Monday, April 28, 2014

I was Spartan to my father's Athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his Nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete.

It's taken me awhile to try a graphic novel. Or rather, it's taken me awhile to try another graphic novel. I read The Watchmen after the movie came out. Or maybe right before. I don't remember because this happened before I started this blog and thus I don't have a record for when this happened. Anyway, I haven't read a graphic novel since then. At least not until reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel recently. Which makes me want to try to read other graphic novels, so good stuff.

If you're like me, you were probably already familiar with the Bechdel test. If not, here's the basics. For a movie (or really any form of fiction) to pass the Bechdel test it must meet 3 requirements: 1) It has to have at least 2 women in it. 2) They have to talk to one another. 3) About something other than men. The test doesn't answer if a movie good or not. It doesn't answer if a movie is feminist or not. It's just a jumping off point to see how women are represented. It's amazing how many movies fail this test since it's really simple.

But this isn't about her test. This is about her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I had been sort of looking for it during my birthday trip to The Strand. By "sort of looking" I mean I tried to find it but when I initially failed I didn't want to bother asking information. BUT THEN there was a copy sitting near the register so clearly it's a sign and I snagged it along with a copy of Lexicon.

Fun Home is her memoir but it really feels like the story of her father as much as of herself. Her family owned a funeral home (hence Fun Home and I realize I keep calling it Fun House because even though there's this really great pun there I keep missing it because I'm special like that) that used to belong to her paternal grandfather. Her father does not seem like the most fun guy to live with.
He was more concerned with the house and interior decorating than he was with spending time with his family. He had a temper, although this isn't the story of a tyrant running the house. Bechdel loved her father and was close to him and she got older and the two could bond over literature.

Years later, when Alison was in college, her father died. The official report was it was an accident. He was hit by a truck while crossing a busy street. The belief within the family is that it was a suicide.

The story skips forward and back, from her childhood to her time in college, to her parents when they were first married, and back again. The story is funny and sad, poignant and happy. Her relationship with her father is complex, as I suppose all relationships are when honestly considered. It's not just that the story works, but that this works as a graphic novel. At no point did I wish I was reading a traditional narrative instead. The artwork goes with the story. The story goes with the artwork. It all works together.

You should read this. If you like graphic novels, you should read this. If you don't like graphic novels, you should give this a chance. It makes me want to try other graphic novels. If you like memoirs, you should read this. It's a smart book with references to Proust and Joyce and other super-smart writers. So another reason to give it a try.

Side note, where do you typically find graphic novels in bookstores? Like I said, I found Fun Home because it happened to be near the register. But where do you typically find them if they're not just dropped into your lap via fate?

Title quote from page 15

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner Books, 2006.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everyone is suspect. Everyone is suspect.

Remember last week when I had that post about how my week at work was finally slowing down? Apparently work saw my post and then laughed and laughed at me. And then several emergency projects came up because OF COURSE THEY DID. But I'm not letting this get in the way of these reviews that I'm way behind on. If this review makes no sense, sorry about that. I'm using most of my brain power at that work place, and then recharging during off hours.

It's been awhile since I read any Dennis Lehane so I decided I needed to change that. Also I'm pretty sure during the Thanksgiving-Christmas Kindle sale time I found a copy of Sacred on sale, so yeah, that helped too.

Sacred is the third book in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. The other books being A Drink Before the War (1), Darkness Take My Hand (2), Gone Baby Gone (4), Prayers for Rain (5), and Moonlight Mile (6). You'll notice I have a link for Gone, Baby, Gone because I did not realize it was part of a series, I just knew that movie and thus read this out of order. Whoops.

Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are still private detectives in Boston when they are kidnapped/hired for a job.* Super-rich-but-also-dying guy's daughter has gone missing. Things haven't been going well for this family. First Trevor Stone (rich guy) and his wife were carjacked and his wife killed when things went south. While in the hospital to treat his injuries doctors discover he has an inoperable tumor and don't give him long to live. Then his daughter's boyfriend suddenly dies. And now the daughter, Desiree, is gone. Not only is she gone but Patrick's mentor, Jay Becker, originally hired for the case has also gone missing. Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuun.

There are lots of twists including a weird cult that technically isn't Scientology cos no one says it is but yeah, it's Scientology and a trip to Florida and even some Bubba. Which, if you've read the other Kenzie/Gennaro books (and I encourage you to do so) you'll know that even a brief Bubba visit is a fun one. That psychopath that you know is doing horrible horrible things but since he's on your side, you're pretty happy he's around. I don't want to say much more about the plot since it is all about twists and turns and who do you trust? Who's telling the truth and what are the motives and how did Desiree seemingly fall of the face of the Earth?

This is everything you'd expect from a Lehane novel. It's dark and it's violent and it's suspenseful and it's entertaining. It's not my favorite Lehane book. That's not to say this is bad at all. It's just that the others are so good. Maybe this one didn't quite work because the setting changed from the familiar gritty Boston streets to spend time in Florida and Lehane writes Boston so well I'd rather see him play up there. Or maybe that's just because I know Boston, and I like seeing settings I know. But when you have lines like "This was the North End, home of the Mafia, and one thing people knew around here from birth was no matter what they saw, they didn't see it."

That said, I'd still recommend this book. Especially if you're reading the whole series, which you should also probably do. And I am going to try not to let more than a year go before my next Lehane.

*Are there better ways to hire a PI to take your case? Probably. I've never hired one so I suppose this could be normal etiquette, but let's assume not.

Title quote from page 260, location 2653

Lehane, Dennis. Sacred. Kenzie & Gennaro #3. HarperCollins, 2009. Kindle edition. Originally published 1997.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I'm a winner!

Back in March I won Kayleigh's giveaway of Ryu Murakami's In The Miso Soup along with a bunch of goodies from her trip to Japan which was SUPER EXCITING! The package finally got here. Or rather it got here on Monday but since I was not home to sign for it, I had to wait until Saturday to pick it up from the post office. But that has happened and now I have it and everything is wonderful. Wondering what it included? Of course you are!

Look at all the treats! There's so much chocolate here.

There's the book. Obviously.
A GORGEOUS origami bookmark from the Sapporo museum
Cookies & cream panda Pocky
There were 2 of the Cadbury Marvelous Creations eggs but I ate one immediately. In part because I can't control myself. In other part because the package was sitting in the car for awhile and while you can't tell in the picture, that other egg is entirely melted. The other was worse so I HAD to eat it. 
That cute bear tin ALSO full of chocolate
Yubari melon candies that are from a melon only grown in that area so suuuper fancy
Green tea and sakura blossom Kit Kat which I am totally not sharing with anyone. Sorry, Boyfriend+
Lil' origami fish
A white rabbit Alice in Wonderland sticker
Things that look like match books but are actually MORE CHOCOLATE. As the package says "Not flammable, but eatable" 

Kayleigh, thank you! This is awesome. And I can feel myself coming down from the first sugar high, so I should probably have some more candy.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A dangerous practice these days -- taking in strays

Before too much more time passes between my having finished the book and this review, I've decided I need to write about Clay's Ark. Like it's getting a bit embarrassing now.

Clay's Ark is the third book in the Seed to Harvest series, but I only know that because the book told me. Otherwise I am going to have to trust that the final book in this series will explain what this one is doing here. It doesn't have the same characters. The plot is similar in a general sense. There is a single guy making his own family with people with extrasensory powers.

In Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, Doro was bringing together people who had these abilities, telepaths and the like, and was selectively breeding them to make more powerful people. (Note: Doro was sort of a dick. I guess being immortal/playing God will do that to you.) The first story took place in the 18th century, the next in 1970s.

In Clay's Ark we're sometime in a dystopian future. It's sort of Mad Max-esque. The cities seem safe enough. I guess. You just hear about them. But the open road is a free-for-all. Car families roam  the roads killing and kidnapping people stupid enough to travel. But there's apparently something...maybe not more dangerous, but certainly not something I'd want to go up against lurking out there.

The story switches back and forth between the present with doctor Blake and his twin daughters Keira and Rane, who are all stupid enough to travel, and the past with former astronaut and geologists Eli who returned to Earth after coming in contact with...something out there. Something that killed the rest of his crew and something that's changing him.

It's not an alien-being a la...well...Alien where it's going to bust through your chest cavity. Instead it's like a disease that connects with the hosts genetics and changes them. They become stronger, faster, more in tune with each other. And most importantly a compulsion to pass the disease on.

Eli, like Doro, wants to create a community of people like him. Unlike Doro, Eli makes his community instead of finding people who already have these extraordinary abilities. Eli wants to hold on to his humanity as much as possible, as much as the organism will let him. Of course, what does that mean for Blake, Rane, and Keira?

Butler books tend to be difficult to summarize, let alone summarize without spoiling anything. I don't want to say too much more but I'll tell you this book is much more of a thriller than her other books. She cuts the tension of the present with the past chapters that explain how Eli and his community came to be.

I will also say so far this is my least favorite of the Seed to Harvest series. Maybe because it doesn't seem to be part of the same series at all. It deals with similar themes but then again, a lot of her work deals with similar themes of power and humanity and free will so right now I don't see how this fits. But the story is still good. It still tackles difficult topics and for once a couple of the characters seem to show real emotion, which is something that tends to be lacking in her books.

I'd say "I'm thinking of taking a break from this series" except, I've obviously taken a break. I've read 3 non-Butler books since reading Clay's Ark so I suppose it's really a matter of when I'll make it back to the series. I will finish it and hopefully it will explain how Clay's Ark fits into the grander series.

Title quote from page 529, location 9238

Butler, Octavia E. Clay's Ark, part of the Seed to Harvest collection. Grand Central Publishing, 2007. Originally published 1980. Kindle edition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Multiple Perspectives, I like you

This still isn't a review. And now they're piling up a bit (Clay's Ark, Sacred, Fun Home*, Lexicon) so I should really get on that. Work is still insane though winding down somewhat from the insanity that was last week. So that's nice.
Almost, anyway...
While I was on the subway yesterday I finished up Lexicon. Which was great except now I had no other book to read so I was sort of staring off into space, trying to avoid accidentally making eye contact with anyone, and I thought about how much I liked the multiple narrators in Lexicon. And then I thought about how much I like multiple narrators in most books. Then I started to think about why.

There's going to be multiple sides to every story. When you have one narrator you get one version. Which can be fine. Sometimes one version is all you need. But of course that means you only know what this narrator is telling you. Maybe they aren't an unreliable narrator (but those are also sort of my jam) but they don't know everything. They interpret something in a specific way if that's the only version of events you're seeing, you start to think their word is gold and what they say IS what's going on. They hate someone, then dammit, they must be worth hating cos we keep seeing all the shitty things that antagonist is doing. But then if you start seeing things from the antagonists point of view you realize OH maybe they aren't just a raging douche canoe for the hell of it. Maybe they have their own motivations and reasons and interpretations for what's going on. It doesn't mean the villain still isn't a villain. And it doesn't mean that the hero is a liar trying to make you hate the villain. It just means you have to stop and think about the things that you assumed were right and true.

This doesn't just have to be between heroes and villains. Look at Rowell's Eleanor & Park. That's a love story told from both Eleanor's and Park's perspective. Neither is the protagonist or antagonist and you're not learning some major twist by seeing things from one side versus the other. You're just seeing the same actions and interactions unfold through the eyes of two different people. And it's lovely.

I know there can be problems with the whole multiple perspectives thing. The author has to do a good job making sure that it's clear who is talking. I don't want to spend half a chapter trying to figure out who the hell is narrating now. And the actions, motivations, interpretations have to make sense, not just for one narrator but for all of them. If I'm seeing the same thing happen from two different sides, both sides versions better make an equal amount of sense, at least based on who's talking.

It can also be harder to connect with a character if things keep shifting about. It's certainly easier if you're only seeing one point of view.

But really, the negatives aren't usually enough to turn me away from the style. And besides, who wouldn't want to see some of their favorite books from different points of view. Like Harry Potter and a version from EVERY CHARACTER THERE, PLEASE.

After thinking about this on the train for awhile, I realized I had one more episode of Welcome to Nightvale downloaded on my phone. Because sure, maybe one more reason I like multiple perspectives is I get distracted easily. 

*Alice, look! I got it right on the first try and everything.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm sorry I've been MIA

I opened up this post with every intention of writing my review for Clay's Ark. And it's just not happening. Not because I'm in any reading or writing slump. I'm in a work-is-stupid-insane-right-now slump. Well that's not really a slump. More like this.
My week. I wish I had pizza
By the time I get home I don't want to do anything that requires thinking. Which is why I'm currently watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (DON'T JUDGE ME). But I wanted to let you know where I've wandered off to and also why you might be getting comments on your posts that are like a week+ old.

But I am reading, lest you were worried. I've got three books going at the moment. Fun Home which I've been wanting to read cos I really want to branch out and read some graphic novels. And now I am.* Then there's Lexicon which is confusing me at the moment and I feel like I need to start over so I know what's going on. Not that I believe the book is confusingly written, but that whole lack of brain power thing. And then there's The Patternmaster, the final in the Patternist/Seed to Harvest series.

So yeah, that's what's going on over here. Hopefully by next week (...or the week after) things will be back to normal and I'll actually get reviews of Clay's Ark and Sacred up. Yes, that would be good.

*see what I mean about lack of brain power right now? You should know this post took me like an hour.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Accept. Obey. Serve.

Right around my birthday I got a review request for a book with sort of a weird premise. But it's not a romance or "triumph of the human spirit" Nicholas Sparks type book, which was enough to make me want to look a little closer.

The book is The Bees by Laline Paull. A letter in the beginning of the book describes it as The Handmaid's Tale meets Animal Farm with some Hunger Games thrown in. I like those things, so yeah, let's do this!

It's a book about, well, bees. The title isn't trying to be overly clever or a metaphor for something. The story is about a colony of bees. Or specifically about Flora 717, a sanitation bee. But there's something different about her. She's supposed to be a silent member of the colony, down at the bottom of the hierarchy, cleaning up after the other bees. But she's brought up to the nursery, to help care for the young. Then she gets to meet the Queen, who is the be-all (HA!), end-all in bee world, a ruler, a deity, and literal mother to the entire colony. She becomes a forager and gets to leave the hive and experience the world. But everything comes back to the hive, what's best for the home and all of the sisters. Accept, Obey, Serve is the repeated motto of the hive.

It's difficult to say there's a definite plot to this. It's more a series of adventures Flora has as she interacts with all castes in the hive, sees the Myriad (anything that wants to eat bees), searches for pollen, and tries to survive the winter. It was a little confusing at first, as I kept waiting for a set antagonist to show up, but once I realized that wasn't going to happen and started to go with the flow, I liked Flora's journey.

I need to address is those comparison books: Handmaid's Tale, Hunger Games, Animal Farm. Because I enjoyed this book a lot, but the more I read it the more I thought about those comparisons and though "OK, well, it's like none of those*." On the one hand I want to say they shouldn't describe it that way cos it's not really a good comparison. Then I figured part of the reason I agreed to read it was because of those, and sure, it's not really like those books but it got their foot in the door, so I guess the strategy worked. And since I ended up enjoying the book, I didn't feel cheated.

One thing that took a little getting used to is the characters. Because they're all bees. And not only that, but every member of a certain caste as the same name. Flora isn't named Flora. She's Flora 717. But a lot of the time she's just referred to as Flora. Same thing with Sage, priestess level bees, and all of the other groups that I can't remember/find at the moment. That could lead to some confusion when I'd have to remember if that was the Sage from the beginning of the book or a different Sage. And did it really matter? Also, they're bees. Which I know I've repeated a few times, but this needs to be made clear. They're anthropomorphized but like juuuuuust shy of Disney level. And there is zero singing, though a lot of dancing.

I can't say how accurate the descriptions of bee hives and behavior is. I bring this up because of the dancing because real-world bees do dance to tell the other bees where they can find pollen, which is pretty awesome. It seems that Paull did a good amount of research without this ever feeling like a textbook. Setting the story in the world of bees makes for an interesting way to write about a completely different, culture I suppose is the right word, without judgement. You can't get mad at this world for worshipping the Queen. Everyone in the story would literally die without her.

It's sort of a strange premise, and I'm not really sure how to categorize it, but I recommend this. It was entertaining and a setting I can honestly say I haven't read before. It comes out in May. I think. According to the spine of my copy anyway. So you should probably check this out. Or at least the book trailer, which really sealed the deal for me.

*I helps if you say this like Apu. Because that's how I said it. And then I laughed to myself. I'd share a link with you of the video by 10 seconds of searching didn't turn it up and I got lazy.

I actually read Butler's Clay's Ark before this one, but I wanted to break up the Butler posts a bit more. Also I really liked this and wanted to share sooner.

Paull, Laline. The Bees. Ecco HarperCollins, 2014.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Birthday Giveaway Winner!

A winner has been chosen in the I'm-now-30-so-someone-gets-to-win-one-of-my-favorite-books-and-you'd-better-enjoy-it-or-I-will-be-sad-but-no-pressure.

And the winner is....


So, let me know which book you want and it shall be yours!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I wish I knew what the hell you were doing. Aside from playing God, I mean

Originally I was thinking I would split up Butler's Patternist series. I'd read the first book, read something else, go back for the second book, repeat. Except yeah, that didn't happen. And it's not like the books end on a cliffhanger and you need to know what happens next. Hell, there's a couple centuries between the events of Wild Seed and the events of the second book* Mind of My Mind. But still. The book is right there and you think you'll just read a the prologue or something, get a taste for the next book, when suddenly you're halfway through.

When we last left Doro and Anyanwu (who now goes by Emma, which was a little sad cos she was so set about not changing her name to something the colonists would find easier to pronounce. Why should she change her name? They should just learn how to pronounce her name) Anyanwu had gone to California to a development Doro set up for her. Now it's sometime in the 1970s (I think, it's never said) and Anyanwu/Emma is still around. Cos, you know, immortal. Doro's still trying to breed a race of super people and Emma is helping with their transitions. He's been having trouble with latents, people with uncontrolled telepathic abilities. See, these people not only hear people's thoughts but they feel everything they're going through, and without the ability to block this out they're going crazy. Doro doesn't really care about the pain they're going through, cos he's an asshole, but latents have the possibility of having actives (telepaths that can control their abilities), which he would really like for that super race thing. Of course these latents are so tormented they usually end up abusing the children and killing themselves, so as you can see everything is sunshine and rainbows.

One of his latents has a daughter, Mary, that has the potential to be an especially strong active, one he takes extra interest in. But growing up in a home where her bother is a prostitute and her johns regularly beat the girl as a child can sort of mess you up. But Doro's right, she's powerful. More powerful than any of his other people. More powerful than he could have predicted. And she's pulling together her own network of connected telepaths.

Once again, Butler plays with the themes of control and free will, far more here than she did in Wild Seed. Doro has always controlled people, though he does it through a mixture of fear and love. His people have the ability to oppose him, although that usually results in their death. And they tend to love him. In Mind of My Mind the telepaths control non-telepaths, people they call Mutes, without these people ever realizing it.

"In pets, free will was tolerated only as long as the pet owner found it amusing."

One complaint I read on Goodreads about this book is that the characters are all coldly unsympathetic. And that's not untrue. It's actually sort of a thing with Butler's books, and one that isn't my favorite thing. I mentioned in the Wild Seed post that Butler's characters will never be my favorites, and it's still holding strong. The closest character I came to really liking, Anyanwu, isn't really prominent in this story. She's there, but the focus is really on Mary and Doro.

Overall I liked this one. I can't decide if I like this better or Wild Seed. It's a toss up. Let's see how Clay's Ark goes.

*As I mentioned in the Wild Seed post, the books in my copy of Seed to Harvest (the full Patternist series) go in chronological order, although they weren't written that way. However, I was pretty excited to see that either way Mind of My Mind comes second. Because I get excited about stupid things.

Title quote from page 299, location 5191

Butler, Octavia E. Mind of My Mind, part of the Seed to Harvest collection. Grand Central Publishing, 2007. Originally published 1980. Kindle edition.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March Reading Stats

March is over. I'm a pretty big fan of March cos, you know, my birthday and all. Pretty good reason to love the month, I'd say. And I did pretty good with my reading stats, which is nice because this year hadn't been going to good for me reading wise. Whatever reading slump I was in I think I've moved past it and I have some books coming up I'm pretty excited about. But let's see how March went

Number of books read

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler

OK, so there's a lot of Butler. I'm working on her Pattermaster series but I'm counting them each separately because shut up, I do what I want.

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction

Percentage of female authors
60% - sure it's all the same female author, but still

Percentage of white authors
40% - Go, Butler, Go!

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks
100% pretty sure this is the first time this happened

Percentage of re-reads

Percentage of review books

Books written by decade
1850s - 20%
1970s - 20%
1980s - 40%
2010s - 20%

Books by genre
Horror - 20%
Classic/FANCY novel - 20%
Sci-fi - 60%

The genres seemed more straight forward last month, although I still question what Bleak House should be categorized as. And even Butler's stuff is sci-fi but also other things.

Edit: Classic/Literature/FANCY novel. That's where Bleak House falls

Let's see how April goes. I have hope.