Seven Days: Monday-Sunday

Can you fall in love in just one week? There may not be an easy answer, but Yuzuru Shino and Toji Seryo are determined to find out.

This is the premise of Seven Days, the latest yaoi, or “boy love” manga, from author Venio Tachibana and artist Rihito Takarai. The story centers on two high schoolers, third-year Shino and first-year Seryo, who attend a posh academy in the high-class Yamate District.

Seryo, an irresistibly handsome rich boy, is infamous for his week-long dating escapades. And while the girl may be different each time, the end is always the same. By Sunday, the whirlwind romance ends in a breakup as he continues to search fruitlessly for his soulmate.

Things begin to change, however, after archery phenom Shino asks Seryo out on a whim. When the halfhearted joke turns serious, the two begin to explore their unexpected feelings for one another, their own insecurities, and what it means to be in love. Will their attraction have what it takes to last more than seven days?

The book’s main conflict centers around the misunderstandings that happen when people aren’t able to say what they really feel. After the unlikely couple begins to realize they truly do care about each other, their lack of communication makes things complicated. Shino’s insecurities about disappointing others comes across as careless mockery, while Seryo’s quest for someone who truly gets him is confused for a playboy mentality.

Complicating matters is Seryo’s former flame, a beautiful girl who continues to lead Seryo on while also pursuing his brother. Interestingly, her name also is Shino, and both namesakes bring the drama as their jealousy of one another leads to conflict. Luckily, Seryo likes the dominating, possessive type, and readers will be kept guessing as to what will happen next.

Throughout, I enjoyed watching the characters evolve. While a week is definitely not a long time, the characters show a lot of growth as they explore what it means to date, and possibly love, someone. Both young men are known for their good looks, but they soon learn that true connection goes beyond the physical. Falling in love is complicated, and when their feelings disturb the normal dating “protocol,” they begin to question everything.

Perhaps Shino sums it up best as he notes “No one can understand what they can’t see. Like a person’s heart…”

Thematically, archery plays an important role. In fact, the characters for Yuzuru’s name are “bow” and “string.” It seems to come naturally, then, that he is a standout archer on the high school team. Seryyo, on the other hand, is notorious for not showing up to practice despite his clear talent for the sport. As their relationship progresses, we see a clear parallel in their performance. From steady and strong to confused and off-target, their shooting is a metaphor for their inner feelings.

Stylistically, the artwork is strong. The main characters standout with their elongated, flowing bodies. Background shots boast dynamic and strong lines, while close-up portraits reveal intense emotion with just the turn of a smile or curve of an eyebrow.

Overall, I thought the romance was really sweet. It captures the awkwardness, confusion, and giddiness of a new relationship. While I am still skeptical about a seven-day time limit to finding love, it did add suspense and a sense of urgency. With that said, the relationship still unfolds somewhat slowly. Some will find this pace boring, while others will enjoy the subtlety. I am definitely in the latter.

I do wish the supporting characters would have been explored a bit further. While they are great for providing background information, they do not play much of an active role. For example, Koike, a girl who previously dated Seryo, seems to have a lot more going on under the surface. I wish we would have gotten to know her better, especially since she is one of the few female characters in the story.

This book is appropriate for teens, and the publisher recommends ages 13 and up. Unlike other yaoi, this book does not contain sexually graphic content. In fact, sexuality does not play into the story much at all. It is more focused on the individuals, and their connections with one another.

Seven Days: Monday-Sunday
By Venio Tachibana
Art by Rihito Takarai
ISBN: 9781974709274
SuBLime Manga, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Pansexual

Smooth Criminals, vol. 1

Brenda is a geeky computer hacker working in the local community college’s IT department when she unfreezes Mia Corsair, a master jewel thief from 1969! Before being awoken in 1999, Mia was chasing her ultimate prize—the Net of Indra. When Brenda discovers that the jewel is coming to a local museum, she convinces Mia to team up in order to escape from her own unfulfilling life. Soon the women are planning a heist and forming a powerful bond.

Smooth Criminals is a fun romp of a comic that kept me turning pages until the very end. Do you enjoy heist stories? Stories with awesome female characters? How about ridiculous computer hacking and/or mad science? Smooth Criminals has got it all! The first volume of Smooth Criminals sets up the history and current rivalry between Mia and her arch rival—a rich thief named Hatch—and her relationship with Brenda. The mix of friendship and heist planning is a palatable blend that keeps its tension throughout. The volume frustratingly ends a bit abruptly, but left me eager to see how the story plays out.

What makes the story so enjoyable are Brenda and Mia’s characterizations and their dynamic. Brenda is a hilarious mix of smart and silly, pairing hacker skills with a sharp analytical mind and a funny habit of talking to herself out loud. Mia is aloof with excellent thievery skills, and, although she is often frank on certain matters, she struggles with trusting others. Despite being opposites, their knowledge and skills allow them to play off one another and plan their heist. The queer representation doesn’t hurt either! Both Mia and Brenda discuss being interested in same sex relationships, and seeing well-rounded queer characters is a joy.

Secondary characters, while perhaps not as fleshed out as Brenda and Mia, still contribute to the excitement and humor of the story. My personal favorite was Mia’s mother, who is incredibly sassy, despite being incarcerated and questioned by two law enforcement officers The characterization and strong plot result in a fun thriller that runs a little bit deeper.

The art in Smooth Criminals effectively sets the tone of the story. The style leans slightly more realistic, but has plenty of movement and exaggerated expressions to portray the emotions and action. A good example of this is the opening panels where a blond rollerblader commits athletic feats worthy of a parkour master as the words narrate the moves in a self-congratulatory way; suddenly the skater asks Brenda (who is heavier, darker-skinned and sitting on the trolley) why she’s talking to herself. It’s a funny moment that sets the tone for a story where no one is what they initially appear to be. Additionally, the range of expressions portrayed rounds out the characters; a good example of this is Mia who tries to act as the mysterious thief but occasionally is prone to sudden outbursts of excitement and frustration.

Readers looking for a thrilling adventure with awesome female protagonists will find much to enjoy in this first volume of Smooth Criminals. There is nothing really questionable in this first volume, so teens and adults of all ages should enjoy this one. Libraries looking to collect the series should know that the second volume will be out after December 4 2019.

Smooth Criminals, vol. 1
By Kurt Lustgarten and Kirsten Kiwi Smith
Art by Leisha Riddell
ISBN: 9781684153855
Boom Box, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

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Character Traits: Lesbian, Pansexual

Battlestar Galactica vs Battlestar Galactica

Consider this: A shady character known as Iblis finds Kali, the last Cylon. Kali bestows Iblis with the gifts of charm and persuasion, and both are rescued by the 1978 Battlestar Pegasus. Iblis uses these gifts to control the ’78 Pegasus in the hopes of eventually meeting the ’78 Battlestar Galactica (BSG) for ultimate control of that fleet. Iblis wants to destroy the fleet, side with the Cylons, and control the Cylons as their emperor and ruler because he hates humans. The 2003 BSG fleet gets caught up in the mess and the tensions run high between both fleets, giving Iblis pause to reconsider his plan. Plans are thwarted, Kali is killed, Iblis is shot out into space to “rot in hell,” while another wormhole opens up and the ’78 fleet are drawn in before the wormhole closes leaving the crew of ’03 fleet wondering what just happened.

I am not a fan of this book. There are so many plot holes that they would mirror wormholes in the storyline. Laura Roslin is brought in for a few pages and then forgotten. It’s the same with Baltar and Six and also with Athena and her role. Doctor Cottle ran batteries of tests on the ’78 fleet to make sure they weren’t skin jobs, but that would take forever according to the 2003 series, so the timing is off.

I am convinced Peter David hasn’t watched either series (except perhaps the beginning of 2003’s season three). The characters personalities and speech patterns are off. Laura Roslin sounds like a 12-year-old, and Kara Thrace does not come off as the strong independent woman that she is, but as a simpering woman out only for a good time. I have no idea who these BSG characters are and I’m saying this as someone who religiously watches the ’03 series at least twice a year. The personalities of the characters seem flat and wooden. It’s hard to tell which character is talking and when. I’m invested in these characters on the television shows, but here they bear such little resemblance to their counterparts. This, coupled with a less than decent storyline makes me wonder why I’m reading this book. There is a scene in the beginning when one of the characters, upon meeting Kali, asks if she’s female. Kali’s shape is so over-exaggerated that it’s clearly obvious she’s presenting as female. What this has to do at this point of the story is a mystery. Sex seems to be a very important part of this book, but it does not advance the story, so I’m not sure why there is such a huge emphasis.

The art is just as bad as the writing. Johnny Desjardins’s work looks amateur-ish and Mohan’s coloring comes from a limited palette, which gives no depth to the artwork. It’s hard to follow the action since the palette is so dark and limited. While Desjardins covers the artwork for 1-3 and Edu Menna for 4-6, the artwork is inconsistent. In the variant section, Aaron Lopresti and Robert Castro’s variants are miles away better and I wish these artists were used instead, because that could have saved this book or at least given it some dignity.

I want to believe this book exists to serve someone’s desire for a mashup between the two series, fan fiction served if you will, but it’s done terribly and is an embarrassment to the franchise, rather than something that could have been beloved. The book is also marked teen, but the content should definitely be classified as adult. There are too many faults for this book to be recommended in any capacity.

Battlestar Galactica vs Battlestar Galactica
By Peter David
Art by Johnny Desjardins, Edu Menna
ISBN: 9781524107208
Dynamite, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

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Character Traits: Pansexual
Related to…: TV to Comic

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World is a pitch perfect historical graphic novel for anyone who wants to learn about brazen rebel ladies throughout history. Pénélope Bagieu started with a list of 50 women whose stories she wanted to tell and narrowed it down to about 30 for the book. In interviews, Bagieu is quoted as saying that one of the hardest choices was deciding “whose stories I could tell a 200 times without getting bored of.”  She especially wanted to showcase that not all brazen rebel ladies are western, white, educated, cisgender, straight women. At the end of the book, Bagieu does include the rest of her list of fabulous women for further reading.

Spanning nearly 2500 years of history, Brazen gives life to women such as Agnodice, one of the first women gynecologists who lived in 350 BCE Athens, to Sonita Alizadeh, an Afghanistan rapper born in 1996. Bagieu covers doctors, scientists, artists, explorers, entertainers: just about anyone from anywhere through time. Some of the women I knew, such as Nellie Bly, Josephine Baker, Hedy Lemarr, and Temple Gradin, are listed but others such as Nzinga, warrior queen of Ndongo and Matamba, Cheryl Bridges, athlete, and Giorgina Reid, lighthouse keeper, are entirely new to me. I found myself especially delighted Bagieu made sure Mae Jamison was included, the first black woman in space who happens to be a sci-fi and comics nerd.

Typically in anthologies or in music, the placement of the stories or songs are arranged by the artist just so, with a theme or an overarching story told via that placement. I could not find such a theme here and this is not to say that the work is haphazard—rather the thoughtfulness of the placement of the brazen rebel’s lives are listed such that you could read about a rebel from 2500 years ago and the next story is of a brazen rebel from the 18th century. The book does not need to be read in chronological order, but I will warn you that when you sit down with the book you’ll likely finish it one sitting, just as I did.

Bagieu wrote, illustrated, and colored the art marking her as a force to reckon with. In another interview, Bagieu selected a “very simple palette of four colors for each story, chosen carefully regarding the era, the country, the global feeling of the story.” In between each story is a two page highly detailed and colored spread of the brazen rebel in action, whether she is warrior queen or Temple Gradin and her cows.

Pénélope Bagieu is known for her attention to detail and the wit of her subjects. Here she gives these ladies all the attention and voice that they deserve. Each brazen rebel is finely drawn and brought to life, their stories may be told over a few pages but each story is in-depth enough to whet a history lover’s appetite. Brazen is listed as age appropriate for older teens, 16+, and up, but it could easily become the favorite of middle grades and up, especially as a reference book for further study. Highly recommended for any collection especially for history lists as well as lists for LGTBQ+ peoples.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
By Pénélope Bagieu
Art by Pénélope Bagieu
ISBN: 978-1626728691 1626728690
First Second, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen (16+)

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Character Traits: Japanese, Chinese, Black, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, Trans

Open Earth

Sex-positive stories are few and far between. Female-centric sex-positive stories are even rarer. Open Earth by Sarah Mirk is unique in this way. The characters are all young, they all enjoy sex, and they all like to have sex with each other. This is the kind of story that doesn’t necessarily have a ‘point,’ but it’s a fun ride.

Rigo is a young twenty-something who lives with her parents in California, a large spacecraft currently orbiting the Earth. Due to political chaos and the devastation brought on by climate change, Rigo’s parents boarded this ship for what was supposed to only be a year-long scientific mission but ended up never returning to Earth. Rigo and her friends were all born on this ship and have never known life on Earth. They are the First Generation and they are determined to not make the same mistakes as their parents. They all believe in polyamory and everyone pretty much hooks up with everyone. They believe that exclusive couples can be bad for morale because they will isolate themselves. Rigo enjoys vigorous sex with several of her friends but holds a special place in her heart for Carver, a fellow scientist. Carver is looking for someone to share his apartment and Rigo really wants him to ask her. Tensions rise when another friend, Franklin, throws their name into the mix—more for practicality than passion. Instead of harboring bad feelings, Rigo and Franklin talk it out. Honesty is key to keeping everything copacetic. Franklin understands that Carver and Rigo have something special and decides to not stand in her way if she wants to live with him. Carver asks Rigo to ‘partner up’ and live together, but not be exclusive. After their first night together Carver wakes up to all of their friends enjoying breakfast. It’s a happy ending to a story with no real direction.

The language of Open Earth is easy, unpretentious, and bilingual. Rigo herself comes off as little immature despite her fluid sexuality because her dialogue is emphatic with lots of exclamation points. Compared to her peers, she comes off as the least developed despite being the main character.

The artwork is bright and colorful. Despite living in such an enclosed and industrial environment, the characters’ living spaces are cheerful and inviting. The characters themselves are drawn in such a way that the reader can instantly understand their personalities. Rigo is soft and curvy—she is comfortable in her skin and loves her body. Carter is skinny with sharp edges that shows a more serious side. Franklin is non-binary and is confident in their appearance. The artwork works well for the story and adds dimension.

Open Earth is a fun story that centers on the lives of a small, diverse group of friends. The fact that they are in space is not the focal point of the story. The focus is on their personal dynamics, their openness, and their optimism. This graphic novel is appropriate for an older teen and adult audience. It is not appropriate for young children as there are several scenes with fairly graphic nudity and sex. Other graphic novels that with similarly open attitudes toward sexuality are The Pervert by Michelle Perez, Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, and for the those who like the more sci-fi elements, Saga by Brian K. Vaughn.

Open Earth
By Sarah Mirk
Art by Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre
ISBN: 9781620105016
Limerence Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

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Character Traits: Latinx, Multiracial Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Pansexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary

Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess, vols. 1-4

Raven Xingtao, whose story begins in the third volume of Princeless [see our review here], Jeremy Whitley’s Eisner-nominated series, is the daughter of the Pirate King and an accomplished pirate in her own right. She is heir to her father’s fleet, but her two greedy younger brothers convince her father that because she is a girl, she should be imprisoned for her safety instead.

Book One, aptly titled Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew, opens with Raven, newly freed from the tower in which her scheming brothers imprisoned her, on the hunt for a crew to sail a ship she’s stolen from another pirate. Book Two (Free Women), Book Three (Two Boys, Five Girls, and Three Love Stories), and Book Four (Two Ships in the Night) follow Raven and her crew as they learn to work together, face down their rivals, and grow strong enough to confront Raven’s brothers.

Initially, the story focuses on Raven’s single-minded quest for revenge, but as she assembles her all-female crew and sets sail, the story increasingly focuses on the connections among the women on-board and the way they protect and care for one another. The ship becomes a haven against the incompetent grandstanding common among the pirate men who challenge them along the way. Raven’s crew consists of women of diverse races, sizes, abilities, and sexualities. Multiple main characters are openly LGBTQ+, including Raven herself, and the friendships and romantic relationships among these characters feature prominently throughout the series.

Jeremy Whitley writes every issue of Raven the Pirate Princess, and it is similar in tone to Princeless. Raven and her crew are funny, resourceful, and endlessly supportive of one another as they learn to work together as a team. While this is not an Own Voices story, Whitley navigates Raven’s feelings and experiences, and those of the other crew members, with grace and thoughtfulness. Artists Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt (Books 1-3) and Xenia Pamfil (Book 4) complement the story with scenery and characters that are distinctive and rich in detail.

While Princeless is suitable for audiences of any age, Raven the Pirate Princess includes content that may be better suited to the tween and teen crowd. For example, when Raven is interviewing pirates to form her crew in Book One, most of the humor hinges on the reader understanding the references behind the sexism of the male candidates (“You’re probably not even a real pirate girl,” one laments. “I bet you don’t even know what Captain Fraction’s name was before he changed it!”). Though younger audiences may certainly enjoy the series, and there is no content that would be inappropriate for this age group, some cultural references and tongue-in-cheek jokes may fly over their heads. This title will appeal most strongly to readers who recognize and appreciate these references to real-world frustrations.

There is one caveat to my enthusiastic support of Raven the Pirate Princess: there is a sharp thematic change between the third and fourth volumes. Book four came out after a year long hiatus and features the opening arc of a new title (Raven The Pirate Princess: Year Two). The focus of the story veers sharply away from the camaraderie and revenge narrative driving the first three books and toward shallow disagreements and manipulative cat-fighting among the crew members, whose personalities deviate significantly from their Year One counterparts. The plot of books 1-3 goes unmentioned entirely. It is a significant and jarring departure from an otherwise very strong series.

Despite my disappointment in the fourth installment, it is worth purchasing the series in its entirety, as Raven the Pirate Princess is still ongoing. Book Five: Get Lost Together was released on June 26th. While Princeless vol. 3 establishes the context for Raven’s story, it is not necessary to read Princeless before beginning the Raven series. Raven is structured with new readers in mind, and the first pages provide enough exposition to follow the story fully. This series is an excellent purchase for fans of Princeless and other high-energy and relationship-driven adventure series, including Lumberjanes, The Legend of Korra, and Misfit City.

Raven the Pirate Princess, vols 1-4
by Jeremy Whitley
Art by Rosy Higgins,Ted Brandt, and Xenia Pamfil
vol 1 ISBN: 9781632291196
vol 2 ISBN: 9781632291295
vol 3 ISBN: 9781632291400
vol 4 ISBN: 9781632292643
Action Lab, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12 years

Bingo Love

A lot of transformations occur in the lives of Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray. From meeting and forming crushes in 1963 to reuniting in 2015 and nurturing their long-lost love through 2038 and beyond; these queer, black women navigate the changes and regrets of life, love, family, and identity. Their story is a powerful and diverse narrative, whether in reference to LGBTQ experiences, senior love, body sizes, oppressive socio-religious norms, growing social acceptance, or simply processing the choices in one’s life.

The story mainly focuses on Hazel Johnson, a middle schooler lovestruck at meeting the new girl in town, Mari. Mari dubs her Elle, a nickname no one else uses and a term of endearment that gains power through the story’s decades as precious few people accept or even know about Hazel’s romantic interest. Hazel and Mari are clearly compatible, going on dates with good humor and finding time to be together in and out of school, continuing through high school. Both of their families discover them kissing, which leads to a number of religious-fueled denouncements. “My grandmother says I’m an abomination and I’m going to hell,” teenage Mari reports to the love of her life. “Let go of that sinner,” “Beg God to forgive you,” and “Jesus did not die on the cross for this sin,” they are told, though Hazel wonders to herself “Since when is it a sin to be in love?” After their forced separation, both women surrender to arranged marriages and going on with their lives of quietly nursing wounds that won’t heal.

Decades later, Hazel and Mari meet again, at a church bingo game. This time, both ladies have families of their own and a lot of consequence to consider. “I love my family, but deep down inside, I’m truly not happy,” Hazel recognizes, going so far as to say “I’ve been dead inside since 1967.” In order to be as close as they both desire, they have to divorce their husbands and explain their long-hidden love to their families.

Readers who enjoyed The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance or Melanie Gillman’s As The Crow Flies will find a lot to love here, as Tee Franklin’s writing, Jenn St-Onge’s art, Joy San’s colors, and Cardinal Rae’s lettering all work together in support of Hazel and Mari’s pure, natural love. As girls and women, these two make each other smile, laugh, and feel comfortable in their skin, and St-Onge never runs out of glowing, joyous facial expressions at every stage to communicate their compatibility. In addition, Hazel and Mari’s outfits and hair are consistently stylish and represent the wealth of expression bubbling within them, from 1963 to the near future. Their lives radiate against the comparatively plain backdrops of suburbia and high school. In scenes populated with family members, a variety of hair styles are shown, whether long, short, shaved, curly, wavy, black, brown, gray, or rainbow. A scene of Hazel lovingly braiding her granddaughter’s hair shows how the activity emotionally grounds both of them and serves as an important bonding ritual. Layouts are clear and easy to follow, and the creative team has good instincts for when to employ a large or full-page panel to show off a powerful emotional moment, whether it’s a warm family celebration, an enraged outburst, or a loving embrace.

There are a couple of minor stumbling blocks in the story in the form of editorial notes referencing digital, supplemental chapters about events outside of the main story. These notes could have been used as miniature advertisements at the end of the book, but in the heart of the action, they might give readers the feeling of missing out on bonus material. Also, at the beginning of the story, Hazel refers to the lighter-skinned Mari as a “honey colored maiden” and “honey glazed goddess.” While used as terms of endearment, these expressions are part of a pattern of non-white characters in literature described as foods and flavors. The pattern only lasts as long as the opening scene, but it’s there.

This 88-page queer black love story has a lot to unpack and appreciate that this review can’t cover out of length concerns, but the central conceit has a lot of characterization and commentary hung with care for the story’s impact and adoration for the central romance. Instances of characters clearly stating their interests or identity will serve as encouragement, reinforcement, and education for readers of all stripes. With official release on Valentine’s Day 2018 and content that falls squarely within a wholesome tween/teen range (no explicit nudity, no swearing besides “Hell,” lots of family drama and reconciliation, a bathtub embrace), audiences will positively swoon to find this on your library’s shelf. Its message of “Love whomever you want to love. Just make sure they’re deserving of your love,” deserves to be embraced by a wide audience.

Bingo Love
by Tee Franklin
Art by Jenn St-Onge and Joy San
ISBN: 9781534307506
Image, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16