I will never catch up on reviews

…if I don’t do a bunch of short ones all at once. Thus:

The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon

I checked this out on Gavin’s recommendation and because I love Alexander the Great. Your claims that he was a psychotic alcoholic have no effect on me because in my mind he is exactly the way Mary Renault writes him in Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy. The Golden Mean is about Aristotle when he comes to Macedon to tutor young Alexander. Though Lyon was clearly influenced by Mary Renault’s books, she gives a more nuanced picture of Alexander, showing a brilliant but disturbed young man who provides real heads for plays and mutilates the bodies of soldiers he has killed. Lyon uses modern language, with much swearing, and although that could have come across as stilted, it, er, it doesn’t. Hooray. Also, check out Ms. Lyon’s list of ten very good books about the ancient world.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Galen Beckett

Advertised as Jane Austen with magic, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent completely failed to satisfy me. Other reviewers have noted that the book’s three sections are dramatically different in tone, the first being quite Jane Austen and the second quite Turn of the Screwy, and the third more straight fantasy. This bugged me, and I didn’t care for the characters anyway, and the world-building felt lazy. So, not a success. This was for the RIP Challenge.

The Fall of Rome, Martha Southgate

Big yes to this one. I have been wanting to read it for ages, on Eva’s recommendation, and it didn’t disappoint me. Latin teacher Jerome Washington has been the only black faculty member at a Connecticut boarding school for boys throughout most of his career. His ideas about decorum and racial equality are sharply challenged with the arrival of Jana Hensen, a longtime teacher in the Cleveland inner city, and Rashid Bryson, a young black student trying to get away from a family tragedy. Beautiful, complicated racial and family dynamics and lovely writing, multiple narrators, Latin, and a boarding school setting. I wish Martha Southgate had written fifteen more books besides this one, instead of only two. Behold this quotation, which I think is great:

“Racial integration?” He nodded. “What about it?”

“Well, I’m not against it, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here, right? But there’s some problems with it that I just want to talk to people about. How this place isn’t really integrated enough. We – I mean people like me – are just here to round out somebody else’s experience. That’s what it feels like, anyway.”

American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and the American Prison System, Sasha Abramsky

The American prison system is awful. It’s just awful in every way, what with the insanely punitive mandatory minimum sentences, and the poorly-trained guards, and the lack of care for the mentally ill, and the shortage of educational programs, and the–look, just everything. It’s awful. Sasha Abramsky is a careful, clear writer, and I defy you to read this book and not feel furious at the end of it.

Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Alan Moore is just not for me. When I read his books, I think of how much in sympathy I am with his views, and how important a writer of graphic novels he is, but I do not think, Wow, this is an enjoyable read. I more think, Wow, this is rather a slog. Wish I could be reading something more awesome. Now and then an image or a plot element will catch my eye and please me greatly, but these never last long enough to make my reading truly enjoyable. I also found the conclusion deeply unsatisfying: just a big info-dump of cackling villainy. I was fascinated, as I always am, with the way the 1980s seem to have been predicated on the assumption that nuclear war with Russia was imminent. And then the Berlin Wall came down! Miraculous! This was for the Graphic Novels Challenge, which I have already been awesome at this year but I cannot stop being awesome at it because graphic novels are worthwhile! Even when they are not my particular cup of tea.

Glimpses, Lynn Flewelling

Glimpses is a collection of Nightrunner short stories, with lots of fan art. It was sent to me as an e-book by Reece Notley of Three Crow Press, for which much thanks. These are stories that fill in the gaps in Seregil’s and Alec’s history: how Seregil came to be Nysander’s student, a small glimpse of Alec’s life with his father, and like that. If you are a fan of the Nightrunner series, and do not mind lots of graphic sex (I admit I can be slightly squeamish this way), you should check this out. To me, the nosy girl who wants to know exactly how everything went down, this short story collection is an excellent addition to the Nightrunner world. Lynn Flewelling has a light, amusing way of writing, and I always enjoy spending time with her characters. But if you are a stranger to the series, do yourself a favor and read Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness first.

Burma Chronicles & Love and Rockets

And now for some comics that did not rock my world but count towards the Graphic Novels Challenge anyway:

Burma Chronicles, Guy Delisle

Once again Guy Delisle, French-Canadian animator and cartoonist, went a-traveling to a faraway land with an oppressive regime.  In this case, his wife Nadège was working for Médecins sans Frontières (MSF); Nadège, Guy, and their small son Louis take off for Burma (Myanmar) for a year.  Delisle notes at the beginning of the book that the UN has recognized the regime and calls it Myanmar, but that many countries, including Canada, have not.  Hence Burma.

If I hadn’t read Pyongyang first, I think I’d have liked Burma Chronicles better. Burma Chronicles is charming, with keenly noted observations of day-to-day life in Burma, but Pyongyang was so chilling and scary that it was hard for this one to live up to it.  Because Delisle was in Burma longer than he was in North Korea, he got to know people better, but you’d never know it from the book.  He has an eye for detail but not an ear for conversation.  His wife’s present throughout the book, and I never had any idea what she was like.

This isn’t to say that I no longer love Guy Delisle.  At first his wife believes that they will be going to Guatemala rather than Burma, and Delisle immediately pops Star Trek into the DVD player and starts playing it in Spanish.  A man after my own heart.  I love watching Buffy in French.  Plus there’s a picture of him trying to bathe his son in a shower that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.  Tip: Don’t try to bathe a baby in the shower.

Love and Rockets, vol. 1, by the Hernandez Brothers

Am I stupid?  Stupid in the head?  Very, very stupid?  I think I must be extremely stupid, y’all, because I swear to Jesus, I was reading these stories and they did not make sense to my brain.  I have heard that Love and Rockets is glorious.  It may be glorious but it is right over my head.

Any thoughts on this?  If you loved Love and Rockets, please tell me what I’m missing.  I have heard good things!  I don’t want to lose a good graphic novel series around being a fail reader.  Should I persist into volume two?  Now that Delisle has given me a taste for travel writing, do you have any recommendations along that line?  Good travel books?  Anyone?

Pyongyang, Guy Delisle

I first heard about Guy Delisle over at A Life in Books, when Lesley reviewed Pyongyang, and since then it seems he’s been popping up all over the place.  Delisle writes travelogues in comics form of the time he has spent living in countries with oppressive regimes, which is a slightly weird thing to be known for, but never mind.  Pyongyang chronicles Delisle’s two-month stay in North Korea, where he is supervising the animation of a children’s cartoon.

From the first page I loved Pyongyang.  Delisle starts by excerpting the travel information he’s received about going to North Korea.  “Do not do anything on your own,” says one of them, and indeed Delisle is not supposed to go anywhere without his guide.  The guide is responsible for ensuring that Delisle sees and hears the best of North Korea, and is always taking him to see monuments of Kim Jong-Il, or pointing out “volunteers” cleaning up roads or picking up trash.

Delisle has an excellent eye for small, chilling details of life in North Korea.  At one point he notes that only married men with children are permitted to travel outside of North Korea.  He leaves it at that, but the implication is obvious.  What creeped me out the most is when Delisle realizes he hasn’t seen any handicapped people since coming to North Korea.  He asks his guide, and the guide says there are none.  Everyone in North Korea is born strong and healthy and intelligent.

I always think it must be very difficult to end a travelogue.  The obvious ending to a travelogue is, And then I went home, but that’s not necessarily very satisfying, particularly if, as in Delisle’s case, you have been writing about some serious, important issues.  Pyongyang doesn’t just end, it has an ending.  Props, Guy Delisle.

I am afraid that Burma Chronicles will be unable to meet the standard set by Pyongyang, but so far it is also good.  Updates as warranted.  This review brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge!  Which I’d completely forgotten about, along with all my other challenges, until I noticed that someone else had read Pyongyang for the Graphic Novels Challenge, so I guess I cannot really say that this review was, in fact, brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge.  That reminds me, I bet some of the books I have read recently can go towards some of my other challenges, and I didn’t even notice.  Dear, dear, dear, I am plainly teetering on the edge of senility here.

Other people reviewed it too:

A Life in Books
A Striped Armchair
The Captive Reader
The Bookling
Helen’s Book Blog

Have I missed yours?  Tell me and I’ll add a link!

Review: Swallow Me Whole, Nate Powell

Y’all, at some point, I’m going to do a mental illness reading challenge.  Is there already one?  I’m going to do one if there isn’t already one.  I love mental illness (I mean I do not love it.  It is awful and ruins people’s lives.  I just find it very interesting).  As soon as I think of a clever name and invent an adorable button, I will be all over this, and Swallow Me Whole is one of the books you can read for it.  PREPARE YOURSELVES.

I read Swallow Me Whole for the Graphic Novels Challenge!

Swallow Me Whole is about two step-siblings called Ruth and Perry who both see and hear things that other people can’t.  Perry sees a small wizard creature who tells him what to do, sometimes things he doesn’t want to do.  Ruth collects insects in jars and rearranges them endlessly; she hears them speak, and she believes that she can perceive patterns that most of the world is missing.  Ruth starts taking pills; Perry does not.

At first I had some problems with the style of art and the lettering.  The lines are slightly wavery, and the letters are too, and I kept having to read the words twice.  I thought: Aha!  This is what people complain about when they say they have a hard time with graphic novels!  Overwhelming art and letters!  In the end, though, I adjusted and enjoyed the book quite a bit.  Like Ruth and Perry, the reader is not always sure what’s real and what isn’t.  It’s disorienting and scary, which makes it easy to sympathize with the characters.  I love it that Nate Powell writes characters with severe mental illnesses, while keeping them relatable.

I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what happened at the end though.  It made me feel stupid.  I hate it when I finish books and feel stupid.  I finished and felt stupid and resented Nate Powell with his, you know, wobbly lines, and I went online to see what he had to say for himself.  And you know what he said?  He said if there was ambiguity, it was probably down to bad storytelling.  Actually in this case I think I am just stupid, but I appreciate Nate Powell for saying that.

Mental illness challenge.  I’m going to do it.

Other reviews:

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On (thanks for the recommendation!)
Reading Thru the Night

Let me know if I missed yours!

Review: The Unwritten, Vol. 1, Mike Carey and Peter Goss

For the Graphic Novel Challenge!

The Unwritten is about a guy called Tom whose father – long since disappeared without a trace – wrote an incredibly popular series of books about a character with Tom’s same name: Tommy Taylor.  However, it turns out that all the paperwork proving Tom is his father’s son has been forged.  At first it is theorized that he is a fraud, the son of Romanian peasants; then people begin to believe that he is, in fact, Tommy Taylor, brought into existence by the stories themselves.  The word made flesh.

The Unwritten is set in London, a place with whose literary history Tom is very familiar.  His father was always telling him stories about the places in England and how they connect to books and authors – this plays into the unfolding of the plot and will, I expect, do so more and more as the series goes on.  There is one scene that is set at the Globe, the Globe that I love, you don’t even know and words cannot express how much I love the Globe Theatre.  It is like Mike Carey wants to say, “I love literature and I know that you do too!”  If fiction is going to be meta, it should be meta exactly like this.

The final issue included in this first volume of the graphic novel is all about Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde.  While not closely connected to the main plotline, it does give us a glimpse into the means and methods employed by the villains and how it relates to stories and literature.  Also?  It has Oscar Wilde in it.  Oscar Wilde!  I love him so!  He was such a dear darling when he wasn’t being awful!

Two things that I like a lot are Oscar Wilde and London.  And metafiction – three things.  The three things that I like a lot are Oscar Wilde, and London and metafiction, and fictional characters coming to life.  Four – no.  Amongst the things that I like are such elements as Oscar Wilde, London – I’ll come in again.  (Sorry, XKCD.  I know you don’t like it when people do that.)

I have given in to temptation and subscribed to this comic on HeavyInk.  I know I shouldn’t be spending money on single issue comics, given that I will probably end up buying the collected volumes as proper books when they are released, but I cannot resist the alluring notion of getting comics each month, all wrapped up in crinkly brown paper.  Oh, HeavyInk, you seduce me with your sexy packaging.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
The Literary Omnivore
Adventures with Words
Bibliofreak

Tell me if I missed yours!

Two books I didn’t like (sad, sad)

I put the words “sad, sad” in the title line here, but that was silly.  I am not sad at all.  I am still very happy, because as you may recall, THE SAINTS WON THE SUPER BOWL, causing me to tear up happily every time Drew Brees opens his mouth (he’s such a sweet dear) or every time I see a picture of all the confetti and rejoicing.  And everyone is all “If only my daddy were alive to see this day,” and New Orleans is throwing the biggest party possibly every thrown, like even bigger than that party in “Death in Venice” with the elephants, and somebody predicted on Saturday that Porter would not be able to block Wayne effectively, and (he did though)—

(Dear Crazy Jenny, Hush about the Super Bowl.  Kisses, Sane Jenny)

So here are some books that I did not enjoy so far in February.

Clara Callan, Richard B. Wright

When I first read about this book, I discovered within myself a love for epistolary novels that was greater (I thought) than my unlove of novels set during the Great Depression. But do you know, I was completely wrong.  I mean if there was ever going to be a Great Depression book that I could manage, it should have been this one.  It is epistolary, it focuses on the relationship between two sisters, and one of the sisters becomes, I swear to you, a radio soap opera star in New York.  Those are some ingredients that should mix together to create a book that I would love – but they did not.

So I’m swearing off Great Depression books forever, unless you tell me with great conviction that you have a Great Depression book that transcends its Great Depression-ness and manages to be amazing anyway.  And not dreary.  And it obviously can’t be set in England or it doesn’t count.  Any thoughts?

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading
Books for Breakfast
Kristina’s Book Blog

Gray Horses, Hope Larson

I read this for the Graphic Novel Challenge, making it my one, two, third book read for the Graphic Novel Challenge, and the second one about which I was just not that crazy.  I wanted to like it because I have read nice things about Hope Larson’s Salamander Dreams, which the library didn’t have but they did have this.  Lesley read it and said there wasn’t enough to it, for a book, and I said, I don’t care what you think, I’m reading it anyway.  And no, she was totally right.  There is not enough to it.

Noemie is a French exchange student trying to find her way in an American city, and she has vivid dreams where she has a horse and helps a kid.  Back in real life, she makes a friend, and a dude follows her and takes her picture and leaves the pictures for her to find, which she finds sweet.  That is not romantic at all; it is completely creepy.  In fact I always felt that the creepiest deed committed by the Big Bad Villain of Season Two of Buffy was when he drew pictures of her sleeping and left them on her pillow.  This doesn’t feel so different from that; except that when the Big Bad Villain of Season Two of Buffy behaved in this manner, steps were taken.

I read this for the February mini-challenge, graphic novels with animals in, hosted by (fellow Louisianian & Super Bowl celebrator & I’m really shutting up about this now) Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On.  But I am going to read that Darwin book if I can get it, and that will be for the mini-challenge too and hopefully I will enjoy it more.

Other reviews:

A Life in Books
A Striped Armchair
The Zen Leaf

Tell me if I missed yours!

P.S. Okay, I am a little bit sad.  A very little bit sad, though still mostly happy about the Saints.  I am a little sad because I found out today that I didn’t get into one of my grad schools.  Mostly I am still pleased about the Saints, and I reminded myself of this by watching Porter and Shockey give man hugs, and by watching Drew Brees holding his little son.  But a small part of me is a bit sad that I didn’t get into one of my grad schools.

Review: Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, adapted & illustrated by P. Craig Russell

Oscar Wilde told André Gide that he had put his genius into his life, and only his talent into his writing.  It’s a typical Oscar Wilde thing to say, especially since he’d all but stopped writing at that point, and if you’ve read about Oscar Wilde, you’ll know it’s best to take anything he says with a grain of salt.  Because, you know, hello to the self-dramatizing!  But I have to say, in reference to this remark: although I read about Oscar Wilde all the time, I almost never read anything he’s written.  Sometimes I’ll get in a mood and just tear through my big pink Complete Works, but by and large, if I’m in an Oscar Wilde mental place, I’m rereading Gary Schmidgall or H. Montgomery Hyde or whatever.  So yeah, Oscar Wilde may have had a point.

That said, I love P. Craig Russell, and when I saw that the Graphic Novel Challenge has a mini-challenge for January to read graphic novel adaptations of classic works, I thought, hey, perfect opportunity to check out Russell’s adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales.  My library had the volume with “The Devoted Friend” – where a woodland creature tells other woodland creatures about a miller who was such a terrible friend to a poor little gardener boy that the gardener boy eventually died – and “The Nightingale and the Rose”, where a nightingale kills herself to get a red rose for this guy who wants to give it to his true love, and then she scorns him utterly and he gives up love forever.

I felt so fond of both Russell and Wilde when I was reading this.  Russell draws really lush, gorgeous comics – must take him ages! – and Oscar Wilde, bless him, was exactly like Oscar Wilde was.  Which is to say, revoltingly overdramatic, and in the next breath poking fun at the thing he was just emoting over.  So he waxes maudlin over the nightingale giving her life to make the rose, and two pages later the student who wanted the rose in the first place gets rejected by the object of his affections and says:

What a silly thing Love is.  It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.

And then the student goes off and reads a book.  It’s so Oscar Wilde.

Can I make a confession?  It’s been weighing heavy on my soul.  When I was in high school, my good friend’s dog had puppies, and as I had just then started to be interested in Oscar Wilde, and was spending all my time telling her the new facts I had learnt about him, she named one of the puppies Oscar Wilde.  He was very goofy and bouncy, and she used to call him “Mr. Wibbles” as a nickname.  She’d say, “Oscar Wilde!  Hey Oscar Wilde!  You’re my Mr. Wibbles!”  So now – um.  Well, sometimes now – please don’t judge me – when I am feeling exceptionally fond of the real Oscar Wilde, or when I see a picture of him unexpectedly, and all my love for him rushes to the surface, it unbalances me and I think of him as Mr. Wibbles.

This is the very real danger of a time machine, y’all.  Suppose someone invents a time machine, and I use it to go back in time and meet Oscar Wilde, odds are I’d see him and become seriously overset and call him Mr. Wibbles by accident.  And then Oscar Wilde would be like, I hate you.  And then, who knows what would happen?  I’d be really sad!  In my pain and misery, I might go way back in time and stomp on a butterfly, out of spite.