Thursday, October 6, 2016

Angel Catbird (Graphic Novel)

I was delighted when I found out that the award winning – how can any one human being be so talented – Margaret Atwood decided to write a graphic novel. Angel Catbird is a lot of fun and has an engaging plot. Atwood also includes a few footnote-like short lessons on responsible cat ownership. The last part of this first volume gives the reader a glimpse into Attwood’s creative process as she collaborated with Johnnie Christmas and Tamara Bonvillain.  I am not a graphic novel aficionado, but I do occasionally enjoy seeing how different people explore the medium. For me, the novel was worth straying off the path of more traditionally formatted novels.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rare Bird of Fashion (Non-fiction)

I never even made it out the door of the Library with Rare Bird of Fashion: the Irreverent Iris Apfel. After I checked it out, I went straight for a comfy chair by the windows. I read the account of Iris’s journey to become a famous stylist and perused the photographs from her fashion exhibit in one very satisfying sitting. The experience was like going to see some charismatic motivational speaker. “Yes, yes, yes. Yes, I can.” Of course, the obvious question is “what is it that I can?” Hmm. As I was walking home, sans book that I had tidily put in the book drop, I thought of Brian Glazier and his book, A Curious Mind. Both books are inspiring in the same way. I am sure some language has an expression for it: to be one’s own person, to live with tenacity, to provide luck and serendipity with a big target. It isn’t about their specific crafts but rather about how they are in the world and with themselves.

What a perfect way to spend part of an afternoon!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Invisible Library (Steampunk Novel)

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman has the potential to be my next new guilty pleasure series. Nothing deep to ponder and so much fun. The first book, released last month, is appropriately called The Invisible Library.

What is there not to love? A Librarian committed to fulfilling her duty by searching worlds for rare books, her mysterious assistant, a Sherlockian-like detective, an infamous villain, a vindictive rival, a centuries old organization, lots and lot of books, fae committed to creating chaos, werewolves, a cyborg alligator attack, an airship attack, a secret language, and lots and lots of magic.

A side note: I’ve seen people bring up Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, which I adored, when discussing The Invisible Library. Without going into needless comparisons, let’s just say the case could be made that they have some literary DNA in common, like distant cousins. Nothing to get the ole analytical brain all riled up about.

The next book, The Masked City, is scheduled to be released in September. Evidently pumpkin lattes are not the only guilty pleasures to look forward to this fall.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Honeysuckle & Pain (Augmented Novel)

The questions tantalize me. What is Xanther? Is she turning into something and, if so, what is that something? What are the orbs? Why is the “kitten” so attracted to Mefisto? How do the various storylines fit together? Why are the twins having nightmares? What is the Forest? And, what is it with all those cats? The Familiar: Honeysuckle & Pain creates more questions than answers.

The Familiar: Honeysuckle & Pain is the third novel in The Familiar series by Mark Z. Danielewki. ( The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May and The Familiar, Into the Forest) Despite the 800+ page length, it is more like an individual chapter of The Familiar than like a standalone novel. As with the earlier books, punctuation and graphics take me to greater depths of feeling than the vast majority of other novels that I have read. The storytelling, including the choice of details, is beautifully crafted. Unlike the previous books, the majority of the story is focused on Xanther, the awkward, amazing little girl in the story.

The Familiar Series, which is probably more a huge novel than a series, is demanding for me as a reader, requiring me to remember the storyline that came before. But, I do so love it. A bit of thoughtful philosophy. A meaningful quotable. A perfect little sub-plot. An unexpectedly deep feeling. A tiny plot twist. I let out a tiny gasp, “this is so, so cool.” The next installation of the story comes out this winter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Steampunk Novel)

A cat protagonist. Quirky, loveable human characters. Scary creatures. Airships. Crystal powered technology. Intrigue. Friendship. Young people coming into their power. Lots of fast-paced action scenes.

As I was reading The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, I could easily imagine myself sitting comfortably in a theater watching it. Finishing the book was like leaving the theater, still partially caught up with the characters and the action for a time. How could the 600+ pages go by so fast? I was thoroughly entertained. What a great way to begin a new series by a best-selling author.

Is The Aeronaut’s Windlass Hugo worthy? Maybe. Probably. But, when I compare it to The Fifth Season, Seveneves, and Uprooted, [[I still need to read Ancillary Mercy]] it looks a little, well, “good,” not spectacular, not deep, not provocative, not haunting. It doesn’t creep into my consciousness during my ordinary life. I'm still really glad that I read the novel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Seveneves (Science Fiction Novel)

Amazing. Absolutely amazing and well-written. While Uprooted won my heart, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson gets my vote for the best written of the four Hugo Award nominees that I’ve read so far. The story felt real. [[In a teeny, tiny nutshell, Seveneves is about the sudden end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a new world.]] The other day I had to catch myself when I remembered something about the International Space Station: “Oh, that happened in Seveneves not in real life.” The amount of scientific and technological detail is almost stagger. The social, psychological, and philosophical aspects of the story make it astonishingly multi-dimensional. Stephenson's ability to create one smooth plot arch, despite the beginning and ending of the book being five thousand years apart, is sheer writing mastery. I also appreciated that the novel is written in a way that leaves room for a possible sequel.

Not declaring Seveneves my obvious choice for the Hugo Award has little to do with the merits of the novel itself. My only real criticism of the novel is that it is a bit of a stretch believing that the society would continue to focus on the “seven Eves” five thousand years after they lived. Though, I admit, we still hold some religious figures in prominence thousands of years after they have lived. In addition, two things about the novel irritated me. Politics, damned politics. I’ve had enough dealing with the presidential election. So, when I read the section where politics almost succeed in bringing about the annihilation of the human race, I felt deflated. I thought “as a species we are so screwed.” Second, the amount of technical detail is a bit overwhelming. Seveneves is over 800 pages long. Towards the end I felt like screaming, “Enough of the technological detail. Let’s get on with the story.”

All and all, Seveneves is an amazing book. I am curious to see what the Hugo voters decide.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Uprooted (Fantasy Novel)

Is “plucky-heroine-comes-of-age” a genre? If it is, the Hugo Award worthy Uprooted by Naomi Novik would be a stellar example of it. This novel is my favorite of the four Hugo award nominees I’ve read so far. It speaks of the power of friendship, of being an unlikely hero, and of the power of magic that comes from the heart rather than from an exact formula. The novel has the feel of a folk story, but with a modern viewpoint. As should happen with a good folk story, the lessons have snuck into my everyday life. Uprooted is still tugging at my heart a month after I have finished reading it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Fifth Season

Intrigued. Curious. Disturbed. After last year’s Hugo Award controversy, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read this year’s nominees. After reading The Fifth Season, the first book in a new trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, I'm so glad that I didn't give in to my disillusionment.

The world building alone made it worth reading. The ideas are fresh. Yes, yes we are told that this is a story about the end of the world. But, why is the world ending? What has caused “Father Earth’s surface [to be] cracked like an eggshell?” Fifth Seasons are “ages in which the earth has broken somewhere and spewed ash or deadly gas into the sky, resulting in a lightless winter that lasted years or decades instead of months.” People band together in “comms” to try to survive the normal upheavals and possible fifth seasons. The world is populated by ordinary humans, but Jemisin also introduces Orogenes, Guardians, and Stone Eaters. The Orogenes, who are the main characters in the novel’s various plots, have the ability to control the movement of the earth. They are despised and feared, considered “not human,” and kept under control of the Guardians. But, who really are these characters? Jemisin slowly unwraps the world.

Jemisin also slowly reveals the novel’s plots.  First, a woman discovers that her husband has murdered their son. As she searches for her husband and daughter, she is also confronted with the prospect of a probable fifth season. Second, a little girl is rejected by her parents and given to a Guardian to take to the Fulcrum, a place where Orogenes are trained and controlled. Lastly, two Orogenes, one fairly competent and the other extremely masterful, are sent to clear coral from a harbor, on what appears to be a fairly mundane mission. How do the three major plotlines fit together?

Because I was so driven by curiosity while I was reading The Fifth Season, I did not spend a lot of time dwelling on the parts that were disturbing. The abuse of the Orogenes is inhumane. Their raw power is terrifying.

By the end of The Fifth Season, some of my initial questions were answered, but I picked up more along the way. Needless to say, I am going to read the next novel in the series. I don’t need anyone or any award to convince me of the value of this novel.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Man Called Ove (Novel)

Friendship. Love. Community. Neighbors. Soulmates. Family. Reconciliation. Cars. Heroes. Cats. Loss. Purpose. Principles. Grief. Men in White Shirts.

While reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a number of times my body was confused, trying to laugh and cry at the same time. My continuing reading mission is to find books with “good heart. A Man Called Ove has “great” heart, which allowed me many moments of emotional catharsis. I have loved and lost. I too long to have someone who won’t give up on me, who would love me despite my flaws.

Most of us know someone like Ove. Someone we will go out of our way to avoid, who constantly criticizes and seems to find nothing right with the world. In the beginning of the story, Ove feels incapable of living without his beloved wife. He wants only to be reunited with her. But, the world keeps on interfering with his plans. The first distraction in the novel comes in the form of Ove’s new neighbors backing their trailer into his mailbox. The wife, Parvaneh, is pregnant, has two daughters, and has a husband who is DIY challenged. The novel describes the blossoming of Ove’s relationship with the family as well as the other human and feline intrusions into Ove’s life. The novel also tells Ove’s backstory. Backman helps us understand how Ove became “Ove.” We also learn about the unlikely love between Ove and his wife, Sonja. While Ove is the main character of the novel, Parvaneh is the hero. Her fierce refusal to give up on Ove, despite his unpleasantness, is what drives the novel to its heartfelt climax.

After I finished reading A Man Called Ove, I pondered it for a few days. I was reminded of my uncles, who were often brusque but always willing to help. I thought about friendships that had deteriorated. I thought of the cantankerous people in my life, some who I understand and some who I don’t. This would be such a good novel for getting people to talk about some of the heartfelt experiences in their own lives. We so seldom have a place to talk about the things that really matter in our lives.

Monday, January 18, 2016

T!m G!nger (Graphic Novel)

Why does Tim live alone in a trailer in the desert? Why does he have to wear an eye patch? What is his tragic backstory? What does his future hold? In the graphic novel T!m G!nger, Julian Hanshaw masterfully interweaves words and graphics to tell the heartfelt story of Tim Ginger. Hanshaw explores such grown-up themes as being childless by choice, dealing with the loss of a soul-mate, revealing a well-kept secret, and being true to oneself while still being open to love.

Those of us who read comics decades ago have grown up and so has the graphic novel, at least some of them have. Here, a graphic novel by Richard McGuire, was my favorite book that I read in 2015. T!m G!nger continues my excitement for the medium. I appreciated the good storytelling. I also experienced feelings that I am not sure that I would have had by just reading words. While I will always love more or less traditional novels, graphic novels have made my world a bit bigger.