"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Lady Killer

Dark Horse
Lady Killer
Jamie S. Rich
Joelle Jones

The Summary
"Josie Schuller is a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother - but she's also a ruthless, effiecient killer!  She balances cheerful domestic bliss with coldly performed assassinations, but when Josie finds herself in the crosshairs, her American-dream life is in danger!

"This new, original black-comedy series combines the wholesome imagery of early mid-century domestic bliss with a tightening web of murder, paranoia, and cold-blooded survival."

The Good
Let me say one thing first:  Wow.  Just - wow.

I am not (usually) the type to enjoy graphic illustrations of violence; however, I really enjoyed Lady Killer.  Josie is a really great character.  Complex, considering her dueling identities as American housewife and cold-blooded assassin, but she's competent and intelligent - and, holy cow, she's tough as nails.  As her creators pointed out in an interview with Comics Alliance, Josie is "one of the most capable people you'd be likely to meet."

Girl power, you know?

I also like Josie because she's a character who is constantly evolving.  When she encounters a problem, she works to resolve it; when she's faced with life-and-death decisions, she makes them and adapts her strategies.  You get to see multiple sides of her personality and, more importantly, you get to see her worlds collide - and how she deals with it.

Additionally, I liked the intrigue involved.  Josie's story is neither straight-forward nor simple:  It's an intricately woven series of events, murders, and decisions that have lead up to a specific point in her life.  It's her fight for survival (which is simple enough to understand), but it's riddled with complex relationships and political affiliations that gives it an undercurrent of suspense, reflecting a power-struggle that's much bigger than Josie could ever imagine.

I should note that, while the story is amazing, so is the art.  I absolutely loved the colors and the style of Lady Killer; in fact, I loved everything about it.  The artist does a fantastic job of drawing details - accurate historical details, I might add - and, more importantly, bringing each individual character to life.  This beautiful imagery, combined with exceptional storytelling, makes Lady Killer one of the best comics I've read this year.

(Besides the ongoing story of Spider-Gwen, of course.)

The Bad
Honestly, I have no complaints.  Lady Killer was an exceptional comic with incredible characters, an amazing story, and wonderful artistic details.

The Ugly
Gore.  Lots and lots of gore - let me amend, lots and lots of graphic depictions of gore and violence.  It's really quite disturbing, and I'm saying this after I started reading the new Fight Club.


For more about Comic Alliance's interview from Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, check out:  http://comicsalliance.com/joelle-jones-jamie-s-rich-lady-killer-interview/

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Simon & Schuster
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Summary
"Dante can swim.  Ari can't.  Dante is articulate and self-assured.  Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt.  Dante gets lost in poetry and art.  Dante gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison.  Dante is fair skinned.  Ari's features are much darker.  It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

"But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be.  But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other - and the power of their friendship - can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side."

The Good
I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  Although I originally encountered it as an audiobook - and, as you might guess, I'm still a little leery of audiobooks - I absolutely loved listening to Saenz's young adult novel.  It combines two critical elements:  an exceptional writer, and a phenomenal narrator.

Benjamin Alire Saenz does an excellent job of fashioning his characters.  Aristotle, for instance, is an angst-ridden teenager in search of answers to his questions and relief from his anger, and I think that Saenz properly conveys his journey of self-discovery.  Perhaps I didn't always understand Aristotle - his emotional state, his thoughts, his experiences as a young Mexican-American growing up in California - but I grew to enjoy his insights into life and love and friendship.

He's a solid character, fleshed out and fully formed.  He's believable and, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, he felt so real to me.  Aristotle is such a candid storyteller, laying bare his hopes and dreams, his desires, and his fears.  And the way he tells his story - the way Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to bring it to life - kept me hooked from beginning to end.

And I loved Dante.  I have a special place in my heart for shoe-phobic, know-it-all Dante.  Like Ari, I slowly began to see him as an integral part, a key piece of life.  He was so important to Ari and, likewise, he became important to me as a character; moreover, he was just so much fun.  Articulate, smart, talkative and witty, he was the polar opposite to Ari, giving the story a good balance.

I fell in love with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  It was the perfect combination of writer and narrator that gave this story life and depth, and it kept me enchanted from its opening lines.

When I reached the final chapter, I was so sad to let go.

The Bad
I only wish I had a copy of Saenz's book to call my own.

The Ugly
Being a female of the species, I can certainly say I've had much different life experiences from Aristotle and Dante.  Even as an adult, knowing what boys think and feel and desire is a little strange - perhaps, even disorienting.  It's a candid account of life and loss, happiness and tragedy - and incredibly private things, if we're being honest - and I felt a bit like a voyeur as I was listening to their story.

It's a bit of an unpleasant feeling.

Friday, December 18, 2015

In Progress: A Game of Thrones (Continued)

Image result for a game of thrones
I'm afraid I haven't gotten much farther on A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.  I read a couple additional chapters, but I haven't completed much in the grand scheme of things.  Three more chapters, while impressive in some other books, hasn't really made a dent in Martin's novel.

I'm a little disappointed at my slow pace, but I suppose that's to be expected.  I mean, who would have thought that the three circulating copies at my library would constantly have holds?  I really just need to buy my own copy of A Game of Thrones, because it seems I will never get it finished at this rate.

Then again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  Martin's novel is excellent and, if the popularity of HBO's show of the same name is any indication, it's following is expanding.  It's a wonderful series - an imposing series of books, of course, but it's amazing nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale (Volume 1)

Marvel NOW!
Rocket Raccoon:  A Chasing Tale (Volume 1)
Skottie Young
Jake Parker

The Summary
"Rocket Raccoon is the last of his kind:  a hero to the weak, a champion of good, a swashbuckling pioneer of valor (and guns).  But his high-flying life of adventure may be a thing of the past when he's framed for murder - and the authorities aren't the only ones on his tail!  (Get it?)  There's another Rocket Raccoon loose on the world, but the world just ain't big enough!  The lookalike killer is one step ahead of Rocket at every turn; now, it's up to our hero and his best pal, Groot, to find the truth!  With Macho Gomez and the Ex-Terminators tracking him, can Rocket make it out alive and clear his name?  Superstar creator Skottie Young brings his A-game as writer and artist on the series we've been waiting decades for.  Because really, Rocket and Groot are the only Guardians of the Galaxy you actually care about, right?"

The Good
A Chasing Tale is an amusing graphic novel that delves into the lives and misadventures of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, specifically their fight for survival against Rocket's scorned and angry ex-girlfriends - and a particularly pernicious doppelganger.

Overall, I enjoyed the first volume of Rocket Raccoon.  Skottie Young and Jake Parker know how to weave a story, and it's a rollicking adventure that leaves you on the edge of your seat.  More importantly, Young and Parker succeed in staying true to Rocket's and Groot's characters.  Rocket Raccoon, while slightly obnoxious and trigger-happy, works in nice contrast to Groot, who is stoic and not quite so impetuous.

Young and Parker find a nice balance between the characters, and all the while they managed to craft an engaging story that leaves you wondering how Groot and Rocket will continue to get along in the depths of space.

The Bad
Rocket Raccoon is a nice diversion:  it's fun to see what happens outside of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

However, I can't help wondering what's going on with the rest of the team - and what happens with Star Lord, Drax, and Gamora while Rocket and Groot find their way out of trouble.  I'm interested in the entire team, so it would be nice to see them more involved.

The Ugly
Relationships can get ugly, especially when you have a record for breaking hearts like Rocket Raccoon.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bonus: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life.  Such as, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly?  And why did she vow never to return?  But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew - a reclusive, real-life gentle giant - she realizes that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life:  Here are rooms where wallpaper changes to suit your mood.  Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight.  And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

"Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson's cakes - which is a good thing, because Julia can't seem to stop baking them.  She offers them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever.  Flour, eggs, milk, and sure...baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart.  But is it enough to call back to her those she's hurt in the past?

"Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love?  Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard?  The answers are never what you expect.  But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in."

The Good
I actually picked up The Girl Who Chased the Moon as an audiobook.  This has been the first audiobook I've listened to since Hank the Cowdog was considered my favorite - back when we still had a cassette tape player in our car.  Granted, I think I prefer reading a book to listening to one; however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I do still like audiobooks.

Like both Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, Allen's novel is filled with little unexpected joys, everyday magic that jumps out and surprises you.  Like the wallpaper in Emily's bedroom, or Sawyer's "sweet sense," or the secrets of Mullaby's most illustrious family.  And it's interesting to see this magical dynamic at work in Mullaby, to see how the town accepts and even celebrates its oddities.

I really liked Julia.  Maybe more than any other character, even Emily, I liked Julia with her troubled adolescence and her steely resolve to leave Mullaby behind once she gets her father's business and her rocky relationship with Sawyer settled.  She's essentially damaged by her past, by a number of bad years in her youth, but she's managed to heal and she's managed to reinvent herself and, more importantly, grow into the woman she wishes to be.

I'm not saying Julia isn't flawed, and I'm not saying she isn't damaged; rather, I admire her for overcoming a number of challenges in her life - and she still manages to have hope.  That's why she continues to bake, why she continues to leave the window open when she's making her cakes:  she has hope for a better future and reconnecting with someone she thought she'd lost forever.

Additionally, Rebecca Lowman, who narrated the novel, did a splendid job of distinguishing between characters and reviving the cadence of a small North Carolina town.  She helped breathe life into the characters, playing upon the drawl and twang sometimes found in Appalachia, and she did a wonderful job of pacing the story, allowing it to unfold naturally.

The Bad
Despite my rekindled love of audiobooks, I've discovered that listening to a book just isn't enough for me.  Audiobooks just don't hold my attention as well as a physical books - and, admittedly, I'm more easily distracted.  I can't seem to immerse myself in the story as well as when I'm holding a book in my hands.

The Ugly
Adolescence is an ugly, ugly time.

For some, it's a passing phase; for others, it leaves lingering scars that can be forgiven if not forgotten.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Jeanne DuPrau

The Summary
"Lights shine in the city of Ember - but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over.  Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions.  Ember - so its people believe - is the only light in the dark world.

"And now the lights are going out.

"Is there a way to save the people of Ember?  No one knows.  But Lina Mayfleet has found a puzzling document, and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks.  With these clues, they start their search."

The Good
The City of Ember was an interesting story.  Although I think I would have enjoyed it better if I'd been younger (since the novel is geared toward a younger audience), I liked the characters and quality of DuPrau's novel.

Lina Mayfleet is an endearing girl with a lot of spunk and a lot of courage; Doon Harrow is smart boy with enough skill and brains to take him places, even if he sometimes allows his pride get in the way.  As characters, they're enjoyable.  Maybe a bit naive, but they are children who have lived underground for the majority of their lives, so, you know, I suppose it's to be expected.

At any rate, I liked DuPrau's novel.  She's an excellent writer for children's literature and she's created an interesting world in her series.  I was fascinated by the imagery she used, the evocative language as she delves into characters' thoughts and slowly reveals the lives they lead.

I especially liked how DuPrau described Ember, illustrating how the city was slowly crumbling, revealing the thin threads of political corruption and greed that infested the leadership of the city.  The City of Ember has complex undertones, but DuPrau incorporates mature themes without being overbearing or making the story morbid.

I would highly recommend it for younger readers and, moreover, anyone who might enjoy post-apocalyptic stories.

The Bad
Although I liked DuPrau's novel, I found I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I would if I were a child picking up The City of Ember for the first time.  It's an interesting story, but it loses my interest at different intervals because it feels like a children's book - and I can only give it so much attention.

The Ugly
Ember is crumbling.  Supplies are running short.  Lights flicker and go out, fuel spent.  Lina and Doon are in a race against time to rescue their friends and families, searching for the Creator's clues, struggling to find an escape from a city that's slowly falling down around them.

It's scary to witness the slow decay of the city, watching as people fight for survival in a place that wasn't meant to last more than a hundred years and, ultimately, frustrating when you realize that people of Ember have a way to escape.  In fact, they've had the means to escape all along - but thanks to greed and desperation and misuse of political power, the way out may be lost to them forever.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bonus: The Sugar Queen

Cover of The Sugar Queen
Random House
The Sugar Queen
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things:  winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she's a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet.  For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night...until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis - and two parts fairy godmother...

"Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey's clandestine closet is the safest place to crash.  In return she's going to change Josey's life - because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman.  With Della Lee's tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding.

"Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and - most amazing of all - has a close connection to Josey's longtime crush.

"As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time - even for her.  It seems that Della Lee's work is done, and it's time for her to move on.  But the truth about where she's going, why she showed up in the first place - and what Chloe has to do with it all - is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey's fast-changing life."

The Good
Like Garden Spells, Allen's previous novel, The Sugar Queen has little threads of magic laced throughout the novel:  Josey has the uncanny ability to detect secrets; Chloe is plagued by books that magically appear when she needs them; Rawley is bound to keep promises, no matter the cost; Julian has a black mist that compels any woman within his reach to pay attention to him; and Marlena is surprisingly skilled at chasing away ghosts.

I liked the developing relationship between Josey and Adam.  Although Josey struggles with her self-confidence, her loyalty to her mother and her adoration for Adam - and although Adam hesitates to jump into a relationship with his whole heart - I enjoy the way their relationship develops.  It's slow to start, but it seems to expand and grow, weaving into their lives with an undeniable quickness.  Like Jake and Chloe, their chemistry seems undeniable.

I also enjoy the way Allen portrays her characters.  She gives them careful descriptions and pinpoints the little unexpected (read:  magical) things that populate their every day lives, linking them inextricably to a thin veil of magic that permeates the entire town.

And she's meticulous in showing character perspective, allowing her readers a peek into the lives of her characters - such as the way Josey equates the best things in life (and people) with sugary sweets, or Chloe recounts her moods and experiences in the books that follow her - by showing the world through their eyes.  In Sugar Queen, I found this simply added another layer to her characters.

Overall, it was an enjoyable novel.

The Bad
For me, The Sugar Queen just wasn't as good as Garden Spells.  I don't know why, but I simply found Garden Spells to be a much better novel in its style and its plot - and, more importantly, in its magic.  While I liked the magical elements of The Sugar Queen (meaning, I wouldn't mind having books follow me around on a regular basis), it felt a little more obvious.

Garden Spells, except for the apple tree (which was rather obvious), felt more subtle.  The Waverly sisters have peculiar gifts, but they aren't advertised; rather, their magic is woven into the fabric of their family, like fine threads, and it feels almost like a secret.  The Sugar Queen doesn't have that:  magic feels more like a nuisance than a gift.

The Ugly
Julian.  He frightens me more than the ghosts.