwardness can be high. Sentimental without being overly sweet, Almost Midnight is an enjoyable enough read that will appeal to young readers and will have older ones walking down memory lane.

3 out of 5

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

TL:DR – Ryland Grace is on a suicide mission to save Earth.

Summary (warning: spoiler)

Ryland Grace wakes up in a bed with tubes connected to him and has no idea why. Nothing in the room is familiar, and a computerised voice asks him what is “two plus two”. His motor skills aren’t functioning fully, but he does manage (with difficulty) to respond with the correct answer.

Slowly, memories and events start coming back to him while he pieces together his location. He’s a junior middle school science teacher. Check that, he’s a passionate and devoted science teacher who worked previously as a molecular biologist and has an inquisitive and sharp mind, and he observes that when an object falls in the room he is in, it strikes him as unusual. He starts using his understanding of physics and does a series of tests and calculates that the gravity in his room is greater than that of Earth’s gravity. However, Earth’s gravity is constant, which means only one thing: he isn’t on earth.

As he gathers more information, along with returning memories, he realises he has been in an induced coma, undertaking interstellar travel to Tau Ceti (another solar system). Why? Because he is on a mission to solve the mystery behind an alien microbe called Astrophage that is absorbing the sun’s light energy. If Astrophage continues unchecked, it will spell the doom of Earth as the sun will die out and all life will enter an ice age that will lead to extinction.

He and two other astronauts are flying to another solar system because they have detected Astrophage around the Tau Ceti sun there. The difference being that the Tau Ceti sun is not dimming. If they can figure out why then perhaps Earth’s sun and humanity can be saved.

Oh, and along with piecing his memory back together, Ryland Grace has another problem… his two fellow astronauts are dead.

Review

Okay, I’ll say it outright. Project Hail Mary is the best book I have read so far this year. Andy Weir has done something that I can only dream of doing as a writer. Not only has he written an engrossing, page-turning science fiction novel, he has made me dream of becoming a scientist. Regardless of whether all the scientific concepts and ideas he conveys in Project Hail Mary is plausible (and I believe that they are), he does something that few authors are able to do.

One, he balances science talk with the plot. While there is a lot of science talk, he makes it accessible and conveys it in a way that we can understand even if we don’t have a degree in theoretical physics, or molecular biology, or any of the other science specialties explored in this story.

Two, caring about the characters is critical in any story, and Weir does that beautifully. But he also makes you care about the science, which is a rare feat. Because it is the science that becomes its own ‘character’. Science is the connection between Ryland Grace and Rocky (more on Rocky in a moment), and it is science that drives the suspense and tension in the story rather than spaceships blasting lasers at each other.

Three, throughout Project Hail Mary there is an infusion of humour that makes a considerable impact and elevates a read that could have been a depressing slog mired in tragedy.

The story mixes flashbacks of how and why Ryland ends up on the Hail Mary ship and while the basic premise is that he is humanity’s last hope for survival, the true joy of the novel is his interactions with Rocky.

So, who is Rocky? He is an alien from another planet, and his home world is orbiting a sun in another solar system also infected by Astrophage. He is on the same mission as Ryland and appears like a spider-type creature. Weir does a wonderful job making their initial interactions believable, and as they learn to communicate (which in itself is a clever bit of writing by Weir), they develop a friendship that transcends well… species.

Rocky is a genius engineer on his planet and combined with Ryland’s scientific know-how, the pair seek to unravel the mysteries of Astrophage and why it is attacking their respective home world suns. As their communication becomes more sophisticated, their banter is truly laugh out loud at times, and you want both of them to survive by story’s end.

And this is the driving force of the story. Yes, the extinction of humanity hangs in the balance. Yes, unraveling the mystery and finding a solution to the Astrophage invasion is critical to the plot. But it is the friendship between Ryland and Rocky, and the question mark as to whether they will survive that will make you turn every page.

Project Hail Mary is a story launched into the stratosphere and scores a touch down for all readers.

5 out of 5