Sunday, November 30, 2014

Carpathian

I think David Golemon needs a copyeditor.  Or a proofreader.  Something.  Anything.


I started the Event Group series with the expectation that it would be silly fun, and nothing more.  The first few books were silly, but they were also mildly entertaining, so that's fine.  Unfortunately, as time passed, the books became less about the unexplained and more about the incomprehensible ... writing.  For example, in Ripper (taking the beaten-to-death and back again trope of Jack the Ripper), I literally could not understand what was going on in some scenes.  Here's a link to my review, because I honestly cannot fathom going over that gelatinous globby mess of a book again.

And yet, there's something masochistic in my reading nature.  I'll get burned by a book and then pick up the sequel wondering, "Can it really get any worse?"

Newsflash to myself: Yes, it can.  It will.  I promise.  Enter: Carpathian.


To be fair, Golemon seems to have overcome his allergy to commas, for most of them populate the proper places in this book.  Usually.  Now we have some truly epic sentences, containing about four independent clauses strung together by random marks of punctuation.  There are also completely baffling "sentences" like this one: "The large soldier stood at attention barely Bible in the shadow-inducing tallow-fueled lamp as it spit out its weak light."  It took me a full minute to realize that "Bible" is probably supposed to be "visible."  How is a lamp "shadow-inducing"?  Would a lamp, be it very weak, not drive away shadows?  How does one "induce" a shadow, anyway?  I would also have thought that a lamp used by the Roman Empire would be fueled by oil, not animal fat (tallow).  Per this article from the Craven Museum in the UK, oil lamps were an alternative to tallow or beeswax candles.  You can't really pour tallow into a lamp, as it is solid at room temperature.

I'm sure you didn't start this review with the expectation of reading about tallow versus oil in Roman army lamps, but nitpicky is nitpicky.

And that's just one sentence.

The general premise of this book is that Israel's Exodus from Egypt didn't have divine assistance, but rather a "Lost Tribe" called the Jeddah who commanded armies of werewolves, called Golia.  Okay, let's just run with this for a moment.  It's the Golia who destroy the Egyptian army as they cross the Red Sea (which is more of a marsh than anything), and the Golia who destroy Jericho.  After the Jericho business, though, the Golia tell Joshua they're sick and tired of doing all the dirty work, so they request permission to leave and take with them a holy relic.  Joshua says, "Hmph, fine" and the Jeddah disappear, trekking north to end up in the Carpathian mountains.

Question: if the Israelites had the Jeddah and their Golia at their disposal, why did they wait so long to get the heck out of Dodge?  I mean, if you had giant killer wolves, wouldn't you say, "Right, I'm not going to be a slave/servant/hired worker any longer!" and sic them on the Egyptians pronto?

Anyway.  What Carpathian posits is that the Jeddah become "Gypsies" (the author's words, not mine).  All through the book it's Gypsy-this and Gypsy-that and Gypsy Queen and oy vey.  As far as I understand it, "gypsy" is a racial slur and has been used in really horrible ways.  I believe Rom or Roma is the preferred usage.  I felt so uncomfortable with all of the mysterious "Gypsy" ways.  You couldn't be bothered to check whether that was an acceptable term or not?  Ugh.

Aside from that, there is really no story.  Colonel Jack Collins, head of security for the Event Group, is being all flouncy about not letting his friends help him track down his sister's murderer (I guess his sister died in the last book?  Missed that).  He finally accepts that Sarah is not in love with the Evil Frenchman, Henri Farbeaux, and sexytimes are had.  Jack's best friend, Carl Everett, requests a transfer out of the Event Group, and Alice, their spunky octogenarian secretary/lady of many secrets commits a serious security breach involving an embedded spy at the Vatican.  While these characters were never exceedingly multilayered, this is like watching shadow puppets.  There's no depth at all.  A character appears, says stuff, and leaves.  It's like they used up all of their character in the first few books and are now just cardboard cutouts.  The "plot" isn't much better or any more believable.

For example, Carl Everett and Jason Ryan (who is referred to as both "Jason" and "Ryan," often in sentences directly abutting one another), fly a military jet to Rome to extract their compromised spy, realizing that a top Mossad operative is on his tail.  After many shenanigans (like, no one brought a map of Rome), they get ambushed by the Bad Mossad Guys but manage to escape.  At this point, the spy says he wants to stay at the Vatican even though he might be compromised, and Carl and Jason are like, "Okay, dude.  That's your choice."  NO.  Why did you fly to Europe to rescue someone who didn't want to be rescued and then you just leave him there as a bleeding open door to security?  This makes no sense!

The aforementioned Mossad operative is a dangerously beautiful woman with heterochromia iridium (two differently-colored eyes) which is referenced all the time.  I get it.  Her eyes are two different colors.  Congratulations!  Her name is Mika Sorotzkin, and as you may have guessed, she is in fact a "Gypsy Princess" working to gather information for the Jeddah.  Now, here's another thing that bothered me, although I could be totally wrong about this, and feel free to correct me.  "Sorotzkin" is a Slavic name.  I found a book called Jewish Family Names and Their Origins: An Etymological Dictionary by Heinrich and Eva Guggenheimer that listed "Sorotzkin" as a derivative of Soroka, which is a Russian last name, or Sokja, which would be Czech.  However, Mika is originally from Romania,where they speak Romanian (duh).  Romanian is actually the fourth Romance language (along with Spanish, French, and Italian) and is not related to Slavic languages like Czech or Russian.  So why she would have a Russo-Czech last name is just beyond me--presumably she speaks neither Russian nor Czech, but does speak Romanian and Hebrew.  Secondly, how did she end up in the Mossad without any past history?  I don't think they let just anyone walk in off the street, say they're Israeli, and then join up.  Her main abilities seem to be: having two differently-colored eyes and not aging.

I made it a third of the way through the book and nothing happened.  There was all this weird setup with a casino in Transylvania and the Russian Mafia (naturally), but nothing really ... happened.  I assume things happened in the end, because I read the last few chapters.  And dangit.  The teaser for the next book sounds slightly interesting, so help me.  That's the problem with Golemon's later books: interesting ideas but atrocious execution.

In my review of Ripper, I called it a "viscous glob of high fructose corn syrup, contaminated with e.coli and coated with hairballs."  Carpathian isn't as bad as that; rather, it's more of a neverending river of flavorless flummery spotted with stomach-churning flecks of mold.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I don't care which award you've won, or who you are...

... because I don't tolerate unacceptable language and cultural appropriation in the books I enjoy.

As the de facto Teen Librarian (technically I'm a Youth Services Librarian, but I love YA lit and I really love working with teens, so I'm like the Teen-In-All-But-Name Librarian), it's my professional duty to keep up with teen lit.  Although I don't generally agree with Big Award Decisions, it's important for me to know who won what when and for what (how's that for a tongue-twister?).  This is crucial for booktalking without seeming like an idiot.

I was really surprised when Nick Lake's In Darkness won the Printz two years ago.  I'd never even heard of it--or him.  I've noticed a trend in award winners--they often deal with at-the-time-hot-button topics or controversial issues.  For example, I thought The One and Only Ivan was fine, but it was obviously going to win the Newbery because it was about a gorilla with feelings, and award committees can't resist the whole inhumanity-of-humanity angle.  In Darkness is a dual-narrative featuring a boy trapped under rubble after the Haitian earthquake and a parallel account of Toussaint L'Ouverture.  I'm sure the committee saw Haiti+earthquake and said, "Right.  That one."

Before you all call me out on being callous and horrid, please know that I care very deeply about what happened in Haiti.  A very good friend of mine was in the position to go over there for relief work.  It's very important to me to support disaster zones around the world; however, I'm not always comfortable with films, music, or books that seem to capitalize on disaster.  If they are bringing attention to a heretofore unknown situation, that's different.  But, I personally don't like reading books that use hot-button issues as the basis of their literary hook.


Okay, with all that out of the way (honestly, I could probably just delete it and no one would care, but it's part of my review process), why didn't I like There Will Be Lies?  There are three main reasons:
  1. Unhealthy and dangerous body talk
  2. Cultural appropriation of Native American beliefs
  3. The book would have been just fine as a thriller without dragging points 1 and 2 into the story
As someone with BDD and EDNOS (currently doing well, but it's like alcoholism in that it never *goes away* and you're never *cured*), I'm extremely sensitive to the way authors talk about bodies in their books.  Now, I understand if you are writing a character who is a dudebro frat boy, he's going to say some stupid and offensive stuff.  However, when a character's worth is directly tied to their size or body shape, I put that all on the author.

So, this is what Shelby Jane Cooper (isn't that a gee-aw-shucks name?) thinks about her mother:
"Mom hauls her ass out of th eeasy chair, goes to the hall and pulls on a coat over her T-shirt and PAJAMA JEANS, and I'm putting that in all caps now in case you didn't pick up on my subliminal referencing of her PAJAMA JEANS earlier.  Also, in case it wasn't obvious when I talked about her hauling her ass, she is not the slimmest, whereas I am naturally athletic, and this makes the pajama jeans look even worse."
What a sweet girl!  But wait, there's more!  "It's almost like she WANTS to look like a loser, so you know, shrug."  Shelby Jane Cooper, I am going to smack you.  But that might make you look bad.  Just like when you stand with your mom: "It's just, she likes like a loser RIGHT NEXT TO ME."

Okay, so you claim you love your mom, but she embarrasses you by her weight and her choice in fashion, and this is mostly because you care more about yourself than about anyone else in the universe.  As far as she's concerned, "Shelby Jane" is the name of the center of the universe.  As they walk, Shelby can only note how "Mom is mainly trying to shake it by walking surprisingly fast down the street, her ass rippling her, ahem, pajama jeans."  Whereas Miss Shelby Jane is "five-five.  One hundred pounds.  Athletic, you could say."

Yeah, it's totally possible that a teenage girl is 5'5 and 100lbs, but she would be extremely small.  I don't get the whole "athletic" thing being thrown around here.  Shelby wouldn't be super muscular, but it's still a realistic thing.  However, what makes me really uncomfortable is how casual she is throwing numbers around.  Girls will read that and think, "Omigod, I'm 5'5 and I weigh 130lbs--am I fat?  I need to go on a diet!"  Seriously.  Shelby's also the kind of girl who can eat as muuuuuch ice cream as she wants and not gain weight, while she simultaneously fat-shames her mother for doing the same thing.

I don't care if Lake wanted to portray her as an unsympathetic character.  There are ways of doing that that aren't offensive and dangerous.

Aside from all of the body issues, there's also the issue with the appropriation of Native American culture.  Basically, Coyote is Shelby's protector (I suppose someone working at Urban Outfitters would say "spirit guide") and she goes dreamwalking and has to fight the Crone and save the Child and eat people's hearts and stuff.  She visits ruins of the Perry Mesa culture (we don't know what these people called themselves, and so academics have bestowed upon them this name) and feels like the petroglyphs "resonate" with her.  What a speshul snowflake.

At its core, this is actually a mystery/thriller, but you wouldn't know that until about halfway through.  There's all this snarky talking and then ominous foreshadowing and then "Hey, let's step sideways into the Dreaming!" and I can't even with this.  A Diné woman, for example, would  obviously have differing spiritual beliefs from a Blackfoot woman.  I am not an expert on this in any way, but I do recognize that this romanticization of a culture's stories or beliefs should not be something you add to a book to make it more interesting.  I tweeted Debbie Reese, whom I greatly respect, about this issue, and she said to ask the author if he would do the same thing with the Bible.  If we treat some religions as mythologies, then treat all of them as mythologies.  Would this have been so "cool" had the main character been, I don't know, in heaven with Jesus?  I think a lot of people would have been up in arms about that.  But this New Age-y thing is widely accepted, unfortunately.

To be honest, I didn't read, in detail, the whole thing.  I was so disgusted that I ended up skimming a lot, so I may have missed more offensive subject matter.

When I made it to the end, the only thing I could rationalize was that Lake tossed in all of this fake "spiritual" stuff to disguise the fact that the thriller part of the book was fine, but not groundbreaking.

The three main book reviews on our book ordering platform, PW, Kirkus, and Booklist, all praise this book as an exploration of identity and trust with an "alternate world drawn from Native American mythologies" (Publishers Weekly).  Before I started blogging and critically analyzing books from a librarian's perspective, I probably wouldn't have thought much about the Native American aspects of this book.  I probably would have just said, "Well, this is weird."  However, this all feels like Lake (who's British) wanted to add some pizzazz to the story so he said, "Oh, I'll toss in some Coyote tales and call it Navajo.  That's ... diverse, right?"  No.

This whole book is one big no.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Princeless Vols 1 & 2

DEAR INTERNET:  IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU DROP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND READ THESE COMICS NOW.

This has a been a PSA from your friendly neighborhood librarian.


Really, though, Jeremy Whitley's Princeless comics blew my mind.  He's got a POC main character who kicks some serious patootie.  One of many daughters, Princess Adrienne finds herself locked up in a tower, with her very own guardian dragon, just so that her father ensures that she gets a "good" husband.  All of her sisters, save the youngest, have suffered similar fates.  Adrienne's days are passed in seeing suitor after suitor mangled and munched by Sparky the dragon.

One day, she decides that enough is enough.  She's going to save herself.  Armed with a sword that was under her bed, and clad in the ill-fitting armor of her ill-fated suitors, Adrienne and Sparky are off to save her sisters from the tyranny of the patriarchy.

Unfortunately, Adrienne's father, King Ash, thinks that a rogue knight killed Adrienne by setting her tower aflame, and puts a price on the nameless knight's head, not realizing that Adrienne and the knight are one and the same.  Meanwhile, after a mildly disastrous armor incident, Adrienne realizes she needs armor made for a woman's body.  Moseying into a village, she discovers a smithy run by a dwarf and his daughter, Bedelia.  Well, since papa goes off to drown himself at the tavern every day, it's really Bedelia running the show.

Whitley snags this opportunity to totally skewer typical female superhero "armor," and poor Adrienne has to fight in Wonder Woman's "armor" while her own is being made.  It's a sharp and funny commentary on sexism in comics.  Never fear, Adrienne does get her own full suit of totally practical armor.

In book two, Adrienne, Bedelia, and Sparky set off to rescue the most beautiful of the princesses--except maybe she doesn't want to be rescued.

This is one of my very favorite comics I've read in a long time.  I love that it features an entire royal family of color, and that the author didn't shy away from hair issues with the princesses!  Female empowerment is everything in Princeless, because girls can't sit around and wait for men to solve their problems.  If anything, the men will just make more problems (sorry, dudes, but it's true).  So Save Yourself and pick up these absolutely fantastic and positive comic TPs right now!  I cannot wait for the next issues to come out!


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I'm actually not reading much.  Not in the mood, really.  Everything I've read lately has either been so good that it blew my mind, leaving me precious few little grey cells with which to process other books, or it's been horrendously bad.

However, I have just started:

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero


which everyone is telling me is fantastic, so.  Hopefully that will help me out of my reading rut.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Ghosts of Heaven


It's appropriate that a book about the infinite spiral of life completely changed my opinion of Marcus Sedgwick.  Mind, I didn't have an opinion about him as a person, because that's often quite problematic when attempting to review a book objectively.  I just ... really hated Midwinterblood.  I almost want to apologize to Sedgwick for that, but I won't (I've quoted Ranganathan enough here to make your ears bleed, so I won't do it this time).  The story of a love throughout the ages over and over and over and over again just doesn't work for me.  I may have wanted to throw something when it won the Printz--but then again, I almost never agree with Big Awards (the Oscars, the Grammys, the Newbery).  I missed grabbing She Is Not Invisible but now it's totally shot up my to-be-read list.  Do you know why?

The Ghosts of Heaven bowled me over.  When I finished the book, I had to breathe slowly and deeply--reminding myself to breathe.  Sedgwick took my mind and my heart and mashed them all up and threw them back at me in the most elegant and masterful way.  No doubt about it--this has made my top 10 young adult books list.  Of all time.


And really, for The Ghosts of Heaven to burrow that deeply into my psyche proves how powerful it is, because I fully admit that I fought it every step of the way.  The book is actually four related stories that the author says can be read in any order.  I had an e-ARC, so I read it in order.  In my ardent desire to dislike this book, I said to myself, "Well, that's just a gimmick."  After I finished, I said, "Ahhh.  It totally makes sense with the themes of the book."  Every time I started one of the stories, I said, "Well, that's been done before."  Just to be snotty, I suppose.  I fought it even through the final story, which is quite space opera-y and I was so ready to just dismiss it as an Alastair Reynolds-wannabe.  I literally told myself over and over again in my head, "You need to hate this."  And I loved it.  I loved every single part of it.  

Even now, I cannot quite explain what exactly it is that makes this book so exquisite.  The writing is spare but beautiful.  The characters are somehow both simple and yet deeply layered.  The plot seems basic but it's not, because it's the story of us.  You know, life, the universe, and everything.  Perhaps it is the restraint of the plot in comparison with the depth of the material--Sedgwick could have pulled a Neal Stephenson and written a doorstop tome with footnotes and geometric proofs.  Instead, he allowed the reader to draw her own line, spiraling from story to story in a glorious helix.

Read this.  Just do it.  When it comes out, you have to read it.  You may love it or you may hate it, but you cannot deny that it will grab your brain and stir it up so that you feel lightheaded with wonder.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Luminae, Vol. 1

I really disliked Naja: Intégrale but because I'm a glutton for punishment and I believe in second chances (see my upcoming review of The Ghosts of Heaven), I decided to try out Luminae.  While Naja was merely illustrated by Bengal, here he does both the words and the art.  One of the big pet peeves I had with Naja was the pace of the writing (and also what I considered to be a very racist section, which people who evidently don't believe in racism contested in my review, but whatever), so I thought that perhaps Bengal would bring something different if he did all the work.  That perhaps it would be a bit more cohesive.

I liked the color palette.

That's all I liked.


As far as I could make out, Luminae is about several goddess-type handmaidens to another goddess-type woman who glows (the oh-so-creatively-named Lumina) who have been attacked by a Ruthless Enemy (naturally).  One of their own, Iliana, was severely wounded and went missing, so they search the forest for her.  Mind, these ladies fight in string bikini bottoms.  Actually, I would call them thongs, yes.  Their outfits are literally less practical than Red Sonja's famous chain mail bikini, because at least that bikini is made out of armor.  These magical nymphettes prance around the countryside performing flying judo kicks so that Bengal can illustrate their buttocks just so. They all have different powers, but their names and looks are so similar that I had no idea who was who when the ladies were moving about.  So, awesome job objectifying women, Bengal.  I don't see any of the men dressed in g-strings.

Meanwhile, the local lord finds out that the magic-wielding Ruthless Enemy is marching around in his territory, so he sends out some soldiers to investigate.  They are promptly killed by the Evil Dynamic Duo, which consists of an old guy and a kid who looks an awful lot like Aang from Avatar.  But without the giant arrow on his head.  Also there are people who are part dog, but this isn't really explained because ... I don't know.  Obviously this fantasy world has dog-people and the creatively deficient readers of this comic should just accept it.

There is much fighting with much display of glorious glutei maximi and a twist that everyone and their mother saw coming (yep, I called everyone and their mothers to confirm this).  I wish that the art were easier to follow, with more differentiation between characters (they do all have nice butts; I cannot lie).  I also wish that the story were more original, but alas.

Send these ladies some cream for the chafing that must result from pitched battles in thongs.

I received a copy of this title from Netgalley.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Being snide and practicing my horrid language skills

Because most of the reviews on Goodreads of the book Near Death by Glenn Cooper are oddly in Italian, I felt contrary and decided to bust out my first-year Italian and write a review.  Everybody else was doing it.  I now subject you to horrid vocabulary, the sentence structure of a six year old, and conjugations that I may have made up using French rules instead of Italian ones (eh, Romance languages).

Ho ricevuto una copia del libro nuovo di Glenn Cooper, che ha scritto La biblioteca dei morti.  L'ho leggo qualchi anni fa, e mi ricorda solamente l'idea ch'era un monaco con i capelli rossi che aveva degli poteri da vedere il futuro--precisamente, lui sapeva le date del morte di tutta umanità.  Perché ... eh, perché lo scrittore ha voluto scrivere una scena di stupro, il monaco mette una monaca incinta dei suoi figli, e loro avranno i poteri de loro padre.  Queste monachi si dedicaranno a scrivere tutte le date nel libro delle morte.  Questo libro era bizarro ed un po' inquietante.

Allora, non so precisamente perché ho richiesto una copia del libro "L'ultimo giorno" (en. Near Death), ma e possibile che ho voluto sapere se S. Cooper poteva scrivere qualcosa un po' più credibile.

Lui non possa.

Oggi, ho letto solamente tre capitoli, e non voglio continuare.  Queste libro parla di un uomo che ha vissuto il suo morte e ha visto qualcosa di miracolosa, ma i paramedico l'hanno rianimato prima lui può passare per l'altra riva.  Questo uomo cerca tornare al condizione tra la vita e la morte da fare un'iniezione direttamente dopo il momento della morte.  E non so perché, ma quest'iniezione scatenerà la fine del mondo.

Se Lei è appassionato de questo scrittore, tenti questo libro, ma ho troppo a leggere per passare il tempo con questo qui.

Ho ricevuto questo libro da Netgalley.

tl;dr I didn't like it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Curse you, Netgalley...

...for luring me in with easy downloads of ARCs for graphic novels.  The only winner I had lately was Harley Quinn: Hot in the City, and I know a lot of diehards won't agree with me there.  S'okay.  S'wonderful.  I now give you three graphic novels that I either didn't finish, didn't get, or really, really didn't like.

The Squidder by Ben Templesmith

This said H.P. Lovecraft somewhere in the summary, so I obviously had to have it.  As far as I could tell, the main idea was that these giant spacefaring squid came to Earth and took over about a hundred years ago or so.  Some humans collaborate with the squid-monsters and worship them, giving them a sacrifice/priestess/novitiate to become a conduit of half-squid, half-human.  The Squidder is actually the main guy character.  He was genetically engineered to fight the squid-monsters in the squid-war, but the humans lost and now he roams around hallucinating about his dead wife and taking on merc jobs.  Some crime-syndicate honcho hires him to save a priestess that he (the honcho) kidnapped, but who was then stolen away by somebody else.  Despite the fact that Squidder hates squids and those who worship them, he agrees to rescue the girl because otherwise there wouldn't be a story.

I started getting really bored at this point so I went to Goodreads to check out the reviews.  A fellow reviewer whose taste in graphic novels is excellent didn't like this either, and mentioned a scene where the priestess chick gives birth to a sword.  Literally.  So of course I had to skim ahead and find it.

Right.  So, long story short, this old woman tells Squidder that he needs to have sex with the girl he rescued, which he promptly does, which is totally gross.  The priestess instantly becomes pregnant and gives birth to a sword.  Yes, the natural way.  I am unsure if human anatomy has ch
anged since the squids took over, or if the author just doesn't quite understand ladyparts, but popping a sword out of your nether regions is going to cause a lot of internal bleeding, for starters.  I'm sure this is like a blessed sword that will allow Squidder to vanquish their cephalopod overlords.  The art in this was decent, but the story ... just no.

The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

This has great reviews on Goodreads, and I have the uncomfortable feeling that I just didn't get it.  It's never fun not to be in on the joke (many apologies for all the negatives there).  This is the story of a man named Mark who leaves his pregnant wife to follow his ex-Army buddy to a place called Quanlom to "denude lava tubes."  Never mind the fact that everything about his buddy just screams "bad news."  Never mind the fact that lying to one's pregnant wife is never a good idea.  And for pity's sake, never mind the fact that "easy jobs for quick money" are never easy nor quick.  


Once Mark and Rambo (not his real name) get to Quanlom, they pop down into a volcano and set the charges.  On their way out, though, Mark espies a wounded boy.  Despite Rambo's protests, Mark has the boy patched up.  Then a bunch of child-warriors attacks and takes Mark prisoner,  It turns out that if they blow up the mountain, Bad Things will happen.  The powerful dragon spirit that just happens to live in the mountain won't have a home.  Yes, this is why Rambo came back--to destroy the dragon.  The child-warriors are led by twins called The Divine.  One of them is a seriously cranky little fellow (with an unpleasantly racist caricature-esque face) and the other can basically pull your spine out of your body with his mind.  Good times.

I'm sure you can guess what happens.  I suppose this is a meditation on war and interference and the loss of innocence, but it just felt really odd and a bit silly for my taste.

The Shadow Now by David Lis and Colton Worley

Pulp classic The Shadow has returned to his vigilante ways after spending decades "in the East" (here we go again with the fetishization of East Asian culture) learning how not to age.  Conveniently. he's had people running his tab-keeping business while he was away, and now it's time to take on ... the Russian mafia!  


Okay, so that's a little mid-nineties James Bond, but I was willing to give it a try.  Unfortunately, try as I might, I simply couldn't get past the insipid dialogue and the totally bizarre art.  So, basically, all of it.  As for the writing, "Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! Did you think you would not be caught?  Did you think I wouldn't know?"  Did you learn how to write menacing dialogue from Saturday morning cartoons?  The art style is quite odd--it's hyper-realistic and very un-pulp.  It looks like a hidden object game you'd play online--that kind of artwork.  Kind of watercolor-y but not really.  It was extremely distracting.  I got through twenty pages of the dreck and gave up.

All ARCs came from Netgalley.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cut Me Free

The stereotypical Freud line is, "Tell me about your mother."  For Piper, this is not a good question to ask.  And "tell me about your father" is even worse.  Because how do you tell someone that your parents kept you and your little brother captive in an attic as playthings for their sadistic torture sessions?

You don't.  Especially when your little brother is dead and you killed the people who did it.

Trust?  What's trust?  Why trust anyone?  Trust will get you nowhere but hurt and dead.  Lies will protect you like the seven padlocks you've got bolted onto your apartment door.


Piper has survived her father's torture closet and a trek across the country to land in Philadelphia.  She's trying to make contact with someone who can give her a new identity.  He's the best, they say.  While she waits in a park for their rendez-vous, she notices a girl.  Young, but very much like herself.  Piper sees things others do not: how the man the little girl is with yanks angrily at her arm, how her sleeve slides up to reveal burn marks and other scars, and the hopeless fear that swirls in her eyes, because she knows no one can save her from this man.  Except Piper.

Even as she warily interacts with the provider of her new identity, Piper plots to rescue the girl and exact vengeance on her torturer.  Meanwhile, Cam (forger extraordinaire) tries to get Piper, now Charlotte, on her feet, even helping her get a job.  This is the part of the book that I didn't like so much--the romance.  It was a bit sappy and even a smidgen uncomfortable, because Cam was very persistent.  I understand the idea was to have Charlotte battle her fears about letting people in close, but a guy who follows you around and gets into trouble on your behalf wouldn't be my first choice.

Other than the romance angle, however, this is spectacularly done in every way.  It was terrifying and haunting and it made me question how many people I know have suffered abuse.  The way Charlotte talks about the Mother and the Father is almost Stephen King-esque, and only adds to their inhumanity.  Just as she becomes slightly comfortable in her new life and new identity, packages start arriving ... addressed to Piper.  Johansson ratchets the tension up higher and higher until I wanted to scream.

There's a lot more going on in the story than I mentioned here, but I don't want to spoil it for you.  Because you know you have to read this.

A magnificent exploration of the darkness of humanity coupled with the amazing power of resilience.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harley Quinn: Hot in the City, Vol. 1

I was going to start out this review by apologizing, but I'm sick of that.  I should be able to enjoy a graphic novel or comic book without apologizing for my lack of prior knowledge of every artist who ever drew that character, or every author who ever wrote that character, and how the story arc changed with the reboot/universe event/whatever.  I didn't read more traditional comics for a long time--the superhero kind, I mean.  I loved Fables and The Sandman and some of the early League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Superman?  Batman?  Meh.  So much angst.  So.  Much.  Angst.  So much useless whingeing about loooove and responsibility and it's done so that it hits you over the head with its This Is A Big Deal-ness.

Take Superman, for example.  In every movie I've seen, or radio play I've listened to (yep, my family's old school that way), or comic I've browsed, somebody's found some Kryptonite or turned the sun red or whatever.  Seriously?  The planet Krypton must have been the size of a solar system to spew out that much of its own soil through space just so it can conveniently incapacitate Superman.  Whatever happened to matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed?  I'm getting a wee bit off topic, but I hope you catch my drift.  Most superhero comics fail to engage me in any meaningful way.


I don't know if Harley Quinn: Hot in the City is meaningful per se, but it is bucketloads of fun.  I don't know much about Harley Quinn besides what your average Jane might--Joker's lover/sidekick/victim, enjoys whacking people on the head with a giant mallet.  I've only read the Batgirl side of Death of the Family (because: Gail Simone, duh), and I honestly mean to read Snyder's Batman, but I haven't gotten around to it.  Anyway, after that event, Harley finds herself without her beloved Mistah J.  She's morose, sitting in a storage locker, eating candy and talking to her stuffed beaver (later used purely for juvenile laughs.  I laughed).  She gets into a conversation with the writers in a hilarious bust-down-the-fourth-wall exchange, and negotiates her way through being drawn by various artists.  I'm not yet skilled enough to recognize all of the differing styles (although Baltazar was obvious, and Harley's complaint that "They don't even bleed!" tickled me), but it was really cool to see different interpretations of Harley.  After that gloriously clever bit, we settle into the actual story.

One of Harley's former patients at Arkham Asylum has bequeathed her a building on Coney Island.  She becomes a landlady (!) of a building housing a freak show (poop, is there a more politically correct term for that?  Show of wonder?  I mean, Harley isn't exactly PC herself...).

She's thrilled to be on her own and living in the big city, although she does miss the Joker (okay, that's an understatement--she's obsessed with him but is slowly learning to work on her own).  Friends (and more than just friends) like Poison Ivy are just a phone call away, and she gets two jobs: one as a psychiatrist (incognito, naturally) and another as a derby brawler.  Love it!

Alas, this paradise of criminality is spoiled by two-bit henchmen constantly barging in and trying to knock off Harley.  Evidently, someone out there's put out a hit on her with a very big payola.  Harley must figure out who it is while simultaneously rescuing a building full of dogs, assisting an aging spy in completing his final mission (be prepared for lots of Yiddish in this issue!), and trying to get her tenants to pay the rent!

By far my favorite scene in this volume was the recreation of the famous cantina scene with Greedo in Star Wars.  I laughed the whole way through--particularly because Harley was in on the joke, and wasn't impressed when Guido went off script.

It's odd when a comic that's clearly about a psychopathic villain makes you kind of root for her, but, I did.  In a way.  I was also impressed by the handling of Harley's bisexuality--namely, by pretty much making it a non-issue.  She just is who she is.  Insane, but Harley.

I received an ARC of this from Netgalley.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Sometimes, there really are no words to describe a particular feeling--at least in one's own language.  That's why images and gifs are so fantastic when blogging.  At first, I hated the use of gifs.  I will now amend that statement to encompass only book reviews that are entirely composed of fangirling gifs or some variant thereof.  These reviews generally are put up months before a book is even published or available as an advanced copy, and thus are excessively irritating.

However, it's quite difficult to articulate my precise feelings about Nemo: The Roses of Berlin succinctly.  Mostly, it's like this:

This book should never have been written, and I don't say that often.  It serves primarily as a platform for Alan Moore to "show off" his ability to shamelessly lift other people's ideas and turn them into an obfuscated stew of self-congratulatory blathering.  Much of which is in German, with zero translation.

Yep, that's right!  It's World War II, and Janni Nemo and her husband are off in the Nautilus to rescue their daughter, Hira, and her husband, who crashed their airship and are now in the custody of the Nazis.  Except it's not like actual historical Nazis, it's Adenoid Hynkel running the show!  Ooh, looky, somebody's seen The Great Dictator.  Janni and Jack start their covert op in Berlin and are promptly ambushed.  They flee into the bowels of the city as designed by Carl Rotwang (complete with Moloch!), and yep, all of the artwork and concepts are pulled straight from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which is probably my favorite silent film of all time and definitely in my top ten film list.  Doctors Mabuse and Caligari are part of the criminal underworld who create new weapons for Hynkel, like soldiers who fight while they're asleep (why????).  I'm surprised Lola Lola didn't come prancing past because hey, let's just throw in all the famous German movies!  I struggled to find one original thought in this book.  I'm still struggling.

Then Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, shows up and has a Grrrl Power moment with the Machine Man (Woman), but Janni fights her and what do you think happens?  

The other insanely irritating thing about this book is Moore's insistence on writing full pages in German with no translation.  Thankfully, because I come from a state that is quite full of Germans, I took some German in high school and could muddle my way through the sentence structure, although I did need my dictionary for certain words.  Most people are just going to have to plug this into a translator, which is a) irritating and b) irritating and c) a failed attempt at being intellectual.  

I liked Heart of Ice much better, because while it obviously referenced At the Mountains of Madness, I don't remember it being so word-for-word with the source material as this one is with Metropolis.  

To sum up: this is an utterly pointless book with precisely zero redeeming characteristics.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Silence of Six (which is not a Pittacus Lore book)

I've got a backlog as long as my arm for things I need to review (not really, it's just far too much fun to be dramatic!), so I'll kick it off with a book that rather confused me.  I have to wait for the full launch of the book to see if I really am as much of an outsider as I seem to be at the moment.

The Silence of Six by E.C. Myers came recommended via ... some journal or other, or maybe a blog, or maybe it was just the lure of NetGalley, but before requesting it, I checked the ratings on Goodreads.  Obviously, the book isn't out yet, so there's not a wide sample size, but it had excellent ratings.  In the 4 star range, which is pretty rare.  So I requested it.  And I started it.  And then I went back and checked the stars again.  Still 4 stars and up.  And I asked myself, "Am I just not getting it?"


I suppose my main quibble is that all of the characters don't sound like actual teenagers.  At first I thought perhaps they sounded too adult, but what it really boils down to is an adult trying to sound like a teen.  One person (high schooler) actually says, "WTF?"  I do not know any kid who, in using WTF, wouldn't just right out and say it.  You only say WTF when you're writing it.

The other thing is that the tech involved is far too similar to what we have now.  Panjea is basically like Facebook, and the idea of a social network making money off of what you post online isn't exactly new.  Facebook already does it.  I'm not condoning it, but it's to be expected when a company is for profit.  The main character, Max, is a quasi-legendary hacker, so much so that when he revisits his old online haunts, people are like "Whoa, dude, it's the famous hacker!"  They start talking about doxxing Evan, the person who set the whole story in motion.  Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I always thought doxxing was done with the intent to reveal the person's personal information.  If they're just digging up info without the intent to broadcast it to the world, is that really doxxing?

I also found it mildly amusing (heh) that Max's super-secret-hacker-hideout is in The Deep Web, like that's a place you can "go."  "The hidden hacker chat group was still alive in the so-called 'Deep Web,' the intricate network of unpublished IP addresses on the internet.  No search engine crawled through the Deep Web indexing webpages.  Like the most exclusive clubs, you had to know it existed before you could go there, and you had to have an invitation."  Okay, that's mostly true.  The Deep Web is indeed a thing, and most search engines don't have their bots index it because it's either made up of dynamic web content (i.e. constantly changing search results/database queries), pages that don't have backlinks, or more obscure content that can only be accessed via a specific website with a specific keyword within a specific time frame.  It's not necessarily a bad thing.  I think what the author was getting at is the Dark Web, which is different.  That refers to the Deep Web being used for clandestine and possibly nefarious purposes.  Also, I learned about the Deep Web in my first semester library science class, so it's not like an "exclusive club."  I mean, there's a How Stuff Works article on it.

I'd rather read a techno-thriller in which the main character is old enough to legally drink.  Everything about this made me feel all Rhett Butler-y.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Royals: Masters of War

Sometimes I wonder what possesses people to write a certain story, and then what possesses an editor to pick it up, and a publishing house to actually publish it, and for everyone involved to say, "Hey, that was a great idea!"  Can that many delusional people be linked together in the writing world?  I guess so, for that's the only way I can explain some of the graphic novels I've been reading lately.

To be fair, it is my fault for requesting them from Netgalley.  But it's the author, colorist, illustrator, editor, and publisher's fault that they exist.  


I'm just going to lay it all out there for you: The Royals is a miniseries about World War II where all members of royal families around the globe have secret superpowers, but nobody will use them to turn the tide of the war, because REASONS.  Prince Henry of Great Britain can fly and do various Superman-type things, and his sister, Rose is a telepath, and their womanizing louse of a brother, Arthur, is also kind of Superman-y.  One day Henry gets fed up with just sitting on the sidelines and goes and uses his powers, which makes Daddy the King very angry and makes all the other noble families start busting out their superpowers as well.  

As it turns out, Henry and Rose have the wonderful incestuous hots for each other, because of course royals can't help inbreeding!  Ha ha ha!  I don't care!  It's also really gross and totally unnecessary for the storyline, which needs all the help it can get!  A pseudo-Avengers team is put together by the American government to sort of fly around with the Royals and pretend to be superheroes too, but I don't even know why I was caring at this point.  


The Tsar of Russia didn't really die during the Bolshevik Revolution because he was too royal, but his family did.  Um, he married Alix, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, thus also a royal (hence the hemophilia!!!), so his wife and children were also sufficiently royal to have superpowers.  But it's way more fun to turn Tsar Nikolas into Mr. Hyde meets the Wolfman than to, you know, follow logic.  

Oddly, Prince Henry seems to die twice in the comics: once during the firebombing of Dresden at the hands of an unknown assailant, and once in Berlin at the end of the comic.  

The artwork here is wildly inconsistent, with characters having a typical comic-superhero-crisp-lines look in one panel, and then a weird watercolor sort of wash in the next.  

I have become dumber after reading this, and I would not wish reading it upon anyone else in the world.  Except maybe Justin Bieber, because he is a boil upon the backside of humanity.  My intial review of this on Goodreads read simply, "utter twaddle," which I maintain to be a thoroughly accurate review.


I received an ARC of this from Netgalley.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Court of Thrones of Fire and Ice?

There is definitely a market for Court.  I don't think I am that market.  Intellectually, I understand where Cat Patrick was going with this, but it just didn't work for me.

The basic premise is that there is a secret government operating within the borders of the United States--namely, in the state of Wyoming.  I suppose if I wanted to hide a government, I would have gone to North Dakota (no offense, North Dakotans)--Wyoming has Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, etc.  ANYWAY.  This secret government--Eurus-- was established by some dudes who didn't want to hang with the Founding Fathers, so they somehow made trails all the way out to Wyoming where they could live with the "Native people."  Joseph Dyer didn't like that his daughters couldn't go to university in Puritan New England (what century, exactly, was he from?) and his buddy, John Seymour, didn't like that his "Native woman" wife was being attacked by their neighbors.  "Dyer, Seymour, and several other men and their families snuck away.  After a long and dangerous journey, together they created their version of paradise: a kingdom that blended the best of England with Native cultures.  Dyer was thought of as the Father of the Realm, and Seymour's Native wife, who ensured their survival through tribal relations, the Mother."

Okay.  That was my first stomp-on-the-brakes-screeeeech moment.  Once again, Native Americans are reduced to magical helpers and not treated as sovereign nations of their own (which they are).  No reason is given, but the reader assumes that the people with whom the European men intermarry simply assimilate into the government created by their husbands, which is, again, ridiculously ... I am actually at a loss for words here.  If there is a word that means skeevy+offensive+unbelievable+irrational all in one, it fits in that ellipsis.  I assume that the whole Native-wife-keeps-them-alive concept comes from the story of Sacagawea, but, I'm not fully buying this either.

Now, this presents problem number two: genetics.  Unless these "several" people had fabulous DNA, it's unlikely that they could generate descendants who didn't have serious birth defects.  I suppose you could argue that the men all married people of the nations of that area, but I doubt that you'd get enough genetic variety.  Plus, the narrative makes a distinction between those who favor "the Father" in looks (i.e. Western European) and "the Mother" (American Indian of unknown tribe/nation).  Evidently, after 300 years, there is still distinguishable phenotypic variation.  Wow.  *Note* I am not a geneticist, but I did make Punnett squares in high school human biology and I know it's a pretty bad idea to marry your cousin.

Anyway, even if you skip all that, things start to get pretty familiar.  The heir to the throne suddenly becomes King even though he's a horrid little twit who enjoys getting drunk at any and every opportunity.  He's basically this guy:

*Note the Second* I've neither read nor watched Game of Thrones but everyone at work is obsessed and I think I've absorbed some of the culture via osmosis.

WAIT A MINUTE.  When, in the course of writing a book review, it becomes blindingly obvious that much more was borrowed than previously thought, a lady lowers her opinion of the book even further.

Back to that in a moment.

This heir, Haakon (unfortunate name, that), is formally betrothed to Gwendolyn Rose.  There are five main families in the kingdom, and each one controls a different aspect of the nation's functions.  The Roses are the PR people, centered in Jackson Hole, which naturally prompts the question: Harrison Ford, Eurean or not?  Gwendolyn leads a double life.  Let us all collectively gasp!  



In fact, she is so subversive that she sneaks out into the Real United States to a bar in like Idaho or something and plays zombie roller hockey or ... something.  Because there's obviously a huge market for that in Idaho, with lots of lithe young ladies willing to check each other with sticks.  At the bar/hockey rink, she sees a swoon-tastic feller with whom she falls in insta-love and for whom she ponders leaving her life in Eurus.  I really wish she would have.

Instead, as she sneaks back in after her night of brawling-lite, Joffrey Haakon comes to Gwen's rooms and announces that the Council (there is always a Council to muck up people's lives) has declared they must marry by Christmas for his Kingship to be legitimized in the eyes of the people.  Never mind that his dad was king and he, being the only child, is the obvious heir.  Obvious succession rules are obvious.

Cut to yet another character named Mary, who is not a member of Court but instead skips school to ride her horse across the Wyoming plains, which, to be perfectly honest, sounds awesome.  Mary is also the victim of either a genetic freak accident or an author's overenthusiasm for words that do not mean what she thinks they mean.  Mary has "black-streaked titian hair."  Titian hair is so named for the color of golden red so often seen on the women portrayed in paintings by Titian.
Titian's Flora.  I tried to pick one with less boobage than most.

I have never heard of someone's hair being naturally streaked with black if it is a light red.  There's no indication that Mary colors it, either.  Plus, red hair is a recessive gene, and with generations of presumed intermarriage and blending with the unnamed "Native people" of the area, it's rather unlikely that she would have red hair.  Much less black-streaked red hair.

Mary's big deal is that she is Totally Not In Love with her best friend, which means, "Yes, I am totally in love with my best friend."

I couldn't deal with this any more, so I skipped to the end to find out that many things happened with supposed deviousness.  To bring back my revelation that I talked about earlier, the major plot twist regarding Haakon is pretty much the same one as in Game of Thrones.  If you can Google, you can figure it out.  Not really a spoiler.

And that really irritates me.  You can't just take someone else's story, clean it up a bit, toss in some roller-derby-style "edginess," and pop it into the state of Wyoming.  Sorry, Eurus, which is mostly in Wyoming.

Going back to my opening sentence (you really learn so much about your actual feelings regarding a book as you review it), I would still agree that there is a market for Court.  It probably consists of three subgroups: 1) fans of the author, 2) people who can't get enough Game of Thrones and therefore read anything remotely like it, and 3) people who don't like the explicitness of GoT and would like some roller derby hockey with that, thanks very much.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick.  I've not yet found a book by Sedgwick that I've liked; however, he seems like a lovely person, so I feel like a jerk being too harsh.  I was, shall we say, violently disappointed in the choice of Midwinterblood for last year's Printz.  I tried it and I hated it.  Sedgwick likes to play with narrative and with history, so this latest offering isn't wholly unexpected.  It's a story told by four stories, which can be read in any order the reader wishes.  I have an e-ARC, so I'm just going in order.  Right now I am teetering on this strange precipice of enjoying it or hating it.  I'll report back.





The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens.  This is the sequel to The Emerald Atlas, which I read a few years ago and just loved, but I honestly don't remember that much about it!  I'm finding it a bit hard to jump back into the storyline here, but it's slowly coming back.  Old brain cells.

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones.  I guess this is the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, but I'm not seeing it yet.  So far, so charming, though.  As is usually the case with this author.

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White.  I started this with a bang and now I'm afraid to keep reading because I'm afraid I'll not like it or, as Mr. Darcy did with Elizabeth, like it against my better judgement.  Kiersten White has a great sense of humor, though, and that is too often missing in YA novels that aren't explicitly marketed as comedic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Greenglass House

This book is absolutely marvelous.  As I have probably mentioned before, some of my favorite book finds are those which fall serendipitously into my lap (figuratively, obviously!).  I'm not even sure what prompted me to put Greenglass House on hold at the library, or why I skipped over all the other books currently packing my bookshelves, or the ones on my coffee table, or the other ones tucked under my side table in the dining blob (I live in a small apartment.  It's not really a room, it's more of a hallway-blob where you can put a small table).  I don't believe in fate, but I do believe that certain books are simply meant to be read and loved by certain people.  And oh my, did I love Greenglass House!


When you run a hotel in a town with a reputation as a smuggler base, you have to be circumspect.  Milo's parents own Greenglass House, a hotel sitting on top of a tall, tall hill above the town of Nagspeake and the handy-for-smugglers river that runs through it.  There are only two ways to access the top of this tall, tall hill: either take the cable car, which requires bell-ringing and level-pulling, or hike up a perilous staircase carved into the face of the cliff upon which Greenglass House perches.  I'll take the tram, thanks.

Milo is finally on winter vacation and looking forward to spending time with his parents for the holidays.  Just him and them.  Milo likes solitude.  He also likes things just so.  Don't move his room around or touch him when he doesn't want to be touched ... and definitely do not bring up that he doesn't look like his parents.  Milo's adopted, and while he wants his family history to make up part of his identity, he also loves his parents very, very much, and often feels as if he's betraying them in some way by wanting to know more about his birth parents.  His hoped-for solitude is ruined when the bell rings, signaling that a customer wishes to ride up the cable tram.  Milo begrudgingly assists his mother, Nora Pine, in setting the gears in motion so the car can climb the hill ... and so the story can begin.

From here, Greenglass House unfolds like the game of Clue meets Agatha Christie meets RPGs, and it is glorious.  The first to arrive, De Cary Vinge, is a mysterious man with excessively garish socks.  He's followed by Georgie Moselle, a young woman with blue hair and a perky attitude, then Mrs. Eglantine Hereward and Doctor Wilbur Gowervine, who ride up together and cannot stop arguing with each other.  As Mrs. Hereward and Dr. Gowervine argue in the snow, Milo hears someone, improbably, running up the cliff stairs.  It turns out to be another young lady, Clem Candler, self-described cat burglar.  As each guest arrives, he or she is shocked and dismayed to realize that there are other people staying at the hotel.  This, in itself, is suspicious.  But things get so much messier!

Because the hotel now has guests, Mr. and Mrs. Pine send for their regular cook, Mrs. Caraway, and her daughter Meddy, who's around Milo's age.  I loved Meddy--she's vivacious and loves playing role-playing games like Odd Trails.  To cheer Milo up, she suggests investigating the mysteries that keep cropping up as characters in a game: Milo becomes an escaladeur (rogue character) named Negret, and Meddy a scholiast named Sirin.  Together, they investigate a mysterious map, discover stolen items, and ultimately discover the history of Greenglass House.

I don't want to give too much away, because this is just too much fun to read!  The plot twists and turns all over without ever flying off the rails, plus we get some really nice character growth in Milo.  I loved how Milford handled Milo's adoption and how he defines family.

The setting, too, is really fascinating.  It seems to be set in modern-day America--at least from some of the references, but Greenglass House is a world unto itself.  I mean, smugglers and customs agents and swashbuckling tragic heroes?  Yes!  If I had to guess, I'd say the house was in Maine, because a) Canada and smuggling and b) it's vaguely creepy, and all good creepy stories seem to be set in Maine.

This is probably one of the best middle grade books I've read this year, and I'll be recommending it to everyone.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Brick Bible: The New Testament

Originally, I meant to write reviews of both the Old and New Testament Brick Bibles at the same time, but I had to return the Old Testament to the library because someone else needed a religious LEGO fix.  I have extremely vivid memories of that book, but I'd like to have it in hand while writing my review.  Hence, I give you my impressions of The Brick Bible: The New Testament.  You have to wait for LEGO smiting of the Israelites until I can get my hands on the OT again.

Before reviewing this Bible version I would like to throw out there that I am Christian and that I have read the Bible through several times before.  I fully recognize that the Bible includes blood, gore, and sexual content. However, I'm looking at this version critically because it claims to be a full retelling of the Bible. 

Many people find the Bible a hard book to read, and I can see why a LEGO Bible would have appeal.  Powell Smith has stated that he feels it's important for people to read the Bible, even if they are atheists, agnostics, or a member of another religion.  That's true.  Even if you read it solely for literary value, you cannot deny that it is a seminal book in human history.

Although I have to admire Powell Smith's seemingly single-minded determination to craft these extremely intricate LEGO ... what do I call them ... dioramas? ... I'm not in awe of his storytelling or adaptive abilities.  One big problem that this book has (and which TBB:TOT also has) is that Powell Smith does not include all of the books of the Bible.  Obviously, it would take a Very Long Time to do all of the books, but really, a lot of them could have been done in a few panels (the book of Philemon, for example: "Hey Philemon, take your slave back and don't get mad at him.  He converted to Christianity just like you!"  No big.).  Instead, you get a cherry-picked version of the Bible that conforms to how Powell Smith sees the Bible: full of Sexytimes and Smiting.

And that's really the issue I have with this: the author focuses so much on any bit of violence or sex that there is in the Bible that anything positive gets steamrolled.  I also found BB:TNT to be more confusing than the OT version, as Powell Smith takes all four Gospels and tosses them into a blender, and he ends up repeating the same account because it's from different books.  Although some of the LEGO work is really cool (Powell Smith is MUCH better at inanimate scenes than people, let me tell you that), most of the time it's just plain silly.  A lot of this has to be seen to be believed, so if you have free access to a copy, it's worth a look (although, as I mentioned before, The New Testament is much more difficult to follow, which is odd, because usually the story of Jesus and the foundation of Christianity is pretty cut-and-dried).

Let's go!

Part 1: The Gospels

The angel Gabriel walks in on the virgin Mary primping in a mirror and tells her that she's going to be pregnant!  She asks, "How?" and in pops the Holy Ghost, who is literally a ghost LEGO.  I use the term Holy Spirit, but I know many Bible translations use "ghost."  However, I'm pretty sure that the Holy Spirit/Ghost shouldn't look like it could be on a box of Boo Berry.  I was thinking more of a vague smudgy thing that sparkled ... but then you wouldn't get such visuals as the Ghost going into people.

Mary pops off to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  In this account (Luke 1), the main point is that Elizabeth, who is much older, is also miraculously pregnant, and when Mary enters, the baby in Elizabeth's womb jumps for joy.  This baby is John the Baptist.  I mean, that's pretty neat.  Instead, Powell Smith does a very drawn out reenactment of Elizabeth's praise of God.  Missed opportunity.

Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem where Mary gives birth to a LEGO head that is larger than her own body.  Ew.  When King Herod orders all the young boys in Bethlehem to be killed, it's quite graphic.  Lots of LEGO blood.  Later on, John the Baptist shows up, and his LEGO face basically makes him look like he's on acid.

After Jesus gets baptized, he's tempted by the Devil, who looks like Severus Snape and Dracula had a son.  He gathers his disciples, one of whom (the apostle/Saint John) is a pirate.  Seriously.  He has an anchor tattoo on his bare chest.  Powell Smith also confuses Matthew and Levi as being two separate people, when they're in fact one and the same.

The depiction of the Sermon on the Mount is actually kind of hilarious.  Powell Smith uses two Gospels together, so it might read a little differently than you know it.  For example, "Blessed are the poor" shows a man grabbing a giant drumstick out of a garbage can and then going to heaven (yay!) but "Woe to you who are rich" sends the guy straight to fiery Hell.  Jesus also pushes a rich man off of a cliff (I am not making this up).  The Pharisees don't like Jesus' speech much, and they also happen to be dressed like ninjas.

The interpretation of "turning the other cheek" is also really odd.  A guy is being beaten with a baseball bat.  He's supposed to a) keep getting beaten, b) give the bad guy a cake, c) give the bad guy money, and d) also a Lamborghini.  If he doesn't do all this, he's going straight to Hell.  Um ... I don't think that was the point, but, hey, the author got to build a fancy car out of LEGOs, so.  Jesus implies that family members are going to be literally slaying each other with pitchforks, shovels, and other garden implements.

Although the part where Jesus walks on the Sea of Galilee is done very well, we get right back into Hell pretty quickly after that.  When Jesus heals a demon-possessed boy, Powell Smith inserts a totally different scripture about demons that implies that Jesus healed the kid only for him to be possessed by seven demons instead.  Go back.  Check your sources.  This makes Jesus seem like a really horrible guy.  He tells you that if you insult your father and mother, you're going to be sent to the electric chair (so sayeth the picture).

You know the part about cutting off your leg or hand or pulling out your eye so that you'll be saved?  Yeah, a guy ends up with a peg leg and a hook, but then he goes to heaven.  Why did he have to cut off those limbs?  Well, he evidently had issues with simultaneously kicking his boss and groping his coworker's butt.


Eventually, the ninja Pharisees pay Judas to betray Jesus, who's then tried, killed, and resurrected.  There's a nude fishing scene that's particularly ... fun.

Yay!  We made it to Part II: Acts of the Apostles

The apostles perform "signs and wonders" which are depicted as pulling rabbits out of top hats.  Because people living in 1st Century Judea totally had top hats.  The rest is all pretty straightforward: persecution, Saul gets converted, King Herod gets bashed over the head by an angel (wait, what?) and the Holy Ghost pops in to send Paul and Barnabas off to pull more rabbits out of more anachronistic top hats.  There's also an extremely creepy circumcision scene with Paul and Timothy.  I'm not sure if the author really understand that circumcision and castration are not the same thing.  Ouch.

Now, the showpiece, right?  Part III: Revelation of John.  God tells Jesus, and Jesus tells an angel, and an angel tells John (now dressed as a caveman and not a pirate, thank goodness) in a celestial game of telephone what's Going To Happen.  The four living creatures who have eyes all over are really excited and happy looking, because LEGO stick-on eyes are ... happy and excited-looking.  John has a temper tantrum when no one can open a scroll, but the a GIANT LAMB with its head partially off and its chest covered in blood shows up.

Clearly, the whole, "See, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" line regarding Jesus doesn't apply here.  Nope.  It is really a giant "lamb" that looks more like an angry polar bear on two feet.  Much smiting follows.  All the fire effects here look quite nice, but to have them in like every single panel is a bit of overkill.  Also, a lot of blood.

Revelation 12, where Michael the Archangel battle the Dragon, involves angels with machine guns.  'Nuff said.

Then, the famous beasts of Revelation appear.  One of them appears to have the head of a Gamorrean from a Star Wars LEGO set.
Fear the pig-beast!
Angels slice people up with sickles with gleeful expressions, and then stomp on their bodies in God's winepress.  Then more stuff happens, the angels come back with horses and machine guns, fight the beasts and Satan, and yay!  They win!  Then all the "souls of those who were decapitated for their testimony about Jesus" come back to life as priests, because obviously the only people who were executed for being Christians were men.  Duh.  

Scene: THE FUTURE.  Humans live in space with flying air bubble cars.  Unfortunately, Satan shows up and starts another battle.  God zaps him with fire and tosses him in the the fiery lake.  Space people rejoice!  Unless they're in like the four pages of all the people who go to hell, in which case, they are not happy.  

Final scene: Jesus says he is coming as a thief.  So he puts on a cap, busts in through someone's window, and takes the homeowner utterly by surprise as he sips coffee in the nude.  As you do.

The end.  

I mean, I skipped summarizing a lot of it, but a lot of the LEGO heads are either hilarious or inappropriate or both, although there is a lot less nudity in general than there was in TBB:TOT.  There were a lot of positive parts that the author could have put in, but he really focused on making Jesus seem like an awful person and highlighting every single instance of blood, death, plague, or general smiting in the Bible.  Yeah, that stuff comes up, but it's really not like Smiting-R-Us.  

It's an interesting read if you have read the Bible, because then you go poking around to see what matches up and what doesn't, but if you're not familiar with the text at all, I wouldn't recommend this as a substitute.  Because then you'll think that Saint John was a pirate.  




Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Hidden is a quietly powerful graphic novel for younger ones about the Holocaust.  Dauvillier tells Dounia's story in simple language that young ones can comprehend and allows the graphics to speak for themselves.  Often, impact in graphic novels comes from a few wordless spreads, because it's then that the artist can truly shine.  Here, the graphics and words mingle seamlessly to tell the story of a young Jewish girl living in the Nazi occupation of France.


When I was very small--maybe four years old--my mom had to go to work very early.  I woke up at four in the morning so I could go to my grandparents' house for the day.  I didn't particularly mind getting up so early because my grandmother would make scrambled eggs for me in the microwave.  Something about the way she did it made them wonderfully creamy and lush.  It's easy to please a four year old, although I would give almost anything for her to be here and make them for me again.  While I was waiting for my mom to get finished, she'd turn on the news.  I remember watching Peter Jennings talk about a war.  The only war I had ever heard of was World War II, so I assumed that's what he was talking about, even though I had a vague sense that there was not so much desert landscape in WWII.  When I got older, I figured out that it was the Gulf War.  Oops.

I didn't understand war, really.  It was a bad thing where people died and Peter Jennings looked very serious with the little graphic images of missiles up in the corner of the TV screen.  I didn't know why there was a war or why people thought there needed to be a war.  And that was about as much thought as I gave it, because, hey, microwaved scrambled eggs awaited me!

In Hidden, the main character, Dounia, is a bit older--she's a young school-age girl--but she also doesn't understand the changes that are happening in her country.  The Nazis have occupied France, but she just goes to school with her friend and thinks about the cute boy, Isaac, who sometimes walks with them.  One day, though, Isaac is very upset after school, and that night, Dounia's father tells her that they are going to be a family of sheriffs.  She's very proud of the bright yellow star sewn onto her jacket, and doesn't understand why people suddenly ignore her, or worse, treat her horribly.  Finally, a classmate tells her that it's a Star of David, and that people don't like them because they're Jewish.

You can tell by Dounia's face that this concept makes no sense to her.  Evidently, her family wasn't very religious, so she really doesn't identify as being Jewish.  Even then, she can't understand why it would matter to people.

Tensions ratchet higher and higher until one night, the Gestapo come to Dounia's home.  Her parents hide her in the wardrobe and disappear.  Her kindly downstairs neighbors take Dounia in and try to smuggle her out of Paris with the Resistance.  For the next few years, Dounia stays hidden with her adoptive mama and hopes that she will one day see her parents.

When we see Dounia's mother again, it's a truly shocking transformation, and one that actually made me gasp out loud.  Kids will no doubt ask why she looks that way, and why she is so weak. It provides a segue into talking about some of the things that happened at the camps.  Children need to know.  Although we want to keep them as innocent as Dounia, we also have to ensure that the Holocaust never happens again.  This is a very important story to share with young ones, but be prepared for lots of questions and lots of difficult answers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Erak's Ransom: The Ranger's Apprentice

Alas, this was my least favorite of the Ranger's Apprentice series so far.  The main problem is that when Flanagan wrote books 1-6, he skipped a period of Will's history in the Ranger Corps that he later decided to go back and write.  This method of writing within a specific universe and time doesn't always fail--Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar novels jump all over the place in time, but because she's given herself a very broad world in which to work, and a large time period, it totally works.  Each series fleshes the world out further.  In the case of Erak's Ransom, it ended up being an unnecessary addition to the series, despite Flanagan's protestations that it was a crucial time period to cover.

From book 4 to book 5 there is a goodly gap of time.  Books 5 & 6 chroncicle Will's first assignment as a full-fledged Ranger.  Erak's Ransom skips back in time to just before Will's graduation.


Erak, Oberjarl of the Skandians and Will's friend, feels antsy sitting around in the great hall all day, making pronouncements and dealing with petty disputes.  What Erak likes best is sailing his wolfship and plundering unsuspecting countrypeople, as any respectable Viking-inspired character would do.  So, he takes off on a jaunt to capitalize on some information he received about a rich trade city in Arridia, far to the south, in the desert.  As anyone with a respectable brain (and this really should include Erak, as he is a cunning fellow) should have guessed by now, it's a trap!  Erak is captured by the Arridians and held for ransom.  Erak sends Svengal, one of his men, back to Will's homeland to ask for help in negotiating the ransom.  However, there is another layer to this mess.  Only the Skandians knew of Erak's trip, and only a Skandian could have alerted the Arridi to the raid.  Erak is facing a usurper and possible civil war if he doesn't play his cards right.

Long story short, Will, Evanlyn (the Princess Cassandra, who pretty much never goes by that name), Horace, Halt, and Gilan, along with Svengal and his Skandian raiding party, make the trek to Arridia.  Cassandra goes in her father's stead, which sets up a cozy little opportunity for Flanagan to get in some grrl-power! scenes between her and her father.

Unlike the other books in the series, this was just not a fun book.  I didn't say, "Oooh, I get to keep reading my book tonight!"  It was more like, "What now?"  After the initial negotiations, Evanlyn effectively drops into a plot black hole, only to be pulled out like a rabbit out of a hat when needed during the final battle.  Horace, too, doesn't do much of use or note.

To sum up, in this book, Things Happen, but they don't really matter because if you've read books 5 and 6, you already know the outcome.  If I may use the term "slog" in a desert setting, this is it.

Definitely not the best in the series, and I'm looking forward to getting back on track with book 8.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Greenglass House by Kate Milford:  Holy moly, I love this!  It's like Agatha Christie meets Clue meets RPGs during a snowstorm with smugglers.  YES.


Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White: I probably wouldn't have requested this if I hadn't so thoroughly enjoyed In the Shadows, her collaboration with Jim Di Bartolo (Laini Taylor's husband!). I'm exceedingly surprised at how much I'm enjoying this so far, given that I don't normally do fantasy romance type things.  This is just so darned charming.

So sorry, no picture for this one.  Blogger isn't recognizing the jpg as a photograph.  *technology facepalm*

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson: Despite sounding like a Fifty Shades wannabe, this is actually about a girl who escaped her abusive parents, and her brother, who did not.  It's fascinating so far, but I have a feeling it's going to be a tough read.