Saturday, September 28, 2013

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the StormFlowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Approximately twenty-eight years ago, a young girl picked up a book from her mother's box of books out of boredom. Her life was changed. Ever since then, her favorite type of book has been historical romance.  She has read a lot of it.  There have been many that she has enjoyed. But some books just stand out. This is one of them.

Because of how much I liked this book, this is a very long review. I apologize if you don't like long reviews.  The short of it is I loved this book very much. If you want to know why, keep reading.

Laura Kinsale just doesn't write enough books for me. If you asked me if I want more from her, obviously yes! But do I want less quality but more books? No.  A book like Flowers from the Storm is worth thirty lesser books.

This book begins with a hero who is doing something immoral and reprehensible (although to some degree socially acceptable).  A reader has to decide if they can get past that.  While I really dislike what he did, I wanted to know more about Jervaulx and explore his story.  I wasn’t going to write him off just yet.

With Laura Kinsale, you don’t just get an entertaining romance. She gives you a complex, textured novel that has characters that are not just archetypes, but are realistic and multi-faceted like a jewel (and like a jewel, they may have noticeable flaws).  Maddy is at times the bully, at times the victim. Sometimes I liked her, sometimes I didn’t like her very much at all.  I felt some identification with her as a person of faith, but at the same time, I felt that she gives people of faith a bad name because of her legalistic and judgmental way of life.  It also challenged me to consider how I interact with people.  Am I sending out the right message about my faith walk, the loving God and all-welcoming God I love?  When she gets the epiphany about why she is with Jervaulx, I was thinking all along I knew why they had been brought together.  I felt that Jervaulx and Maddy could learn from each other, could complement each other.  Could they love each other despite society’s notions of propriety or station?  It was hurtful how she denied the love she felt for Jervaulx, as if it was an ugly thing.  It hurt me to read because I could see deep down that Jervaulx needed her so much, and she needed him, and loving someone can be intense and powerful (and yes, inconvenient) without being an obsession or leading to doom and destruction.  While people shouldn’t be projects, something we can ‘fix’, we come into peoples’ lives to learn something ourselves and to help them learn something.  Love that is selfish cannot be mutual, and for me, their love definitely wasn’t a selfish one.

Jervaulx is a very complicated man.  It was interesting to see him at the beginning of the story and see his selfish actions and his determination to live a hedonistic life, although deep down, his was a builder and a thinker and a contributor. Those parts of his psyche obviously warred with each other.  I don’t doubt that his mother’s cold demonstration of religious faith pushed him to go in the opposite direction.  In his own way, he did believe in God, but seeing faith in such an ugly way pushed him further away from God and into a life that didn’t have much meaning outside of his scientific pursuits.

I hurt for him.  A person of the mind, an intellectual can have an experience almost like dying when that part of their persona fails.  It’s like being caged away, and in the case of Christian, his mouth couldn’t say what he wanted it to say, and sometimes the words just wouldn’t come to him.  Also, going from a place of having power and authority over your life and losing that is another kind of death.   That process was understandably devastating to a man who was one of the most powerful men in England.

His family was shameful. They all saw him as a thing to be used or manipulated: as a resource, a pawn, or a liability.  That made me very angry on his behalf.  And afraid.  For most of the book, I felt Jervaulx’s fear tangibly. That’s part of why Maddy’s acts at times grated on me. She didn’t seem to get what it was like to be him, to know that he was one step away from being locked in an asylum for the rest of his life.  Even though she does have momentary breakthroughs of understanding and a sense of responsibility to him, her hardheaded beliefs about what she should be doing (that being with him long-term is wrong) seemed to try to get in the way more than it should have.

This book feels so realistic, but also beautiful, entrancing, hypnotically romantic. The scenes between Maddy and Jervaulx where their feelings are budding, blooming and coming to full life were the essence of romance. Their passion inexorable, special and inescapable. It’s what makes my heart beat fast when I read romance books.  People think writing romance is easy and low-brow. That any hack can write a romance story. How wrong you are.  It takes talent and care to craft such a rich story that fulfills both intellectually and emotionally.  Especially when you write characters that aren’t just appealing stand-ins for the reader and her dream man. No, they are real people with real lives and struggles.  While love doesn’t necessarily solve all our everyday problems, it does get us through the rough spots in life, and gives us hope for the future.  Walking through life with a beloved one at our side empowers us to fight for what we need, what we want, what is rightfully ours.  While Jervaulx and Maddy didn’t make sense to someone on the outside looking in, who lacked insight, it makes perfect sense to me.

I put this book off for a long time, but it was a case of reading it at exactly the right time. I have been going through a horrible book slump, feeling apathetic about reading.  That’s horrible for an avid booklover like myself.  A book like this is just the medicine to reinvigorate a reader’s flagging interest.  Thank you, Ms. Kinsale!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Addendum to On (not) Jumping on Reading Bandwagons

I have had a good dialogue with some other readers since Cat's Books kindly reblogged my post (on BookLikes) and one of my followers on this blog.

It was good feedback. It made me think about another question. Do you think authors want to know when they are losing a loyal reader by going into a direction with their writing that the reader doesn't want to go?  If so, how do you communicate this?

Do you try to talk to the authors you follow? How has that worked for you?

Opinions sought.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Alpha and Omega: Cry Wolf Volume TwoAlpha and Omega: Cry Wolf Volume Two by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I read this immediately after finishing the first volume. Much of my issues with the first and second volume are the same.

I don't want to have the exact same review as for Volume One, so I'll go in a different direction. 

While the illustrations didn't work for me as far as most of my favorite characters' faces (Charles, Samuel, Bran), I did think they capture the menace of that little ball of nastiness, Mariposa quite well.  Walter's story also drew me in, although I pictured him with gray hair instead of red hair as depicted. The illustrations do lack clarity somewhat on the storyline.  If I hadn't read this book previous to reading the graphic novel, I think I would have been be kind of lost and confused.  You don't really get a lot on Bran's back story and how he was worried about being susceptible to magic again.  One of my absolute favorite scenes from the book doesn't have the same powerful resonance in this version, and part of it was omitted.  I cry at that loss.

I'm still at the point where I feel that 3.5/5.0 stars is probably as high as I can rate this one. Good, but disappointing in comparison to the prose version.  Glad I read it, even though it doesn't quite measure up.

Will I read more Patricia Briggs graphic novels? Heck yeah!  I just hope the illustrations are better in the next ones I read.

View all my reviews

Alpha and Omega--Cry Wolf: Volume One by Patricia Briggs/Lawrence/Herman/Frison

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega Graphic #1)Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I am so enamored of Patricia Briggs, I will read anything she writes.  I was excited that my library has some of her works in the graphic novel format, since I do enjoy them.  I have already read Mercy Thompson:  Homecoming and I loved it.  Of course, I also love the Alpha and Omega series and looked on this opportunity to in essence get in a quick reread of Cry Wolf.
I have to be honest that I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I had hoped. I think my problem was the illustrations didn’t quite work for me.  I agree with another reviewer friend that their faces don’t look right.  I especially didn’t think that the drawings of Charles, Bran, and Samuel did these adored characters justice.  I was more or less happy with the artist rendering of Anna.   The artist captured her sweetness, integrity and strength of character.

Also, the illustrations just felt a bit barebones.  Usually the illustration fills in for the sketchy dialogue which more or less defines the graphic novel format. In this case, I felt like I was missing something as I read through the panels. Let myself be clear in saying that I absolutely loved the prose format of this book, so I know that I am biased to have very high standards and took that into my read of this graphic novel.

Is this a bad graphic novel? Certainly not!  It’s pretty good.   Most likely I would have rated it slightly higher if I had read this GN before reading the prose version.  I think the artwork could have been better in comparison to my image of the characters from the book.    Although the rendering of favorite characters didn’t work for me, I felt that the drawings conveyed action well, and the colors were vivid and made me want to keep my eyes on the panels despite my not liking some of the facial drawing.  The lettering and dialogue was true to the essence of the novel format of this story.   This book does capture the menace of the villain quite well, and of course Charles and Anna together are magic (no pun intended).

I would say that if a reader is in love with this series and just wants to see it in a more visual format, it’s worth checking out. However, keep your expectations down to earth.  You might not be as disappointed as I was in that case.

Overall rating:  3.5/5.0 stars.  Hurts my heart to give my beloved Patricia Briggs less than four stars, but my reasons are sound and I have to stay true to my rating criteria.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 20, 2013

On (not) Jumping on Reading Bandwagons

Let me first say that people should read whatever they want to read.  I'm all for that. I have plenty of really good friends who have excellent taste and who love erotic romance and erotica.  And writers have the right to explore themselves creatively. However, it is distressing when your authors you enjoy decide they are going to follow the trends and publish what's selling well, and you don't read that.  I'm not going to name names right now. I'm still processing. I may do so later.  Right now, I will speak generally.

I think many who follow my reviews and know me in the reading communities know I am not into erotica.  I've been called prudish and narrow-minded, judgmental, and sexually repressed.  I don't think I'm any of those things.  If I am, it doesn't matter.  I just don't feel the need to read a lot of erotica.  Occasionally, I will read some out of curiosity, but being squeamish about content, I carefully vet what I read.  However, that seems to be the main thing that sells right now in the romance genre. Here's the thing:  sex hasn't changed since man first existed.  Sex is still sex.  Do I need to read every sex act on earth to feel satisfied as a reader? No.  Do I need to see characters in a book indulge in kinky sex to feel the love? No.  Does having more detailed sex instantly translate into a better story or more intense, vital writing? Certainly not. Don't believe me, read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I think that the problem is that this is the perception now.  That romance readers need to see everything to get a fully-realized story.  That every bonafide romance fan with taste is jumping on the bandwagon, so you need to join them or get lost. Where does that leave you when you're not interested?

Should I stop buying books if the trend is going that way? Should I just avoid said author's new series if I don't want to read an erotica book?  And funny enough, she was hot enough as it was without going there overtly.  I don't see the need, honestly.  And I wonder if she will add more 'forbidden acts" or just change the terms to the raunchy ones for certain body parts that I can do without. Should I keep my mouth shut about my disappointment because I know many other readers don't get where I'm coming from? While they think they are more sexually awakened and comfortable with sexuality than I am, I might not agree, but should I keep quiet and just make a note not to read those books?  Maybe the erotica trend will see its time and dependable authors will realize that some of their loyal fans were loving them for what wrote all along, and there was no need to follow the trends to sell books.

I want to believe that, but it's hard right now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

I am kind of late posting this review. I wanted to think about it and I got sidetracked by other tasks.

First of all, I am so glad my precious local library had this! I had heard about it and was recommended this book, but graphic novels aren't in my budget. And look how the Lord does provide!

Saga is a fun, fast-paced, visually appealing graphic novel. The art is beautiful and subtle, possessing a clarity I appreciated despite the simplicity of the drawings. The lettering keeps the prose equally clear. I loved the fact that Hazel (the infant that Marko and Alana make together)'s POV is rendered in a different style/font. It threw me at first, but then I realized what was going on. That not only are we seeing this intriguing couple's story play out, but we're seeing there is a future for them, since Hazel must have made it to a certain age in order to narrate. That gave me some hope, since things feel pretty dire for Marko and Alana.

I was recommended this graphic novel on the Fans of Interracial Romance group, which is awesome, and I do have to say the romance is a good driver of this story. I think it shows how fundamental a love story is in many settings. Love and the force it exerts on us and how it drives our actions. Love is not a conflict so much as a precipitator and a facilitator for the movement within a story. In the case of this young married couple, their love for each other drove them to escape from their respective, although reluctant roles in a senseless war, and their love for their baby they made together, drives them to fight for a new life and a safe haven for their family. So it's very organic to the story. Also, there is a strong theme about the foolishness of conflicts and wars and our reasons for hating people who are different from us. This story is practically begging for an interracial/cross-cultural romance. Although Alana looks black and Marko looks white, the color difference is secondary in this novel (and they have strikingly different morphological touches--Marko has ram's horns and Alana has vestigial (underdeveloped) wings). Instead, the bigger disparity is the fact that Alana and Marko are from different planets at war with each other. I really appreciated how these very different people came together and decided to commit to their love for each other, regardless of the obstacles in the way. Their strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly, and I can see the respect they have for each other, and their commitment to stand together no matter what.

As far as the conflict and the action, it was well done. I would consider this rustic sci-fi, along the lines of the tv show, Firefly. It also had shades of the original Star Wars films (which is in my mind sort of rustic sci-fi as well). The story keeps active, and the writing doesn't bog the narrative down with going in depth with the sci-fi world-building. This book is quite gory and violent. There is a very explicit scene that I know would be really gross if this was a live action movie, (along with a few others that are pretty in your face) although I can understand what motivated the act. Along with violence, there is a fair amount of profanity and sexual content, including full frontal nudity, and frank sexual situations. Even a disturbing part in which the readers are confronted with the vileness of child prostitution (thankfully no scenes depicting it).

Yeah, so I'm not being very coherent. What I'm trying to say is that I was impressed with this book. It is the beginning of a series I can see myself eagerly following. Yes, it's quite out there as far as sex, language and violence, but the story is good and it gives us two leads that you really like and root for, and of course, their daughter, who is all sorts of intriguing.

Overall rating: 4.25/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare

Unlawful Contact (I-Team, #3)Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unlawful Contact is another example of Pamela's Clare's ability to write top notch romantic suspense that satisfies both the heavy-duty romance fan who wants a true love story and the analytical reader who looks for realism in her fiction.  In this case, her story is about Sophie and Marc aka Hunt, who met in high school, parted for twelve years, and came back together in a very explosive fashion.

Incidentally, I couldn't help but think about Arrested Development as I read this, since that is a very hilarious recurring joke on the show since Bluth Sr. is in prison.

There's a scene near the end of the book where I laughed out loud because it was such a reminder of this. 

Okay, back on point!

I can't say I'm a fan of underage sex, fuddy duddy that I am. However, I think that Pamela Clare made their teenage encounter very romantic, and I felt the lasting and powerful bond they formed and why it was so meaningful. I'm glad she did show this, because it makes their later interactions and relationship have an added depth.

Sophie is both a sweet, caring person, but also tough and incisive as a character.  Clare shows the integrity that journalists have and seem to largely lack in the public image we get from the media. I am glad that I had friends who strongly recommended that I read Extreme Exposure despite my dislike of journalists and politicians because Clare has caused me to re-evaluate my negative closed-mindedness of journalists by showing what they do, how seriously they take it, and how many sacrifices and risks that are involved in making sure that the news is fairly reported. I can't say I view the news media favorably over all still, but I am sure there are plenty of true believers with integrity in the industry.

Certainly, I've not walked Sophie's life journey, but I felt like I grew to know her and love her with each page I read.  I can see why Hunt never forgot her or got over her. I can understand her willingness to trust and believe in Marc, and her determination to help him, even though she was torn after he kidnapped her.

As for Hunt, Oh my!!! I loved him.  He is very tortured and his life pretty much sucked.  It's sad to say that the best years of his life were when he was a military sniper in Afghanistan, and the short night he spent with Sophie. The burden of guilt he carried made me want to cry for him.  Even though he is shown in a violent way early in the book, I knew that wasn't truly who he was. I knew that while prison turns many people into the basic, most animalistic parts of their natures, Marc managed to maintain that core of dignity despite six hard, hellish years inside. I loved him for that.  I am afraid of prison, let's be honest.  (Only my sister is more afraid of prison, which is strange since we are fairly upstanding citizens).  I can't imagine how horrible it would be to have a life sentence, especially as ex-law enforcement. The reveal near the end made my jaw drop, that Marc would be willing to do that!  Of course, I already adored him, but my adoration quotient when up even more.

The storyline was intense and really disturbing that such an injustice would occur and would go on so long. I was freaking angry about it.  I did a huge amount of yelling at the book near the end. My sister's cat was looking at me like I was crazy, in fact.  I wanted blood.  I could see why Marc was willing to take the risk to break out of jail. I couldn't blame him. Let me just say, a girl couldn't have a better older brother! 

Ms. Clare captures the reality of the wrongs that are inherent in a man-made system of justice.  It breaks my heart to know that women/girls can be abused in such a way by people in the system.    I'm not much of an Old Testament justice kinda girl, but I really wanted to see these guys get sentenced to castration for what they did!

The love scenes were hot, hot, hot, and I do mean hot.  I love that Clare can write such hot love scenes without going over the line into kinky/ick factor. You could see that poor Marc was 1)making up for lost time (since he was celibate 7 years), 2)taking the opportunity to get his true girl, 3)living a short amount of life he could before they put him back into the pen.  The love scenes showed the intensity of the feelings between Marc and Sophie and cemented my feeling that they had loved each other for that long time apart, even if it was an embryonic sort of love. It touched my romantic soul.  That's a good thing.

I read this book slowly and savored it.  I have gotten into a bad habit of reading fast because of deadlines, and I appreciated the opportunity of allowing a book to sink in and to digest the words, allow the scenes in the book to play on the movie screen of my head.  This was a great book to do that with.

Excellent from beginning to end. Each book in the I-Team series tops the preceding, which is something!  I definitely recommend it to romantic suspense fans and fans of misunderstood/bad reputation but true blue heroes and heroines who are truly likable.


Heads Up!

In preparation of the November release of Striking Distance, The Pamela Clare Fan Group will be hosting a group read of the series, starting with this book! If you haven't yet read Pamela Clare's I-Team series, you're missing out on some truly fantastic stories.

So what are you waiting for?? Grab a copy of this book and join us on June 25th! We'd LOVE to have you!! Extreme Exposure Group Read

If you're already a Pamela Clare fan, or interested in learning more about her and her books, be sure to stop by our Pamela Clare Fan Group  here on Goodreads!

View all my reviews

Zora's Chance by Aliyah Burke

Zora's Chance (Trescott Cove, #1.5)Zora's Chance by Aliyah Burke

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I started a review and my computer decided it wanted to restart before I could save it!  Oh well. Here we go again!

I've had this ebook for years!  Better late than never.

I enjoyed this book.  It was a good read.   Why not four or more stars?

Let me tell you.

I am a curious person.  I can't help it.  I have been known to ask far too many questions.  It's wired in me to have a curious mind about the world and about the way it works, why people do the things they do.  That tends to be an important part of my analytical process when it comes to books. 

So when I finished this book, I had big huge question marks in my mind about Chance. I didn't understand the way his mind worked, why he was keeping himself so isolated and separate.  I didn't know, even when the book was over. It was like people knew this about him and didn't go there.  I think that although this was a major issue for Zora, nothing really seemed to change this. Yes, he declared his love, decided to let her into his insular life, but I didn't get closure on why he was like that.  Was it from a past hurt?  Was it ever going to change?  Would he open up a little more for Zora? I think if I had this understanding, I might have liked this book more than I did.

Also, I didn't like the casual nature of their relationship. Tthey hooked up for sex and mainly had separate lives.  Not romantic to me. Yes, I know, that's how some modern relationships are.  It doesn't work for me.  If there's going to be a sexual relationship first, I need it to feel like something more.  There was a push/pull here where Zora was slowly pushing at Chance's barriers, but at the same time trying to maintain her autonomy and accept the relationship for what it was, although she wanted more.  That was the main tension in this book. It's probably realistic for the development of many relationships, but not what I look for in a romance. I guess I'm still the fairy tale kind of relationship gal.  I don't apologize for that. I think it's important for all women to feel that they are worth the wooing and the seeking and that they are a princess to the man they love.  I don't want to be a princess, don't get me wrong, but it's good for you to know that you're a princess to the man you love and are in a relationship with!

I loved that Zora was a chef and liked to bake. As a foodie, that resonates with me. I also tend to bake when I'm restless, and I should be less shy and take my extras (of which there are often a lot) over to my neighbors.  No, I don't have a hunky ex-Marine neighbor, but still. 

Yes, this is a good love story although a bit nebulous for my tastes. Nicely steamy, with a hero who is quite appealing.  I do like the buttoned up hero, but I could have used more unbuttoning besides sexually. I loved the proposal though. This is one of Aliyah Burke's earlier novels, and I can see that she's come into her own and developed a smoother voice and more confident writing.  Even so, for being one of her first books, it's evident that she is a talented writer.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey

The Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus IdentityThe Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Unwritten strikes me as being somehow 'impressive'. It's hard to clarify what I mean, but the idea of it and the execution was very well done.  It delves into the very fruitful literary territory of metafiction, where reality and fiction intersect. I find I truly enjoy metafiction, probably because of being such a lifelong bookworm and having my head stuck in a book for most of that life (since I was four).

In the case of Tommy Taylor, it's a painful intersection. His father is a famous novelist of children's books (in the vein of Harry Potter) who suddenly disappeared.  Tommy is left depending on the uncertain income from coasting on his identity as Tommy Taylor, the eponymous character of the books his father wrote. When a lady shows up at a comic book convention and challenges his identity, the stuff hits the fan, and the adoring fans of the books become hateful, vengeance-seeking stalkers.  Tommy's life implodes. But things only get worse, when he develops enemies that hail from the so-called mythical landscape of the books.

One of the things I liked the best about this graphic novel was the illustrations. It is clean and elegant.  The lettering is also well done and distinctive.  My eyes wanted to stay on the page and observe every detail, whereas with some graphic novels, there is too much to look at (so I pick and choose), and some aspects of the frames seem to fade into the woodwork because they are deemed less important. This book is a great midpoint where neither clarity or detail is compromised.

I also liked the prose and the storytelling. I felt sorry for Tommy. He really got a rough deal being who he was, and in effect powerless to change his life.  I hope that he does gain some agency and authority in his life situation.

I do have to say I didn't care much for some aspects of one of the sections.  The idea of tackling horror conventions since they were at the house at Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where Mary Shelley (and apparently John Milton earlier) wrote the famous masterpiece they are known for, was a good one. I just didn't care for the gory turn of the story. I think it pricks a sore spot I have about the horror genre in general--the sacrifice of story and genuine narrative content for splatter and gore.  I understood the purpose of this, but it just seemed gratuitous (although I admit it was still tastefully done).

The last section was rather odd initially. I didn't get why Rudyard Kipling was the narrator, until well into the story, and then the lightbulb came on.  It ties in very well with this developing and expansive story and endows it with increased sense of threat and risk. 

I still have a lot of questions, and I want to keep reading this series because it has my interest and attention.  I hope that Tommy will come to understand his troublesome situation and discover the hero within.

I'd recommend this novel to lovers of books and literature in its various forms.

View all my reviews

Fables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Fables, Vol. 2: Animal FarmFables, Vol. 2: Animal Farm by Bill Willingham
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I will start this review with a confession. I've never read Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies, two literary classics that this volume of Animal Farm alludes to. However, even in my casual acquaintance with both books, I can see some parallels in the story.

Animal Farm is more serious than Legends in Exile, the first volume. It deals with the question of the Fables who cannot blend into society like their more human counterparts. Snow White takes her sister Rose Red up to the farm to do her twice yearly visit to find that it is in upheaval. A very grisly murder has taken place, and it was done to send a deliberate message. Many of the inhabitants of the Farm are ready to rebel and take back their rightful place in Fable society, eventually to go back to their Lands and overthrow the Adversary. Snow White's life is in great danger, and Rose Red is forced to choose between familial loyalty and self-interest. Will some of the Farm's fables stay on Snow's side, or will they all heed the call of revolution?

This novel tackles heavy subjects, but there is still some good humor, most of it on the wry side. Some well known figures from the fairy tales come out as quite vicious and heinous in thought and deed. Some act true to form if you have read their origin books. I was quite surprised at the fate of some fairy tale characters that I never would have thought to meet such an end. Willingham reminds us that while he writes about fairy tales, this is very adult subject matter (although arguably the fairy tales have always included darker themes and content). Snow White has to wise up and get a game plan pretty fast, and fortunately, she does turn out to have strong allies.

I have to say that I am pretty impressed with this graphic novel series. Yeah, I know I'm halfway there when it comes to most fairy tale adaptations. But I don't like all of them, just the good ones. And this is very well done. While Snow White is a flawed character (as well she should be), I really like and admire her. She understands duty and has integrity. She's an independent woman with a snarky mouth, but also a kind heart. Rose Red is growing on me, although the girl has some issues. Bigby Wolf doesn't have as big a part in this one, but I'm glad he showed up. I give a shoutout to Reynard Fox for being a very unlikely hero. I won't say more in fear of 'spoilers' (a side joke to River Song fans), but I am mourning a character for their sad demise as well.

Different from the first volume, but just as good. Some dark imagery and disturbing content, but still in a strange way cheerful and diverting. So, 4.5/5.0 stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 06, 2013

Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City

Astro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big CityAstro City Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Astro City captures the sort of awe this superhero fiction lover has felt since being a young kid and watching shows and movies about superheroes. I grew up in the 80s and we had the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, which were huge for that time period. I watched them again a couple of months ago, and while some aspects are a bit cheesy and dated, the essence is pure and still meaningful, and will bring me back to watch those movies again and again. Having said that, I've never been as huge a fan of Superman as Batman, honestly. Mainly because I sense a dark pain (and emotional conflicts) in Batman that feels more vivid to me and draws me deeper into his story. However, recently, my feelings have evolved to see Superman in a more elemental way. Superman has his own share of angst to carry around. He's alone amongst a crowd--the only one of his kind (at least early on). His powers cause him to always be abnormal, despite the facade he wears as Clark Kent. He chooses to stand up for good and right. And Lord knows that can be very hard to do. Right there is plenty of pathos, and I don't need an uber-dark storyline to get it. So I think that was I in the right mindset for this graphic novel.

In the introduction of this graphic novel collection, Kurt Busiek talks about how he didn't want to deconstruct superheroes because it's been done so much. I can understand that. Lately, we look at the dark side of superheroes because the so-called innocence of our Millennial world has been lost, and now we need icons who are in the dark along with the rest of us so we can relate. However, I think it's good to go back to basics and look at things for what they are, the potential that's never left behind with this subject matter, looking at the superhero archetype in its essential form. Having said that, there is still an 'authenticity' here. You have superheroes who not only deal with the ins and outs of saving the world, but also have to integrate their superhero-ness into a normal life.

One such hero has a day that is crammed full of tasks (and fortunately is able to use a quirk of his brain anatomy to do his work while he's in and out of the office, attending to his work as a caped crusader). He accomplishes so much every day, but few know just how much. At night, when he gets much-needed rest, he dreams of just flying with no particular goal, just because. I can relate to him in that I know I've felt my days were crammed chock-full, and there was no time to stop and smell the roses. I wonder where all that time went? But that's my life, so needs must.

How about how others perceive superheroes? This book covers this concept as well. A woman whose daily outlook is colored by the rituals that define her faith and culture looks at superheroes as special, until she realizes that they too adhere to particular rituals to make their world safe (and others with it). It gives her the strength to break out of a mold that is causing her to die a little every day on the inside. She draws courage from knowing that the superheroes aren't that different from her in the most essential ways.

How does one make sense of a world in which so much craziness goes on before one's eyes? That a reporter is an eyewitness and tries to write about the incredible things he's seen, no one will believe him? Even in Astro City, where the abnormal is normal, people don't see unless they believe it (or vice versa), and not even then.

You have the jaded view of superheroes by an extra-terrestrial observer. He sees them as just another part of what is wrong with earthlings, until he meets a very flawed superhero who makes him realize that even in their most flawed states, at least humans do try to excel for something more. Isn't a superhero just a glamorized example of that?

Lastly, can superheroes take the time to date, and another superhero in particular, who has their own set of enormous hangups and a world to save? Can they find a meeting of minds, once they take the chance to just be themselves for a night?

Astro City is a place, but it's also a concept. A way of looking at the superhero genre, at the micro and macro level. Even with more than 70 years (at least the early 20th century) under its belt, this genre still has a lot to say to a reader.

Astro City is sort of an example of just how diverse the superhero theme can be for a lens through which to examine the lives of characters. We see that being a superhero comes with its own set of problems. It's an avocation, and like any, that means sacrifices. Others may look in from the outside and see only the advantages, or even stereotype superheroes as all being the same, but each one is unique with their own story to tell, and the challenges that go along with it.

Visiting Astro City was an enjoyable jaunt. I have to come back through town again and meet a few more of its inhabitants in the near future. I will definitely follow this series, and hopefully I can write a better review about the next volume.

View all my reviews