"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

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bonus: The Gap of Time

Hogarth Shakespeare
The Gap of Time
Jeanette Winterson

The Summary
"The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's late plays.  It tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife.  His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast, but through a series of extraordinary events, father and daughter, and eventually mother too, are reunited.

"In The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson's cover version of The Winter's Tale, we move from London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia.  Her tale is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology, and the elliptical nature of time.  Written with energy and wit, this is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other."

The Good
The Gap of Time was an intriguing novel.  Part tragedy, part story of redemption, The Gap of Time does a fair job of transporting Shakespeare's play to the modern era.  It conveys all the conflict, all the tragedy and love and joy and hurt of The Winter's Tale, but it also gives his characters a little more color, a little more depth.

And, speaking of characters, I want to mention Shep.  Aside from Autolycus, who is basically a crooked car salesman with a heart of gold, Shep is probably my favorite character.  He has this gentle, genuine quality to him that I appreciated the more I got to know him (and the other characters), and he has such a wonderful narrative.

In the first chapter (if it can be called a chapter), Shep details the tragedies that have beset him and tells readers how he happened across Perdita.  Yes, I found his thoughts were rather tangled up with his past, caught up in the regrets that plague him and the memories that haven't quite settled; however, his narrative is heavy with emotion and purpose.  It has a lyrical quality to it that makes his words beautiful.

I loved the way he describes his first encounter with Perdita, how he describes his out of body experience of finding the baby and knowing, just knowing she was in his life for good:  "I realise without realising that I've got the tyre lever in my hand.  I move without moving to prise open the hatch.  It is easy.  I lift out the baby and she's as light as a star."

Or when Shep decided, in one moment the importance of this child in his life--and recognized the impact of important moments:
"The cars come and the cars go between me and my crossing the street.  The anonymous always-in-motion world.  The baby and I stand still, and it's as if she knows that a choice has to be made. 
"Or does it?  The important things happen by chance.  Only the rest gets planned. 
"I walked round the block thinking I'd think about it, but my legs were heading home, and sometimes you have to accept that your heart knows what to do."

His lines are, by far, the best found in the book.

The Bad
I didn't really understand The Gap of Time.  It just didn't strike the right note with me, so to speak, and it didn't appeal to me on an emotional level, because I didn't understand the characters--that is, I couldn't connect with them.  Much of Winterson's novel is told in this odd, almost meandering verse that is part omniscient, omnipresent narration and part stream-of-consciousness monologuing.

It actually reminded me a lot of The Sound and the Fury, in that I didn't quite understand it either.  Not only does it hopscotch through time, it utilizes a style of writing that makes it difficult to read.  It feels scattered, unhinged, especially when Leo is involved.  I couldn't stand when Leo was involved, I couldn't stand his jealous rantings or his madman-like ravings.  It made the story difficult to stomach and altogether too brutal.

Overall, I had a hard time understanding and connecting to Winterson's novel.  It made me squirm, but it didn't make me think.  It made me feel sympathy for Perdita, for Hermione (MiMi) and their shared plight, but it didn't make me feel sorry that Perdita was ripped from her home and given a parent who loved her with the unbounded, unconditional love that a parent feels for their offspring.

It made me feel revulsion, but it didn't make me feel joy, which I found very disappointing.

The Ugly
Leo never seems to understand what he did wrong.  I mean, sure he's remorseful for his actions after they destroy the lives of so many (his wife, his daughter, his best friend, his son, and his own), but, even after the nuclear fallout has settled, he doesn't quite seem to grasp that his actions--his jealousy, his vindictive attitude, his sense of superiority, his abject cruelty--is what drove everyone he loved away and resulted in so many heavy casualties.

At the end, he's not the lion of a man he was at one time; however, he doesn't seem to have learned much of anything either.  Maybe, I don't understand his humor (his racist/anti-semitic playfulness that Pauline merely ignores or his complicated almost cruel relationship with Xeno); maybe, I don't understand him, period.  Either way, I feel like Leo just didn't develop as a character and he didn't learn from his mistakes.

He was too stubborn to accept Perdita as his daughter, too jealous to accept that his wife wasn't sleeping with his best friend, and simply too cruel.  I mean, he doesn't even bother to contact his wife--the woman he supposedly loves beyond comprehension--after their world is torn asunder and he doesn't bother to seek out his daughter, if he ever even accepts that she's his.

I hated Leo.

Yes, hated.

I much preferred Shep.  Like Leo, Shep is grieving and hurt by the "anonymous always-in-motion world," but he doesn't let it hollow him out, turn him into a raving madman or a violent, vindictive father.  He lets Perdita into his life, unlike Leo, and he lets love back into his life.  He doesn't cast it aside, he doesn't try to ruin lives because he's hurt.  He makes an effort to change his life, he makes an effort to be kind.

So, yes, I much prefer Shep and I can't help thinking that Perdita got a much better deal when she wound up in his care.  Just saying.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Batwoman: Elegy (Volume 0)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  Elegy (Volume 0)
Greg Rucka
J.H. Williams III

The Summary
"She is the Batwoman, Gotham City's newest protector.

"And battling her at every turn of her still-young crime fighting career is a crazed cult called the Religion of Crime.  Led by a Lewis Carroll-quoting madwoman known only as Alice.  They plan to turn Gotham City into a wonderland of carnage.

"But Alice has something special in store for the Batwoman--something that will show her everything she thought she knew about her life as a caped crusader is wrong.

"It this one-woman army fighting a war she can't win, against an enemy with more power over her than she could have every guessed?

"Writer Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Action Comics), J.H. Williams (Batman, Seven Soldiers of Victory), and Dave Stewart proudly present one of the most acclaimed comics of the year.

"Collecting the first seven pulse-pounding, visually stunning issues of their landmark collaboration (Detective Comics #854-860) featuring an expansive behind-the-scenes section, and an introduction by Rachel Maddow, Batwoman:  Elegy unveils the shocking origin--and chilling archnemesis--of one of the DC Universe's most memorable characters."

The Good
This book is intense.

Not only do you get the opportunity to see the formative years of Kate's life when her mother and twin sister were killed during a terrorist attack, but it also shows the beginning of her career as Batwoman--that is, her training, her father's involvement, her first steps onto the mean streets of Gotham with the bat symbol on her chest.

And it's great!

However, it's also very, very sad and emotionally gripping.  Not to ruin anything, but it's terrible to see the toll her line of work takes on her--and a heavy loss that wracks her with grief all over again.  It makes for an interesting story, but it's all a little tragic, very morbid, and, of course, unexpectedly twisted.

Honestly, I liked being able to see where it all started.  I've heard Greg Rucka's name in the past, so I was anticipating some great work out of him, and as I'm familiar with J.H. Williams, I was excited to see how they kicked off Batwoman.  And they did it with a bang!  Overall, it was great, and I'm glad I actually went back and read the prequel.  It definitely cleared up a number of questions for me that I had when I jumped into the first volume.

The Bad
Again, confusing artwork.

I know this has been a pretty consistent complaint for me, but it's a quirk of Batwoman that has staying power.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the artwork and the creativity and the beautiful illustrations between individual issues; however, it makes Batwoman a bit of a trial.  I'm used to it now, for the most part, but it still leads me on a merry chase, making me wonder if I'm really understanding the story...or if I'm completely misinterpreting it.

The Ugly
The usual:  blood, gore, death, violence, explicit material, etc.

And there's a nasty little surprise regarding Alice, which you'll know what I'm talking about if you (like me) started with Hydrology instead of Elegy, but I can't say anything else or I'll ruin the story for readers starting out.  Just trust me, it's an ugly surprise that, if I hadn't read the first three volumes before Elegy, would have left me shocked and appalled.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vinegar Girl

Hogarth Press
Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler

The Summary
"Kate Battista feels stuck.  How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty younger sister, Bunny?  Plus, she's always in trouble at work--her preschool charges adore her, but their parents don't always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.

"Dr. Battista has his own problems.  After years in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough.  His research could help millions.  There's only one problem:  his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported.  And without Pyotr, all would be lost.

"When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he's relying--as usual--on Kate to help him.  Kate is furious:  this time he's really asking too much.  But will she be able to resist the two men's touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?"

The Good
Vinegar Girl was interesting, to say the least.  A little odd, yes, but it was strangely compelling.  I couldn't help getting wound up in Kate Battista's life, couldn't help wondering what would happen as she struggled to deal with her wild child sister and tried to corral her father's mismanagement and fend off Pyotr's obvious affection.  I was somehow hooked by her story, and I found I couldn't put it down.

I've never read anything by Anne Tyler and, oddly enough, I've never read (but I have seen) The Taming of the Shrew.  Despite my lack of exposure to writer and inspiration, I thoroughly enjoyed Vinegar Girl.  First off, I should state that Tyler is a wonderful writer.  There's something about the story that drew me, a cadence to the narration that made the story appealing on a visceral level for me, and a way the characters were made that kept me coming back for more.

And she's descriptive!

I hate when authors don't set the stage, when they don't offer descriptions of the characters or give weak descriptions about the scene.  Tyler, luckily, does a wonderful job of bringing life to her characters, showing off the little details that make them unique and intriguing, and unfolding an entire world on the pages.  She helps me sink into the story, helps me feel like I'm really there with Kate as she weeds her garden or as she walks the next few blocks to her father's lab because he forgot his lunch (again) or fights with Bunny over the boy she wasn't supposed to bring into the house.

Plus, I found Kate to be singularly enjoyable.  She's headstrong, she's fiery, she's brutally honest and blunt even when speaking to children, and she's incredibly intelligent.  Tyler crafts a compelling and sympathetic character in Kate, creating a complex female character who is pulled in many different directions by her loyalty to her family, her interest in her own career, and her dreams for herself.

And, as an aside, I want to note that I actually appreciated Pyotr's accent.  I mean, after reading What's a Ghoul to Do?, which also features a character with a heavy accent, I realized Anne Tyler does a fantastic job of conveying accents, of individual speech patterns.  Like Dr. Sable in Victoria Laurie's first Ghost Hunter novel, Pyotr does not have a complete grasp of English.

However, unlike Laurie, Tyler manages to make her character's struggle with his second language seem natural, rather than forced.  He trips up on the rules and language quirks that even native speakers may struggle to grasp and he may have difficulty with verbs, articles, and the like, but his lingual missteps seem more like natural mistakes than forced attempts to make him seem cute or bumbling.

The Bad
No complaints, really.  I mean, some part of me did wish for more for Kate, did wish she wasn't so constricted and confined by her family--but isn't that often the way with family and love and marriage?  Sometimes the burdens fall in different patterns, meaning responsibilities (and thus challenges) do not always fall evenly.

But, I suppose, if she's happy with how things turned out, how can I complain?

The Ugly
Family dynamics can get messy.

Let's just leave it at that, okay?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bonus: The Secret to Hummingbird Cake

Thomas Nelson
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake
Celeste Fletcher McHale

The Summary
"When all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake.

"In the South you always say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am."  You know everybody's business.  Football is a lifestyle not a pastime.  Food--especially desert--is almost a religious experience.  And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family--even if the threat is something you cannot see.

"In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you'll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws...from devastating pain to absolute joy.  And if you're lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way."

The Good
This novel was pretty incredible.  Yes, it felt a little clunky, a little heavy-handed and awkward, but, as first novels go, it was a decent novel with interesting characters and a poignant story that made me tear up a little.  (Okay, a lot.)  It's not as refined as I might have liked and Carrigan has a lot of flaws, which sometimes makes her a story a little difficult to stomach, but, overall, I enjoyed it.

Touching, funny and sweet, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake is laced with tragedy but it doesn't propel the story.  It's real life bundled into a book:  sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes wonderful, but ultimately a lovely representation of human foibles and follies and feelings.

While I can't say I enjoyed it as much as Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells or Linda Francis Lee's Glass Kitchen, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake taps the same vein of real-life magic and southern charm that I liked.  Without letting too much of the plot slip, it made me happy, sad, frustrated, ecstatic--the whole spectrum of emotions that comes when you get to know people and grow to love them.

I have friends like Carrigan and Ella Rae--tough, mouthy, but ultimately sweet and doggedly loyal when called to the fray--and I hope to someday befriend someone exactly like Laine, who does the right thing and takes care of her friends and stands up for those who need help.  Heck, I hope to someday be like Laine.  She's a beautiful person, and I couldn't help wishing the world had more people like her.

The Bad
As I pointed out, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake does feel a little awkward.  It's a debut novel, so it felt like the narrative sometimes wavered or grew weak.  Sometimes, it grew saccharine sweet; sometimes, I just couldn't quite believe it.  Overall, it's a wonderful, romantic novel on real life, but it does endure some of the pitfalls of an early novel.

The Ugly
Full disclosure:  I cried at the end of this book.

I don't want to give anything away, because it's worth reading this book to find out what happens to Laine, Carrigan, and Ella Rae, what turmoil they face as they endure the biggest journey of their lives.  But I will admit that it hit way to close to home, and I couldn't help breaking down to cry.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Batwoman: Webs (Volume 5)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  Webs (Volume 5)
Marc Andreyko
Jeremy Haun
Trevor McCarthy
Guy Major

The Summary
"Murderous ghosts.  Machiavellian government agents.  Man-animal hybrids.  Monsters from myth and legend.  Members of her own family.  In the course of Kate Kane's crimefighting career as Batwoman, she has battled an array of adversaries and lived to fight another day.

"But she's about to fall into the web of the Wolf Spider.  And her luck's about to run out.

"A mercenary armed with terrifying toxins and backed by a billionaire's cash, the Wolf Spider has come to Gotham City for reasons unknown.  But one fateful encounter with the Batwoman claims a shocking casualty:  the private life she's fought so desperately to preserve.

"When the calling she's chosen could cost her the woman she loves, what will Batwoman decide?"

The Good
I really enjoyed this volume.  It provided resolution for This Blood is Thick, which I appreciated, and it had an appearance by Batman who was his usual, awesome self; however, it also serves as a nice fulcrum point for the second half of the series.  Hydrology, To Drown the World, World's Finest, and This Blood is Thick have a very distinct artistic style that's simultaneously beautiful and confusing, whereas Webs seems to take the series in a new direction.

It remains visually appealing, like its predecessors, but I noticed it has a distinctly different flavor as Marc Andreyko takes over composition.  The panels are a little easier to read, a little easier to follow, which I liked.  Plus, I enjoyed that Kate's story veering back to the streets of Gotham after such a long and convoluted plot involving Medusa and the DEO.

And, for some reason, I enjoyed the Wolf Spider's story arc immensely.  As a villain, I liked him.  He was snarky, self-serving, and strangely compelling.  Granted, I wanted Batwoman to take him down--and take him down hard (he deserved it)--but, oddly enough, I liked him and I'd like to see more of him down the road.

Overall rating:  Excellent.

The Bad
Cliffhangers.  I really, really hate cliffhangers.

Plus, I was a little less enthusiastic about Nocturna and her plot line.  She wasn't as interesting to me, despite her black widow/creature-of-the-night vibe.  I much preferred Wolf Spider's unexpected and exhilarating romp through Gotham with Batwoman at his heels.

The Ugly
Batwoman:  Webs has the usual blood, gore, gratuitous violence I've come to expect; however, I wasn't expecting the level of heartbreak I'd have to endure.  I like Detective Sawyer and Kate Kane as a couple.  They may not be perfect, but they work so well together.  They have a mutual respect for one another, an affection that is both endearing and enduring--and I hated to see that fragmented in a million tiny pieces.

And I definitely didn't like the direction things went after Natalia became involved.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Batwoman: This Blood is Thick (Volume 4)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  This Blood is Thick (Volume 4)
J.H. Williams III
W.H. Blackman
Trevor McCarthy
Francesco Francavilla
Guy Major

The Summary
"Family ties.

"For the vigilante known as Batwoman, fighting crime is a family affair.  Her military-trained father is her former mentor.  Her costumed cousin--code name:  Hawkfire--is her sidekick.  Her fiancee, Gotham City Police Captain Maggie Sawyer, is her closest ally.  And her long-lost sister, the madwoman called Alice, is her greatest enemy.

"But other sinister forces are at work.  The supernatural cult known as the Religion of Crime and its many monsters continue their obsession with Batwoman.  The powerful government agency DEO is using her as a pawn in its cloak-and-dagger games.  And gliding over all is the Batman himself--the dark center around which heroes and soldiers, villains and vigilantes alike all orbit."

The Good
As Kate becomes more entwined with the DEO--as she struggles to free herself from the dreadful machinations of Director Bones, as she tries to free her sister from his clutches--her story becomes more complicated.  Her mission becomes very personal, which This Blood is Thick all the more intriguing, because, eventually, it causes her to cross paths with the Batman.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to see the Batman re-enter Kate's life.  I loved his appearance in the first volume, Hydrology, as he sized Kate up and set the baseline with which all future adventures with Kate would be judged.  He helped comic book fans segue into Kate's story, helped give her the boost she needed to be put on our collective radar.

And it was nice to see him back again, this time trying to save Kate from herself and a demented DEO director.  I couldn't help feeling a tinge of excitement as Kate took on the Bat himself and tested her mettle against Gotham's greatest superhero.  It was a conflicting chapter, of course, because I've grown to love and admire Kate, but Batman is my first love...and I found it difficult to root for one or the other.  It's complicated, to say the least.

But, overall, it was a great next installment for fans of Batwoman.

The Bad
I was still a little confused, as I've noted in previous volumes of Batwoman, but I think I'm getting used to it.  That or it's changing as new writers and illustrators make their way to the fore, offering changing standards for the graphic novel.

The Ugly
Blood, gore, violence, explicit material.

Same old, same old--but throw in a killer cliff hanger.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Read Harder Challenge (Part Seven)

I finished some new books for my Read Harder Challenge, and I've completed more reading tasks:
  1. Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
  2. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel
  3. Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
St. Martin's Griffin
First up, I finished Florence Foster Jenkins by Nicholas Martin and Jasper Rees, which inspired the recently released movie of the same name.  Florence Foster Jenkins was not a traditional singer.  At a young age, she was well known for her skill with a piano and her love--and, more importantly, support--of music; however, it wasn't until she was 76 years old that she undertook to become a concert singer.  She's best remembered for her concert at Carnegie Hall and her vinyl recordings, which introduced the world to her rather...unique voice.

I enjoyed reading Florence Foster Jenkins.  Drawing from multiple resources, including Florence and her common law husband, St. Clair Bayfield, Martin and Rees' book does an incredible job of shedding light on Florence, her work, and her time.  It's intriguing without becoming dull, amusing without ridiculing its rather unorthodox subject, and chock full of interesting historical facts about Florence and the New York artistic scene of the early 20th century.  Overall, I enjoyed it and I highly recommend for any readers to take a moment to listen to Madame Jenkins on YouTube to get a better idea of how her singing voice sounded.  You (probably) won't regret it.

Scholastic Press
Next, I completed Rook by Sharon Cameron.  The Sunken City--formerly Paris, the City of Lights--is a place of danger, desperation, and despotism.  Ruled by the corrupt Premier Allemande and the bloodthirsty LeBlanc, the Sunken City is brimming with discontent and revolution--and, at the heart of it all, is the mysterious Red Rook who spirits people from their cells and wreaks havoc against the Premier's puppet government.

A story packed with action and adventure, political intrigue and danger, Rook has quickly become one of my guilty pleasures.  I know it falls under the rather broad category of dystopian young adult fantasy (think Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze RunnerLife as We Knew It or even The Giver), but I really enjoyed Sharon Cameron's novel.  I enjoyed the characters, the unexpected twists and turns, the ambiguous references to the past, the complicated political climate.  I wasn't a fan of the love triangle and, yes, I will admit that the story seemed to drag in a few places; however, altogether, I really liked it and I think it settles in nicely next to Cinder.

Last, I rounded out my reading with God in Pink by Hasan Namir.  Ramy is a young Muslim man living in Iraq in 2003, right in the midst of a war and a cultural revolution--and he also happens to be gay.  Struggling with what he knows his brother would term a "sexual deviancy," Ramy tries to balance his feelings with his obligations to his family and his faith.

Arsenal Pulp Press
Truthfully, I struggled with this novel, because I was not comfortable with all the depictions of heinous violence and wanton savagery.  I understand that mindless cruelty, thoughtless barbarity is simply a fact; I understand that it happens, that it's not something you can ignore if you live on the planet Earth.  I know it exists, but it's still hard to read about terrible things happening to other people.

I didn't hate this novel; rather, the opposite.  I thought God in Pink was a magnificent book depicting life in war-torn Iraq for a gay Muslim man.  It's poignant and it's guaranteed to make an impact, but, at the same time, it will tear out your heart.  I recommend reading it with great caution, like I would for Native Son by Richard White, Beloved by Toni Morrison, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Read it, but expect deep emotional turmoil.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What's a Ghoul to Do?

Thorndike Press
What's a Ghoul to Do?
Victoria Laurie

The Summary
"M.J., her partner Gilley, and their client, the wealthy, de-lish Dr. Steven Sable, are at his family's lodge, where his grandfather allegedly jumped to his death from the roof--although Sable says it was foul play.  But the patriarch's isn't the only ghost around.  The place is lousy with souls, all with something to get off their ghoulish chests.  Now M.J. will have to quell the clamor--and listen for a voice with the answers..."

The Good
M.J. Holliday is an intriguing narrator.  Sassy, spunky, and sharply sarcastic, she creates a funny and intriguing novel that delves deep into the world of ghosts.  It's intriguing to see her work and how she handles different situations involving ghosts, to see how the ghost mythos holds up in M.J.'s world.

Plus Gilley is fabulous.  I think he was my favorite character.

The Bad
What's a Ghoul to Do? isn't a great novel.  I mean, it's fun and sometimes funny, but it wasn't spectacular or life-altering; rather, I would classify it as "moderately good."  The writing isn't wonderful and, while I did like Gilley, the characters aren't incredibly well done--that is, I don't feel connected to them or think of them as anything more than mere caricatures.

The title is clever, I'll give the author that, but I didn't feel sucked into the story like I'd hoped.  The story was weak, meaning it didn't always make sense to me and it felt like it had more than a few plot gaps, and the characters were subpar.  M.J. has a good sense of humor, but I didn't find the writing to be particularly strong or creative.  The descriptions couldn't hold my attention, and the character relationships were uninteresting.

I know it sounds harsh, especially since I actually finished reading Laurie's novel; however, I couldn't sink into the story as I would have liked.  Certain things were always popping up in the book to break my concentration, or frustrate me.

It's not a bad book, but it's not a good book either.  It's somewhere in the middle, more like "blah" or some noncommittal noise that indicates ambivalence.

The Ugly

Oh, and Dr. Sable's atrocious accent.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Batwoman: World's Finest (Volume 3)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  World's Finest (Volume 3)
J.H. Williams III
W. Haden Blackman

The Summary
"Goddesses among us.

"Trained at West Point and battle-tested on the mean streets of Gotham City, Batwoman is one of the world's finest crime fighters.  But the crimes she's fighting now are not of this world at all.

"A monster straight out of mythology is preying on the children of Gotham, using supernatural horrors from the city's urban legends as her foot soldiers.  Together they serve an organization called Medusa--and worship the Mother of All Monsters.

"Teaming up with none other than Wonder Woman, Batwoman begins a perilous journey into the underworld of Greek myths to rescue the children and save her city.  Can these two women warriors triumph over the stone-cold creature they must face?"

The Good
I was so excited to read Batwoman:  World's Finest.  I mean, I was still a little on the fence about my commitment to Batwoman, but, truthfully, this volume kicked me over the edge and turned me into an ardent Batwoman fan.  That, and it made me want to read the new Wonder Woman comics.  (Wonder Woman is amazing, just in case you didn't know.)

World's Finest is the culmination of a plot that has spanned three volumes and multiple issues.  In it, we get to meet Medusa and see the horrifying results of her plan, we get to see Wonder Woman in all her Greek demi-goddess glory, we get to finally--finally!--see Batwoman at her finest as she rescues the people she loves and the city she was sworn to protect.  It was awesome.

Please excuse my fan girl squealing.

The Bad
Confusing art direction.

I love the artwork in Batwoman, I will never deny that, but I was consistently frustrated by the panel arrangement in this volume.  I understand the need to be creative, to do something that's not often seen, to give detail and depth to a story through the art.  The illustrations help fill in the gaps when dialog cannot, which I totally get.

But I was not a fan of this:

Image result for Batwoman: world's finest nyx
The centipede thing is Nyx, goddess of Night.  Creepy, isn't it?
DC Comics

I was lost.  Completely and utterly lost.  Maybe that was the point, I don't know, but I didn't like it.  Not one bit.

The Ugly
Oh.  My.  Gosh.

I thought Hydrology and To Drown the World were macabre.  They're nothing like World's Finest, which basically confronts world-ending events when the Mother of All Monsters is summoned.  Whoo boy.  It gets ugly.

Very, very ugly.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bonus: Cinnamon and Gunpowder

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Cinnamon and Gunpowder
Eli Brown

The Summary
"In Cinnamon and Gunpowder, the prizewinning author Eli Brown serves up the audacious tale of a fiery pirate captain, her reluctant chef, and their adventures aboard a battered vessel, the Flying Rose.  As these unlikely shipmates traverse the oceans, intrigue, betrayal, and bloodshed churn the waters.

"The year is 1819, and Owen Wedgwood, famed as the Caesar of Sauces, has been kidnapped by the ruthless captain Mad Hannah Mabbot.  After using her jade-handled pistols on his employer, lord of the booming tea trade, Mabbot announces to the terrified cook that he will be spared only as long as he puts an exquisite meal in front of her every Sunday without fail.

"To appease the red-haired tyrant, Wedgwood works wonders with the meager supplies he finds on board, including weevil-infested cornmeal and salted meat he suspects was once a horse.  His first triumph is that rarest of luxuries on a pirate ship:  real bread, made from a sourdough starter that he keeps safe in a tin under his shirt.  Soon he's making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

"Even as she holds him hostage, Mabbot exerts a curious draw on the chef; he senses a softness behind the swagger and the roar.  Stalked by a deadly privateer, plagued by a hidden saboteur, and outnumbered in epic clashes with England's greatest ships of the line, Captain Mabbot pushes her crew past exhaustion in her hunt for the notorious King of Thieves.  As Wedgwood begins to understand the method to Mabbot's madness, he must rely on the bizarre crew members he once feared:  Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the strangely mute cabin boy.

"A giddy, archaic tale of love and appetite, Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a wildly original feat of the imagination, deep and startling as the sea itself."

The Good
Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a strangely compelling novel, yet I'm still not sure what to make of it.  It's a long, winding odyssey that takes our narrator to the edges of the empire and nearly drags him to the depths of the sea.  Like Odysseus, Owen Wedgwood's journey leads him across oceans and into the dens of monsters--and you can think of Mabbot as Calypso.

Alluring and wild, Mabbot is as dangerous and capricious as the sea.  She's just as liable to like you as shoot you, and yet she has a strange moral compass that leads her to punish slavers, opium peddlers, murderers and anyone who crosses her.  She is, as Wedgwood accuses, a red-haired tyrant, but she's not unduly cruel.  She's a strange amalgamation of opposites, which makes her oddly likable.

Like Wedgwood, I didn't know what to make of her.  I mean, is she a villain or is she a hero?  Neither, I suppose.  She's just a woman who has been tempered by the sea and shaped by the unkindness she's endured.  She's human and she's desperately flawed, which makes her compelling--and a bit hard to stomach.

Altogether, Cinnamon and Gunpowder is an intriguing if unusual novel.  It's an adventure story, but it's quite unlike what I've read in the past, especially regarding pirates.  Sure, I had a taste with Pirates! by Celia Rees, as well as the Wave Walkers series by Kai Meyer and Vampirates by Justin Somper.  But those are so mild in comparison to Eli Brown's novel, which is weighed down by tragedy and riddled with the cruel truths of reality.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder belongs in a class of its own, truly.

The Bad
This is not a novel to go into with the expectation of identifying a hero.  Like Wedgwood, we discover that humanity is deeply flawed--that we cannot look upon the world with only one version of right or wrong.  There is no black and white, merely the anticipation of survival.

The Ugly
Death.  Destruction.  Carnage.

(You get the idea.)

Piracy is an occupation that's neither gentle nor gentlemanly.  It can be cruel and completely tragic.

Besides which, I can't say I was enchanted with Wedgwood's unusual concoctions.  The pineapple-banana cider sounds pretty delicious, but I can't say the cooked eel, among other things, sounded particularly appetizing.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Batwoman: To Drown the World (Volume 2)

DC Comics
Batwoman:  To Drown the World (Volume 2)
J.H. Williams III
W. Haden Blackman
Amy Reeder
Trevor McCarthy

The Summary
"Murder.  Madness.  Monsters...

"MEDUSA.  Taking its name from the horrifying creature of myth, this global conspiracy of crime has taken its war against goodness to Gotham City.

"There, its sinister agents prey upon Gotham's children, using the guises of urban legends.  Ghosts in the mirror searching for bloody retribution.  Monsters in the sewer hungering for innocent lives.  Crazed specters spreading their pain in a tide of blood.  Brutal killers wielding death with a hook-bladed hand.

"At Medusa's dark heart stands the Mother of Monsters.  Her goal is to drown the world in darkness.  But the Mother isn't Gotham's only dark spirit.

"Batwoman's mind, body and soul have been battered like never before.  But she's emerged from her trials stronger than ever.  Now on a collision course with MEDUSA, no one--not the GCPD, not the shadowy Department of Extranormal Operations, and not the men and women who care about her the most--will stop her from seeking justice for the lost."

The Good
Like Hydrology, Batwoman:  To Drown the World is at once beautiful and macabre.  It's full of twists and turns, dark creatures and, as the back cover attests, "Murder.  Madness.  Monsters..."  With the Mother of Monsters set to be released, Batwoman must fight against urban legends, terrifying villains (and I include the DEO in this), and old gods that have lingered deep beneath the surface.

I enjoyed learning more about Kate Kane, about her family and her friends, about the seedier side of Gotham City and the DEO as they try to unmask Batman.  There's so much happening in To Drown the World between the appearances of Bloody Mary and Killer Croc, the reappearance of La Llorona, and the sudden upswing in paranormal activity.  And all the while Batwoman is finding herself drawn deeper into the clutches of Director Bones and the DEO.

It's exciting and terrifying at the same time.

This volume actually convinced me to read Elegy, a prequel to the Batwoman franchise.  Hydrology  offered a glimpse into Batwoman's past, about her encounter with Alice and the Religion of Crime, and about the sudden rift with her father; however, To Drown the World gave me a little more information--and it was almost tantalizing.  It offers a few more bread crumbs to Batwoman's/Kate's past and dives deeper into the dark and sinister world of Medusa.

I couldn't wait to read more.  I was pretty much committed after reading this volume.

Then again, seeing Wonder Woman involved in the next volume might have had something to do with it.

The Bad
Confusing illustrations and panel directions.  It doesn't help when psychedelic drugs get involved, sending both Batwoman and Officer Sawyer into a veritable tale spin.

The Ugly
More blood, more gore, more violence.

It gets worse (if that's even possible).

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life

Thomas Dunne Books
Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life
Liesa Mignongna, ed.

The Summary
"As broad as our growing cultural obsession with caped crusaders is, it runs just as deep.  Liesa Mignongna, the editorial director at Simon Pulse and editor of this anthology, can expound upon the irresistible appeal of Batman (her wedding was even Batman themed), but it's the retelling of her harrowing yet inspiring encounters with the Dark Knight over the years as she struggled to coexist with the supervillains in her own family that birthed this collection.

"Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life gives readers the chance to connect to their favorite authors while those authors connect to their favorite superheroes, and within that feedback loop of respect and admiration lies a stellar, wonderfully accessible anthology full of thrills, chills, and spills.

"Contributors include New York Times best-sellers Christopher Golden, Leigh Bardugo, Brad Meltzer, Neil Gaiman, Carrie Vaughn, Jodi Picoult, and Jamie Ford, as well as award winners and mainstays like Joe R. Lansdale, Austin Grossman, and Ron Currie Jr., among many others.  Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life is sure to follow in the footsteps of Grant Morrison's Supergods as its authors explore--with hilarious and heart-wrenching candor--why superheroes matter, what they tell us about who we are, and what they mean for our future."

The Good
I absolutely loved this book.  A collection of essays by today's most popular authors, journalists, and writers, Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life was a wonderful study on superheroes and the impact they've had on readers and culture.  I know that makes it sound a bit dull, but it's not.  It's heart-wrenching and humorous and introspective and bursting with bright neon spandex colors.

It's a great book that's not beholden to one style or story.  Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life compiles the work from the best of today's creative minds, drawing together exceptional stories and experiences with illustrations to create a work equally poignant and funny.

I loved these stories.  They were deeply personal and incredibly moving, beautiful for their candid commentary on human experience--and how comic book superheroes helped to get them through, helped shape their lives.  I actually had a handful of essays that I adored:
  • On the Hulk:  You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry by Delilah S. Dawson
  • Dented Hearts:  A Story of Iron Man by Anthony Breznican
  • Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Gambit and Rogue by Karina Cooper
  • You Never Forget Your First Time by Neil Gaiman
  • We Are Not Amazons by Leigh Bardugo
  • Superman:  One Rad Dude by Jim Di Bartolo
  • Swashbuckle My Heart:  An Ode to Nightcrawler by Jenn Reese
But, if I had to pick just one, it would probably be "Dented Hearts:  A Story of Iron Man" by Anthony Breznican.  It's a tough choice, especially since I loved Leigh Bardugo's essay, "We Are Not Amazons," for her frank discussion on female body image and cultural expectations, and Jim Di Bartolo's illustrated discourse on the importance of Superman; however, I was entirely smitten with Breznican's essay.

"Dented Hearts" was like a kick in the chest.  It took me by surprise, it broke my heart, and yet it's probably one of the most memorable essays I read.  It's an honest depiction of grief and turmoil, love and happiness and sibling relationships; it's a candid account of loss tinted with memory, affection, and a mutual love of superheroes.

I loved it.

Admittedly, I might be a little biased since I'm an avid reader and I've been on a superhero comic kick since May; however, Last Night, A Superhero Saved My Life is a brilliant compilation by exceptional authors, about incredible characters that have entertained and shaped readers for decades.  It's an excellent book, regardless if you're a fan of superheroes.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
Life is not all cherry pies and blue skies.  Even heroes are faced with defeat--even heroes suffer tragedy.