Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE LIAR SOCIETY by Lisa and Laura Roecker

Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. But when she gets an e-mail from Grace, she’s not so sure.

Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM
Subject: (no subject)

I'm here…
sort of.
Find Cameron.
He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell.
They'll hurt you.

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. But secrets haunt the halls of her elite private school. Secrets people will do anything to protect. Even if it means getting rid of the girl trying to solve a murder...

So I really liked this book until the ending arrived, and then I wanted to hurl this into the cellar. The dank, dark musty cellar that's about to be set on fire.

That's a little harsh, though. This novel operated well as a suspenseful mystery/thriller with teenage protagonists. Their skills and investigations never seemed unrealistic or overpowered, but they still managed to figure out things without insulting my intelligence and accomplish a lot. I could barely put this book down once I started it, and there were plenty of surprises that kept me guessing. <--- Cliched sentence, right, but completely true.

I am fascinated by the protagonist of this story. She's snobby, superior, and has this negative attitude toward everything I like (for example, Latin, bike-riding, ponchos, reading in general), but she's still smart and interesting and I grew to like her by the end of the book. Congrats to the authors for that, I guess, because   I would get all rage-monster when she would flippantly dismiss someone else's interest (especially those of her nerdy next-door neighbor, Seth) but I still respected her. Yeah I don't even know.

The other characters in the novel partly made up for the protagonist's narrow-mindedness, as they were all really different from each other and represented different ways of thinking, looking at a situation, ways of life, etc, but again, when the protagonist is so quick to dismiss other people it becomes frustrating.

I gave this book 3/5 stars; it was a 4-star until that awful ending. Yes, I realize it's the first one in a series. But when I finish a book and don't feel like the main character has changed much, and nothing plot-wise has been accomplished, that doesn't give me great hopes for the next. I don't have the emotional energy for a literary tv show that never resolves anything.

2011 Reading Wrap-up

Overall Reading Stats:
Total Books = 112
Total Pages = 35748
Avg Books Per Day = 0.3
Avg Pages Per Day = 98

Best Book of 2011 – I’m going to limit this to books actually published in 2011, rather than all the books I read this year. I choose The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. Runners-up are The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan and Deadline by Mira Grant.

Worst Book of 2011 – I’m going to have to say Wither by Lauren DeStefano, because that’s the only book that I finished that’s been published in 2011 that I really loathed.

Most Disappointing Book of 2011 – Easily The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I loved her first book, The Iron King, because it was a fairy story that really played with iron as a weapon for the good guys and bad guys. The second one, though, fell into the pitfalls of melodrama, love triangles, and lots of feelings rather than anything more interesting or deep, storywise.

Most Surprising Book of 2011Every You, Every Me by David Levithan. I was NOT expecting that ending—total blindside.

Best Series Discovered in 2011 - The Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan. I had heard about it previously but managed to finally pick it up and it gave me ALL THE FEELS constantly. I haven’t yet read The Demon’s Surrender. I’m starting to think it’s because I don’t want to the series to be over.

Series That Went Off the Rails For You in 2011 – Again, The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. I’ll still finish it but I’m not excited. Runner-up is Aaron Allston’s Star Wars Wraith Squadron novels. The first one was lovely but the second made me shrug my shoulders.

Favorite New Author You Discovered in 2011 – DAVID LEVITHAN EASY. I want to eat all of his books. I read most of his books this year and am already looking forward to his next, to be published in 2012. My favorites by him are probably The Realm of Possibility, The Lover’s Dictionary, and Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List.

Most Hilarious Read of 2011Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis or In The Forests of the Night by Kersten Hamilton. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud and scaring other people.

Book That Made You Cry the Hardest in 2011Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (all-around great contemporary with heart and humor and musics) and Supernaturally by Kiersten White (fantastic follow-up to her debut, Paranormalcy). The books that make me cry usually aren’t the epics or the tragedies but the ones that most remind me of myself or someone I know.

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2011Deadline by Mira Grant. I hate the zombie genre/sub-culture and yet somehow I love her Newsflesh trilogy (maybe it’s the bloggers-as-journalists? Idk). I am counting the minutes until Blackout.

Book You Most Anticipated in 2011 - Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare. Her books are like legal addictive stimulants; not very healthy, but you can’t stop consuming or wanting another one. This is probably her best book so far (although I enjoy her Infernal Devices trilogy much more than her Mortal Instruments so maybe I’m biased?).

Favorite Cover of a Book You Read in 2011Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I drooled over it as soon as it was revealed and I still do. Percy has never been hotter and Roman eagles have never been more gorgeous.

Most Memorable Character in 2011 – This is way too hard. I just finished In The Forests of the Night and I was struck again by Teagan, who is the kind of girl I want to be (as opposed to a lot of heroines I read), as well as Finn, who is hilarious and brave and loyal, both the person I want to be and the person I want to be with. So I’ll go with these two. A runner-up would be Bagoas in The Persian Boy by Mary Renault; his voice was so strong and stuck with me for days after I read that book.

Most Beautifully Written Book in 2011Deathless by Catherynne Valente. That book was so dark and yet so delicious with every word on the page. R.M. Liuzza’s translation of Beowulf was also a beautiful read this year.

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2011 – I’m going to list as a group all the Romany books that I read early on in the year, specifically The Aeneid by Virgil, The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. Rome was IN this year, and influenced me to mix history and modern-day both in my writing, in my brain, and at school.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited until 2011 to Read - The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. So good why did I not read this as soon as it came out. Although, I probably would have read this book very differently in 2009 than now.

Book of 2011 You Wish You Had Written The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan. I have a crush, okay. Don’t judge me. YOU’RE JUDGING ME AREN’T YOU.

KAT, UNCORRIGIBLE by Stephanie Burgis

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she's inherited her mother's magical talents, and despite Stepmama's stern objections, she's determined to learn how to use them. But with her eldest sister Elissa's intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost. If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love? 

I loved this book. Let me count the ways.

The humor. I laughed out loud many, many times while reading this book. The narrator is a twelve-year-old girl, I do not read very many narrators this young, but I loved Kat, her humor (used against others) and her unintended humor (when she gets in a pickle through her own clumsy earnestness).

The sisters. Kat is the youngest of three girls. The dynamic between the three is SPOT ON to how sisters work. They may fight and bicker, but you can tell they care about each other and when they team up they are a fearsome force to be reckoned with. I also recognized myself and my two older sisters occasionally. I especially loved Angeline, which leads me to…

The romance. Or rather, the fact that the romances in this book were NOT your typical fictional romance. One of them totally mocked the classic gothic romance (which, imo, is echoed in today’s paranormal romances), and two of the others subverted the love potion romance in different ways. There was a lot of mocking, in general, of staples in the romantic genre.

The plot. It was fairly straightforward, and Kat attempts to deal with it in a straightforward manner, but her goals get complicated quickly through various trip-ups that made it suspenseful and/or humorous at different times.

The magic. The magic, too, was a pretty simple system, except that each character used it in completely different ways and manners. For example, Kat’s magic is very focused on canceling other spells, another character’s magic appears to be used mostly for beauty spells, and another character’s magic always smells of flowers. I liked how the magic a character used showed us something about that character.

Kat, Incorrigible is a short and sweet read with humor, magic, and Regency England bonus points. It’s Middle Grade, which as I mentioned above I do not read very often, but I liked it anyway because it is JUST THAT AWESOME.

Thank you, good night. 5/5 stars.

Friday, December 30, 2011

WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

Fact: I love this cover.
By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males born with a lifespan of 25 years, and females a lifespan of 20 years--leaving the world in a state of panic. Geneticists seek a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Yet her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement; her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next; and Rhine has no way to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive.

Together with one of Linden's servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

I’m going to keep this short and sweet (or, short, anyway), because I didn’t enjoy or like this book at all and I want to politely explain why.

Wither is full of misery. It places the heroine and everyone she cares about in a horrible world and horrible circumstances. It shows her fighting against the misery, but never quite succeeding. My friend Snazel wrote a blog post explaining that she reads books that choose to fight against despair. Wither, in my opinion, was not one of those. I admired the heroine, Rhine, for keeping her eyes on her goal regardless of what happened. I admired the three sister-wives for sometimes making small victories through their unity and strength. But I did not enjoy the book, I did not like it, and I do not read books to feel this way. I kept thinking maybe the onslaught of tragedies would stop, or pause, but every scene was just saturated with some awful truth. I will not read the rest of this trilogy, although I hope Rhine and Gabriel turn out okay. I don’t feel like I should review the writing or pacing or anything structural about this novel because even if all of that was perfect (I have no major complaints, at least, about any of those things) I would still dislike Wither.

I know that this novel works for a lot of people, and that’s great. Just please don’t hate me for my opinion and book-values because they are just as valid.

2012 YA Debut Author Challenge

I love this challenge. I haven't actually completed it in 2010 or 2011, but it gets me reading more debuts than I otherwise would. And then I can fanatically follow brand-new authors and feel like a wannabe hipster. Wait what.

Basic rules: read and review 12 YA/MG debut novels published in 2012. More rules on Story Siren's sign-up post.

Ok so here's my tentative TBR list:

Above by Leah Bobet [I'm really into male POVs right now. Also, dude, superpowers]

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood [This could either be really legitimate sister-power, or just "My sissies and I SO SASS."

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg [I like My-Life-In-Review books like this. Maybe I'm just morbid and sentimental.]

Cinder by Marissa Meyer [Fairy tales and cyborgs? I think yes.]

Elemental by Emily White ["Just because Ella can burn someone to the ground with her mind doesn't mean she should." Exactly.]

Fracture by Megan Miranda ["Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?" Inquiring minds want to know.]

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges [Russian history and intrigue plus magic. I think yes.]

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows [Everyone else is doing it. Also, the gorgeous cover.]

Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay [obligatory contemporary debut. Blurb has potential.]

Pretty Crooked by Elisa Ludwig [I am probably most interested by this one. A girl in the "in" crowd robs the rich and gives to the poor. Highschool Robin Hood.]

Queen of Glass by Sarah J. Maas [Don't know much about this one, but saw "assassins" and magic outlawed and wanted it.]

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen [Will Scarlet is a girl and possibly in love with Robin Hood.]

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth [Girl is addicted to getting struck by lightning. This I gotta see.]

Tempest by Julie Cross [Time jumps, male POV. Let's do it.]

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi [I've heard a lot about the author. I'm not that excited about the story, but we'll see.]

That's 15, so I reserve my right to drop or switch out some of these. Haaa. I'm trying to avoid dystopians/paranormals but I don't think I'm doing a great job of that so far. xD

WITCH EYES by Scott Tracey

Jacket blurb: Braden was born with witch eyes: the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, darkness, and magic. The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but at the cost of horrible pain.

After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden retreats to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties. As rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe desperately try to use Braden's powers to unlock Belle Dam's secrets, Braden vows never to become their sacrificial pawn. But everything changes when Braden learns that Jason is his father--and Trey, the enigmatic guy he's falling for, is Catherine's son.

To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—and risk losing the one he loves.

This was one of those books I picked up knowing nothing about it beforehand (so, yes, direct contrast to Across the Universe). Witch Eyes is your average paranormal romance, or so it seems at first. It stands out, however, from the masses for two reasons: 1, it’s from a gay male POV; 2, the world-building and magic system is unique and really interesting (as opposed to many vampire/fairy/etc books out there that just do a new spin on things). Braden’s power, in particular, is fascinating and is so full of storytelling possibilities that I might explode. This first book only scratches the surface of those possibilities.

So I enjoyed that part of the book, and I also enjoyed Braden himself. He’s a very likeable, average guy who has to deal with a mind-blowing amount of power that is constantly painful to him. Seeing him deal with that, and the other consequences of his powers was inspiring (I need to not use that word but it’s accurate, okay).

On the flip-side, there are some very confusing elements in the story and the world-building. I repeatedly found myself asking, “But wait. If that’s what happened/how that works then why…” Sometimes the book answered my questions, sometimes not. The end of the book, of course, is a lead-in for a sequel but I wasn’t sure if the story was aware of how many gaps in my knowledge there were, rather than just the big questions facing Braden.

I also would have liked to see the female characters playing more of a role in this one. Braden has two incredibly awesome female friends who represent the schism in the town, but neither of them does much more than glare at each other and support Braden in minimal ways, plot-wise. More in the sequel, please?

Now I have a question, mostly just for the void but if anyone has an answer, please chime in. I was really surprised by the differences between the romance in this book, and your typical straight paranormal romance. I was especially surprised by my own feelings on what is “okay” in a fictional romance. Let me explain. Braden’s love interest in the story is physically bigger and stronger than him. The guy, Trey, comes across as a little bipolar, mostly I think because he’s dealing with all the crazy plot events and his own role in them, like Braden is. So at several points in the story he gets very angry with Braden, occasionally reacting physically and shaking Braden really hard. When he first did this I was like WHOA BOY SLOW DOWN and was getting my abusive-relationship hat on. But like, are there different rules between guys? Braden never seems bothered or threatened or scared by this behavior. Is this because guys can just be rough and it isn’t quite as threatening as, for example, a guy shaking a girl? Or do the same rules apply? Trey’s behavior bothered me but I’m not sure if that was because I was overlapping a straight relationship onto them (Braden=girl, Trey=boy). The book is written by a gay man so it’s not like this a yaoi fangirl author getting crazy.

I gave Witch Eyes 3/5 stars for a lot of potential and not quite enough execution, but I have strong hopes for the next one.


Jacket blurb: Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

I actually read this book back in January, when this book was still full of beyond-the-skies hype. Taking into account that hype, the excerpt I had read, and the general “LOVE THIS BOOK OR YOU SUCK” attitude pervading the blogosphere at the time, I was incredibly underwhelmed by Across the Universe. I’ve spent the rest of the year trying to wrestle myself into a more objective opinion of it.

But I have to face facts. I will never love this book, and I will probably never reread it (the ultimate test for any book I think I love).

For why though, you ask.

It’s a well-written book. It’s solidly-plotted and paced, Revis’ writing skills are perfectly adequate and in some places quite lovely. The world-building and premise were fairly original. Tension was used very well in this book, strung out like a chocolate trail leading you on. I loved the idea of being stuck on a ship for so long and exploring how that would change and affect the people living on it (I love Wall-E for much the same reason).

But I was never surprised during this book. I would call the genre a scifi mystery thriller dystopian, but the thriller part never really thrilled me. I guessed every twist and turn that came at me (save one at the end which I will of course not spoil, but it wasn’t the MAIN twist at the end). I spent most of the book pointing at things and insisting the main characters listen to me and PAY ATTENTION. They never did.

That brings me to another element that kept me from really enjoying this. The characters. Despite the fact that Amy has been thrown into this place and I hate it as much as her, I never really empathized with her. She just annoyed the heck out of me, probably, again, because I was yelling at her the whole time to notice things or do things that she just refused to proactively do. Elder was a mixed box for me; I empathized with his struggle to define himself and decide who his loyalties belonged to, but much of the time his narrow-mindedness and lack of observation killed me.

Orion and Harley were the two characters I cared about most, but they disappointed me in different ways. Orion didn’t turn out to be nearly as interesting as I had hoped, and Harley was underused drastically. I hope he has more of a role in future books cuz that boy is golden.

I also don’t know if the mixture of genres really works out in this book. There is so much going on and not enough space to work it all in, and again the characters seem stuck in a limited pool of actions. Maybe the sequel will expand the horizons more (in more ways than one).

So after all that ranting, I need to tell you that I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads. It’s perfectly adequate and obviously enthralls a lot of people, so to some extent I’m assigning my dissatisfaction with my own reading wants/needs/feelings.

Monday, December 26, 2011

KIN and HARK! A VAGRANT: mini-reviews

If you've read Tithe by Holly Black, and liked it, there's really no reason you won't like Kin (Good Neighbors #1) by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh.

If you've read Kate Beaton's webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, there's DEFINITELY no reason you won't like Hark! A Vagrant.

Wait, you really want me to review them? REALLY? Ok whatever.

Kin is about a girl named Rue whose mother is missing. Also, she's been seeing crazy things like fairies and stuff. She has a bunch of friends who are very loyal but also a bit sketchy and get up to questionably legal acts.
This will sound very, very familiar to you if you have read Tithe. Rue's mother's family begin showing up, along with a strange boy named Tam (ugh I mean really how obvious are we going to get here) and the mystery darkens and the plot thickens and it's all very interesting, until the last few pages when Rue SOLVES EVERYTHING, despite having shown no glimmer of intelligence before that point, and it all leads nicely into a graphic novel series.
I don't know, guys. If you have NOT read Tithe, you might like it more than a Tithe-reader has. Then again, if you want more of the same, you will also like it. I was bored out of my mind. The art was nice and creepy (it was probably my favorite part. Awkward). I gave it 3/5 stars.

Hark! A Vagrant is Kate Beaton's printed collection of some of her webcomic. Many of the strips are based in history and/or literature, and there are many Canadian jokes or jokes about Canadian stereotypes (Beaton is Canadian). I love her sense of humor, so I would recommend checking out the webcomic to see if you also like it. I got a hardcover of the book and it is very nice quality with a good layout for the strips (not too much or too little white space). It also includes some of her notes at the bottom of the pages. I gave this 5/5 stars.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

More 2012 Reading Challenges

I am once again participating in the Graphic Novels challenge because it's awesome. However, this year I'm not going to forbid myself from reading manga, because I miss manga and this will be a good excuse to read some. The rules are basically to read 12 graphic novels in the year 2012.

My tentative list:

Hero Tales vol 2-4
Code Geass vol 6-7
Angelic Days vol 1-2
Scott Pilgrim 5-6
Star Wars Tales (reread for some volumes)
X-Men: First Class (series)

I am also participating in the Victorian Challenge over at Laura's Reviews. Here is my list of books that I MAY OR MAY NOT read, which I will add to or subtract or review as I see fit.

Written in the Victorian period:
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Set in the Victorian period:
Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
Dangerous To Know by Tasha Alexander
Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

My other 2012 Reading Challenges:
Greek Classics

SCOTT PILGRIM 1&2 reviews

 I think Scott Pilgrim takes a certain off-key, off-kilter, or just plain hackneyed sense of humor to really enjoy. A good test is to watch ten minutes or so of the movie. I saw the movie when it came out and thought it was hilarious, and really strangely constructed (storywise) and when I discovered there was a comic series with awesome artwork, I put it on the list.

From the back: Scott Pilgrim's life is totally sweet. He's 23 years old, he's in a rock band, he's "between jobs," and he's dating a cute high school girl. Nothing could possibly go wrong, unless a seriously mind-blowing, dangerously fashionable, rollerblading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers starts cruising through his dreams and sailing by him at parties. Will Scott's awesome life get turned upside-down? Will he have to face Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends in battle?

The first volume was very close to the plot of the movie, but I was very happy to see that Knives Chau (Scott's girlfriend at the beginning of the story) was a little more developed and a little more interesting than just your classic cookie-cutter Asian girl caricature. The art is a perfect match to the simple (and yet highly ironic) dialogue and story. My favorite character in this volume (as well as the movie) was easily Wallace, Scott's "cool gay roommate." Scott has a tendency to legitimize anything stupid he is doing or has done by the fact that he now has a cool gay roommate, which is just one of his many facepalm-worthy justifications, but Wallace is pretty legitimate. He is more likely to just roll his eyes after giving Scott rejected advice than the film version of his character is.

The second volume's pace seemed to slow down a lot. There was less emphasis on the overall plot of winning Ramona and defeating her Evil Exes and more digressions, such as a flashback to Scott's highschool years (the significance of which is still alluding me, but maybe that's the point (wait, what?)). It was still hilarious, though, and have I mentioned the art recently? I love it. I like the thick clean lines and the expressions (which give a LOT of range to the two most common feelings: obliviousness and disbelief.).

I gave these two volumes 5 and 4 stars, respectively, and am looking forward to more!

My full list of Graphic Novels this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Greek Classics Challenge 2012

In 2012 I am participating in the Greek Classics Challenge. Hurrah!! I have a couple waiting to be read on my shelf so this will force me to eat them. :)

I'm aiming for the Sophocles level, which means I will read 1-4 Greek classics during 2012.

My choices:
The Histories by Herodotus
The Bacchae and Other Plays by Euripides
The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (I've read excerpts of this, but not the whole thing)

Chunkster Reading Challenge 2012

In 2012 I am participating in the Chunkster Reading Challenge. The rules are simple: the only books that count for the challenge are works of adult literature (fiction, non-fiction or poetry) with at least 450 pages. Additional rules/clarifications can be found at the link.

I am aiming for the "Chunkster" level, which means I will read 4 books with the above criteria. My choices are below.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allen Poe
Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Middlemarch by George Eliot

Alternate: The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagle, because Fagle is boss.)

I already own all of these and they really need to be read. THEREFORE.


I read these for the Graphic Novel Challenge.

So I love X-Men, but I am a very amateur fan. I've only read a few of the comics, watched some of the kids shows, and of course the movies. My buddy Kemendraugh recommended House of M to me, and The Extremists was just sitting on the library shelf so I picked it up, prepared to be completely confused (and oh, I was).


The Extremists is part of the Uncanny X-Men storyline, so there was obviously a lot going on previous to the volume I read. The story focused on a group called the Morlocks, who are trying to, you know, get humans to accept mutants, but this is an EXTREMIST group of those so they, you know, wander around disfiguring humans. As one does. The X-Men are all HEY NOW and there's prophecies for the future and a group of prophecy-sycophants and it was all very fascinating. I was mostly concerned with Leech, who is in mortal peril the entire time, and his buddy Caliban. Storm was a key character, I think. But yeah I was really confused by the story so I'd really only recommend it if you know where you are and what you're doing and what your purpose in life is. I wasn't very impressed with the dialogue writing in this one, regardless, which encouraged me to skim because everyone talked the same (except for the main Morlock and Caliban) and it was all very boring. Rating 3/5 stars.

House of M was excellent (of course, because Kemendraugh recommended it!). It starts out with a super-powerful mutant chick going crazy and altering the entire universe (so there's that). The only one who remembers what life was like before is Wolverine (of course). So he has to figure out what's going on, tell other people, and they have to decide if they should change the world back, and how. I was very distracted by Spiderman in this volume (The Avengers are in it). I've recently realized that my Spiderman love has nothing to do with the movies because every time he pops up in a comic, I'm just HEY THERE SPIDERMAN LET'S FOLLOW YOUR TINY SUBPLOT AND IGNORE EVERYONE ELSE. I really liked his tiny subplot here. ^_^ The writing in this volume was awesome too, hilarious and interesting and driven. Yes, driven, as in you needed to read all of it rather than just look at the pictures. Rating 4/5 stars.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

STAR WARS: REBELLION (1&2) Mini Reviews

I read the first two volumes of this series for the Graphic Novel Challenge. The overall premise of the series is that it is set during the time of the original Star Wars trilogy, and features some well-known faces while introducing new characters who at least claim to be working for the Rebel Alliance. Treachery, however, is a big theme.

 The first volume, My Brother, My Enemy, was a bit iffy for me. There were various aspects of the story that I found confusing or inadequate. For example, the beginning of the volume sets up the friendship between Luke and Tank as if the reader is already completely invested in it. This either means that the prologue was a complete fail as far as I was concerned in getting me to immediately invest in the friendship, or that there's another storyline that leads into Rebellion that I don't know about. Either way, it seemed a sloppy way to start out an entire standalone series. I was also not huge on the Luke/Leia subplot, which was evocative of the incesty relationship they had back in the dawn of Star Wars in the 70s. However, I did become attached to Tank, the main protagonist of this volume, and I hope (I demand!) that he show up again. Rating 4/5 stars.

I enjoyed the second volume, The Ahakista Gambit, much more. The story was woven well between flashbacks of the protagonist, Wyl Tarson (who showed up in a small capacity in the first volume) and the present day, as opposed to the disjointed prologue of Volume 1 followed by the present-day chopped up with repetitions of said prologue. The weird Luke/Leia dynamic was nowhere to be seen and it focused on a handful of Rebellion-reject (I know, I thought they took ALL the misfits!) characters with backgrounds that are only hinted at. I look forward to learning more about all of them, and I thought Wyl especially was a much more fleshed out and interesting character than Tank. Rating 5/5 stars.

The art in the series is very well done so far, but nothing that stands out as unique; it's a similar grade to Legacy, Vector, and Knights of the Old Republic. The dialogue overall was well-written; often in graphic novels I find myself skimming dialogue and focusing on the images, but that wasn't the case here.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Magical Words: The Power of Speech in Old Irish Texts

I am a word nerd; I love words, their meanings, and the connections between them. Therefore I have a tendency to focus on specific words rather than on the overall effect or power or meaning the collective words have. This term I took a course called “The Age of Beowulf,” and it changed the way I think about words to include how words produce an action, and how heavily actions rely on words. The relationship between words and deeds, especially the question of which causes which (i.e. chicken or egg) was a prevalent theme in most of the texts we read, but I was particularly struck by it in the Celtic texts because of the concept of geis (or plural gessa). This is essentially a taboo or spell-like order on someone else, requiring them to operate under those gessa. But words in general are very powerful from the viewpoint of the Celtic texts we read, as we see time and time again.

In the Old Irish lyric, “To Mary and Her Son,” the speaker says, “I call upon you with true words” (Carney 19) “that we may have talk together with the compassion of unblemished heart” (21). Mary, a saint in heaven, is expected to come and speak with her caller because of mere words, almost like a summoning. The speaker expects Mary to listen to him because of his words. In “The World,” another lyric, the speaker says, “Take no oath, take no oath by the sod you stand upon” (41). The implication (taken with the rest of the lyric) is that since oaths are binding but the earth won’t last, the oath will remain but it will be impotent, because its witness is gone. Oaths, statements of words, are more permanent than the earth itself. In the wisdom poetry “The Sayings of Flann Fina,” this idea is complicated by the statement, “Vain speech is the beginning of evil” (Ireland 79). Speech is very powerful; once spoken, it spreads a certain power that enables speaker, listener, or both to act on the vain speech. This emphasizes the negative influence words can impart.

These are examples of how words influence actions, but there are also many instances in Celtic texts where words are blatantly magical, affecting the weather or other people in forceful ways. In “The Irish Life of Brigit,” Brigit communicates through speech with an infant, asking it who its father was. The infant, “thought it had not yet begun to speak” (Davies 153), answered, thereby saving an innocent man from a rape accusation. Birgit also calmed a storm, “stilled the rain and wind” (154), by chanting a verse to God. Brigit’s power is drawn from her spiritual connection with God, and channeled out through words.

This is evocative to the powers druids are shown to have throughout the earlier texts “The Book of Invasions” and “The Second Battle of Mag Tured.” When the Irish druids send a wind to keep the sons of Mil away, Amergin stands up and chants a counter-spell of some sort, beginning with “I invoke the land of Ireland” (Cross 19). This suggests names are very powerful as well. The result of Amergin’s chant is that “Immediately a tranquil calm came to them on the sea” (19). Amergin is a druid, but also one of the “men of learning” (19) Donn refers to, and also a “poet” (21), showing once again how closely connected magic is to words. Words, simple sounds that these druids make, are able to influence and control nature itself.

In The Tain, the gessa that Cuchulainn and the Morrigan place on each other further illustrates the power words have over deeds. When Cuchulainn refuses her proposition, she vows to hinder him in his fights (Kinsella 133). They trade promises of pain to each other until Cuchulainn finishes with, “I’ll hurl a stone at you…and shatter your leg, and you’ll carry that mark forever unless I lift it from you with a blessing” (133). All of these pronouncements eventually happen: “Cuchulainn did to the Morrigan the three things he had sworn” (136). In this episode, their previous meeting and words dictated the actual events in the future and the outcome of what happened.

Additionally, as we saw, words can have both positive and negative results. This is humbling and makes me want to be very careful and aware how I use my words, both in speech and on paper. As an English major, my entire academic life revolves around how well or how foolishly (as is more often the case) I use words to communicate and attempt to affect others. Before this term, I had considered this solely in terms of how I can persuade other people, but now words seem much more volatile and powerful in real life, not just the abstract world of ideas.

All of these examples drawn from the texts show words as having concrete, physical consequences. The power that words can have over people and situations, and their power to create, support, and destroy ideas is amazing and terrifying, and the Celts clearly knew all about this. When ideas move history, from the mundane day to day history of one person to the nation-changing wars and treaties of global history, it shows how absurdly powerful mere words are.

I have two large goals as I move out of this term resulting from this course specifically. The first one is to handle words as I would dynamite: very, very carefully and respectfully. I may not be able to use words to raise or calm storms (although that would be awesome), but how I speak to everyone around me on a daily basis, how I write, how I use Facebook to express myself, how I speak to employers, professors, and peers, are all very powerful forms of communication and directly influence both my own actions and those of others’.
My second new goal is to learn Old Irish.

Works Cited:

Carney, James. Medieval Irish Lyrics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967. Print.

Cross, Tom Peete. Ancient Irish Tales. ed. Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1936. Print.

Davies, Oliver. Celtic Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. Print.

Ireland, Colin A. Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria. Tempe: Arizona
Center for Medieval Renaissance Studies, 1999. Print.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin: From the Irish Epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2002. Print.