Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Manga Part One

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

seraph1

seraph2

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign., Vol.1

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign., Vol.2

Takaya Kagami, writer

Yamato Yamamoto, artist

Viz Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Wary about vampires.

My Reality: I liked it! This is a vampire dystopia, and a revenge drama. It starts out with some orphans that are used as food for the vampires in their underground world, after they’ve exploited a plague situation on earth and driven everyone underground and into their control. The children have a plan to defeat the vampires and escape, and it goes horribly wrong. The only survivor is the kid with too much energy and not enough planning. And I won’t spoil the rest.

I can’t speak much to the art because I only can articulate different styles in manga when they are obviously different. I could follow everything and everyone looked very elegant. The style preferred by the vampires is very gothic lolita and there’s a police type squad who have handsome almost American Civil War style uniforms.

Will teens like it?: I think even teens who are tired of vampires (there must be some, right?) will enjoy this. It has a lot of juicy drama and funny parts.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

 

Seraph-of-the-End-01-01

 

 

mylittlemonster3     mylittlemonster4

My Little Monster, Volume 3

My Little Monster, Volume 4

Robico

Kodansha Comics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: Considering that there were Volumes 1 and 2 also published this year, I thought it was strange that only volumes 3 and 4 are nominated. I read the first two volumes and felt uncomfortable with Haru’s lack of respect for personal boundaries – I realize that in some shojo romances this is normal, and this follows the pattern of single-minded or innocent girl gains weird friend and they help socialize each other. However, it was also textbook manipulation of personal boundaries – Haru is very needy and has an anxious attachment style. He doesn’t care that Shizuku needs to study or what her preferences are. His motivations get clearer in the 2nd volume but I didn’t look forward to reading up to 4 volumes.

My Reality: I think that one could enter this series at the 3rd book and it wouldn’t be that weird, but one would miss all the introductions to the characters. Eventually no one treats Haru’s behavior as romantic and that made me feel better. This is a series about a group of friends coming together, a story that is, understandably, done often in manga. My Little Monster is a solid example of the genre, but doesn’t offer much new.

Will teens like it?: Sure

Is it “great” for teens?: They’ll like it, but it isn’t great.

Art Taste:

mylittlemonster

beforethefall1   beforethefall2

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, V1

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, V2

Ryo Suzukaze, writer

Satoshi Shiki, artist

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I was so psyched when I first read Attack on Titan.

My Reality: The premise failed for me. I could not accept that anyone would believe that a baby who is born when an obviously pregnant mother is swallowed by a Titan is in any way a Titan itself. Even the mom did worship Titans.

Will teens like it?: Probably?

Is it “great” for teens?: This one will be read because of the popularity of the original series. It is not great.

Art Taste:

attack-on-titan-before-the-fall-4676225

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Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Sci-Fi

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

I had 4 sci-fi titles bunched up together. Two of them are not going to make it to my eyes in time.

ringworld

Ringworld, an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Seven Seas, could not be procured even through my library system’s excellent ILL department, and I don’t think I’d like it enough to spend money on a digital copy. I would if I were actually on the committee, but luckily I don’t have to. It sounds like a cool idea, and I am tempted to read the original prose novel.

rust3

I am sad that my library does not have Rust V.3: Death of the Rocket Boy, by Royden Lepp, because it’s been out since May of 2014. This is a series, originally published by Archaia, that I’ve been following since it first came out. Each of its volumes has made it onto the Great Graphic Novels list, and last year the 2nd volume was in our top 10. I want to read the next (last?) installment of this story in an alternate historical time about a jet-pack/boy and his adventures in Canadian farmland. But I’m willing to bet that it makes it on the list again this year. I would buy a copy but it wouldn’t make it to me in time. Bad planning, me.

But anyway, on to what I did manage to read:

boom_woods_v1

The Woods Volume 1: The Arrow

James Tynion IV, writer

Michael Dialynas, artist

BOOM! Studios  

Anticipation/Expectation Level: It was on my radar but I didn’t know anything about it other than the cover looked cool.

My Reality: I had so much fun reading this. In many ways it’s very much a classic high school adventure, but the high school is suddenly transplanted to an alien planet with an extra-mysterious conspiracy added in (I will say no more about that). There’s a survival/road-trip element as a group of the students head out with a super-smart loner at their head, following him because he says he knows whats going on and because the scene inside the school itself is turning into a shitshow, with the gym teacher using all of his Machiavelli against the go-getter Student President, with the principal as a pawn between them. The jocks, nerds, and everyone in-between have roles to play. It gets heavy in a couple of places, but mostly maintains its humor within the tense situations. I loved the coloring here – very purply and saturated.

Will Teens Like It?: Yes, I can see myself booktalking this one for summer reading or something.
Is it “great” for teens?: yes.

Art Taste:

dinosaurnow ourfuture

alexada_tp_v1

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, writers

Jonathan Luna, artist

Image

Anticipation/Expectation Levels: Pretty much the same as The Woods.

My Reality: Yay! This is speculative sci-fi that explores technology, identity, AI, android rights, loneliness, responsibility, and grandmothers who mean well. Luna’s style of drawing is perfect – very realistic and flat, with an eye for subtle changes in facial expressions. I almost feel like Alex is too good to be true, but I have to remind myself that there are guys out there who wouldn’t be total creeps in this situation. And he may change in the following issues. If you can’t tell from the cover and my rambling, Alex is gifted a robot companion by his grandma because she thinks he is being depressed for too long after his breakup. Alex is weirded out that Ada, the android, has no opinions and defers to his wants and needs. So he decides to figure out what to do about it.

Will Teens Like it?: Yes

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

AlexAda03_mnchmnch

Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: New Superheroes, new series

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this reading series here.

Every year brave teams of writers, artists, inkers, publishers etc. launch or re-launch a superhero series, going up against the big names of the pantheon. Last year one of the standouts was The Hypernaturals, from BOOM! Studios, which looks like it only existed for two collected editions. But every time I feel a little spark of hope that one of them will gain some readership momentum and last for a little while.

Or just get read and appreciated.

Last week I reorganized my list of what comics I have left to review, to put them into genre and format categories. And it turns out there are only 2 entirely new superhero comics left on my list. I really liked one and really didn’t like the other.

Let’s start with the good news.

mara01_COVER

Mara

Brian Wood, writer

Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, illustrators

Image Comics

Anticipation/Expectation level: I liked the cover and I like Brian Wood’s writing. I liked Ming Doyle’s art in the Tantalize adaptation even though the story was …eh.

My Reality: When I read this in March I wrote this on Goodreads: “I love the character designs, color palette, even the font choices. I was into the whole global volleyball phenomenon, so I wanted to read more about that and get to know Mara and Ingrid and everyone more through their interactions on the job. Mara’s transformation [into a superhuman] was so quick that there wasn’t much change from when we first meet her to when she feels inhuman – I think slowing down the action could have made it easier to understand her feelings–not make her more likeable or unlikeable, I don’t care if she’s likeable or not, but I wanted to get in her head more. And it was great that although everyone was generally beautiful they all looked like they had real faces, not ideas of faces.”

When I re-read it last week, I agreed with myself, but I liked it even more. It’s too bad that this only lasted six issues. I’m not even sure it was supposed to last longer, but Wood has created an interesting world that definitely could have been slowed down and expanded on without feeling like a rehash of other worlds and similar themes. Mara lives in a world where sports and the military are the ways out of poverty. Children are sent on those paths from a very young age. No one ever seems to achieve real independence, but it’s the best option in a broken global system. In that way, Mara, who is a top volleyball star from what might be a future US/North American empire, has a sort of Katniss-y feel to her – you wonder what her personality would be like if it had been allowed to develop normally, but she still has a strong presence as a character and makes a fascinating protagonist.

Will teens like it?: Yes. I don’t see any major impediments to teen liking.

Is it “great”for teens?: Definitely. It would even make a fun discussion book because it does end and isn’t just a jumping off point for a series.

Art taste:

Mara3

 

And then there’s

 

BRILLIANT_01_CVR

Brilliant

Brian Michael Bendis, writer

Mark Bagley, artist

Icon / 2012, Marvel, 2014

 Note: I’m not even sure this is eligible for the list because it looks like it was first published in 2012. But I’m going to review it anyway because I read it and took all these pictures of the ways it irritated me and I need to feel like I went through all that for a reason.

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. The cover did not look promising and I didn’t like Bendis’ latest All New X-Men that much, though.

My reality: What I think Bendis was going for here was “super-smart teen patter mixed with mumblecore sensibilities”. It read as self-satisfied smart teens not saying much at all. So many exchanges like this one:

patter

Um, well, yeah.

Or this:

I don't know what is happening either

I don’t know what is happening either

The basic premise is that hot-shot MIT type new adults figure out a way to develop superpowers. At least one of them starts using this power to rob banks and get money for more experiments, because the powers are taking over. This causes problems. They expect their friend who just returned from studying abroad or something to figure it out for them but he’s conflicted. If you want to see an inventive treatment of this plot, please watch Chronicle.

I was more interested in witnessing the alternate universe that these people live in.

A universe where a nice normal red haired girl with flipper hands, a nice girl whose choice of party outfit is a baggy hawaiian shirt, suddenly starts dressing in spandex capri pants to chill out in her dorm room once she becomes a real crush of the protagonist:

Untitled drawing

A world where stockings with seams are worn with the seams on the front. A world where a college professor also loves crop tops and capris, and chases down the stoner she slept with to destroy his cell phone. A world where house loungewear is hacked up bits of athleticwear.

totallynormal1

A world where having an argument with friends, jogging, and asking your hallmates for pot are EXTRA DRAMATIC activities with all the attendant eye-widening and posing involved.

normalstandingaround normaljog wtfpotsmokers

So, I was a little distracted from the story.

Will teens like it?: Yes, teens who are looking for a quick superhero read and have a thing for crop tops.

Is it “great” for teens?: It doesn’t feel like anyone was trying on this title. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Art Taste: see above.

 

Down but not meowt: Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti

clawsgrinti

Claws

Mike and Rachel Grinti

Scholastic, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Emma Vu

Helena Vu

Mr. & Mrs. Vu

Jack the Magic-less Cat

Hook

One day Emma’s older sister Helena is around and life is happy. Then Helena goes missing, and her family is quickly losing all its money in trying anything to find her – including associating with crags, or magical creatures, a culturally-shunned segment of the population. It isn’t long before Emma takes advantage of her parents’ distracted and stressed out state to accept the help of cats in order to pursue her own investigations.

UK cover!

UK cover!

Worldview

So, unfortunately I haven’t had time lately to read much middle grade fantasy so I’m not even going to try to couch my comments in relation to the field as a whole. I’m just going to tell you why Claws grabbed me.

It’s set in a world where magic is known but not socially accepted, except by excitable teenagers who watch a show called Gnomebots, read Tiger Beat style magazines about the glamorous (literally) lifestyle of fairies, and read dubious information about the magical world on CragWiki. However, most people avoid crags and, therefore, Emma’s first encounters with them are a little scary and not what she expected. The book opens with Emma and her parents moving into a decrepit house next to the big forest that took over a human city some years ago. Crags live near there, but most humans have relocated. Emma’s parents have had no luck with normal policework in finding Helena, her father has lost his business, and he’s ready to try the magical underground for any information on his missing daughter.

Emma finds that her next door neighbors are a boring snake-man who has a lecture for everything and a hag who has had all of her teeth pulled so she won’t eat any more children – doomed to a life of unfulfilled hunger- but that doesn’t stop her from trying to lure Emma into her house.

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

Pretty much immediately, Emma finds that a cat has been living in her family’s new house, and he doesn’t intend to stop doing so. Cats are magical creatures and can talk in this world, and this cat, Jack, has done something to get him kicked out of his pride. But he also has a way to transfer the pride’s power to Emma. He wants her to do this, and in return, he’ll help her find Helena.

I loved reading a good fantasy grounded in reality that didn’t exalt magic but still made it exciting, dangerous, and fun. Each crag that Emma meets has his or her own personality, and the crag world, apart from the class tensions between it and humans, has clear tensions between creature groups and within peer groups. The Grintis pack all of this effortlessly into 250 pages. The reader doesn’t have to work to see it happening, but it’s not explained in expository dialogue, either (thank goodness).  The facts that are presented straightforwardly come in quotes from CragWiki at the beginning of every chapter, and serve to deepen the world.

Does this book fulfill its intentions?

Claws hit a sweet spot for me, readingwise. Emma doesn’t hesitate very long before accepting Jack’s deal. I could easily see the book veering off in a much different alternate-future direction, where it spends the first book with Emma hemming and hawing about her decision, in order to stretch out and become a trilogy.  Instead Emma goes for it. In a sense she has nothing much to lose – her friends at school have turned against her now that she lives in an undesirable area, and she’s lonely all the time – she misses her sister and her parents are fully preoccupied and brokenhearted for the same reason. But I feel like she also decides to accept Jack’s offer of the Pride Heart because it’s exciting. I’d be willing to bet that most 12 year olds have an innate sense of their own impending destiny – who among us wouldn’t have accepted the chance to assume the source of power for a pride of magical cats? (Cat-allergic peeps aside.)

My cat is obviously magic.

My cat is obviously magic.

Once her decision is made, Emma is set up for a crash course in Adventure and Split Second Decisions, and after a few false starts it seems she’s well-suited for it. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, but I will say that the end set-piece, which takes place in a faery-run high rise in the human downtown, is a particularly well-done example of the ways in which the faerie can be simultaneously attractive and deeply, primally scary. It involves something called eye-puppets.

In addition, Claws was refreshing because it provided intrigue and a personal-growth story with real emotion and imagination, and, because of its target market, had none of the love triangle or sexy urban werewolvery that has become so tiresome to me, even secondhand from reading reviews. I could read it and wholeheartedly enjoy it in the moment as a grown lady, and also think about how much I would have loved it as a younger person.

Disclosure/Digressions

– I met Rachel Grinti at a local conference where I was co-presenting something and she gave me a copy of Claws for free cuz she’s nice. I’m so glad that she did.

-Emma’s parents are Vietnamese-American and when she’s feeling tired of her new family life as The Girl With the Missing Sister and worn down by her new cat magic responsibilities she reminisces about the better times when her family would make homecooked meals. I think it’s safe to say that this is the only book I’ve read that could make me want to eat banana pudding.

Readalikes, as far as imaginative worldbuilding goes.

KieselWarTeachersKids

The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids by Stanley Kiesel

The world of this book isn’t strictly magical, it’s just weird and surreal and things matter of factly happen that you as a reader know are totally crazy but you don’t care because it has hooked you with its very weirdness. A girl eats a janitor and it blew my mind that that could even happen in a book.

how-to-ditch-your-fairy

How to Ditch Your Fairy  by Justine Larbalestier

The fairies in this book are very much fairies and not faeirie as in Claws, but Larbalestier brings the reader into her sort of complicated world–where everyone has an invisible fairy that bestows specific luck or powers onto their human, and it’s luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a useless one, or just a really annoying one–with ease.

Why Aren’t You Reading… The Tapestry Series by Henry H. Neff?

houndofrowanthesecondsiegethefiendandtheforgethemaelstrom

by Tessa

Maybe you’re already reading this series, about a boy named Max who finds out that he’s the son of an Irish mythological figure, and goes to magical boarding school in America (not in that order) and then the world irrevocably changes because the wrong book gets into the wrong allegedly-demonic hands,  in which case RAD, can we chat about it together?

BUT – I’m guessing that lots of people haven’t – at least it hasn’t been written up in the many places that I go to hear about books. Granted, there are way more places to go read about books that it’s just not possible for me to visit. There are a couple of reasons that may explain this – the series is older middle grade and the first two books read very much like American Harry Potter, so I feel as though it may have been dismissed as reductive in some people’s minds.

There are some very compelling reasons (I hope) to give The Tapestry series a second look if you weren’t into the first book or a first look, if you haven’t  yet heard of it.

Pros:

– Irish mythology!

Ever since I read The Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland, collected by Jeremiah Curtain, I’ve been into the meandering, tough, hyperbolic, funny stories from that country. Even though I know I’m mispronouncing all the names when I read it in my head. Max finds out (spoiler alert?) that he’s the sun of Lugh Lámhfhada, an Irish god associated with the sun and athleticism, which means he’s the half-brother of Cúchulainn, the Hound of Ulster, which is why he’s known as the Hound of Rowan (Rowan being the American Hogwarts stand-in here). Not that you have to know anything about Irish mythology to read the series, I just enjoy that Max has a grounding in a mythology that exists outside of the books.

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

Cuchulainn Slays the Hound of Culain via Wikipedia

This also means that Max is a real badass. He’s full of Old Magic and a member of the Red Branch (magical CIA type people) and although he wields the Gae Bolga, a sword/spear embedded with the terrifying bloodlust of Cúchulainn, he’s a pretty thoughtful kid thrust into a world where he has to make life or death decisions for, like, the entire human race.

Actually there are 3 children of Old Magic in this series. They all have their own strengths, and their own secrets. The magic is well spread out among the students and teachers and the political intrigue is well done.

– Totally epic, metal demons

Demons are a big part of this series. They are trying to infiltrate Rowan to steal a powerful book that can rewrite REALITY ITSELF… and they eventually do. But they don’t turn the world into a stereotypical hell. It becomes more feudal, and more pastoral. But still with tentacled horrors that live inside wells and terrorize families. As the present becomes the past… with demons, things are correspondingly more epic. It recalled the lyrics of metal bands such as the brutal (read:rad) Absu. This is from a song off of 2009’s Absu:

The old woman of Nippur
Instructs Ninlil to walk the banks of Idnunbirdu
She thrusts he magic (k)
To harvest the mind of the great
mountain-lord Enlil

The bright-eyed king will fall to your anguish
His soul lures the hexagonal room
He who decrees fates – his spirit is caught
His soul lured to the hexagonal room

Nunbarshegunu
A silk veil strewn over you
Your face is the cosmos
You hide it in shame

I admire an author who is not afraid to change the entire nature of the Earth. Neff does it and pulls it off without becoming too lost in the large canvas he’s created.

A new kind of adversary

Astaroth is the main antagonist, although the political intrigues of the demon world shift around during books 3 and 4. He’s firmly not in the Eye of Sauron all seeing all evil all the time camp. He’s an activist godlike figure. Like if NoFace from Spirited Away had all the powers of Old Testament God but not all the wrath – Astaroth pretends he’s a softy but really the world is just his plaything. He’s doing it for humanity’s own good. He thinks humanity is better without choices. His face is an always-smiling white mask.

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) - via Wikipedia

an imagining of Astaroth from the Dictionnaire Infernal (1818) – via Wikipedia

Cons:

– The first book is deceptively Harry Potter-like (with a dash of Riordan’s The Olympians)

I dunno, this isn’t a huge con for me, but it’s worth noting. Also, if you read the first book and were not into the Hag “humor”, it is much diminished in the others.

– The illustrations can take away from the story sometimes.

I hate saying this because Henry Neff is the writer AND illustrator, so these are the representations of the images that inspired the story that I enjoy reading so much… however, there have been times when seeing the illustrations takes the wind out of the much creepier thing I was thinking of in my brain, inspired by the prose.

– His website uses Papyrus as a title font.

 

Obviously the pros are much stronger than the cons, so what are you waiting for?

Ready Player One is Sci-Fi Potato Chips

readyplayerone

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline

Random House, 2011

review by Tessa

Characters

Wade Watts / Parzival – our hero – a teenager living in a stack of mobile homes in future Oklahoma City who has nothing else to live for but figuring out the OASIS fortune scavenger hunt.

James Halliday – reclusive genius and co-coder of OASIS. He left the wiliest will ever – solve his puzzles and find the Easter Eggs embedded in OASIS and you’ll receive his forturne.

Aech – Wade’s best and only friend in OASIS and a fellow gunter (Easter Egg hunter)

Art3mis – Wade’s super crush who is also trying to beat him in the hunt.

The Sixers – Unethical employees of a corporation that wants to take over OASIS and use it for their greedy goals.

ReadyPlayerOne RD 1 finals 2

Hook / Worldview

OASIS – a fully immersive online world – has, by 2044, pretty much become the world. The outside world sucks, and it’s free to join OASIS, so there’s no reason not to spend as much time as possible there.  It was invented by a sort of Steve Jobs-like dude named James Halliday. Being an extremely socially-averse person, he left no heirs when he died. What he did leave was a series of puzzles and tests inside of OASIS that, when solved and unlocked, would lead to the biggest Easter egg of all time – his fortune.  They are represented by 3 keys and 3 gates – copper, jade, and crystal.

And because Halliday was obsessed with the culture of his youth in the 1980s and wished everyone else would be, the keys and gates have everything to do with the 80s. So the egg hunters, or gunters, are basically experts in 80s pop culture.  Four years go by after Halliday’s death, and no one shows up on the scoreboard. Until one day, someone does. An avatar named Parzival, who is actually a teenager in Oklahoma City.

Once the first key is found and the first gate opened, Parzival is quickly followed in his feats by Aech, his best friend and a clever gunter, and Art3mis, a snarky girl gunter and blogger who Parzival has been crushing on hard for years.  Oh, and the evil Sixers who exploit the loopholes in the rules of the game so they can win and take over OASIS, turning it into billboardmoneyland.

WHO WILL WINNNN?

220px-Ready_Player_One_cover

Does this book achieve its intentions?

As you can probably tell from the description, Ready Player One is a book written by a geek, for geeks, with much love for geek culture. It concerns a quest, so that means built in suspense, and Cline’s chops as a screenwriter guarantee that the journey from copper to crystal key is smooth and hits all the tried-and-true suspense/tension points.

Accordingly, the response has been pretty huge. Enough so that Cline was able to buy himself a DeLorean and customize it, and get a seven-figure book deal for his sophomore novel (and also a seven-figure deal for the movie rights??). Wil Wheaton narrated the audiobook version of Ready Player One. Cline created his own Egg Hunt in real life (with the prize being another DeLorean). It’s brain candy for a certain audience.

And I guess that audience isn’t me. Sure, I devoured Ready Player One in a weekend and wanted to know what would happen to Parzival, Aech, and Art3mis (and two other players who were clearly created to be meaningfully killed), but I never stopped feeling like I was reading a series of tropes, and ones that weren’t very creatively put down on the page.

I can't stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

I can’t stop seeing that door as being a sculpture of a leaping dolphin.

Cline doesn’t stop to think that the reader might want to figure it out his or herself. Or that (s)he might already know some of the stuff he’s saying. He just explains it and goes on to make another reference to the 80s.  I couldn’t even enjoy the nice romance between Parzival and Art3mis, and the fact that Art3mis probably has my BMI so I could identify with her, because the romance was so unwavering and neatly wrapped up – even its rough spots were predictable.

Although OASIS is a giant universe, it lacks depth. After finishing Ready Player One I felt the same way I used to feel as a teenager after staying up too late drinking too many cans of Squirt and mechanically crunching on Bugles or Doritos or whatever–the kind of snacks that companies build mechanical mouths to test for the sweet spot of crunchiness so that they are wickedly addictive.  A temporary pleasure with no real substance.

I would read a fact put forth in the book, like the halls of Wade’s virtual school being no swearing zones, so kids were automatically muted when they used profanity, and immediately wonder – how did no kid hack that yet?  Or, why hadn’t the kids developed new insulting slang to work around the restrictions?  And the universe was so culturally homogenous – I’m not sure if it was because the book is written from Wade’s POV and he hangs out with other gunters and only thinks of the 80s, so all the book provides is planet after planet and person after person based on or obsessed by the 80s – and mostly video games and movies from the 80s. No art, very little music, and the usual suspects of fantasy books. Where were the other subcultures? The black-and-white planet where people dance like Fred Astaire?  And what about the outside world?  It seems less over the top than the world of Idiocracy but less realistically scary than Ship BreakerEveryone in it has just given up – no protesters, information about no neo-hippies forming hopeful communes.

I guess I expected something more complex than a movie pitch disguised as a novel.  So to answer my question, yes, the book achieved its intentions but did not satisfy my expectations.  But whose fault is that?

Dear Year, Thank You for Entertaining Me.

by Tessa

It was just around this time last year that Rebecca and I were seriously working on our as-yet-untitled blog, and it’s the perfect time to say that I’m thankful that it became real. So thank you, Rebecca, for having the idea and being the best blog-mate & book discussor, and for moving to my home state so we could hang out more. (I know, it was because of your sister, but leave me my delusions).  Thanks also for making my to-read list so much longer. Seriously, I feel comforted knowing that if I hit a reading slump I have Rebecca-recommended books to rely on.

And thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has read, visited &/or commented on our posts at Crunchings & Munchings. It’s exciting to be a part of the discussion.

I am also thankful for the many books I got to read this year, some of which I reviewed, and some of which I just enjoyed. And some of which I decided to not say anything about so as not to be rude.  They were all fun in one way or another. But I’m going to call out a few types in particular.

Are you looking for gift ideas for your loved ones?  Consider ALL OF THESE as possibilities:

1. Subtlety in Speculative Fiction & Movies

It’s possible that my definition of speculative is broader than other people’s. But I feel like a book that delivers a subtle promise of a world not quite aligned with ours, but in all other respects exactly like it still counts, and that’s why Burn for Burn worked for me, and why I’m not comfortable calling it paranormal just yet.  And why I lurrrved The Scorpio Races with its island out of Anne of Green Gables–but with carnivorous horses.  I am so glad that R. did it justice in her review. Alif the Unseen illuminated a world of Middle Eastern violence and a second world just overlapping it, to great effect.

Shadoweyes was a speculative graphic novel that hit it out of the park as far as future iterations of the world and young adult struggles were concerned, nodding to its inspirations but keeping it real and fresh as far as what society would really be like (violent, diverse, but still with shows about sparkly ponies to become obsessed with).  On the middle-grade end of the spectrum, the secret society fighting a diabolical mind control plot in The Mysterious Benedict Society was exactly what I needed to read and charmed the dickens out of me.

And let’s not forget Chronicle and Looper, two very worthwhile speculative movies from very recent times, that go with the human story first instead of being all spectacle. And the most fun I had writing a post this year was about an old favorite: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s not a subtle movie, but I did speculate as to why anyone would try to remake it and why it could never be as good..

2. Three Cheers for Realistic Fiction

The Freak Observer Blythe Woolston

I’ve always loved switching off between speculative worlds and immersive portraits of real lives that could never be mine, and this year didn’t disappoint. The Fault in Our Stars knocked it out of the park.  Past Perfect helped me through a hard time in my life. A book we’re reviewing next week, Starting From Here, was a lovely surprise that I read in a day. Oh, and The Freak Observer made me sad and hopeful in all the best ways.

Also, I read three books of realistic fiction that deserve their own category:

3. Funny Books!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan

It’s Kind of A Funny Story, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson all had moments where I actually loled. Not that other books that I read didn’t have humor in them (Past Perfect was also very funny), but these in particular had globs and globs of humor.  Maybe not globs. Icing layers?

(Can I also add that it kind of perturbs me that I find these 3 books so funny, since they all have boy protagonists? Is this some kind of unconscious gender bias on my part?)

4. Getting Back to the Classics

In my job I don’t always give myself time to go back to books that I remember and love, but Crunchings & Munchings gives me a legitimate excuse to do just that.  So I had a wonderful time re-exploring Girl, the Dark is Rising sequence, and Remember Me, as well as rounding up my favorite scary stories and boarding school books.

5. Great Series

  

I mentioned Burn for Burn and the Mysterious Benedict Society above, and they totally count, but I also read other parts of series or finished up series this year that were intriguing and satisfying in turn – ones that I couldn’t find a way to blog about.

Dustlands by Moira Young I read Rebel Heart last week. It’s the sequel to Blood Red Road, a story set in the far future in some unnamed desert where a tough, closed-off girl has to fight her way to her kidnapped brother. In Rebel Heart we learn more about the world, and the girl, Saba, learns more about how she can betray herself and be herself. It’s like if Monsters of Men and the Hunger Games had a baby and you could tell that the baby got the best traits of both of them but was its own wonderful thing.

Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore  I’m a total Graceling realm fangirl and Bitterblue came out this year. It was probably one of the most satisfying fantasy novels I’ve read this year, or in the past couple of years. The lady knows what she’s doing. I love them so much I can’t really talk about them.

Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau I finally finished this series!  I’m constantly recommending it to people, because it’s all-ages and covers a lot of ground as far as worldbuilding and subject matter go.  It starts underground with a kind of ramshackle utopia gone stale, then goes aboveground and has its characters become the outsiders learning to survive in a homesteading situation, then goes into the past with a little story about what happens right before the world irrevocably changes, in an oblique and tense way, and then goes back to the future for the last book, which is the most hopeful and the least believable. I’m glad I read all of them.

The Diviners by Libba Bray – I wasn’t sold on the romance in this book, and it seemed more coincidental than fated that all the characters who mattered happened to run into each other and become friends/acquaintances/lovers over the course of the book, but it reminded me of The Alienist by Caleb Carr and captured a certain feeling, of a new cultural movement that is sparkly and exciting but also comes with feeling a little lost, that I loved. And there are creepy moments galore.

Honorable Mention: Weird Graphic Novels.

I don’t mention many of the graphic novels I’ve been reading and loving on here much, because most of the time they are aimed squarely at the adult market, and I don’t disagree with that designation.  But I’ve read so many fun, weird-ass graphic novels this year. Filled with crust punk courier mice, psychadelic wordless lands, a president who accidentally becomes a penis, an opus about quietly philosophical birds (and the people who feed them donut crumbs), AND MORE. And I’m so happy that they exist.  So if you ever want any recommendations, send me an email.

And finally, I am thankful for my Turkey on this Thanksgiving.

xo.

Looper is satisfyingly speculative.

photo by robert.molinarus on flickr

Reasons Why You Should Go Watch Looper Right Now

by Tessa
1. It does that delicious thing where the future is like today, only worse, but not ostentatiously, Johnny Mnemonically different. And it goes through the day-to-day of the future without being overly explanatory.  For example, the drug of choice in the future is ingested via eyedrops. No voiceover explains what it is or how it works, or even what people call it. Because there’s no need to.  (There is a voiceover that comes and goes but I wasn’t too annoyed, which is saying something because I really hate voiceover and I think it’s lazy.)

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He’s got such a nice smile, and is a great actor. He talks just like Bruce Willis. (I kind of enjoyed how they sculpted his face to look like Willis, but in all the closeups you could see the pancake makeup on him).

photo by Gage Skidmore via flickr, hearts by me

3. It doesn’t do what you think it’s going to do. As far as the looping stuff. And it doesn’t rush to a violent climax just because that’s what movies do.  It doesn’t end with one long explosion boom boom crunch screech chase, but intercuts the violence with a thought out plot acted by characters with plausible motivations.

4. It answers the time travel question of: but doesn’t it change stuff? With: yes. And no. So it’s more about accepting the mutability of things than explaining hard and fast rules.  I’m sure there are plot holes, and I don’t care/

5. Paul Dano being a wobbly-voiced fuckup.

6. It feels entertaining but it has weight behind it. It’s long, but just long enough.

7. A four year old kid with the cutest chubby cheeks and some really great acting chops.

8. People’s motivations were not only plausible, but changed during the movie as their characters rethought themselves, like real people!

9. The script successfully incorporates the term “blunderbuss” into its worldbuilding.

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wardrobe.

Tessa’s post-Looper reading suggestions, in no particular order.

Parable of the Talent & Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Shadoweyes by Ross Campbell

Deadenders by Ed Brubaker & Warren Pleece

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer

Finder by Carla Speed McNeil

I’m guessing… Philip K. Dick, although I haven’t read any of his books (yet).

Moon Thrills and Planet Palpitations

photo by flickr user fdecomite

list by Tessa

Inspiration

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad (Little Brown 2012) is a decent but flawed book about NASA’s convoluted plan to reopen a secret moon base without a lot of questions about why it was secret by making into a contest for 3 teenagers to come along on the mission.  MYSTERIOUS THINGS plague the teenagers who win the contest and nothing good comes of reopening the base.  Most all of my criticisms are stated in nicer language here in this Book Smugglers review.

I won’t get into it apart from noting that it made me think of the Space Books that I Did Love. Then it sent me thinking about how Space Horror is such a nice genre of movie. And I compiled them into a short list for sharing.

Books

This Place Has No Atmosphere – Paula Danziger

This is a middle grade realistic fiction book that happens to be about moving to the moon. It contains no horror apart from the horror of being separated from your besties by millions of miles of space. I include it because I loved Paula Danziger in 5th grade, and when I read this I thought the concept of writing about living on the moon in a realistic context was revolutionary.

Feed – M. T. Anderson

Read this book already.  (You can read an excerpt at Amazon.)

Season of Passage – Christopher Pike

Finally, space horror!  I’ve established that I lurve Christopher Pike.  This is one of his adult offerings, about a mission to Mars in the far off time of 2004, and an intersecting story about a depressed author who is writing a story about aliens. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get the connections between the stories in here, but the dread of whatever was lurking on Mars was totally fulfilling in and of itself. I ❤ dread.

Alien – Alan Dean Foster
Part of my dad’s book collection – I worked my way through all the choice sci-fi fantasy stuff over a couple of summers (even IT although I was forbidden to, sorry Dad) and read this book before I watched the movie.  When I read it I assumed the movie was based on the book, but now I have a feeling that it was a novelization.  That’s what happens when you assume. It still scared me.

Movies

Moon (2009)
This might be what 172 Hours on the Moon wanted to be.  It was (masterfully) directed by David Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones.  Sam Rockwell, of TMNT fame, stars.

Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle! The fated Second Mission! Dying suns! Claustrophobic spaceships! People getting picked off one by one!  A greenhouse room! A great cast! So much to love.

Alien (1979)
I did end up watching Alien. Again and again and again. It’s neck and neck with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as my most watched movie.

I haven’t seen these, but they look like good candidates:
Pitch Black (2000)

Pandorum (2009)

Outliers set on Earth

In these books and movies, outsider(s) find the Earth to be an unwelcome, dangerous, and possibly supernaturally evil place.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
David Bowie (hm, second mention in this post…) gives his most unsettling performance, possibly because he does it so naturally.

Sphere – Michael Crichton
The ocean is basically space.

The Thing (1982)
In their 1982 review New York magazine said “this movie is more disgusting than frightening and most of it is just boring.” They’re so wrong! It’s like the episode of the X-Files with the ice worms but better and with Kurt Russell.

Outsourcin’
After writing this I would like to find more stuff like this to read. So I’m going to peruse these lists.  Maybe you’ll join me?
Goodreads: Space Horror
Ask Metafilter: good space horror

Too Old for Angels? – A Roundabout Discussion of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Welcome to our second Joint Review and Discussion! It will appear in three parts: today, tomorrow, and Wednesday.

Rebecca!

I’m going to solicit your opinion for a joint review! It will be slightly less fraught than our first, I think, because the issue at stake is not such a sensitive topic. But you never know.

Everyone is talking about Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and by “everyone” I mean some of the blogs that I read.  So I read it – and I loved it.

I’d heard of Laini Taylor before because her book of stories (Lips Touch: Three Times) was a National Book Award finalist. But the cover turned me off so I’d never read it, and at that point in my life I was reading Kelly Link’s short stories and felt that more well-written short stories that dealt with things like faeries and goblins and other strange things was too much. Of course, now I can go back and read Taylor’s previous work.

charles bridge prague

I want to go here and eat goulash in Karou's favorite cafe like the tourists she hates!

 Daughter of Smoke and Bone has some seriously intriguing elements going for it: Prague–I’d always wanted to go. Teeth– Creepy.  Monsters.I’m very into monsters, because I was a child in the 80s.

So I read it and loved most of it… except the whole angel part. Rebecca, what is it about angels?  I’ve also read Fallen and Torment by Lauren Kate and had the same reaction.  Am I too old for angels?  I’ve tried to think of them just as “persons who can fly” but they still don’t seem compelling to me.

As I’m not against wings, in theory, I’m thinking it has to do with two factors:

1. perceived nobility/idealisticness and

2. too much goodlookingness.  I’ll go point by point.

1. Angels are going to be associated with Christianity and therefore with notions of good and evil.  Now, there are some really kickass art historical interpretations of angels out there, and I totally dig Michael killing the devil whenever I see a representation of it (going back to the monsters thing, I guess). But when I think of “angel” I don’t think “moral ambiguity”. I just think “good or evil”. And there’s nothing there that makes me want to know more. I don’t want to read about someone with black vs. white thinking.

hawt angel

photo by flickr user quinet

That’s obviously a problem that I have to get over because Taylor, in Daughter of Smoke and Bone has set up her book to make her angel character (and her monster characters) have good and bad sides, and good and bad secrets.  So in this case I’ll say that it’s my initial angel association that I have to get over, that is tainting my reading.

2. When authors are trying to describe a humanoid being who is otherwordly they have a tendency to lean on such a person being extremely good-looking, and that just doesn’t help me picture anyone. The more hyperbole the author piles on about how perfectly unearthly beautiful their character is, the more I can’t picture the character, and the more disappointed I’ll be when they are inevitably cast in the movie version by someone who is a bland 20 year old and not Michael Wincott or Viggo Mortensen.

These are pretty general complaints and say more about me than the book that I’m supposed to be reviewing. Daughter of Smoke & Bone deserves a real review, but it is the book that made me start wondering about the whole thing.  I felt my enjoyment of it suffered because in the middle of the book, where Karou and Akiva spend time together, turned the reading experience from a baklava of layered worlds full of secrets into Just Another Paranomal Love Story, and I chose to blame it on the fact that Akiva is an angel. I know that the plot in the book and in the books going forward hinges on the importance of that relationship, so I can’t say that it was wasted time, but it fell flat for me, and the angel thing is the only thing I could put my finger on.

What’s been your experience reading about fictional angel love?  What did you think about Daughter of Smoke and Bone? How much do you want to be Karou and wear the mask on this cover?

intense stare!

Actually, I prefer this one:

Be sure to check back TOMORROW for Rebecca’s response to Tessa’s angel-angst, and WEDNESDAY for the conclusion of the discussion. Part 2 is here.

Did you read Daughter of Smoke and Bone? Do you want to? Tell us your thoughts in the comments! 

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