Book Reviews, books

Summer Is for Comics

Earlier this month, NPR released the results of their summer comics and graphic novel poll.

I could honestly die a happy woman because My Favorite Thing Is Monsters made the list, along with Through the Woods and Bitch Planet.  But it’s me, so obviously I have thoughts about the list and some favorites that didn’t make the cut.

In somewhat particular order, here is my addendum of 12 favorite graphic novels I love just as much, whether they receive NPR recognition or not:

  1. Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli)
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    The tragic story of a pretentious professor of architecture whose designs have never been built.  Somehow he still manages to be sympathetic and human if not especially likeable. With the added bonus of beautiful illustrations, ghosts of dead twins, and more parallels to Greek mythology than you can shake a stick at.
  2. Berlin (Jason Lutes)
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    Not least because I’ve been waiting for vol 3 for 9 years.  NINE.  (In his latest interview, Lutes claimed the last volume should be out next year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.)  Striking black-and-white illustrations with keen attention to period detail combine with memorable characters to create a compelling story.  Silvia the communist street brawler is my favorite (of course).
  3. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (Mary and Bryan Talbot)
    Dotter of Her Father's Eyes
    Scholar Mary Talbot and her cartoonist husband tell a story that works as both a biographical portrait of Joyce and personal memoir.  Talbot draws parallels to Joyce’s troubled relationship with his daughter and her own difficult relationship with her father, a renowned Joycean scholar.
  4. Ethel & Ernest (Raymond Briggs)
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    Though The Snowman is his most famous work, this biography of Briggs’s parents is my favorite of his works.  Ethel and Ernest seem to be the only unchanging fixtures as time passes in 20th century London.  This quiet portrait of everyday life for a middle class London family is fascinating and exactly the kind of history I love to read about.
  5. Giant Days (John Allison)
    Giant Days #19
    Funny and touching story about a group of friends navigating their way through university.  Be warned this gets way too real at times as the characters face disappointment, failure, and some steep learning curves on the way to adulthood…but at the end of the day, the characters’ relationships are there to help them bounce back.
  6. The Fade Out (Ed Brubaker)
    23093372This 1940s noir-style story of murder and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood glam makes this so far up my street it’s not even funny.  The story begins with the murder of an actress, but of course we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the shady goings-on underneath the glitz of show business.
  7. Super Spy, Mind MGMT, and pretty much anything else by Matt Kindt
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    His illustrations and inking are gorgeous, and things are never as they seem in his work. Frequently his stories revolve around tough ladies in espionage dealing with a gritty, unglamorous reality—my favorite kind.
  8. Widdershins (Kate Ashwin)
    18710780
    Magic in a Regency England setting with a series of sarcastic badass ladies and appropriately incompetent men!  This webcomic is such a delight to read and is all free online.
  9. The Green River Killer (Jonathan Case)
    Green River Killer
    I was reluctant to pick this up because I find a lot of true crime stories sleazy and just badly written. Case avoids sensationalizing the story here (as much as possible), taking time to examine the investigation and its toll on the police force.  I would add The New Deal and anything else by Case as well—I have yet to read a book of his I haven’t enjoyed.
  10. Shutter (Joe Keatinge)
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    This is mostly here because I adore the talking cat alarm clock that keeps our protagonist company and I really need one of my own.  Also noteworthy are the LGBTQ characters and their story lines in this fast-paced comic whose many twists and turns will keep you guessing.
  11. Princeless:  Raven the Pirate Princess (Jeremy Whitley)
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    Though I haven’t kept up with this series, volume 1 is hilarious and makes a deliberate effort to represent women of color, multiple sexual orientations, and various body types.  The commentary here is smart and so relevant…plus who would turn down a story about an all-female pirate crew?
  12. Alabaster: Wolves (Caitlin Kiernan)
    16136945
    An albino teen is guided by angels to destroy vampires, demons, and all sorts of sinister creatures in the swamps of an eerily empty South Carolina.  Things get interesting right away as our protagonist begins to doubt her guardian angel and is drawn to a girl who may be something other than she appears.  Vol 1 is a compelling mixture of action and eerie silences in a decidedly Southern Gothic tradition.

Needless to say, my TBR list has now grown to an unmanageable length thanks to all of the titles include on NPR’s list (including Blacksad, a noir about a black cat PI?!?!?).  What are you reading this summer?

Cover photo by Laetitia Buscaylet on Unsplash
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Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Brighton Rock

I almost bought a copy of this novel in Brighton, which would have been perfect, but I hated the cover.  Apparently it’s a thing to have cartoony characters on the cover of this novel, which makes no sense because, in true Graham Greene fashion, the closest it comes to humor is bitterness.

There are some spoilers in this review…but this novel is nearly 80 years old and has been made into 2 different movies.  At a certain point you might want to just accept you’re never going to read it.

Brighton Rock

Graham Greene

Total pages:  247

Important note:  this is connected to another Graham Greene novel, A Gun for Sale.  However, I maintain it’s really not necessary to read the other one before this.  But who knows, I could be missing information that would bring new meaning to my reading of Brighton Rock.

Other note:  Brighton rock does not refer to a geological formation (as I believed for a really long time), but a candy stick you can buy in every.  Single.  Shop in Brighton.  The stick reads “Brighton rock” on both ends and all the way through.

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Exhibit A

Our story follows the leader of a 1930s Brighton gang in the aftermath of a murder.  Pinkie Brown is a cold, ruthless 18-year-old psychopath whose grey eyes give “an effect of heartlessness like an old man’s in which human feeling has died.”  (God damn, Graham Greene.)  Following the murder of his gang leader, Pinkie is in charge of those loyal enough to remain, and his first order of business is vengeance.

Pinkie’s target is Fred Hale, a man who betrayed the gang leader in some way, presumably (I can’t claim I understand how gangs work at all).  Just before Fred’s murder (spoiler, but I don’t think Fred even makes it to page 30), he encounters the easy-going Ida, whose bosom is described in virtually every chapter.  When Fred disappears, Ida is extremely suspicious and refuses to rest until she discovers the truth about what’s happened.

As Ida pursues Pinkie, Pinkie pursues Rose, a teenager who unknowingly holds a key piece of evidence that could implicate Pinkie in murder.  Even though the idea of romance is utterly repellent to Pinkie and he sees the traditional path of marriage and children as a slow death, he convinces Rose he loves her in order to dissuade her from talking to anyone about what she knows.  Is he willing to sacrifice his “bitter virginity” (whatever the fuck that means), his freedom, and even his eternal soul in order to keep Rose quiet?

Like basically every other Graham Greene novel ever written, this one is highly critical of the Catholic Church.  Pinkie and Rose are both Catholic, in contrast with Ida, who isn’t religious but spiritual and has a few weird superstitions about ghosts and Ouija boards.  As a child, Pinkie wanted to be a priest, and Greene draws parallels between his contempt for the rest of humanity, indifference to suffering, and disdain of sex and romantic love with the Catholic Church.  Greene also prods quite a bit at the two Catholic characters’ willingness to sin despite the promise of eternal damnation, going so far as to say “a Catholic is more capable of evil than anyone” (246).  (Ha ha, since this isn’t an English paper, I can end this paragraph with a quote and refuse to offer any explanation whatsoever!)

For some reason I didn’t get into his the first time around I tried it, but I LOVED it this time.  It’s outrageously cynical, and the only novel I can think of in which a candy tourists buy in Brighton is used as a metaphor for the inescapability of human nature.

Fair warning that you’ll have to deal with a reasonable amount of dated ‘30s slang that feels made up, esp. re:  women.  (Both “buer” and “polony” get thrown around A LOT and I still don’t fully understand what either means.  I just kept thinking of Polonius from Hamlet and also Thelonious Monk every time someone used the word “polony.”)

The end also gets a bit melodramatic, and it’s hard not to imagine physically throwing Rose.  She’s an idiot.  Most frustrating is that Ida, the only likeable character, gets quite a lot of focus at the beginning of the novel, but then Pinkie receives more and more attention.  I was so excited when I thought (however briefly) this was actually a female-centric Greene novel.

My favorite quote is also a good test of whether you might enjoy this one or find it too dark and cynical:  “That was what happened to a man in the end: the stuffy room, the wakeful children, the Saturday night movements from the other bed. Was there no escape––anywhere––for anyone? It was worth murdering a world” (92).  Chills, you guys.

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The Spectator’s review on the back of the book says of Greene, “Entertaining he may always be; comforting, never,” which I think is the most accurate description of his novels I’ve ever read.  (And at the same time seems a bit like backhanded praise and also possibly written by Yoda?)  I can’t think of another writer quite like Greene; perhaps Cormac McCarthy in terms of bleakness?  John Le Carré in terms of suspense and a darker take on spying (as in The Quiet American)?  William Golding for shared views on human nature?  He’s not quite like any other writer I can think of, which is why I love him so much.

Btw, there’s apparently a 1947 film version that scandalized the nation for being too violent, which I cannot WAIT to see.

Book Reviews, books, Uncategorized

Book Review: Queen of the Tearling/Invasion of the Tearling

I’m combining my review for the first 2 books in Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling series mostly because I can’t distinguish what happened in each one anymore (spoilers for both follow).

Queen of the Tearling (434 pages)

Basic plot follows Kelsea Raleigh, who has just turned 19, which obv means she is old enough to be in charge of a country.  She will be Queen of (you guessed it) the Tearling, one of several kingdoms founded after the Crossing.  Btw, the Crossing (don’t worry—you’ll hear about it A LOT) was William Tear’s big plan to form a utopian society after the present world order collapsed.  Not too much of a stretch, I suppose.

Major complications  to the coronation = everyone wants to kill Kelsea.  List of enemies includes:  her uncle, who wants the throne for himself; the Fetch, a thief/anarchist who happens to be incredibly good-looking; and the seemingly immortal Red Queen, ruler of neighboring Mortmesne.

Luckily, Kelsea has an extremely loyal and competent Queen’s Guard, led by Lazarus, aka the Mace.  What is incredibly irritating is that Lazarus is set up as a sort of father figure to Kelsea even though he’s really the only character I want her to hook up with.  Her “real” love interest is the Fetch, who is annoyingly self-righteous and quite possibly a sociopath.

Kelsea is living with her mother’s legacy, which is pretty awful.  After losing a war with Mortmesne, Kelsea’s mother saved the Tearling by regularly sending a shipment of slaves (made up of citizens of the Tearling) to the Red Queen.  Kelsea honorably does away with this policy, breaking all hell loose.

I read the first book really quickly—characters were interesting, plot was fast-paced, Red Queen was suitably terrifying, and there were several mysteries that kept me guessing.  …Which leads me to book 2…

Invasion of the Tearling (514 pages)

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Kelsea starts becoming such a badass in book 1, which is part of what makes the second book so frustrating.  Not only does it become increasingly clear she is going to make a horrible bargain with the devil (like I think he honestly is a demon), but she also becomes ridiculously obsessed with the Fetch and decides to hook up with someone she isn’t particularly into because he rejects her.  FOR LIKE THE 30TH TIME.  Someone get this girl a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You.  The Fetch is even more of a dickbag in book 2, and not in an “I know it’s wrong, but I like it anyway” type of situation.

Additionally, the plot alternates between Kelsea’s storyline and the introduction of a previously unmentioned pre-Crossing character, Lily.  It’s hard not to feel bad for Lily, who is constantly victimized by a dystopian, Handmaid’s Tale­-type society where women have almost no rights.  However, it’s also really hard to actually like Lily, who remains completely oblivious to the suffering of those around her for a fucking long time.

This book also reminds you that the, ahem, hero who led everyone over in the Crossing thought it was a good strategy to put EVERY doctor and EVERY piece of medical equipment on one fucking ship…that SANK.  Brilliant plan, dude.

Also there’s the big reveal of a time travel thing that doesn’t make a ton of sense.

The Rating: 3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I did at least finish both books, and I will more than likely pick up the last one because I really want to know what happens (erm, mostly to the Mace).

However, I couldn’t help feeling the specifics of the Crossing hadn’t been hammered out before the series was written, making for a rather disjointed story in book 2 with some frankly desperate plot twists.

Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1

I’m the worst at keeping up with book reviews, but look at me now.  Writing a review…like a month after I read this one.  Which doesn’t reflect my feelings toward this comic/graphic novel/I can never decide which term to use, Bitch Planet, Vol 1:  Extraordinary Machine by Kelley Sue DeConnick.

The premise is the stuff dreams are made of:  in the near future, non-compliant women are sent to a prison planet informally known as Bitch Planet.  You know you’re going to adore all of these characters, don’t you?  You also know your love is doomed.

In the beginning, we follow Marian, a married woman who insists this is all a mistake and her husband will be doing everything in his power to have her released.  There are some great point/counterpoint panels that support everything Marian says…until there’s a sudden dark turn.  Remember this series is called Bitch Planet, ok?

After our dramatic twist, it turns out Kamau is really our protagonist.  In addition to being a gifted fighter, Kamau has some sort of mysterious dark past b/c of course she does.  Her life on Bitch Planet is about to get even more unpleasant since she is framed for murder by the prison guards.  All of this happens because the Bitch Planet execs want Kamau to form a team that will fight to the death against a team formed by the prison.  It’s apparently a Bitch Planet tradition that makes them a lot of money.

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Only the biggest badass ever.

So we’ve got a rigged futuristic football game to the death, which Kamau is pretty reluctant to participate in.  However, several of the other inmates convince her to form a team, which includes my faves Meiko and Penny.

Penny had a particularly difficult childhood—her mother was considered dangerous, and Penny was raised by her grandmother until age 8.  After her grandmother was arrested, Penny became a ward of the state.  In her adult life, Penny remains fiercely loyal to her family and becomes violent when provoked.  Not a reflection of idealized beauty, Penny nevertheless remains full of strength and self-confidence, never letting others define her.  She’s definitely my hero.

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Fucking hero.

It’s not a great idea to get too attached to any of the characters, though, as even the practice game of prisoners vs. guards ends in tragedy for our team.

You know even more shit is going down in volume 2 (which I’ve already pre-ordered).

Rating:  4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed it, but there were times when I wanted to skip ahead to the fake newspaper at the end of each issue called Hey Kids, Patriarchy!  Not because there’s anything wrong with the main story plot but because the biting satire is at its strongest in these issues.

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I think it’s clear what I mean.  Highly disappointing that you can’t actually buy any of the advertised products.
books

Summer ’16 Book List

Since I’ll be hiding from the sun all summer anyway, and inspired by my incredibly cool, ambitious blog wife Christa, I’m posting my summer reading list.  Most of these are Humble Bundle impulse buys (once you start visiting Humble Bundle, it’s a downward spiral), book sale purchases that have been sitting too long accumulating dust, and SearchOhio/OhioLINK requests that I can’t (and won’t) stop placing.

I’m cheating a little (a lot) since (a) I’ve already started chipping away at the books on this list, and (b) 8 of these titles are graphic novels.  My more significant goal is to finish reading a book a week during the summer AND actually write a damn book review for each of the books I’ll be reading.

Without further ado, here’s my book list for the summer (quite a lot of fantasy on it…something has to distract me from Democalypse 2016, no?):

  1. Queen of the Tearling (Erika Johansen)
  2. Invasion of the Tearling (Erika Johansen)
  3. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin)
  4. The Broken Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin)
  5. The Kingdom of Gods (N.K. Jemisin)
  6. Brighton Rock (Graham Greene)
  7. Crow Road (Iain Banks)
  8. The Mirror Thief (Martin Seay)
  9. The Lock Artist (Steve Hamilton)
  10. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Sunil Yapa)
  11. The Passage (Justin Cronin)
  12. Barren Cove (Ariel S. Winter)
  13. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (Sydney Padua)
  14. Two Brothers (Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon)
  15. Soldier’s Heart (Carol Tyler)
  16. Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine (Kelley Sue DeConnick)
  17. Monstress (Marjorie Liu)
  18. The Infinite Loop (Pierrick Colinet and Elsa Charretier)
  19. Julio’s Day (Gilbert Hernandez)
  20. Heart of Thomas (Moto Hagio)

Btw, you can see Christa’s list here and check out book reviews on her blog!

Happy reading!

P.S.  Image via Unsplash.

Blogging University, Writing

Writing 101: Not So Great at This Inspirational Quote Thing

Let’s talk books a little. I am slightly ashamed that, based on the frequency of book discussions on this blog, I read rarely to never. As a librarian, I do read way less than I feel I should. Like now. I could be reading right now, but I’m probably going to write this blog post, get my shit together for tomorrow, and sleep. If you want to give me a break, I’m recovering from grad school (that’s a shameful lie…my program ended almost a year and a half ago [YIKES]).

I just started reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. Fine, it was 2 weeks ago and I’ve only read 50 pages. I decided to pick up the novel after reading her short story “Woven,” which is so beautiful and sad. The quote I want to talk about in this post is from that story.

“Now, when someone hurts me, I remember that they are only living the terms of their own fictions—sometimes desperately—so their selves don’t unravel.”  —Lidia Yuknavitch, “Woven”

I think that’s a sucker punch to the gut kind of quote. Can you appreciate why it’s taking me so long to get through her novel?

Let’s keep it honest: I’m not a very forgiving person. People suck, don’t they? But I think this line of Yuknavitch’s is brave and painful and empathetic. It hurts to feel like you’re unravelling and that you can’t do anything to stop it. When there’s nothing else you can do, it becomes so important to make sure you aren’t vulnerable to other people realizing what a shit show you are and how easily they could knock you over if they wanted to. That’s when you hurt other people so they don’t hurt you first.

Like the narrator, I try to remember other people aren’t as in control as they might like to think when people get pissed at me because I don’t know what they mean or some asshole cuts me off or my neighbor acts like a dick (I’m never letting that go).

I feel I could’ve gone more inspiring with this post. Enjoy this pretty picture of the sky at night from Unsplash?

Day 7 Image

Good News Everyone

Feeling Good, or: Looking to the Future

This is possibly the first ever post that is solely about me and what’s going on in my life. I KNOW. ON MY OWN BLOG. Because I feel good (cue James Brown) and want you to know I haven’t utterly lost it and set my neighbor on fire. I think it’s important to feel what you feel, but I also don’t want to dwell on things forever. Plus I don’t want this to become Jillian’s Teen Angst Blog: Part Two (I apologize, internet, for Part One). I hope you realize that any foolish passion on my part is entirely over. I’m looking to the future. (Yes, that was a North & South reference, and I do not apologize. If I could, I would slowly put on a top hat and march away dramatically.)

Without any further nonsense, things I’m looking forward to in the near future:

  1. Most immediately, finishing off a loaf of banana bread I made last week. Apparently banana bread has only been a thing since the 1930s. Just 100 years ago it would have been possible for me to live in a banana bread-less world. Thank you to whatever coincidence of time, space, and invention prevented this from happening.
  2. I have three days off this week, and a mega stack of books and movies. Finally going to watch The Babadook.
    It's wrong to imply that I have a problem because that's clearly false.
    It’s wrong to imply that I have a problem because that’s clearly false.

    Also looking forward to reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, my impulse new book purchase. Honestly, I haven’t bought a new book in a really long time…I’m much too cheap to spend more than $1 or $2 on used books. It made me feel powerful and cool knowing I will read this book way before anyone can check it out from the library. And if I really wanted to, I could tear pages out of this book and scribble all over it and pour tea on it. It’s my right as a consumer. God, you guys. I feel I’m about to begin a retail therapy phase.

    That cover, though.
    That cover, though.
  3. Once they have aired their current seasons, I will be binge-watching Continuum and Masters of Sex. Seriously, if you watch either of these shows, let me know and I will talk (type?) your ear off. I don’t think any of my co-workers watch either show, and Masters of Sex is just really hard to casually mention in conversation. “So I was watching Masters of Sex the other day…Do you ever watch Masters of Sex? I find it really interesting to watch.” I wish Masters of Sex had a name that made me feel less like a complete perv. Stupid William Masters for having a name with so much potential for filthy puns.
  4. I have decided: vacation in Sept/Oct. I NEED IT.
  5. The second Diviners book, Lair of Dreams, will finally be published towards the end of the month. Libba Bray’s trilogy(?) follows Evie, a young woman with supernatural abilities, living in 1920s New York. Evie tries to solve a series of occultish murders with the help of her powers and some absolutely fantastic secondary characters. There’s also a really gross scene in a butcher shop in the first one. No one is as creepy as Libba Bray. NO ONE. I’ve been waiting three years for this one, and I’m so bad at waiting.
  6. I finally went bra shopping after putting it off for years. YEARS. I’m sure this is more than the world needs to know about me, but I HATE HATE HATE bra shopping, so I’ve been hoping for the best even as my bras are being killed off in And Then There Were None-style mayhem (spoiler: it was me. I killed them). Be proud: I braved Kohl’s, a store so vast and forbidding that you could get lost and no one would find you for days.
  7. I’ve started version 2.0 of Jillian’s Terrible, Soul-Crushing Job Search. I know that doesn’t really sound like the most fabulous thing to do, but I think it’s time. I like my jobs at the moment, but I’m extremely underemployed. Especially as I’ve been seeing some postings that actually sound interesting and might work out (maybe). I’m easing myself back into applying. Slowly, slowly.
  8. I’m really enjoying my new hobby of painting swear words on cheap ceramics.

    Much cheaper than therapy.
    Much cheaper than therapy.
  9. Also of note in a few short days: my mom bringing me a suitcase full of Tunnocks and tea. This is a thing that is happening, right, Mom? RIGHT???
  10. Rapidly approaching this blog’s first birthday! I’m trying to come up with something special to do in honor of it. I started blogging to keep myself busy, and it’s become such a meaningful, important part of my life where I’ve met some fantastic people. Looking at you especially, Christa and Hayley, but I hope all of you, readers, know how much I appreciate you. Yes, even you, random internet creep. You’re good for my stats.

Obviously I’m upset about my neighbor being a condescending asshole, but I’m tired of giving fuckheads undue influence over the way I think and feel. It sucks that I’m majorly underemployed and drowning in student loans, but that doesn’t mean I have to be miserable all of the time. Though it’s antithetical to everything about my nature, I’m attempting to go with the flow. My life isn’t what I want it to be, but there’s really a very limited value in obsessing over the way I think things should be, n’est-ce pas?

Since you have been so patiently bearing with me, what are you looking forward to, reader(s)?

Or feel free to bitch about things. Never let it be said that my blog isn’t somewhere people can go to bitch about their lives.