"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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Interstellar Cinderella

22875394
Chronicle Books LLC
Interstellar Cinderella
Deborah Underwood
Meg Hunt
2015

The Summary
"Once upon a planetoid,
amid her tools and sprockets,
a girl named Cindrella dreamed
of fixing fancy rockets.

"With a little help from her fairy godrobot, Cinderella is going to the ball.  But when the prince's ship has mechanical trouble, someone will have to zoom to the rescue!  Readers will thank their lucky stars for this irrepressible fairy tale retelling, it's independent heroine, and its stellar happy ending."

The Good
I absolutely loved Interstellar Cinderella.  I happened across it one day at the library and I decided to read it before I returned it to the Children's Library, and I immediately fell in love with this little book.  It was so fun, so warm and colorful, so wonderfully depicted that I couldn't help enjoying it.

The art is lovely and bright, and the story is fun and heart-warming.  Meg Hunt does a fantastic job of envisioning the mechanical creations of Cinderella's world; Deborah Underwood recreates Cinderella as a smart, saavy, intrepid young girl, not to mention she gives Cinderella the agency to become what she's always wanted to be:  a rocket mechanic.

I think that's what I loved best about Interstellar Cinderella:  Cinderella isn't rescued by the prince; in fact, when he asks her to marry him, she turns him down.  That's right, Cinderella doesn't want to be married!  She's too young, she decides, and she has dreams of her own that she wants to make come true; instead, Cinderella offers to become his chief mechanic.

Interstellar Cinderella has two very important things going for it:  one, it creates an intelligent heroine who learns how to rescue herself; two, it makes it okay for a girl to focus on her dreams and aspirations of a career, rather than allow the expectations of other people dictate her life.

Yes, I know I got a lot more out of this children's book than I was probably supposed to find.  Yes, I know it's just a story.  But I found it heartwarming and, confidentially, inspiring.  It has a heroine who doesn't just dream, she tries to make her dreams come true.  She doesn't need anyone to rescue her, rather she can save herself.

And I like knowing there's that kind of heroine out there for the next girl to discover.

The Bad
I sometimes struggled with the rhyming scheme of the story, but, otherwise, no complaints.

The Ugly
There's nothing really terrible about Interstellar Cinderella.  It's a children's book.  Not to mention, it's basically Cinderella retold to include robots and space ships.  Her stepsisters and stepmother are terrible, but, spoiler alert, she manages to escape them.

It's a cute, fun book for kids.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Last Renegade

Image result for the last renegade by jo goodman
Berkley Sensational
The Last Renegade
Jo Goodman
2012

The Summary
"As the owner of the Pennyroyal Saloon and Hotel, Lorraine Berry is privy to almost everything that goes on in Bitter Springs, Wyoming--including the bloodshed plaguing its citizens.  With all of the good men dying at the hands of a local rancher and his three sons, Raine hires a shootist to be the town's protector.  But her handsome new employee is more than a hired hand; he's a man who keeps his guns close and his secrets closer.

"After a chance encounter on the train, Kellen Coltrane travels to the Pennyroyal to carry out a dying man's last wish.  But once he meets the hotel's fiery-haired proprietor, Coltrane finds himself assuming the role of the shootist's accomplice and agrees to protect Bitter Springs.  And as he learns more about Raine's own tragedy, Coltrane can't deny his growing desire for the courageous widow, or the urge to protect her from the threat that draws near..."

The Good
Jo Goodman's novel is a western through and through.  It feels like an old western movie:  dashing heroes, fiery heroines, bad guys and good guys, gunfights and outlaws.  After reading so many historical romances set during the Victorian age or the Regency, The Last Renegade was a breath of fresh air.  It was nice to change things up.

Overall, The Last Renegade was a pretty good book.  I can't say I liked the relationship between Kellen and Lorraine.  Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for them to be together; however, after realizing she divulges her entire past to him, I kind of wish he'd offered her the same courtesy and, you know, remained honest with her.  I suppose I can see why he couldn't, but it bothered me a little.  (Personal problem, not a problem with the book, I know.)

I found I enjoyed my visit to Bitter Springs, Wyoming.  It's a quintessential outlaw western:  you have a powerful family that's trying to seize control of the town; a sassy, headstrong lady out for revenge; and a devastatingly handsome gunslinger out to protect a town he's grown to like (more or less).

It's interesting and it's familiar; that is, it's almost comforting.  Bad things might happen in Westerns--there are outlaws, there are murderers, there are bad people in the world--but you get the sense that everything, eventually, will turn out alright.

Besides which, I really liked the Collins family.  They were only secondary characters, but I absolutely adored Mr. Collins' grandsons, Finn and Rabbit.  They're troublesome, they're wily, they're honestly enough to give someone gray hair, but they're good kids and I really like them.  (They're also one of the reasons the mystery as solved in the first place.)

The Bad
Kellen plays his cards carefully, keeping them close to the vest; sometimes, to the detriment of everyone else--well, more accurately, readers.  I sometimes struggled to stay on top of Kellen's plans.  I mean, he obviously didn't share all his plans and ideas with Lorraine; likewise, he doesn't always make them apparent to readers.

He's very secretive and he doesn't tell you outright what he plans to do.  I had an inkling of what would happen, but, honestly, I was wrong just as often as I was right.  Although The Last Renegade did make me realize something about myself:  I'm good at predicting plot points, but I'm very bad at solving mysteries.

The Ugly
Rape.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Will's True Wish

24469443Will's True Wish
Grace Burrowes
2016

The Summary
"It's a dog's life...

"Will Dorning, as an earl's spare, has accepted the thankless duty of managing his rambunctious younger siblings, though Will's only true companions are the dogs he's treasured since boyhood.  When aristocratic London is plagued with a series of dognappings, Will's brothers are convinced that he's the only person who can save the stolen canines from an awful fate.

"But the lady's choice...

"Shy, bookish Lady Susannah Haddonfield has no patience with loud, smelly beasts of any species, but must appear to like dogs so as not to offend her sister's only marital prospect.  Susannah turns to will, an acquaintance from her most awkward adolescent years, to teach her how to impersonate a dog fancier.  Will has long admired Susannah, though he lacks the means to offer for her.  Yet as they work together to rescue the purloined pets, it's loyal, dashing Will who steals Susannah's heart."

The Good
Will's True Wish is a cute, little romance.  It's fluffy and, sometimes, saccharine sweet, but it's adorable and lovely--and it has dogs.  (I'm always a big fan of dogs.)  But, then again, I've loved reading Grace Burrowes for years.  Her novels are always so well written, and Will's True Wish is no different.

I like Burrowes work immensely, because she always surprises me a little.  She takes pains to provide historical accuracy, she makes an effort to convey vocal quirks and accents, and she creates believable relationships between characters.  Not to mention, I'm always impressed by how her romantic characters always maintain the utmost respect, admiration, and affection for each other.

For instance, in Will's True Wish, Will obvious respects Susannah.  He tries to be a proper gentleman and, even when he's not, he still treats Susannah with respect.  He loves her.  Even when she might act hastily or put herself in danger, he loves her and he admires her tenacity, her bravery, and her loyalty.  He truly cares about her and, even though he might not be financially comfortable enough for marriage, he's going to find a way around any difficulty to make her his wife.

It's sweet, and it's charming.  I mean, Will loves her and he's making a real effort.  Granted, they're relationship isn't perfect (no relationship is); however, they're trying.  There's a real affection between them, and they seem to respect each other enough that they're willing to take pains to ensure their loved one is cared for.

If you hadn't guessed, I enjoyed it.  Thus far, I've enjoyed all the romance novels I've read by Grace Burrowes and I can't wait to read more.

The Bad
I didn't always enjoy the tone; more accurately, I didn't like the way it sounded.  It's very proper, very polished, and it didn't always come across well in my own mind as I read.  Admittedly, it did sometimes get a little boring.  I liked the way Burrowes incorporated historical detail, using common slang and verbiage for the time; however, I found it also left me a little lost.

The Ugly
Effington.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Steelheart

Image result for steelheart book
Delacorte Press
Steelheart
Brandon Sanderson
2013

The Summary
"Ten years ago, Calamity came.  It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary people extraordinary powers.  The awed public started calling them Epics.

"Epics are no friends of man.  With incredible gifts came the desire to rule.  And to rule man, you must crush his will.

"Now, in what was once Chicago, an astonishingly powerful Epic named Steelheart has installed himself as emperor.  Steelheart possesses the strength of ten men and can control the elements.  It is said that no bullet can harm him, no sword can split his skin, and no fire can burn him.  He is invincible.  Nobody fights back...nobody but the Reckoners.

"A shadowy group of ordinary humans, the Reckoners spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.  And David wants in.

"When Steelheart came to Chicago, he killed David's father.  For years, like the Reckoners, David has been studying, and planning, and he has something they need.  Not an object, but an experience.

"He has seen Steelheart bleed...

"And he wants revenge."

The Good
I loved Steelheart.  It's action-packed, it's interesting, and it takes everything I know about superheroes/supervillains and completely turns it on its head.  Part science-fiction, part fantasy, Steelheart is a wonderfully crafted dystopian world full of detail, depth, and intrigue.

It was so much fun to read.

I was particularly fascinated by the main characters, specifically the Reckoners.  David, as the narrator, is incredibly resourceful.  He sometimes feels like a caricature; however, he's surprisingly astute in his observations and he's wildly intelligent.  I'm always surprised by what he does and what he remembers.  He's daring, he's unexpected, which I found made Steelheart that much more interesting.

Not to mention, I found the ending to be spectacular.

After learning that Steelheart does have a weakness, I puzzled over what it might be.  Reading the prologue again, I couldn't imagine what it might be, but when David discover it, when that moment of recognition and discovery blossomed in his mind and mine, I was thrilled and astonished and excited.  I loved the conclusion.  It startled me, yes, but I found the irony of the situation to be so very satisfying.

I will definitely read the rest of the series.  Firefight is up next, followed by Calamity--and I can't wait to dive back in.

The Bad
No complaints.

The Ugly
Steelheart is graphic, bloody, and riddled with gore.  Bad things happen in Newcago, and you get the impression that, no matter what happens, things aren't really going to get better.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ruroni Kenshin (Volume 3)

294959
Viz Media
Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 3)
Nobuhiro Watsuki
2004

The Summary
"'Spider's Web'...like ordinary opium, but better processed.  Half the cost to produce, but twice the profits!  To the people of Aizu, Takani Megumi was a daughter in a famous family of doctors, in which everyone--women and children alike--studied medicine.  But to grasping industrialist Takeda Kanryu, she is the hen who lays the golden egg--the only one who knows the Spider's Web formula!  To stay with Kanryu is to send even more to their deaths.  But to stay with Kenshin and the others is to invite theirs..."

The Good
Although I'm not as big a fan of the third volume as I am the second one, I was excited to meet the Oniwabanshu again.  There's something about the Oniwabanshu--about how they're just a small pocket of resistance against the tide of Meiji progress--that I like.

The Bad
I'm not sure why, but I just didn't like this volume as much as I did the previous one.  I like the Oniwabanshu and, personally, I love Aoshi.  He's one of my favorite characters, because he's not actually that bad of a guy, he's more of a complicated anti-hero; however, I don't like the Takani Megumi story arc.

For some reason, it's just not that appealing to me.

The Ugly
As always, blood.  Lots and lots of blood.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 2)

294966
Viz Media
Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 2)
Nobuhiro Watsuki
2003

The Summary
"When the chief of the Police Sword Corps himself comes asking for favors, things must be bad.  Hitokiri Udo Jin-e--a black-hatted, crazy-eyed slayer who fells both targets and innocent bystanders alike--is steadily working his way through a list of former Ishin Shishi patriots now ensconced within positions of power in the Meiji government.  Can Kenshin withstand the hypnotic, paralyzing effect of Jin-e...?"

The Good
I found that the second volume of Rurouni Kenshin was equally enjoyable.  Not only has the art improved, it's still just as easy to become engrossed in the story; moreover, it has one of my favorite stories.

You see, in the first volume, you have the chance to see Kenshin as a warrior.  He's obviously impressive with his sakabato; however, he's still Kenshin.  Readers see glimpses of his previous personality, like a hint of viciousness that he very rarely betrays, but it's not until his confrontation with Udo Jin-e that you see him as the hitokiri he once was.

There's something thrilling about seeing Kenshin fight and fight well against someone who is, confidentially, quite terrifying.  I kind of like seeing the hitokiri side of Kenshin, but I also think I like that he's able to pull himself from the brink and resume his happy-go-lucky facade.  I think it makes him a better, more complex character.

The Bad
No complaints.  Besides the seventh volume, where we get to meet Saito Hajime, I think it's one of my favorites.

The Ugly
Blood.

Udo Jin-e is vicious.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Ruroni Kenshin (Volume 1)

Rurouni Kenshin, Volume 01
Viz Media
Rurouni Kenshin (Volume 1)
Nobuhiro Watsuki
2003

The Summary
"140 years ago in Kyoto, with the coming of the American 'Black Ships,' there arose a warrior who, felling men with his bloodstained blade, gained the name Hitokiri, man slayer!  His killer blade helped close the turbulent Bakumatsu era and slashed open the progressive age known as Meiji.  Then he vanished, and with the flow of years, became legend.

"In the 11th year of Meiji, in the middle of Tokyo, this tale begins...."

The Good
I originally watched the anime, before I picked up the first volume of Rurouni Kenshin and, honestly, it's been some time since I last read it; however, I was glad to sink back into Meiji era Tokyo and reacquaint myself with Himura Kenshin.  Jumping back into the graphic novel wasn't as difficult as I imagined.  The manga reads right to left, but it only took me a few minutes to reorient myself and I was happily plodding through the story.

I'm pleased I still enjoyed Rurouni Kenshin.  I mean, I didn't always understand the humor (of course, I never understood the humor when I first read it either), but I enjoyed returning to Kenshin, Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanoske, and everyone else.  There was a bit nostalgia there, because I remember devouring this series when I first read it; however, I found I still enjoyed it.

I like the action balanced by moments of silliness; I like the dueling kindness and ferocity of Kenshin; I even like Yahiko and Kaoru's arguments.  I find it fun to read and I enjoy it with the same enthusiasm I once did.  It's absurd, yes, but it's fascinating at the same time.  It offers a glimpse into Japanese culture and, as it's an area with which I'm unfamiliar, it's very insightful.

More to the point, as an adult, I find that I like reading the side notes Nobuhiro peppers throughout his narrative.  I once skimmed through the commentary, because I thought it was boring, but, now, I enjoy reading the "Secret Life of Characters" and finding out the different inspirations for Rurouni Kenshin.

Likewise, reading the series ago allows me to notice details I didn't catch in previous readings.  It has been literal years since I read Rurouni Kenshin, so it's nice to know I still remember the story; however, it's also interesting to see the small details I missed and the sudden clarity I have about earlier details that I hold from reading later volumes.  I know more about Kenshin now than I did then, which means it's a completely different experience to read the earliest volumes.

The Bad
Like I mentioned, I'm not sure I understand the humor in Rurouni Kenshin.  Some things are funny, some things are not.  It's kind of an acquired taste, I think, but it's pretty easy to acclimate.

One thing I have noticed since returning to the earlier volumes is how different the artwork looks to me now.  I mean, the earlier panels have thick, heavy lines in comparison to the lighter, thinner shapes of later volumes.  You can tell Nobuhiro's earlier work; that is, it shows in the heaviness of light and shadow, the proliferation of lines, the heavier details.  It's quite different from the last volume.

The Ugly
Violence.

Kenshin isn't a killer.  He vows never to kill again and he carries a sakabato, a reverse-edged sword; however, that doesn't mean he can't injure, wound, and potentially maim.  Moreover, some people don't have the same qualms as Kenshin and they won't hesitate to hurt others.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Geekerella

Image result for geekerellaGeekerella
Ashley Poston
2017

The Summary
"Anything can happen once upon a con...

"When geek girl Elle Wittimer seeks a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter.  First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmidor in the reboot.  Elle's been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother's back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all--not to mention a fangirl's dream come true.

"Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this years ExcelsiCon.  He used to live for conventions, but now they're nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets.  Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he's ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob.  As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake--until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

"Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom."

The Good
I have always loved Cinderella stories.  I love the happy endings and the romance, and I love the new and inventive ways authors manages to retell Cinderella's story.  However, I'm also a big fan of retellings where the heroine does something unexpected:  she saves herself.

I always love a story where the main female character has a plan to save herself.  For Elle, it's college on the opposite side of the country; however, when the opportunity arises to go to ExcelsiCon (the convention her father created), she decides to take the leap and live a dream.  She's terrified, but she doesn't let that stand in her way--which I enjoyed.

Elle is a girl who is caught in a very bad situation.  Her stepmother--or Stepmonster, as she's appropriately named--has ruled her life since Elle's father passed away.  She's manipulative, controlling, and, sometimes, just plain cruel.  (I hated her, by the way.  It doesn't take much, because she is not a lovable character.  And neither is her daughter.)

Elle, for the most part, manages to make the best out of a bad situation.  She disobeys the Stepmonster in subtle ways, and then outright challenges her.  She holds tight to her father's memory, his traditions, his fandom, and she takes a leap of faith to reach ExcelsiCon where she discovers her world is complete.

It's really a lovely story.

It's sometimes difficult to read, simply because the Stepmonster and Elle's stepsister are so very horrible; however, it's a fun, romantic and nerdy read.  I liked the friendships Elle built along the way, and I even liked Darien.  It was interesting to see how their lives intersected and how their shared adoration of Starfield becomes the focal point of their budding relationship.

Overall, I enjoyed Geekerella and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale retelling.

The Bad
Geekerella had a few errors (some books do), but it wasn't anything that detracted from the novel overall.  If I have one complaint, though, I suppose it would be that I grew tired of switching between character chapters.  I like Darien and Elle and, I think, Geekerella wouldn't have been the same without them both narrating the story.

However, I am not a fan of the dueling first-person narratives.  If I'm going to have more than one character at a time, I like for it to be third-person omniscient.  First-person point of view is for single narrators.  Anything else just doesn't feel quite right to me.

The Ugly
The Stepmonster.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Scythe

28954189
Simon & Schuster
Scythe
Neal Shusterman
2016

The Summary
"A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery.

"Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death.  Now scythes are the only ones who can end life--and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

"Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe--a role that neither wants.  These teens must master the 'art' of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

"Scythe is the debut of a thrilling new series by National Book Award-winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price."

The Good
Scythe was incredibly compelling.  I'll be honest, it's one of those books that I just couldn't put down.  I mean, on the one hand, it's like a train wreck:  something very bad is happening, but it's hard to look away.  On the other hand, it's an breathtaking story with endearing characters, a fascinating setting, and an intriguing plot.

As the story goes on, it's easy to become attached to Citra and Rowan.  You're right in the middle of their story from the moment Scythe Faraday selects them as apprentices, so you quickly become invested in their lives and caught up in their world.  I was particularly fascinated by how their world worked, because everything down to the smallest detail is micromanaged by the Thunderhead, a "cloud" system in which the collective knowledge of all humanity is stored.

Neal Shusterman creates a unique story with Scythe, because he doesn't immediately offer readers a dystopian world event if that's what we eventually get.  It wouldn't be a stretch to say dystopian is a popular genre in YA literature (think:  Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Cinder, City of Ember--and I'm sure there's more); however, Shusterman doesn't start with a terrible world.  In fact, in Scythe the world is perfect in every way.

There's no war, no disease, no hunger, no inequality, no aging, no natural death.  Humanity has reached the zenith of its evolution:  it is perfect.  Yet beneath that veneer of perfection, you have the Scythes who help keep the human population in check--and you have a world that, for all its perfection, is stagnating.

What does humanity have left to achieve if everything has been done already?

Scythe is one of those YA novels that causes readers to ask some very hard questions about the life and death, humanity's relationship to technology, and what would really happen in a Utopian society.  It's an exciting, spine-tingling thrill ride, but it's also an intriguing examination of human psychology because it made me wonder, "What is really the purpose of life when life never ends?"

The Bad
It's a bit of a long book, admittedly; however, it captured my attention so completely, I don't think I put it down for two days.

The Ugly
I'll be honest, I thought this book was pretty intense.

Although death is everywhere in this book, it seems like such a distant concept as people can no longer really die.  You have revival centers where, if someone unexpectedly dies, they're brought back to life.  Diseases are nonexistent, aging is a thing of the past, and horrific accidents are merely an inconvenience.  There's blood and gore and horrific things that happen, yet they're only temporary--and it's really difficult to digest this cavalier attitude about death.

Besides which, I think I was spooked by the way people lived.  I don't mean the general prosperity or lack of disease or the utopia the Thunderhead has appeared to create; rather, I was a bit perturbed by a general disrespect for life.  In one of the journal entries between chapters, which are shared by the various Scythes readers meet, I stumbled across one that really made me think:
"If you've ever studied mortal age cartoons, you'll remember this one.  A coyote was always plotting the demise of a smirking long-necked bird.  The coyote never succeeded; instead, his plans always backfired.  He would blow up, or get shot, or splat from a ridiculous height. 
"And it was funny.  [...]  Because no matter how deadly his failure, he was always back in the next scene...
"I've seen human foibles that have resulted in temporary maiming or momentary loss of life.  [...]  And when it happens, people laugh, because no matter how gruesome the event, that person, just like the coyote, will be back in a day or two, as good as new, and no worse--or wiser--for the wear. 
"Immortality has turned us all into cartoons."
Human life has been downplayed, made into something laughable.  More importantly, it's not seen as a finite, precious thing; rather, it's a indefinite commodity that can be wasted.  Immortality has created a type of stagnation in human culture.  There's nothing new to discover, nothing new for which to strive, nothing new to create--so what's really left?

Scythe brings up some very interesting questions about life and human emotion and immortality, specifically what it could mean and what it could bring.  It's entertaining, yes; however, it also makes you think and it makes you wonder.  It feels distinctly dystopian, even though humanity is arguably faced with a Utopian society; it makes you wonder what's the real price tag for a perfect world.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Batman: Haunted Knight

7621263
DC
Batman:  Haunted Knight
Jeph Loeb
Tim Sale
1996

The Summary
"This graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale-the creative team behind the classic Batman:  The Long Halloween--includes three dark tales of horror and intrigue featuring Batman facing off against his most demented and wicked foes. Taking place on the most evil of holidays, Halloween, the Dark Knight Detective confronts his deepest fears as he tries to stop the madness and horror created by Scarecrow, the Mad Hatter, the Penguin, Poison Ivy and the Joker.

"Collects Batman:  Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1, Batman:  Madness--A Legend of the Dark Knight Halloween Special, and Batman:  Ghosts--A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special."


The Good
Haunted Knight isn't bad; in fact, it fills in some narrative gaps for me.  It helps me understand the history of the Wayne Foundation and Bruce Wayne's relationship with Lucius Foxx; it introduces me to the Mad Hatter and Barbara Gordon as a young girl; it also introduces me to a Batman with which I'm not as familiar--a Batman who follows his heart, who shows an unexpectedly human fallibility.

I was particularly intrigued by the first story, "Fears."  It features Scarecrow (an apt choice, I think) running amok on Halloween, causing general disarray and chaos, prowling upon Gotham's deepest fears of the dark; however, it also focuses on Batman--or, more accurately, Bruce Wayne--and his romantic entanglement with Jillian.

I know Batman has many different romantic relationships, but his history with Jillian is both unexpected and memorable if only for what arises from the wreckage.  I'll probably spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but, if you're at all familiar with the Batman canon, it's not exactly surprising if I say it falls apart.

But that's not the point.

My point is this:  Bruce Wayne makes the conscious decision to be Batman.

Throughout the story, he's viewing his work as Batman as a necessity, he has to do it because there's no other choice.  He's haggard and tired and exhausted; he's considering, if only for a moment, to hang up his cape.  And yet Jillian makes him realize something:  he wants to be Batman.  It's not a responsibility that's thrust upon him, rather it's a choice--his choice.
"I learned something over this Halloween weekend.  I thought that I didn't have a choice about being the Batman.  That Gotham City chose me to protect her.  That is wrong.  Ever since the night my parents were taken from me, I made the choice.  It means that some of my heart's desires may go unfulfilled...
"But many more are satisfied."

It was an interesting detour into the life of Batman and, personally, I'm glad I read it.

The Bad
I'll be honest, Haunted Knight is just not as a good as The Long Halloween.

Oddly enough, I found Haunted Knight to be more colorful than I expected.  It's still dark, shadowy and it's still an accurate representation of the grim, gritty underworld of Gotham, but it's unexpectedly brighter than either Long Halloween or Dark Victory.  It's not quite what I anticipated.

Plus, Bruce Wayne is a prominent figure in each of these stories, which I found surprising.  I mean, I know that Bruce Wayne is actually Batman--it's not like he can't be involved at some point--but I was surprised by the larger role Bruce Wayne in Haunted Knight.  Most Batman comics focus on Batman; heck, even Bruce focuses most of his energy on being Batman instead of the wealthy, worldly Mr. Wayne.

However, Haunted Knight really peers beneath the cowl, so to speak.  It's not that you're getting to see Bruce Wayne and how he becomes Batman; rather, it's more how Bruce Wayne is trying to reconcile his lives as Batman and Bruce.  It's less about Batman and his endeavors, and more about how being Batman has made an impact on Bruce's life.  It's a bit odd, because, honestly, I expect a Batman story, not a Bruce Wayne story.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  I think it's more of a personal preference for me.

The Ugly
Gotham is a bloody place.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Midnight Riot

Del Rey
Midnight Riot
Ben Aaronovitch
2011

The Summary
"Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London's Metropolitan Police.  Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he'll face is a paper cut.  But Peter's prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost.  Peter's ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny.  Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic."

The Good
Midnight Riot is a very interesting novel--and I mean that in the very best way.  Ben Aaronovitch's novel is dark, gory and spectacularly spooky; however, he manages to create a light, yet funny glimpse into the supernatural underworld existing beneath the very surface of London.  I especially liked the dynamic between Peter Grant and his partner, Leslie.

Peter and Leslie are hilarious together.  Their entire exchange at the beginning of the novel had me cracking up (I suppose because I understood their references).  They have an easy relationship, a way of joking and teasing one another that's fun and amusing.

Plus, I couldn't help but enjoy Peter's sense of humor most of the time.  He's not a very serious fellow and he almost always has some sort of quip to deliver that will leave you chuckling.  He's also incredibly capable.  He's smart, he's observant, and he's careful to put his talents and training to good use.

The Bad
I didn't always understand what was happening.  I know part of it was a language barrier, since I didn't always grasp the meaning of certain slang terms and I have zero familiarity with London's Metropolitan Police force, but I don't think all of it was a lack of understanding on my part.

Personally, I felt like I was always missing something.  The pace of the novel seemed so quick, and I always felt like I was missing some clue, something that should have been obvious but wasn't for me.  I don't know if it was the pace, the slang, or simply my own reading comprehension; whatever the case, I always seemed to be just a little behind with the story.

The Ugly
Gore.

When I say gore, I mean gore.  Despite its sense of humor and its endearing characters, Midnight Riot can be downright brutal when it wants.  It's a very interesting novel, yes; however, it also pushed at my personal boundaries when it comes to violence.  I liked it, don't get me wrong, but I didn't like imagining someone's face falling off or their head exploding.

Truthfully, it was a bit more than I could stomach.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Time's Up

Kensington Books
Time's Up
Janey Mack
2015

The Summary
"The police academy gave her the boot--and she knows how to use it.

"All her life, Maisie McGrane dreamed of following in her father and older brother's footsteps and joining the force.  But when she's expelled from the police academy, she's reduced to taking a job as a meter maid.  Now, instead of chasing down perps, she's booting people's cars and taking abuse from every lowlife who can't scrape together enough change to feed the meter.

"McGranes weren't put on this earth to quit, however.  When Maisie stumbles across the body of a City Hall staffer with two bullets in his chest, her badge-wielding brothers try to warn her off the case.  But with the help of her secret crush, shadowy ex-Army Ranger Hank Bannon, Maisie's determined to follow the trail of conspiracy no matter where it leads.  And that could put her in the crosshairs of a killer--and all she's packing is a ticket gun."

The Good
If you like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Janey Mack's series starring Maisie McGrane.

Headstrong and undeniably tough, Maisie is an intelligent and incredibly talented.  She was an ace at the police academy and she's completely overqualified for being a meter maid, but she takes on the job to prove a point to herself, her family, and the police academy that kicked her out.  She's smart, she's sassy--what's not to like?

The Bad
Time's Up just isn't my cup of tea.  I like tough, strong and intelligent female leads, but I struggled a bit with Maisie.  Part of it might have just been the treatment she faced (it bothered me how much people were willing to crap all over her, just because she was doing her job); part of it just might have been the style of writing; part of it might have been the romantic triangle.

Either way, it's just not for me.

The Ugly
Maisie cannot catch a break.  I mean, she's constantly enduring grief from her brothers and she's working as a meter maid, one of the most hated jobs in Chicago.  She's demeaned, she's bullied, she's abused, she's despised--and that's not even the worst of it.  She's constantly out maneuvered by one person or another, and she's consistently embarrassed by or shoved aside as just an accessory by other characters.

I realize that all the things that happen to her are supposed to show her toughness, her mental acuity, her physical strength, yet I couldn't help thinking it was just one disaster after another.  I like adventure and I like quirky, sassy heroines; however, I don't like seeing a character I'm supposed to like just suffering.

That's what it felt like:  suffering.

Sometimes, life is going to be crappy.  It's going to be tough, it's going to be a learning experience, but Maisie doesn't ever catch a break.  It's one long procession of crappy situations, and it's like there is no end in sight.  I mean, it feels like Maisie has no good days.  There's no light at the end of the tunnel, there's no hope for something better.

Personally, it makes me feel bitter and frustrated--and I'm not even the one dealing with it.  More to the point, I don't know how she can stand her family.  Her family loves her, don't get me wrong, but I feel like they make her life more difficult.

Take her brothers, for instance.  They're very protective of her, but it doesn't feel like there's any affection.  Maybe it's just the way the family is supposed to be portrayed (as in, they're not very good at expressing affection); maybe it's just the way they were written (as in, I'm not 100 percent sure the author did a great job of writing them).  I don't know, I just know I didn't like they way they treated their little sister.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ghostopolis

7293595
Graphix
Ghostopolis
Doug TenNapel
2010

The Summary
"Garth Hale is as good as dead....

"The only problem is he's still alive.

"When Garth Hale is accidentally zapped into the ghost world by Frank Gallows, a washed-up ghost wrangler, he discovers that he has special powers.  Soon he finds himself on the run from the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, who wants to use Garth's newfound abilities to tighten his grip on the spirit world.  After Garth meets Cecil, his grandfather's ghost, the two search for a way to get Garth back home, nearly losing hope until Frank Gallows shows up to fix his mistake."

The Good
I really enjoyed Ghostopolis.  It's such a unique take on the afterlife and how the living (and the dead) deal with it.  Plus, I was fascinated by the idea that there's a bureau in the government set aside just to deal with ghosts--which is where Frank, a washed up has-been if there ever was one, comes into play.

It's interesting to see the imagined technology Frank uses, but it's also fascinating to see how he deals with ghosts on a professional and personal level.  For him, ghosts are just a part of the job.  It's kind of comical how he's used to them by now.

Overall, Ghostopolis is a fun, exciting story.  It deals with the despair of death and dying without giving in to the despair of death and dying.  It's fairly mild; it's easy to read and follow the panels; plus, it's just plain fun.

The Bad
I didn't always understand the physics of the Ghostopolis, which I found bothered me a tiny bit.  I mean, Garth has incredible power when he's in Ghostopolis simply because he's human.  It's like how on the other side, in the world of the living, ghosts are able to float and penetrate walls.  However, I didn't quite understand why such a thing existed or why Garth had such uncommonly powerful abilities.  It doesn't really answer those questions, rather it just leaves them to be suspended with your disbelief.

The Ugly
Death.  Not death as what humankind observes, but death of a more permanent variety.  It's really very sad.

Oh, and the bugs.

I really didn't like the bugs.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Prince and I

Cover image for The Prince and I
Pocket Books
The Prince and I
Karen Hawkins
2015

The Summary
"Spirited Murian MacDonald seeks vengeance against the evil earl who's stolen Rowallen Castle from her family.  With a band of loyal retainers, she waylays the earl's wealthy London guests, trying to lure the earl and his guards into pursuit so she can sneak into the castle for evidence of his misdeeds.

"Murian's plan is working splendidly until she stops the coach of Gregori Maksim Romanovin, the commanding prince of Oxenburg, who is in Scotland on an important diplomatic mission.  Max challenges the masked highwayman to a duel and is furious when Murian not only bests him, but escapes!  Max vows to find the tempting Scottish vixen, no matter the cost.

"When Max discovers Murian's lair and hears her story, he resolves to assist her--whether she likes it or not--and a royal battle blazes.  But when Murian is betrayed, Max must choose between the strict dictates of his mission, or protecting the red-haired lass who has stolen his once-cold heart."

The Good
I rather liked The Prince and I.

It was a curious blending of romance and Robin Hood, and I enjoyed it.  Max is the quintessential hero:  dark, brooding, capable, confident--not to mention he's a prince.  Murian, on the other hand, is anything but a damsel in distress:  she's calm, competent, hard-working, and surprisingly agile with a blade.  She's been dealt a terrible hand, having not only lost her husband but her home, but she's making the best of her situation.

However, I think my favorite character was Max's grandmother, Grand Duchess Natasha Nikolaevna.

The Grand Duchess was, by far, the most comical character and, I think, the most knowledgeable.  She doesn't care how other perceive her; rather, she likes being considered a witch.  (It's why she most often threatens to turn others into goats and frogs.  She much prefers infamy to anonymity.)  Moreover, she's often in the thick of trouble, one way or another, and she somehow manages to turn circumstances exactly how she wants them.

This last quality makes me think that she's not the doddering old witch she likes her grandson to think.  Natasha is wily, not senile; in fact, she strikes me as being preternaturally intelligent.  For instance, if she hadn't lost in a card game to the earl, they never would have traveled to Scotland--Max would never have met Murian; Max never would have gotten involved in the earl's business and discovered what he did.

Honestly, Natasha is the force that propels the story forward.  She's the one who helps to shape it and, while she may seem laughably naive or even foolish, I have this feeling she's not.  I have this odd feeling that she knows exactly what she's doing, that she has calculated every move to her--and, by proxy, her grandson's--benefit.

The Bad
The Prince and I is a fine novel.  It's not great, it's not an immediate classic; however, it's not a terrible romance either.  It falls somewhere in between:  not quite fantastic, but enjoyable nevertheless.

The Ugly
The earl--and I can't remember his name to save my life, now--is a terrible character.  He's just a horrible person in general, and I really grew to hate him.  Not only does he manipulate, lie, and cheat, he's quite probably a murderer to boot; however, he was a forgettable sort of evil.  He's a bit of a caricature:  evil and spiteful enough as to be unbelievable.

I suppose it says something that I don't remember his name anymore.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Be Frank with Me

William Morrow
Be Frank with Me
Julia Claiborne Johnson
2016

The Summary
"Meet Mimi:  Reclusive literary legend.  Wrote Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning novel at nineteen.  Hasn't been seen or heard from much since, though, ironically, she lives in a glass mansion in Bel Air.  Lost all her money in a Ponzi scheme, needs to write another novel.  So her publisher sends...

"Alice Whitley:  Editorial assistant.  Twenty-five years old.  Highly competent.  Thinks she's going to be typing up pages and delivering cups of coffee.  Instead finds that her primary job is to be companion to...

"Frank:  Mimi's nine-year-old son.  A boy with the intellect of Albert Einstein, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders.  About to give Alice the education of her life."

The Good
I liked Be Frank with Me.

It's zany, it's original, it's a lot of fun, yet it's quietly intense and, quite honestly, heart-wrenching.  I found I quickly became involved in their lives, but, then again, I think it's easy to become wound up in Frank's story.  (It feels like Frank's story, as much as it feels like Alice's.  He's such a larger-than-life character, and he just seems to overshadow everything else.)

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Frank and Alice.  I liked the unexpectedness of their adventures, even if it sometimes led to mayhem.  However, what I liked best about Be Frank with Me was the narration.

Tavia Gilbert does a brilliant job of breathing life into the characters.  She gives Alice depth, a distinctive perkiness that shows her optimistic attitude; she captures Frank's youth and intelligence, his boyish voice and unusual monotone; she gives Zander a gravelly, masculine voice that conveys both his age and his immaturity.

I loved the way Gilbert slipped between personas.  Even when I didn't know who was speaking, I could tell which character I heard.  Gilbert makes each character singularly unique, distinguishing them by tone and accent and attitude.  She's a masterful storyteller, and I enjoyed listening to her lend her talents to Be Frank with Me.

The Bad
I'll admit, I struggled with this story.

I am Alice's age.  I could easily see myself in the same position as Alice, working as an assistant and quickly finding herself engulfed by the work--by all the tiny rules that Mimi snaps at her for not knowing, all the rules that keep Frank to freezing up or freaking out.

I mean, I felt bad for Alice:  here she is living full time in Los Angeles, essentially working as a live-in babysitter, instead of a publisher's assistant.  Not to mention, Mimi treats her poorly; Frank nearly takes off her fingers when they first meet; and Zander--well, Zander feels like just another tragedy waiting to happen.

It's comical all the crazy situations in which Alice finds herself, yet, at the same time, it's frustrating.  I mean, Alice seems like a genuinely nice person.  She might be overly excitable and she might sometimes overstep her bounds, because she wants to do a good job.  I hate the way she's treated by pretty much everyone.

And Zander.

Don't even get me started on Zander.

The Ugly
Human relationships are complicated.  They're ugly and brutal and difficult, and it's easy to see why Frank struggles with them.  I mean, fourth graders aren't exactly the nicest bunch out there and it's easy to see how Frank feels like he doesn't belong.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy:  Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J.D. Vance
2016

The Summary
"From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a probing look at the struggles of America's white working class through the author's own story of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town.

"Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis--that of poor, white Americans.  The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring now for over forty years, has been reported with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside.  In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck.

"The Vance family story began with hope in post-war America.  J.D.'s grandparents were 'dirt poor and in love' and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them.  They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility.  But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America.  With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.

"A deeply moving memoir, with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels.  And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country."

The Good
I picked up Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance after hearing rave reviews from a local book group.  In his memoir, Vance depicts the various struggles his family endures as poor, white Appalachian transplants.  It's a searing, intimate look at Appalachian culture, and it's carefully crafted and incredibly insightful.

I loved it.

Admittedly, I was a little hesitant to begin reading Vance's memoir.  I worried how he would portray my beloved Appalachia and, with the word "hillbilly" already set in the title, I was automatically on guard for any number of transgressions, like calling it App-uh-lay-shuh instead of App-uh-latch-uh.

However, Vance doesn't berate or condemn or belittle.  He offers an honest, intimate portrayal of his family and his culture; he treats his history with compassion and views his heritage with affection.  He doesn't sugar coat things; in fact, he's very up front with the problems he and his community have faced and continue to face.  Yet he's proud of his heritage and he's proud of the family from which he comes, which I can certainly appreciate.

He's an intelligent writer.  He's eloquent, well-spoken, but he's also accessible.  He doesn't make Hillbilly Elegy nauseatingly academic; rather, he appealed to me for the simple reason that he made his memoir easy to read, easy to understand, and easily relatable.  Moreover, he uses statistics to enhance his work, instead of building his memoir around them.

Overall, I loved Hillbilly Elegy and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see or understand Appalachian culture.

The Bad
I don't really have any complaints.  Granted, there are times that the narrative drops, slowing down to the point of being boring, but those moments are few and far between.  I enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy overall, and I don't really have any major complaints.

The Ugly
Hillbilly Elegy doesn't pull any punches:  Vance is going to tell you about his life and he's going to share all the sordid details, including his grandparents' violent marriage and his mother's drug abuse and his own tumultuous relationships.  I found this quality sometimes made Hillbilly Elegy disheartening.

I mean, as Vance recounts his childhood and his family history, I recognized elements of his story on a personal level.  I've seen many of these things happen in my own neighborhood; I've known people who have dealt with these things, even if I haven't.  And it's heart-wrenching, because it's very, very real and very, very true.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Highwayman

The Highwayman
Kerrigan Byrne
2015

The Summary
"Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain.  Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of Victorian London's wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who've wronged him...and will fight to the death to seize what he wants.  The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception--and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands...

"But Farah is no one's puppet.  She possesses a powerful secret, one that threatens her very life.  When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition:  marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies.  But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both.  Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he'd long thought dead?"

The Good
I can only think of one word for this book:  scandalous.

It's interesting, but it's very scandalous and, for the most part, I enjoyed the scandal.  It's a dark, thrilling ride through the seamy underbelly of London, and I rather liked it.  However, I'll be honest, I think I was mostly hooked on finding out the identity of Dorian.  He's not quite who he says he is, and I wanted to find out if my suspicions were correct.

The Bad
While I mostly enjoyed The Highwayman, I was really bothered by Dorian and Farah's relationship (if it can even be called that).  Here's the thing:  he's a violent, damaged man--and he lives in fear of hurting those about whom he cares, Farah being first and foremost on his list.  Farah is his fairy, and he'd do anything to protect.  And yet he compels her to marry him?

Don't get me wrong, I can see how he can offer her protection that no other man can.  He has wealth and power, not just physical strength (although he apparently has that in abundance, as well), and he has an intimate knowledge of human misdeeds.  He knows how the darker side of human nature operates and he knows exactly what to do to stop anyone who would try to do harm to Farah.

However, I don't think forcing her into an unwanted marriage is how to best do that.

Let's just be honest, it doesn't make sense.  Their whole relationship doesn't make sense; in particular, his logic doesn't make sense.  Then again, for a guy who spent years in some of the most brutal prisons in England, I suppose he's not that bad.

The Ugly
This book is so explicit--and I'm not just talking about the more intimate moments between Dorian and Farah.  Dorian endures a lot of bad things, traumatic things that have shaped him and changed him, not necessarily for the better.  It really hurts to think about all the terrible wounds inflicted on him, especially when he goes into some detail about it.

The Highwayman is not a book for the faint of heart.