Friday, January 30, 2015

Off to ALA Midwinter 2015!

Even though I travel a good bit, I always get excessively nervous before I leave, even if it's a trip I've made a million times before.  Later today, I'm leaving to go to the ALA Midwinter conference.  I go down to the city pretty often, but not in the winter, so this should be fun!  

I've never been to Midwinter before, and it seems really different from the big Annual conference.  I don't know if I'll be able to attend Annual this year, but I really, really want to!  

We'll see how this goes.  I hate typing on my iPad so no reviews until I've recovered from library madness.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Accidental Highwayman

Books with excessively long titles in the style of 18th-century novels amuse me.  To wit:

Sorcery and Cecelia: Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

et cetera.

I was primed and ready to be a gung-ho fan of The Accidental Highway Man: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Various Sundry Magical Persons Besides.  Look at that title!  It is glorious in its verbosity, and I had high hopes for a YA romp through the highwayman's England.


I only made it a few chapters in and already a lot of the story had already happened.  This was bizarre.  I was under the impression that a plot should unfold, not happen in the first third of the book and then meander for another two hundred pages.  Also, the author tries to pull off snarky footnotes but with little success.  I found them more irritating than amusing.  However, I must say that the voices are suitably authentic, as were the realities of living at that time (beer for breakfast, bathing but rarely, etc.).

Here's what I got through: Kit Bristol was formerly in a circus troupe, but his certificate of indenture was won in a card game by his new master, to whom he is a manservant.  His new master is solitary, but Kit's got a roof over his head and food in his belly, so who's to complain?  Then, the BIG BAD REDCOATS march into town and declare WAR  on all the highwaymen.

Wait, wait, wait.  Question: Was this a problem they had formerly ... ignored?  Simply not noticed?  I mean, I highly doubt that one day the head of the British Army said, "Blast!  People are being robbed by highwaymen!  Let's get some hangings done, lads!"  I would assume this was more of an ... ongoing struggle.  But never mind logic!


Right, right, back to the war on highwaymen.  A shopkeeper's wife suggests to Kit that his master may in fact be the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack.  Kit, being excessively perceptive, never, not once, considered his master's nighttime habits as unusual, nor his possession of an exceedingly fine and furious horse.  Poor horse is creatively named Midnight, because he's black.  At least it wasn't Blackie or something.  

Fortunately-ish for Kit, his master, who really is Whistling Jack, gets shot and gives him a will.  In order to draw away the brigands who shot his master, Kit dons Whistling Jack's outfit, jumps on Midnight's back, and rides pell-mell across the countryside in search of this witchy fairy type person. There, he learns that his master (now former master, deceased) had a contract with the fae to rescue the fairy princess from being married off to the Crown Prince (chappie who would later become Mad King George III).  How convenient.  AND the "will" given to Kit is actually a map of what is to come, because Whistling Jack could see into the future, or something?  I don't know.

There's all this buildup about rescuing the princess and how that will fulfill the bargain and Kit doesn't know if he can do it and blah blah blah and he accidentally frees her.  Actually, the scene is written in such a way that it's not obvious that she actually escapes.  Afterwards, Kit was saying to himself, "Wow, that was pretty easy, rescuing her" and I was like, wait, that happened?  Not clear at all.

So of course she's spunky and stuff and how the rest of the novel gets fleshed out, I simply couldn't tell you, because at this point I was bored stiff.  How many times have I read this story already?  Done with better characters and fewer clichés?  Oh, about a million.  And to think that this thin story is going to be stretched out into a trilogy makes me shudder.

The summary is more interesting than the actual book.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Oh, for Pete's sake.  I should just return Storm and try again later.  But I am stubborn and it will continue to migrate around my apartment until it's really, really due at the library.

Alas, I own Jude the Obscure so there's no such imposing time limit on that one.

I'm almost done with Deep Sky, the last in Patrick Lee's Breach trilogy.  I absolutely can't wait for the sequel to Runner (not in that series, but a super-awesome thriller just the same)!


You could call my slow progress through The Emperor's Blades luxuriating in the story, and you wouldn't be half wrong.  I am loath to finish it before I can get my paws on the next one.


Return to Augie Hobble is an illustrated chapter book by Lane Smith.  I'm already sold on it, and I've only read two chapters.



Emmy Laybourne, awesome person, has a new novel out.  Alas, it's not a Monument 14 one, but it's set on a cruise ship where things go very, very wrong.  It's called Sweet and I'm having lots of fun with it.

Finally, Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin.  I'm not liking this as much as I liked Breaking Stalin's Nose, but the illustrations are really something.


Mini-Review: This Green Hell

I read this book back in August, and because I am Officially Old, my memory isn't what it used to be.  I have hazy recollections of this book and I know that I enjoyed it, but I didn't adore it.  Beneath the Dark Ice, which is the first in the Arcadian series, is definitely the best.  That being said, I'm excited that Greig Beck is continuing the series.  I've had an ARC of Gorgon, which is book five, on my Kindle for several months now (sorry sorry sorry!) and I just need to suck it up and buy Black Mountain so that I'm all up to date on the Arcadian's adventures.

Right.  So.  This Green Hell.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Atlanta Burns; or, Chuck Wendig is THE MAN

First of all, Wendig, get on that sequel because I need more Atlanta Burns in my life.  Please and thank you.

Secondly, you (yes, all of you) go out and get this as soon as it's released in its omnibus format.  If you have both stories from when they were released separately (Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog) and you haven't read them yet, drop everything (excepting children, pets, and Waterford crystal) and read them now.  You have been warned given a friendly hint.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Nimona Rocks My Socks

I am really horrible at keeping track of webcomics.  I like my comics all in one tidy bundle.  Unfortunately, this kills trees.  However, I find that I read comics more easily in a big hunk (totally official nomenclature, that) than in bits and pieces.


I found Nimona on NetGalley, and we all know what can happen with comics on NetGalley.  No bueno.  I mean, some things have been awesome, but it's a bit like mining for a precious gem: there's a lot of sweat and dirt and crappy writing (wait, that doesn't happen in mining) for a low yield of good product.  But then, I looked closer at Nimona.  Noelle Stevenson?  Don't I follow her on Twitter?  I don't really know why I follow her on Twitter, mind, but she's funny and insightful and I like her style.  Of course, heck yeah I'm going to read the compilation of her webcomic.

Stevenson's style reminds me a bit of Jeffrey Brown in that it's deceptively simple.  There's no artsy-fartsyness to it, but it feels vibrant and fun.  Generally, when you've got a fantasy/swashbuckler going on, it tends to get a little ... New Age-y in the art department.  What is so charming about Nimona is that we've got shapeshifting and magic and villain's lairs, but it's all quite stylized and crisp, making for a sort of visual irony (yes, I totally made that up).

Ballister Blackheart is a famous criminal, fallen from grace as a student at the Institution years ago.  His beef with the Institution probably isn't helped by the fact that his ex-best friend (and possible other kind of best friend) Goldenloin sort of blew his arm off at a joust.  With an exploding lance.  Now Ballister's got one mechanical arm and a serious chip on his shoulder.  One day, a smallish, roundish girl with punky hair shows up, says her name is Nimona, and establishes herself as Blackheart's apprentice.  Nimona loves death, destruction, and mayhem, but she's mistrustful of Blackheart's reliance on science and logic.  She believes in magic.

The plot is actually quite complex for such a short comic, but Blackheart and Nimona decide to take down the Institution after discovering that it has been hoarding supplies of a poisonous substance called jaderoot, all while claiming to have the health and happiness of the citizens at heart.  Nimona can shapeshift into pretty much anything or anyone, which is exceedingly useful both in battle and in espionage.  She's hilarious and I love her.  Okay, fine, Blackheart is pretty easy on the eyes for a slim comic villain, too.

I only have the tiniest of quibbles, and it's that the ARC I received does NOT have the exclusive epilogue, which I must have NOW, but I suppose I'll have to wait until the book actually comes out and then just throw my money at Noelle Stevenson.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mini-Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

FIRST OF ALL, I would like to address the whole e.e. cummings thing going on with the title.  It really irks me when cover designers, publishers, graphic designers, what-have-you, decide to make a title (which in one of the rare rules of English that actually works most of the time, must be observed) all lower-case letters.  Gah.  Is it like this book is so spare and zen that we don't even need capital letters anymore?  Just toss them away?

Secondly, I would like to point out that I did not read every single word in this book.  I skimmed.  So, on that basis, choose to view this review how you will.

This book is for a select few.  It's for the GOOP readers and the people who pay $500 for a pair of designer sneakers to look normcore.  It's for people who are on speaking terms with their clothing.  And it's for people who have the time to thank every stinking thing they wore that day for doing a good job.  Gag me with a spoon.


So, premise: Marie Kondo is a Japanese woman who has become Very Rich by going into other people's houses and telling them how to clean.  It's always been a part of her personality, she says.  She talks about reading home decorating magazines as a kid (fine) and making up "a variety of my own solitary 'games.'" Hey Marie, what do you do for fun?  Oh, well, "after reading a feature on saving money, I immediately launched into a 'power-saving game' that involved roaming around the house and unplugging things that weren't in use, even though I knew nothing about electric meters."  Beg pardon?  You unplugged stuff at your house for fun?  As a child, how did you know it wasn't in use?  Didn't your parents go crazy every time they had to reset the clock on the microwave?  Plus, I mean, kids really shouldn't be messing with power outlets.  No joke.  As a children's librarian, I feel it a solemn duty to mention that.

There is a lot more in the following chapters about her obsessive habits, which, frankly, freak me out--mostly because she dives into them 110% and thinks that it's totally normal to attempt to classify people's clutter habits by their zoological zodiac sign.  This is pretty much when I stopped reading and started skimming.

Two main concepts in this book both puzzle me and mildly disturb me (part of this may be my upbringing and cultural references, so, that's the caveat): 1) When you touch something, you impart energy to it to make it keep functioning for you.  Bonus points if you verbally thank it for doing its job. 2) Tidying your house will make a substantial impact on your life, even possibly giving you diarrhea or galvanizing you into getting a divorce!

Look.  I am not going to talk to my socks and thank them for keeping my feet warm.  I am not going to unload my purse every stinking night to give it a rest and then reload it all the next morning, because I don't have the time for that.

Finally, I'd like to address the overuse of the word "tidy" and its derivatives.  While not as gag-reflex-inducing as "moist," nor as twee as "panties," I still find the word "tidy" grating.  I wonder if Kondo used a specific Japanese word that has no direct English translation, and so we got "tidy" instead.  In this case, it's not really the author's fault.  But didn't the translator think about certain connotations of "tidy"?  Let me just give you two visual examples:



Toilet bowls can be tidy.  Cat urine can be made tidy by "instant clumping action."  Given those associations, I do not want my apartment to be "tidy."  I'll settle for "clean" and "smells nice."



Friday, January 23, 2015

The Imaginary [Book I Wish I Had Never Read But Did and Now Dangit]

Perhaps I am blind and don't know it (that would be some Inception-level insanity right there), or horribly tasteless, or uncultured, or what have you, but I simply can't see why people are raving about this book.  I found it depressing and with very little character growth.  Most of the characters were unlikable and not in a snarky way.

Amanda Shuffleup finds a boy in her wardrobe one day, except she's the only one who can see him.  He's her imaginary friend!  Yay!

Okay, fine!  I'll give it a shot.  She names her imaginary friend Rudger.  To me, this was the first stumbling block.  I kept reading it as "Roger," which makes a bit more sense.  How would one pronounce "Rudger"?  Hard "g" or soft "g"?  Rud-jer or Rud-ger?  Then I kept thinking of Rutger Hauer and things got all Blade Runner on me.

Amanda, darling little thing that she is, uses Rudger to scam people out of all kinds of stuff.  Extra cookies?  Rudger needs two, but she'll eat them for safe keeping!  You want her to eat what?  Rudger doesn't eat that.  Amanda's mother is presented as being *open minded* when in reality she is her daughter's yes-man (er, yes-woman).

Alas, there is an Evil Man out to try and take Rudger away from Amanda and gobble him all up!  After a failed imaginary friend-napping attempt, Amanda is far more concerned with her broken piggy bank and winning a game of hide and seek than the fact that her nominal best friend was almost taken away.  I suppose you could argue that children are inherently selfish, blah blah blah, but Amanda is the most self-absorbed child I've come across in literature since Mike Wormwood in Matilda.  There's this infuriating car scene where Amanda just yammers away and Rudger is suffering, poor fellow, and she deigns to forgive him for the ruckus caused by the almost-napping.

While at the store, Amanda and Rudger are cornered by Mr. Bunting, the Evil Mustachioed Gobbler of Imaginary Friends, who thankfully unfortunately hits Amanda with his car.  She goes off to hospital and Rudger ... starts to fade.

Now, look.  If I were Rudger, I'd thank all the saints of the imaginary friends and fade away into nothingness, blissfully untouchable and unaware of Amanda's mindless chatter.  BUT NO.  Rudger falls in with a group of unattached imaginary friends looking for new children to glom on to.  All Rudger can think about is getting back to Amanda.  Clearly, Rudger has some masochistic tendencies.  I suppose I was intended to find the variety of imaginary friends positively dee-lightful, but I just kept wishing Rudger would disappear and be out of his misery.

Total spoiler here: he ends up finding Amanda with the assistance of Mrs. Shuffleup's old imaginary friend, and together they defeat the evil Mr. Bunting and wake Amanda from a coma, so she can go about her old ways.  The end.

I didn't notice that Amanda learned anything, or changed her tune, at all.  She's still whingey, nasty Amanda.  Toss in a totally out of place Indiana Jones reference and some "eh" illustrations by Emily Gravett (she is not my favorite illustrator), and you've got a hot mess from which children will learn that they needn't be polite or caring to have an awesome (imaginary) BFF.


This review has been brought to you by a bitter spinster librarian.  I'm off to go knit some cat hair into a girdle now, thanks.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fatale Vol. 3: West of Hell

Blast!  I read this far too long ago to remember all the gritty details, but I can tell you that I liked it very much.

Woo, what an awesome review, Pam!  That just makes me want to RUN OUT AND BUY THE BOOK.  NOT.

Sorry.  I'll try that again.

Josephine is the titular femme fatale (interestingly, the term femme fatale in its original context does not use the word "fatale" as in deadly," but more as in "you are fated to be entangled with this woman."  It doesn't mean you have to die, although with Jo, death comes far more often than not).  This volume, West of Hell, gives more of her backstory.  I suppose the best way to describe it would be her various incarnations throughout mankind's history.  This is a collection of short stories about Jo and her fate--it's inescapable, and it's frightening, but she learns to embrace it.

For fans of noir, Hitchcock, and Raymond Chandler.

Skellig

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Recently, I wrote about how certain authors just didn't connect with me, even though they are extremely well-reviewed.

A variant of this reading phenomenon has occurred in my community with David Almond.  Skellig doesn't really go out very much, but I thought it was one of the most extraordinary and lyrical YA novels I'd read in a long time.  I also really enjoyed Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, although I think that I am the only person, to date, to have actually checked it out of the library.  That's such a shame, because not only is it a fabulous story, but it's illustrated by Dave McKean (cue here my brother saying "Ew."  He doesn't like McKean's style!).  See what I mean?  To each their own preferences.

I keep trying to give teens Almond's work, but they always look at me as if they know I've lost my mind (I try to keep that under wraps as much as possible).  Plus, I've noticed that as soon as they see an award sticker on a book, it must be one of those read-it-for-school-adults-will-make-me-read-this books.  And off they run.

Okay, so ignore the sticker.  Ignore the cover (ours is pretty old and not as graphically interesting as the new cover).  Just read it.


Michael's family has moved away from their house in the city to a ramshackle, dusty old dump in the middle of nowhere.  Okay, that might be stretching the truth, but it's how Michael sees things.  He's particularly peeved because they did all this because his baby sister (so far nameless) was born prematurely and needs special care.  Naturally, his parents are completely beside themselves and watch the little one like hawks, and naturally, Michael feels neglected and left out.  You know, that nasty jealousy that grows in a sibling's heart.  And don't tell me that you were never jealous of your little brother or sister.

Determined to be as fussy as possible, Michael starts poking around the old shed on their property even though (and because) his dad told him not to.  He also makes friends with a cheerfully odd young girl who is their neighbor.  Mina is a nature lover and poetry-quoter.  She's a quirky dreamer; a not-quite-grown-up manic pixie dream girl.  Michael and Mina discover a pale, withered creature hiding in the shed.  They care for him, and feed him Chinese food (the other food of love?), and restore his faith in himself.  What's so lovely about this story is that while Michael and Mina focus on helping Skellig, they're unaware that in doing so, they are becoming better people.  Michael learns compassion and pity, so when his baby sister takes a turn, he realizes that he's loved her all along, and cannot bear to lose her.

Skellig's not an angel--not exactly--although he does have wings.  Perhaps he is hope--"the thing with feathers."  Perhaps he really is something unknowable who merely lost his way.  Perhaps he is whatever he needs to be to the people who meet him.  This is a lyrical, emotional experience and a prime example of magical realism at its very best.  



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I managed to whittle down my currently-reading list from eight (eight!!!) titles to four.  Slightly more manageable.

The given Jude the Obscure.  I have made progress, I swear.  Things are starting to get scandalousssss.

Still kind of forgot about Storm by D.J. MacHale.  I know I can knock it out in an afternoon, so maybe I'm just feeling cocky.

I'm getting into the super-twisted intrigues of The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley.  On reflection, this is one I should purchase so I can really savor it.

Finally, and this is a shameful one, just getting to In A Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis.  I kept putting off reading it because I was afraid that she wouldn't write anything else, but as soon as I found out she had a new book coming, I was all over this one.  It's much faster moving than Not A Drop to Drink, but every bit as scary and fascinating and brutal.


A Pandemic of Snoozing



Hmm. I am having a bit of a bipolar start to the year with YA fiction: I either LOVE IT TO DEATH AND BACK or I can't stand it.

So. I like books about pandemics. I like movies about pandemics. I would not like a pandemic to strike the area where I live, and I was pretty freaked out by the Ebola outbreak earlier this year (here's where the message-board people chime in and say that it's a government conspiracy to cull the population or something). Anyway, this book is called Pandemic, which is pretty darn straightforward.

As with so many other YA books that I either failed to finish or finished with a deep sense of smoldering regret, this could have been very good. However, the world-building is weak and the character development is somehow both cliche and nonexistent. I made it about five chapters in before I decided I simply could not take it any more.

So what went wrong? Well, things didn't start out so well. Lil is someone who had a Traumatic Incident (you can probably guess what kind of incident it was, although the details were different than what I guessed). She didn't tell many people about it, only her parents, the cops, and her two best friends, one of whom didn't believe her. She didn't tell her boyfriend, but pushed him away because he might be dangerous. He seemed like a tool, anyway, so. 

Lil copes with her Traumatic Incident by stockpiling (which isn't a reaction I've heard of before, but obviously any stressor can cause abnormal behavior) and worrying about disease outbreaks or natural disasters. Her father works with infectious diseases. One day, the news reports an outbreak of influenza in a town called Avian.

Avian. Really? Really. Really. Is this a bird flu, because your symbolism is killing me here. 

ANYWAY, literally nothing happens except Lil moans about how she just wants to be alone and smoke. I guess eventually there is a pandemic and she learns to trust a Hot Guy, but naturally there's a high body count, yadda yadda yadda. So much nothinghappened in the first part of the book that I couldn't bear to keep going. Even the promise of learning more about the Blue Flu (yes, that's what it's called) couldn't lure me onward.



I also find it strange that the font in this book is SO BIG, thus making the book longer than it actually is, and yet the pace was slower than molasses.

I'm at a certain level of "I can't even," but I'm not sure which one.

The Leveller

Oooh, this is a sassy, fun, quick read.  I actually wished it were longer because I think the ending needed a titch more resolution, but other than that, pure fun.

You know how when you have a really loathsome day, there's always something to turn to that's comforting and generally, quite mindless?  For some, it might be creating art, like knitting or painting.  For others, it might be reading or cooking.  Still others might plug into a video game and let the hours roll past, taking with them the memory of the day.  I rotate between all of the above, but I don't have a gaming console right now (that would require purchasing a television, and my apartment is really small, and I'm really cheap), so although I'd love to play the new-ish Alien game or Injustice or Destiny, I can't.


Nixy's parents are game developers.  Her mom writes dialogue and her dad creates whole new worlds for the world's most popular game: MEEP, or MeaParadisus.  Via an implant, gamers immerse themselves in a virtual reality of their own choosing ... only, sometimes people don't want to come back out.  That's where Nixy comes in.  She an ace at the game--after all, she has primo access thanks to her parents--and for a hundred bucks a pop, she'll get your lollygagging teens back out of the MEEP.  Her slogan is "Nixy Bauer, out in an hour."  And she delivers every.  Single.  Time.

Everything's business as usual--hauling jocks out of their bosom-augmented, hot pants wearing fantasies, fighting off armies with her best friends Moose and Chang, and lying about homework in order to get in some more MEEP time--until her Dad's boss, the BIG BOSS, calls her in.  Not for hacking, or doing some workarounds (hey, what's a genius girl to do?), but to rescue his son.  Diego Salvador's son Wyn entered a custom-built MEEP world and never woke up.  All of the codes and hacks (Awaken codes) to jolt a person out of the game and back into meatspace aren't working.  Teams sent in to find Wyn's consciousness in the MEEP-world returned with PTSD.  Nixy Bauer, home in an hour, has raw talent and guts and has shown herself to be more reliable than any of the programmers in Diego Salvador's employ.  Besides, what's the risk of sending in just one teen girl?  Desperate times, my friends.

Despite the slightly implausible setup, this is a roller coaster ride through phobias, VR, hacking, coding, weaponry, and espionage (I know, it's a lot to take in.  Just think popcorn movie and you'll be aces).  I love that Durango doesn't really make a big deal out of Nixy being a girl and a gamer--in fact, in this world, pretty much every one games, and Nixy happens to be really good at it and she also happens to be female.  Plus, if anyone questions her abilities as a girl, she shuts.  Them.  Down.  She also kicks major antagonist butt.

There is a sweet romance in the book (oh my God, did I just say that?  On the internet???  Who am I?  Has there been an invasion of the body snatchers???) that actually felt like two teens crushing on each other.  It certainly wasn't instalove, I'll give you that.  Wyn and Nix are both flawed, so you're not reading a pretty-pretty romance, either.  In their first meeting, she kicks him, calls him "Einstein" and "hotshot," and pretty much calls him a self-absorbed idiot.  True love!  But when they do get together, it's so darn cute I want to squeeze the romance's chubby little cheeks.

Yep, definitely have to take my temperature.

The only quibble I have is with the speed with which the ending rushes up on the reader.  It's like, "Wait, what?  That's it?  I need more!"  The motivations of the villains were a bit nebulous, but at that point, I was having so much fun I didn't really care that much.

I started this with pretty low expectations and ended up reading it almost straight through.  Wyn!  Er, win!

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Deenie

A brief review of this one:

When I was a kid, I obsessively read the same books over and over and over (and over).  I didn't like branching out into new things, a trait which has stuck with me in some form to this day.  So it passed that I until I took Young Adult Literature in grad school, I'd only read one book by Judy Blume: Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret.  I muddled my way through Forever, although I confess I felt merely depressed by the book, being old and jaded and knowing that high school love isn't forever.

Recently, all-new editions of Judy Blume's books were released, and I reordered a bunch of them.  I withdrew our old copy of Deenie, which looked like this:


except our cover had faded so badly that everything was a uniform shade of pale sunflower gold.  Yikes.  So retro.   

I have mild scoliosis myself.  Not bad enough to need a brace, but irritating enough that my sciatic nerve and piriformis muscle act up and I start popping NSAIDs like candy.  Unlike Deenie, I am not conventionally pretty and no one has ever told me I should be a model.  So, my scoliosis really didn't affect my social life.

Deenie has actually aged really well--I thought it was funny yet thoughtful.  It's a quick read, so if you haven't read it yet, you really should.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ares: Bringer of War

Forgive me, George O'Connor, for I did sin: I was way harsh on Aphrodite before I'd read the rest of the series.  Now, I've done a total 180 and I absolutely adore these graphic novel retellings of Greek myth.  It's clear that O'Connor loves the subject matter, and I really like that the gods and goddesses are as diverse as the people who would have worshiped them.


Ares isn't exactly the most popular god on the block, although I did find Rick Riordan's incarnation of him as a biker dude kind of spot-on.  Ares: Bringer of War draws heavily from The Iliad, but O'Connor helpfully includes end notes and little explanations in the text to help the reader along.  What's interesting about this volume is that O'Connor not only talks about Ares as a god, but also as a father, which isn't really an aspect I'd considered before.  When you think about Greek gods having children with mortals, you generally think of Zeus, because wow.  That dude was creative in his prolific seeding of the world with godlings.

As the gods go back and forth about how involved they are allowed to be in human affairs--specifically the Trojan War--the readers get to see that the gods were interested not only because of the ill-fated beauty contest with the golden apples, but because so many of their children were involved.  Additionally, certain gods were patrons of certain cities, so although their child might be fighting for one side, they felt obligated to also protect their city, which belonged to the enemy.  Yep, things got messy really quickly.

The Trojan War isn't really a *fun* topic, but O'Connor injects a bit of levity into the story with some of the in-jokes amongst the gods.  I appreciated that he stayed focused on the horrors of war, however, and the futility of this battle wherein so many brave soldiers were killed.  I've never fully appreciated the offense of the treatment of Hector's body until this book, where you see that even the gods are horrified at Achilles' act.

Highly recommended, particularly for mythology geeks (represent!).

I received a review copy of this title from :01 Books.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fairest Vol. 3: The Return of the Maharaja

For a book presumably about the ladies of Fables, this certainly has a lot to say about Prince Charming.


I read this a while ago and don't remember much about it, which is never a good sign.  There are books that are so awful that I cannot forget them, and then books that are poorly done and utterly boring, so I forget them.  Fairest Vol. 3 falls into the latter category.

Somehow Charming has come back to life and is hangin' with his harem in one of the ancient India-inspired Fableworlds.  Fine.  Whatever.  Bring him back.

The lady of this volume is Nalayani, whose village has been ATTACKED (egads!) and must thus journey to seek the protection of the Maharaja.  Unfortunately for Nalayani, the Maharaja is none other than the recently-dead Prince Charming, who, as we all know, would rather be having bunga-bunga sexytimes than actually ruling anything.  Oddly, Nalayani isn't a princess or deity, or other Fable, but rather a villager who bears more than a passing resemblance to Katniss Everdeen.  Except Indian.  Okay.

Basically, this book can be summed up as fighting, fighting, flirting, fighting, COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT FOR CHARMING, fin.

I finished this out of spite.  I wasn't going to let the utter dullness of the story beat me into giving up.  However, I wouldn't suggest that anyone else follow my example and actually read this.

Ugh.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Razorhurst

*Edited for clarity*

In spite of the "g'day mate!" stereotype, I've never really connected with realistic fiction books by Australian authors.  I think Australia is awesome!  However, it's strange that almost every YA author I try feels somehow ...  distant from me.  I've never really connected with the storyline or the characters.  They are removed from me in way that I don't understand.  It's as if I'm watching the book unfold, but I can never get close enough to immerse myself in it, to really understand it.  Obviously, there are many exceptions--John Flanagan, Garth Nix--but those writers do speculative/fantasy/sci-fi fiction.  Perhaps it's just the modern settings that throw me off?  Anyway, Razorhurst is, so far, the least standoffish Aussie novel (let's just put Matt Reilly and his exponentially crazy use of italics in his sci-fi/thriller novels to the side, because Matt Reilly is his own thing) I've read.

Before reading Razorhurst, I knew of Justine Larbalestier, but I'd never read any of her books.  I remember the big kerfuffle over the cover of Liar, which is about a person of color and the publisher originally put a white girl on the cover instead.  I also recently found out that Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld are married, which to me was a mind=blown moment.  I mean, obviously authors can marry whomever they want, but I find it so cool when they marry other authors.  Their homes must be vortices of words and imagination.

Plus, the cover for Razorhurst is just phenomenal.  I had to request it.


RIGHT?

So, this is a historical novel with a paranormal twist.  Kelpie is a street kid in Razorhurst, an orphan raised by ghosts.  Yep, you heard correctly: ghosts.  Most people can't see ghosts--Kelpie is one of the very few.  She might only be the only one.  Some ghosts haunt specific places, and others, certain people, and others drift about.  No one--not even the ghosts--knows the "rules" of ghosting, only that it happens to some people and not to others.  However, this isn't really a ghost story--the ghosts are a fun way for Larbalestier to add in flavor and backstory without total infodumping.  Plus, they're sassy, tormented, confused and very human for being very dead.

Larbalestier excels at creating dimensional, flawed, and powerful female characters.  Kelpie's bound and determined never to fall into the hands of social services.  Heaven knows when she bathed last, and she gets herself mixed up in some serious mobster business because she was starving.  With the temptation of an apple, Kelpie sneaks into a boarding house and finds Dymphna Campbell, Razorhurst's most beautiful and most notorious "girl," standing over the body of her latest boyfriend, Jimmy Palmer.  Oh, and Jimmy's standing there too ... as a ghost.  Neither Dymphna nor Kelpie had anything to do with the razorman's gory demise, but it definitely puts a hole in Dymphna's plan to run Razorhurst in place of the two rival upstanding citizens: Glory Nelson, Madam, and Mr. Davidson, Viper.

The one good thing (for Dymphna, anyway) that comes out of Jimmy's death is that she's finally thrown together with Kelpie.  Dymph has had her eye on Kelpie for a long time--ever since she figured out that Kelpie sees ghosts too (yep, Dymph can see them).  The rest ... well, it isn't so good.  The two girls are on the lam from Mr. Davidson, the coppers, possibly Glory Nelson, and various henchmen.

Larbalestier manages to cram murder, kidnapping, narrow escapes, tram rides, shootings, knifings, parties, and even a decent bath for Kelpie into a twenty-four hour period.  Whew!  It's a wild, unforgiving ride.  The plot never falls into sentimentality or the gee-shucks-feel-good resolution that many readers desire.  Think about it: if you were a whore working the slums of Depression-era Sydney, are you going to come out of this a pretty pretty princess with her pretty pretty prince and ride off into the sunset on a white horse, etc.?  Will the scrappy orphan find a home or rich benefactor to become her new family and sing and tap dance with ineffable cheeriness?

No.

Really, no.

Look, it's not all doom and gloom, but Razorhurst is a dirty place, where no man or woman who wants to live will pull a punch.  Upon further reflection, this honesty is one of the reasons Razorhurst grew on me as a book.  Plot-wise, there really isn't a ton to go on, but atmospherically?  This is a gold mine of down-and-out Aussie culture 80 years ago.  Plus, Dymphna and Kelpie are two fantastic, yet very different, characters that you can't help rooting for.

And if you're a bit worried about the paranormal aspect--don't be.  My interpretation is that the ghosts underline the brutality of the times.  They serve as a visual reminder of the blood spilled in the name of turf wars.  They are witnesses to the razor wars, and they testify, in their own way.

Not everyone will love this book, and I kind of like that.  It means that it will be well-loved by those who appreciate it.  Brava!

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.




Friday, January 16, 2015

No Go for Launch


Two books that I wanted to like but couldn't finish:

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Handless girl, religous cult, and murder.  This sounds like a trifecta with the possibility of being a stunning book, but I simply couldn't get into it.  I found the beginning extremely confusing, with Minnow going from a police cruiser to court to being convicted of aggravated assault to going to juvie in the span of like ten pages (okay, I was on my Kindle, but it felt really short).  Obviously, a major part of Minnow's character is that she's so reserved, but I felt no real curiosity about her.  And if nothing else, shouldn't the fact that someone cut off her hands make you interested?  Oddly, I felt nothing at all.

If one of the main plot points is that Minnow doesn't have hands, what's with the hand-focus on the cover?
I would expect that having both of your hands cut off would make a much greater impact on your life than what's depicted for Minnow.  There's a scene where she learns to put on stretchy pants with her stumps and that's about it.  She's told by the doctors that she'll learn to use her stumps as hands and we go on our merry way.  Okay.

From the moment Minnow started reminiscing about Jude, her FORBIDDEN BOYFRIEND, I could pretty much see how that story arc would play out.  Oh-so-innocent girl in reclusive community is saved/falls in love with a forbidden boy, but hark!  The vengeance of the wild cult leader is UPON US.  Lo!

Additionally, if a girl is a survivor of a notoriously insular cult-like community, what's the deal with immediately sending her off to prison?  I would think that she would be protected, not locked away.

After writing the first part of this review, I went and skimmed the book backwards to see if it would have satisfied me.  I stand by my original gut instinct of "not really."

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.

Paperweight by Meg Haston

I know going into this one that I might not be able to finish it.  It's a book about a girl sent to an ED rehab camp in New Mexico.


The only book on ED that I've finished and thought was done extremely well was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  That's a really personal one for me.  I was still purging when I read Wintergirls.  I had taken active steps to get better (therapist, psychiatrist, etc.) but my brain still didn't get the fact that what I was doing could and would eventually kill me.  Wintergirls hit me like a slap across the face and somebody yelling, "Wake up!  Wake up!"  As I've said in other reviews that deal with this topic, I don't consider myself "healed" or "cured" and I never will; however, I'm doing a lot better than I was a few years ago.

The main problem with books about ED is that they are so, so triggering.  Girls and guys will read them in order to get ideas on how to purge differently, or how to hide their restricting.  I'm certainly not blaming any author who writes a book on this topic, but they have to be very aware that their words can send someone into a complete tailspin.  I knew what I was getting into when I requested the book, and I hoped that it would be a powerful, eloquent take on ED, like Wintergirls was.

Aside from the triggering aspects (which weren't as bad as I thought they would be, but Stevie, the protagonist, doesn't talk numbers, which is one of my main triggers, so that helped), the story falters in that it doesn't have a clear direction.  I read almost half the book and was still confused as to why Stevie felt the way she did, why she blamed herself for her brother's death, and why her sexuality wasn't addressed more fully (to be fair, this might have been covered in the second half, but I also read the ending, and I didn't see any answers).

I'm just going to write my way through this and see if I can clarify it for myself: Stevie's family life is less than ideal.  Her mother (who is either French or a Francophile--I never quite got that part either) left a few years ago.  Her brother, Josh, with whom she was very close (this we are told and not shown at ALL), died and Stevie feels that she killed him.  When her mother left, Stevie started restricting her diet.  Then she started hanging out with a Bad Girl who got her into drinking which led to bingeing on all the foods her mother never let her eat, which led to purging, which went back to restricting.  Half of the time when she talks about her ED, Stevie associates it with her mother, and the other half of the time, it's a way for her to die on the anniversary of her brother's death.  Then, she's also involved with this "toxic" girl named Eden.  Which one is it?

The surrounding characters at rehab are mind-numblingly flat and/or cliché.  The woo-woo therapist, the troubled-yet-friendly-roommate, the foreign doctor.  One very big scene in the book is when Stevie's treatment team diagnoses her with bulimia nervosa instead of anorexia nervosa and she freaks out because anorexia means control, but bulimia means failure.  That part was interesting to read, because I felt it was a really accurate portrayal of how ED sufferers think.  Definitions and classifications are important.  Really important.  Sort of like how the number on the scale can send you into a deep depression or elate you so much that you decide that you should restrict even more because it means you are powerful.

I don't know anything about the author other than what she wrote in the afterword, but she identifies herself as a survivor.  The book would have been much more successful had it either focused on Stevie's mom or her brother or Eden, but not all three.

I received this title from Edelweiss as an ARC.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

All right!  Back in the snow and cold, and readreadreadreading.

I don't even know if I should keep Jude the Obscure on here or not.  Just thinking about picking it up depresses me.  I should just do a band-aid read and get it over with.

I am 6% away from the end of Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig and WOW.  I really need to go finish Blackbirds.  I love Wendig's blog and Twitter, and this book is amazing.  Evidently it's a compilation of two novellas, previously published under different titles.  Please please please write more of these, Mr. Wendig.


Regrettably, I left D.J. MacHale's Storm on my work desk while I was gone, so I'm behind.  Rats.


I started The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley on the plane flight down, and it's surprisingly good.  Not as good as Half A King, but in a similar vein.  Nice fantasy intrigue.



I kept this brief because I have to go finish Atlanta Burns now.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ranger's Apprentice: The Kings of Clonmel


After the giant misstep that was Erak's Ransom, Flanagan gets back on track with the tried-and-true knights n' spies game in The Kings of Clonmel.


It's by no means a perfect book, but it's satisfying for a series fan, plus there is trial by combat.  Hello?  Yes, a win.  Also TWINS and USURPERS and DISGUISES and all sorts of fun stuff.

I love to recommend this series to kids who are moving out of kidlit and into YA but might not be ready for some of the gorier bits.  Some parents also get really concerned about cursing and sexual content in books, and this is really tame without being at all preachy.  Basically, it's like a really safe gateway drug (is that an oxymoron) to more epic fantasy.

If you're reading this series in numerical order, congratulations!  You've made it through the epic slog that was Erak's Ransom and will be rewarded with a true-to-form good ol' fantasy with lots of swords, battle horses, insane feats of archery, and threats to the kingdom.


In The Kings of Clonmel, Halt discovers that there is a "cult" of "religious" (all ironic quotation marks intended ironically) fanatics roaming around the neighboring kingdom of Clonmel (which is rather like Ireland, if we're taking Araluen as the UK and Gallica as France and so forth).  He recognizes them as another incarnation of what basically amounts to conquest via trickery and mercenaries: the new religion claims to give the protection of a god, but if the townspeople don't pay up, robbers and murderers show up and cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war (sorry).  Hmm, do you possibly think that the two groups are in cahoots?  Halt knows they are, but the villagers don't.  He induces the head of the Ranger Corps to do some finagling so that his former apprentice, Will, and their good friend Horace, a knight and presciently good fighter, join him in stopping the spread of this cult across Clonmel.  If Clonmel falls ... Araluen might be next.

Complicating matters is the fact that the last autonomous king of Clonmel is actually Halt's twin brother.  And Halt, as the elder twin, should have been king, but his younger brother, being a devious sort, preferred to continually attempt to assassinate his brother even though Halt showed no interest in being king.

O ho!  Now you see how this can be fun.  There is sneaking around in forests, and disguises, and infiltrations, and more disguises, and a seriously awesome combat sequence at the end that is reminiscent of Ivanhoe.  Obviously the kids reading this serious wouldn't have gotten to Sir Walter Scott yet, but if you whet their appetite with this, they'll probably be more likely to grab that classic once they get a bit older.

Actually, that's really why I enjoy this series.  Not only is it easy to read, but it's appropriate for older kids and teens who aren't ready for the serious (and historically accurate) blood and guts of the actual Middle Ages in literature.  Ranger's Apprentice introduces them to concepts used in that time period, and once they get into meatier stuff, it won't seem so foreign.  Plus, I mean, Halt.  Halt is just Awesome (with a capital A).  Will, the erstwhile protagonist, is fine and all, but you know everyone just reads this for Halt.

Highly recommended for middle schoolers or those whose parents object to excessive violence, cursing, and sexuality.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fleeing the Freeze

I recently finished three books in record time, but alas, I am lazy and am also going on vacation for a few days.  If I can stand typing on my iPad (still getting used to that thing), I might get one done.  Or two.

I am fleeing the below-zero wind chill AND snow of my home state for a few days.

tl;dr See you next week.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Deathstroke Vol. 1, New 52

I picked up a bunch of more obscure (to me) New 52 titles at a book sale, and I figured I'd give them a shot.  I did recognize the name "Deathstroke," for which I give myself a pat on the back.

I don't remember where I heard it, mind, but it is familiar-ish to me.

Aha, yes.  Teen Titans.  I never read any of the older TT comics, but I did watch the anime-style show that was on CN for a while.  Now I know that those characters are very different from their comic book counterparts, but hey, it had a catchy theme song in Japanese and I thought Raven was pretty cool.  After wading through Lemire's disappointing Teen Titans: Earth One last year, I fell down the Wikipedia rabbit hole reading about the team.  They seriously need to stop trusting people, because it seems that everyone who joins the team ends up betraying them or turning evil.  Deathstroke is one of the Titans' main enemies.


So, he got his own comic!  I think now that I know what to expect, I'd read more of these, but the first one was a little ... whoa.  Deathstroke, who's a one-eyed metahuman (read: genetically enhanced and with more muscle mass than Jupiter), is an assassin for hire, pure and simple.  Some reviewers said strange things like, "I just couldn't feel for Deathstroke."  Umm ... you're not supposed to.  He's a bad guy.  A thoroughly bad guy.  Not a roguishly charming miscreant.

This is a VERY BAD GUY who enjoys decapitating people.

That's part of why I wasn't over the moon with this--it was so much blood and gore.  I ended up skimming through a bunch of it.  Plus, it was often done in these really big two page spreads that felt really busy, like my eye just didn't know where to go.

And then there's the daddy issues.  I get it.  We have to insert some Deep Thoughts and Issues to mitigate the endless decapitations.  You know how many superheroes have daddy/mommy issues?  Yeah.  This felt forced and silly.

However, I did enjoy the fact that the comic made no apologies for Deathstroke and didn't try to turn him into a good guy.  The villain with a heart of gold trope just would not work here, and thankfully the author avoided it.

Obviously a lot of this relates to my personal preferences for what I read in comics, but it was also a good thing that I read it--I realized that I prefer my comics witty (Young Avengers) or weird (Chew) but just not out-and-out gory.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday



I have a feeling that Jude the Obscure will be this year's The Count of Monte Cristo, only infinitely more depressing.  Still reading it.



Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier.  This is the first book I've read by her, and it's really quite interesting.  Australia + Great Depression + straight razors + ghosts.


The Leveller by Julia Durango.  This was an impulse request from either Edelweiss or Netgalley (SSSF, too lazy to go look), but I'm actually enjoying it.  Kick-butt gamer girl makes a tidy profit getting other teens out of an immersive game.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Brick Bible: The Old Testament

This is slightly out of order, but The Brick Bible: The Old Testament had to go back to the library for someone else's hold before I had the time to review it.  I did manage to survive TBB: The New Testament, reviewed here.


Much like TBB:TNT, Brendan Powell Smith omits a lot of the actual Bible in here, instead focusing on specific events, preferably those involving violence or sex.  If both are involved (see: Dinah), the story gets the royal treatment.  I suppose I wouldn't mind so much if someone recreated Biblical scenes using LEGOs if the focus was more evenly distributed.  Plus, a bunch of the LEGO figure choices are just plain bizarre.  Actually, looking back at my review of The New Testament, this one actually makes more sense.  Relatively.  Sort of.  Let's start, shall we?

In the beginning, there was an angry-looking man with a beard and a robe, and he created.  This is God; Smith also uses the Hebrew Yahweh.  God floats around creating things, including a giant crowd of naked people.  Hmm.  This is pre-Adam and Eve, so I'm not sure where all of these naked people went once God created the first man and woman.  Anyway.  This was super tiring, so God takes a nap on a hammock when he's done.

In the meantime, Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge and sin against God.  Once they realize they're naked, they become Hawaiian Adam and Eve.  God doesn't much like this costume, so he kills a cow (complete with LEGO blood) and makes them caveman outfits instead.  They are turned out of Eden and start having kids, namely Abel and the infamous Cain.  Again, much LEGO blood is shed.  After more procreation, we get to the bit where the angels come down from heaven and take human wives for themselves.  WARNING: this is accompanied by a very interesting/graphic childbirth LEGO scene where the woman's vagina is literally as big as her head, mostly because she just gave birth to a really big baby.  There is a lot of LEGO blood here and in the following panels as the Nephilim wreak havoc on humanity.

God, understandably, gets mad and has Noah build an ark to save righteous humans and the animals.  Here we hit a little hitch: Powell's narration has Noah gathering "pairs of clean and unclean animals" into the ark.  Actually, Noah had to have seven clean animals, not just two (Gen. 7:2).  Maybe it was hard to find seven LEGO sheep?  Anyway, the flood comes, everyone dies and becomes rather gruesome LEGO skeletons, and Noah sacrifices a giraffe (???) to God.  This struck me as totally bizarre because ... why would you kill a giraffe when you had so many other animals you could sacrifice?  That were smaller?  Then we have the scene where Noah gets drunk and naked and Ham sees him and goes tee-heeing to his brothers.  When Noah sobers up, he curses his son.  And then he falls over and dies.  Just ... right there on the ground.  Shem and Japheth look at him like, "Oh. So that just happened."

The Tower of Babel, which could have been a really epic LEGO project, gets short shrift, and we quickly move on to Abram and Sarai leaving Ur with Terah (Abram's father), who promptly falls over and dies in the next panel.  Sarai gives Slave Leia Hagar to Abram as a concubine, and Ishmael is born.  Then God renames Abram Abraham and tells him he has to get circumcised.  As I mentioned in my New Testament review, Smith seems to think that this involves castrating people, because there are gouts of blood and LEGO circles that are pretty darn big being cut off of these guys.  Ouch.

Meanwhile, Lot and his daughters survive the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and his daughters freak out and incestuously bear their father's children.  So, like their own brothers.  Anyway.  That's also in the Bible, but it's kind of weird to put that in and leave out, you know, the book of Psalms.

We tootle through the stories of Isaac, Esau, and Jacob without too much of a hitch.  And now: Dinah.  Dinah is hot, and Shechem just can't deal, so he rapes her in a field.  We have a lovely scene of Dinah looking terrified and Shechem, pantsless, handing her a bouquet of flowers.  "Hi, so I raped you because I love you!  Have some flowers?"  When Dinah's brothers find out, they require all the men in Shechem's city to get circumcised.  You guessed it: there's an assembly line set up and all the guys get a whack and a wee little LEGO bandaid to put over their man parts.  Then Dinah's brothers run in and chop them all up into little bits.  More LEGO blood.

Smith spends a lot of time on Joseph in Egypt, so here are some interesting points:

  • Joseph's "coat of many colors" seems to belong to someone from either Mayan or Aztec culture.  As it would in Mesopotamia.
  • Joseph's "uniform" in Potiphar's house is pretty much a mankini.
  • Chefs in ancient Egypt wore toques.  
Woo!  We made it to Exodus!  So, the usual start: bad Pharaoh, kill all the babies, Moses kills an Egyptian, runs away, and gets married.  His wife circumcises their son with a "flint knife" that looks like a screwdriver.  The ten plagues are pretty much as usual, except for during the tenth plague, God goes around with a giant black axe and hacks the firstborns to pieces.  Hmm.  More LEGO blood!  One of the funniest parts of this whole book occurs right after the Red Sea kills Pharaoh's army: the Israelites are instructed to head into the wilderness of Sin.  There is a rock formation on which someone has helpfully written "SIN --->" in LEGO blocks.  

Okay, Ten Commandment time.  According to the LEGO panels: if you take God's name in vain, he will kill you with an axe.  If you work on the Sabbath, your husband will stab you in the back.  If you dishonor your mother, she has the right to kill you with a stick.  If someone steals your baby, stab him in the heart.

Strangely, the Ark of the Testimony (Ark of the Covenant) has gryphons on top instead of angels.  I guess that was just too hard to do, huh?  

Smith wusses out of Leviticus and just has Aaron and his sons anointed, and then shows God zapping Nadab and Abihu for offering up improper incense to Him.  

Numbers gets way more page time, which is a bit odd, but when you consider that Smith really likes showing battles and blood, it kind of makes sense.  He also seems to enjoy painting God as just plain hating Israel and killing them with plagues and fire and such whenever possible, omitting the part about how they directly disobeyed him like all the time.  

Deuteronomy: Moses dies, God buries him with a shovel.  I guess God needs a shovel.

Joshua: Slave Leia Hagar Rahab hides the Israelite spies and is saved when Jericho is destroyed.  The conquest of the Promised Land is shown in serious LEGO blood detail.

Judges: More conquest.  Evidently if you drive a tent pin into someone's head, their hair falls off (Jael and Sisera).  Fighting fighting fighting ... here Jephthah burns his daughter as a sacrifice which is NOT what happened: she went to serve God at the tabernacle.  Reading comprehension, Mr. Smith.  We have a great scene of soldiers "inspecting women" to make sure they're virgins (ew!).  And thankfully, we've made it to 1 Samuel (here just called "Samuel").

You know, it bugs me that Smith has the Ark just being toted around uncovered--it had to be covered at all times, otherwise if you looked upon it, you would die.  Just sayin' ... Indiana Jones had the right idea.  Pretty much the rest of the book (including 1 Kings and 2 Kings) is just unending scenes of people getting killed or smote by God.

Like I said, if it had been more even-handed, this would be interesting for visual learners, but Smith seems intent on just showing ALL THE BATTLES of the Israelites and skipping fun stuff like Psalms  and Esther (one of my favorites).  With his penchant for naked LEGOs, can you imagine what he would have done with Song of Solomon?  Missed opportunity, my friend.

If you feel tempted to read this, do so for the giggles only.  End with a facepalm, and you're all set.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Time Traveling Nazi Ghosts and Other Curiosities

Okay, if you're like me, and you heard "time traveling Nazis" and immediately thought of Jeremy Robinson's SecondWorld, I salute you.  I'll also urge you to just go read SecondWorld again, because it's fun and actually kind of creepy and Robinson does a good job with the concept.  Manuel Loueiro's time traveling Nazi cruise liner and assorted ghosts doesn't fare nearly as well.  The style and quality of The Last Passenger actually mimics the fatal voyage of the Titanic quite closely.  While it starts out quite strongly, with interesting characters and a peculiar mystery, it hits an iceberg and sinks into the cold oblivion of brain-cell-killing rubbish.


The story follows a woman named Kate Kilroy--actually, it's Catalina Soto, because she's Spanish, but that really plays zero role in this story, so, never mind that, then--who is mourning her husband's death.  They both worked as reporters for a big London news agency.  To try and give Kate some closure, their mutual boss gives her her husband's last assignment: an online gambling magnate has inexplicably purchased a massive cruise liner involved in some very, shall we say, interesting circumstances right before the official outbreak of World War II.  A Nazi cruise ship--the first and last.

In the beginning, I thought the story moved along at a nice clip: the prologue was creepy and intriguing, and initially, Kate was an interesting character.  She was tenacious yet completely shattered by the loss of her husband.  Unfortunately, once we really get into the actual meat of the story, things fall apart quickly, a bit like a poorly-made raft being ripped apart in rough seas.

The man who's behind the mysterious sale and retrofitting of the Valkyrie (aka Nazi Cruise Ship of Death, tagline: Welcome to the Third Reich of the rest of your afterlife!) is named Isaac Feldman, and he is not really a mobster, as Kate has been led to believe.  Dang.  I was kind of excited about the intrepid heroine partnering with a British mobster.  Anyway.  When a group of sailors found the Valkyrie adrift so many decades ago, they found one person alive: a baby, wrapped in a tallit and with a Star of David around his neck.  Why was there a Jewish baby on the Valkyrie?

Yes, you're right: Isaac and the baby are one and the same.  In a desperate attempt to understand his origin, Isaac plans to sail the Valkyrie once again.  Kate signs on to cover the voyage, and notices that there's a large crew of scientists aboard as well, as well as Feldman's head of security and a "Slavic" bombshell named Senka who acts as the spy/muscle.  Feldman reveals that they are not just making an ocean crossing, but rather, heading for the exact point where the Valkyrie's maiden voyage ended, at some sort of cosmic confluence point named after a burly Russian scientist who appears in two chapters and then disappears.  Everybody, naturally, goes, "What?  No!  I didn't sign up for time travel!" but Feldman appeases them by giving them a satellite link to a totally superfluous babe-scientist back home who will send them all the information they require.

At this time, I was having major second thoughts.

But wait!  We haven't even gotten into how Kate brought along her dead husband's ashes in an urn (as you do!!!) and then he shows up as a ghost but a ... corporeal ghost who can have the sexytimes.  Another ghost on the ship has pretty ... um, you know, sexytimes with Senka as well.  Later this ghost is revealed to be a malicious Jewish demon, summoned by the grandfather in the Jewish family who literally picked the worst ship ever to stowaway on.

As we neared the end, I just prayed for it to be over.  The characters turned into little figurines moved about the ship as needed, and Kate devolved quickly into a whimpering fool.  It would have been far more satisfying had everyone just died and ended the book.

Apart from the utter insanity of the "plot," we have some really interesting quotes as well.  Part of it, I think, has to do with the fact that this was translated.  As a few of the scientists attempt to woo Kate, she suggests Senka as an alternative.  One man says, " 'We do not play on the same team, unfortunately.' 'What do you mean?' Kate asked, confused.  'I believe Mr. Paxton is referring to the fact that Senka is a lesbian, Kate.' "  I actually had to reread that passage a few times to figure out what meant Senka was a lesbian.  This may be my personal vernacular, or specific to my geographic origin, but I generally hear "batting for the other team" used.  Rarely, "playing for the other team."  Not "playing on the same team."  To me, that implies that her loyalties are elsewhere, not her affections.  It's a really minor detail, but it threw off my comprehension of the conversation.  Additionally, the author seems to think that Senka's experience being gang-raped as a child turned her into a lesbian.  Right.

Did you know this about "Americans" as a whole?  "Robert had enjoyed the trip so much that he was instantly converted into a lover of cruises and displayed the same brand of childish wonder Americans tend to express when they take an interest in something."  Oookay.  What does that mean, exactly?  If you are not American, you can't be obsessed with something.  Do people in Germany not build model trains, or collect coins, or do anything like that?  Must be just those ca-ray-zee Americans.

Even if you are lured in by the thought of time travel and Nazis and ships, please, please, please don't read this.  On the other hand, the sense of relief when the book is finally over is really something.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Grab Yer Torch and Pitchfork!

I rarely enjoy "critically-acclaimed" films, unless those films involve Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant.  Otherwise, what many find "inspiring" I find saccharine; what many deem "thoughtful" I call insipid.

In a few months, it will have been one year since I started blogging my book reviews in earnest.  It's really just a cathartic release for me.  I have extremely strong emotional reactions to books, and it's good to write them down.  I type faster than I write longhand, hence the blog and not a journal.  When I started blogging, there were certain reviewers and bloggers who I looked up to more than I should have.  I'm not saying I don't still enjoy their reviews, find them helpful, or like reading their blogs--I do.  It's just that I have a bit more perspective now.  If the collective blogging community absolutely flipped their collective lid for a book, and I didn't like it, I thought that maybe there was something wrong with me.  And then I realized: why should I care what these other people think about what I think about a book?  I certainly enjoy having critical discussions about books and so forth, but just because I didn't love the book du jour and seemingly everyone else did doesn't make me stupid, or tasteless, or dense.  It just makes me my own person.

In any sort of writing, you have to find your voice.  I don't think I've found mine yet, and that's okay.  However, over the course of writing loads of book reviews, I've started to isolate my reading preferences and I've become braver in speaking out against things I find offensive or ignorant.

Last year, Red Rising by Pierce Brown was burning through the book community.  Everyone was doing the book review equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch.  That's how crazy everyone was--and still is--for this book.  I actually started it twice, because the first time, it just didn't grab me.  Then I got sucked into it, and finished it.  I considered giving it a Goodreads 2 star rating--which means "it was okay."  And then I had a mild identity crisis and talked myself into giving it a 4 star rating--which means "I really liked it."  I'm not going to retroactively downvote the book.  I realize now that I pressured myself into rating it higher than I really felt about it.  All of these other reviewers were practically losing all bowel functions and I was sitting on my couch with the book saying, "Ehh ... it was pretty good?"

Don't get me wrong: Red Rising is a perfectly fine book.  I personally did not find it Earth-shattering.  Or Mars-shattering or whatever.  It's touted as "genre-defying," and therein lies the problem.  It's not sci-fi enough; it's not dystopian enough, it's not political thriller enough.

Starting Golden Son, I don't know what I was hoping. Maybe that I would care more about the characters. Maybe that it would become this epic space opera marginally involving revolution. Instead, I got, "Hey, we skipped two years, which were pretty important, but neener-neener-neener, and now begins the inevitable fall from grace because it's book two." Redeem yourself and your cause in book three, and boom, done, finito.  

I am bitter, yes. But I refuse to buy into the cult of this book. I find it ... disconcerting just how rabidly enthusiastic so many reviews are. I mean, you'd think Jesus/Mohammed/Buddha/Your-Holy-Person-Of-Choice just announced that they'd written it.  I mean, there are crying gifs and screaming gifs and flailing gifs and people saying that this is "everything" and quoting it and making fan art and whoa nelly.  Pierce Brown is very, very good at writing quotable lines that sound excessively profound.  He'd be a good minister of propaganda.  And readers buy into that propaganda.  They swallow it hook, line, and sinker, because it sounds good.  It's the classic story of the repressed rising up against the 1%, but on Mars.  

I made it 12% of the way in and recognized about 2 characters. Everyone else was new but we are expected to just *get it* and go with the story. I really couldn't stomach an entire book of political intrigues punctuated by more bloody battles. I'm going to go wallow in the pit of despair that is Jude the Obscure just to match my mood.


All right, now bring it.  I'm ready.



Bottom line: if you loved the first one, you'll probably love this one. And vice versa.

P.S. I read the ending and I really wouldn't categorize it as a "cliffhanger" or you know, "all the things." Shock value is not the same as a cliffhanger.