Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Koko Be Good, Blankets, and American Born Chinese

I picked these three comics for this post because I think they would go well next to each other on a bookshelf.

Koko Be Good: Jen Wang

This comic seems to be a reboot of a web series with the same name. At first, it revolves around two people who would probably be familiar to anyone who spent time in a hip college town. Jon is about to go off to Peru for some humanitarian work, and Koko is an impulsive, irreverent and directionless young woman. When the two of them meet, Koko is inspired by what she thinks is Jon's genuine selflessness. She decides to turn over a new leaf and be a good person. There is a third narrative, following a young man named Faron. Faron's story was interesting but I would have rather seen it in a comic of its own.

The art and the story work together to make give the book a dreamy, light mood. Koko is particularly expressive and the muted sepia palette warms it up. As for the plot, Koko's story was tough for me to buy and I didn't connect with her; I don't believe it would be so easy for a previously selfish and wild person to suddenly become 'good.' Jon's conflict with his older girlfriend gave me a few things to think about, and Faron's story was interesting but didn't fit and needed more space.

Blankets: Craig Thompson

A black and white graphic novel that tells the story of the author's early life: his relationship with his brother and parents, his struggles with faith, and the first girl he loved. I identified with the protagonist quickly, and I think a lot of people would if they had been disappointed by religion in the past. It also excellently captures the intensity of falling in love for the first time, and the heartbreak that usually follows.It's got me thinking about the way I experienced emotions when I was younger and the way I experience them now.

The art was energetic and fluid and full of motion. Thompson fills pages with lovely patterns reminiscent of Indian henna designs, and those were some of my favorites. Many of his full-page panels would make excellent posters.

American Born Chinese: Gene Luen Yang

 A simple, clean art style and a protagonist with an interesting perspective endeared this book to me. American Born Chinese flips between three very different stories: the Monkey King's struggle to change himself, Jin Wang's experience as a child of Chinese immigrants living in America, and Danny, an American boy inexplicably related to a ridiculous Chinese caricature named Chin-Kee. They tie together surprisingly but neatly for a satisfying conclusion. It balances light-heartedness with a lot of subtext on culture and alienation. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Strange Case of Finley Jayne

I found this book on my boyfriend's Kindle even though neither of us ordered it. So, I read it. It's about (surprise!) Finley Jayne, a young woman in steampunk Britain who has superstrength and a supertemper that cost her a job, and then immediately get her a way better one. She is hired by a woman concerned about her daughter's widower fiance, and thinks Finley is the right person to sniff out any weird stuff. I've never read a steampunk novel before and I'm not an expert on the culture so I can't say if it was anachronistic. However, I did enjoy the development of the setting and steampunk trappings, like the automaton horses and robot servants. Some of the character motivations come off as flimsy and unconvincing, but the heroine is pretty solid and it's a short, light read with a little bit of creepiness at the end.

This book is a prequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset, a longer story about Finley that looks like it explains more about the origin of her powers, which is not addressed in this book.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I'm editing and editing and drinking Red Bulls and editing and thinking back to the time when I thought I could finish this whole monster of a first draft by August. Oh, those were the days. I was so young and full of hope. Here's a book review.

I will read anything with a zombie on, in, or around it, and most of it is pretty bad. Forest of Hands and Teeth is not bad. It's pretty good, and that was a nice change. It's so easy to get lost in that I read it in a few hours without realizing it. The narrative is smooth and poetic, and the heroine, Mary, has more complexity and depth than I've usually found in the genre. There is more than enough zombie to make it at home in the genre, but the interesting stuff is Mary's relationship with religion, her mother's stories of a larger pre-zombie world, and two guys named Harry and Travis. In some parts, her emotions and reactions are described passionately while other parts seem curiously drab, which made me disengage for awhile. But for the most part, it's vivid, well-paced without bothering with too much description, and really not afraid to stomp on your heart. I'm looking forward to reading the other books because there is a lot left to learn about the world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Golden Acorn

Between editing The Girl from Wildwood, starting another book, going out of the country, and getting ready for Anime Expo, I somehow managed to read a few things. So here's a review of one of them. 

This book is free for Kindle on Amazon, which is cool. I thought it was light-hearted and enjoyable, simple to follow for younger readers. There isn't much to it, though; the protagonist, Jack, is likable, and so is his sidekick Camelin, but all of the other characters are completely flat. The world, based in Celtic mythology, is intriguing but underdeveloped and the explanations are convoluted. This is only the first book, so hopefully that can be fixed.

I don't want to pick on this book too much because it's probably for a younger audience and I think they'd like it well enough; the pace might lag a little in the middle, but the climax is suitably exciting and Jack is easy to root for. I was continually distracted by formatting issues and punctuation errors, though. I very much appreciate books being offered for free but it's still disappointing when they are poorly edited. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Walking Dead, Black Hole, Y: The Last Man

Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard

The zombie genre may be reaching saturation, but I still read anything with an animated corpse on the cover. As a result, I've read a lot of crap: stories that try to implement a humorous or interesting twist, but fall short and miss out on that satisfying classic zombie apocalypse feel. I have also read a lot of formulaic zombie stories, that stick so closely to a pattern that they are utterly predictable. Walking Dead, a long-running comic that follows former sheriff Rick, walks a fine line in the middle. The series finds a good balance between flesh-eating monsters and the drama of people trying to work together and survive. It establishes its own zombie science, which is moderately original but retains all the typical zombie hallmarks. The main characters find unique refuges and meet with other survivors, some of whom are very disturbing. But it doesn't feel episodic; it satisfies curiosity by exploring the spectrum of reactions to the end of the world. The comic is at 82 issues right now and I'm still looking forward to the release of every one, but I already feel like the story has been slightly overextended, and I hope the series ends before its fans are exhausted.

Black Hole: Charles Burns 

I got this for my birthday, and I'm glad I did, because it's very different from what I usually read. Black Hole is centered around four teenagers in the middle of an STD epidemic that turns its victims into mutants. The art style is haunting and graphic, the story adeptly capturing the fear of ostracism, isolation, uncertainty, and apathy of late adolescence. Reading it was a surreal and uncomfortable experience because of the reoccurring imagery of its hallucination/dream/vision sequences, and its frequent brushes with sex, violence, and grotesque deformity. But it was compelling, and the climax of one character's story was as heartbreaking as anything I've ever read.

Y: The Last Man: Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

The premise of this comic is one of the most interesting I've ever come across. A disease sweeps across the entire planet, destroying every organism with a Y chromosome, human, animal, embryo and sperm alike – except for one guy, Yorick, and his pet monkey Ampersand. The characters are varied and interesting and I did grow to care about them, but what really keeps me thinking about this series is not so much them, but the things they see. As Yorick and his companions, Allison, a scientist, and 355, a secret agent, travel around the world, we see what has become of different civilizations as they recover from the catastrophic death of half their population. We find out who has filled the enormous power vacuum in nearly every field, from politics to military to trade. The ending was a little disappointing, just because it's hard to craft a conclusion big enough for such a fascinating and epic story.


So that's what I think about that stuff. Come back in a couple days for a link to Senseless. Then buy it!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lovely Bones

     I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold for the first time a few years ago when a crazy cat lady on the bus my best friend gave it to me. Since then I have done something I don't do very often, which is periodically pick it up and read it again.

     The book is told through the point of view of Susie Salmon, a young girl who is raped and murdered very early in the story, so, understandably, reading it was a visceral experience. After Susie dies, the story becomes less about her and more about her family and the people who knew her, as she watches them from the afterlife in the years that follow her death.

     The one element that sticks out the most to me was the attention that Sebold gave to every single character, even the ones who hover briefly around the edge of the story and then disappear. In just a few sentences, she gives the reader one or two details about this person to make them as real and three-dimensional as Susie and her family, and to make the reader feel their unique pain, even if it is not directly related to the young girl or her death. There is Mr. Botte, a teacher of Susie's with a terminally ill daughter, and Artie, an awkward classmate with fixations that make him an outsider. The murderer, who we also watch through Susie's eyes, is opened up to the reader, even as we hate him for what he did.

     There was a major twist that alienated me a little bit because of how blatantly supernatural it was, and it felt out of place in a book that dealt so intimately with real emotions. Even after careful consideration, I still wonder if the book might have been better for its absence. But, aside from that, the story is lean and Sebold's style is fittingly simple and elegant, with just enough well-placed detail to make every page concrete and intense, without bogging down the narrative with redundant descriptions. To me, it was almost tangible, how much she cared about these characters and felt what they felt. It comes through in the authentic portrayal of their journey through grief, which is very different and personal for each character, from Susie's immediate family to a girl from school she barely knew. The point of view is perfect; we get to be with Susie as she progresses through the afterlife, and we get to watch the people she left behind as they grow up without her. Even though I was thrown for a loop with the twist, it certainly doesn't make me regret reading this book, as it is ultimately full of characters and scenes that have stayed with me for a long time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hunger Games

     I had planned to kick off this blog with announcing that my short story had gone live on Kindle. But the formatting is still in process, so, because I'm very excited about this blog and all book stuff right now, I thought I would write a book review.

     Right after The Hunger Games was released in 2008, I read the first chapter online, here. I remember that I enjoyed it, but it seemed like it was a book for an audience younger than I, so that was all I did for a long time. Then, on a visit to Barnes and Noble, the cover caught my eye and I sat down to read it for a few minutes. I stayed in that chair for three hours until the store closed, then I bought the book and did not go to sleep until I had finished it.

     I loved the story, the characters, and the themes, but we'll get to those; the first thing that instantly charmed me was the world the author has created. The story takes place in a land called Panem, which is divided into twelve districts and a capital city. Parts of this place are so saturated with wealth and advanced technology that they start to do very silly things with their excess, like genetically augmenting their appearance; tinting their skin green, engraving gold patterns into their faces, and so on. In other parts of Panem, people are starving, and some of them get by with what they can kill with bows and arrows. I love science fiction and fantasy, and The Hunger Games balances the two genres in one setting believably and seamlessly.

     But an engaging setting isn't much with no one in it. The protagonist of the books is a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, who does not change much until the very end of the third book, when she suddenly changes a lot. But she is a well-written character; there are things about her not to like, as there should be, but she has been through a lot in her short life, and her strengths are appropriate for her history and they make her an admirable heroine. Her relationships with her mother and her younger sister are portrayed in a way that were deeply affecting even when they weren't front and center. Some of supporting characters, have their own rich back stories, and several of them became very important to me by the end of the book, but none of them have the same depth or vibrance as Katniss. The reader is given a number of very intimate glimpses into Katniss's past and her inner monologue, but they do not overpower the narrative or hold back what is a fascinating story.

     I will try to be vague about the plot in case you haven't read it, but there might be a few spoilers here. The story follows Katniss as she participates unwilling in a gruesome annual tournament, sponsored by a totalitarian government, that pits two teenagers from every district against each other in a lengthy fight to the death. There are numerous graphically violent scenes, but barely a whisper of sex so I guess that's why it is marketed as a book for young adults. The books really grow up as Katniss's situation and the situation of Panem as a whole becomes increasingly dire. There is an element of political strategy, as well some very profound, mature themes about government control, massive social class gaps, and the detachment that comes from watching tragedies on a screen instead of facing them yourself. Romance has its place, balanced well with the action and the larger story, and a love triangle develops. I was a little bemused by how hastily it was wrapped up (and almost wish it was not wrapped up at all) but Katniss's decision does make sense.

     The ending of the final book, Mockingjay, had a deeper impact on me than almost anything I have ever read. For a few days after I read it, I was angry at the author, not because it was poorly written but because it was so wrenchingly tragic. This spurs the massive, sudden shift in Katniss's character, to a point that I understood but that I had a little trouble sympathizing with. Nevertheless, heartbreaking as it was, the series wraps up in a very satisfying way, at a good point, and it has earned a high place on my list of favorite literature.

     That said, I am pretty apprehensive about the movie. This guy looks pretty beefy for Peeta Mellark, who is 16 and spends a lot of time painting or making cakes.