RIP Update

It’s been a bit quiet around here this week, as I only managed to schedule posts for the first week of my two-week vacation and decided to have fun in Australia rather than worrying about writing anything. Or even reading anything… I read a total of two books on the trip and neither were RIP-related, which is a shame because it’s spring in Australia and that’s closer to fall than I’m going to get here in Florida until, like, January. Pants and a sweatshirt?? My poor cold bones.

Even the penguins are freezing!

On the plus side, my vacation required a total of eleven flights (four out, four back, and three between cities), and there were free movies and TV shows to be had on almost all of them. Suuuper helpful for jetlagged eyes, and for getting in my RIP watches for the week.

Hannibal, episodes 1 and 2
HannibalI had heard about this show through a couple of friends who enjoy it, but I just knew that it was supposed to be good and it had Hannibal Lecter in it. So when it turned out to be about some probably unnecessarily autistic-ish FBI dude I was like, whaaaat. (I have only seen Silence of the Lambs.) But I was still intrigued. It’s a crime procedural with weirdly dead bodies (impaled by antlers in one and used to grow mushrooms in the other); what am I gonna do, say no? And eventually Lecter shows up, of course, and he is more than sufficiently creep-tastic, so I’m sure I’ll be catching up with this series soon.

OculusI didn’t intend to watch this movie, and my husband actually picked it to watch without me because he knows I’m not a fan of horror movies, but my eyes wandered over to his screen and saw Amy Pond buying a creepy mirror and I was like, well, I could read these subtitles for a while. And in fact it turns out that horror movies are way less horrifying with the sound off. (#lifehacks) I’m not sure how far into the movie I started watching, but I think it was pretty early on, and the gist of it is that Amy Pond buys a creepy mirror that her dad used to own before he brutally murdered her mother and was murdered by her brother and then Amy Pond went off to foster care and the brother to jail. Now the brother is out of jail and Amy Pond wants to prove that the mirror is haunted so she sets up a bunch of cameras and non-electric lanterns in the house and obtains a dog and some plants to power the mirror or whatever and her brother is like, you crazy, lady. But of course she’s not crazy, or she is crazy, but also the mirror is totes haunted and creeeeeeeepy things are happening in the house in the present that are dovetailed in with scenes from the past leading up to the horrible murders. The movie even almost sticks the landing, but it’s a horror film and really only has a couple of options for endings, so it’s not as awesome as it could have been. I think it would make a really intriguingly creepy book, but apparently this is one of the few movies not based on a book in some way, so I’m gonna need someone to go write that novelization for me, ‘kay?

Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King

Ask the PassengersA long time ago, I read King’s book Please Ignore Vera Dietz largely because I once shared a name with the protagonist but then it turned out to be super awesome and included a flow chart so even more awesome. Then King’s next book came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then this one came out and I was like, I should totally read that, and then her next book came out… point is, I’ve put off reading her books long enough, so I am embarking on a quest to catch up. But not too quickly, or what will I have left to read?

I’m glad I waited this long to read Ask the Passengers, because as it turns out it is the book that I had thought or hoped that Speak would be, and it would have sucked to read Speak second. Both books deal with a girl with a secret (not the same secret), but where Anderson’s narrative is removed from the main character and we don’t really know what’s going on in her head, King’s gets right up in Astrid’s brain and gives us all the good thinky thoughts.

So Astrid is a New York City girl living in Podunkville, PA after her parents moved the family for reasons. Her small town is nice and all, but everyone is all up in everyone else’s business because that’s the traditional small town sport. Astrid’s more or less made her peace with this, but it does put a kink in her burgeoning relationship with another girl. Astrid’s girlfriend wants Astrid to come out as a flag-flying lesbian so they can date in the open, but Astrid isn’t even sure if she likes girls, plural, or just this one particular girl, or even this one particular girl, so could everybody maybe just give her a minute to decide?

I really loved this book, which pretty well encapsulated my teen angst over… every single thing that ever happened to me. I like that Astrid is smart enough to recognize all of the gossip and curiosity as the shenanigans that it is, but that, realistically, that knowledge is not as super helpful as it really should be. On the plus side, Astrid has old dead philosophers like Zeno and Socrates to turn to (the latter in an oddly literal way), as well as the titular passengers who fly over her town and who get their own brief narrative interludes as Astrid sends her love to them and they hear or otherwise receive it. It’s no talking pagoda but I’m still intrigued.

I absolutely love the way King writes her teenagers and even their parents, absent as they may so far be, and her way with words still keeps me somehow both glued to the pages and flipping through them as fast as I can to find out how things are going to play out. I am really excited to keep poring over her backlist, though come come October you’ll probably find me gushing about her upcoming book, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, which, with a name like that, I could not possibly turn down.

Recommendation: For anyone who has ever been an over-thoughtful teen and fans of John Green who want a little more magic in their lives.

Rating: 9/10

The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters

I don’t know where my book-o-sphere was when this book came out a couple years ago, but luckily it came back in time to inform me of this book’s awesomeness before I stopped liking bonkers speculative fiction (not that that’s ever going to happen). The world is coming to an end but there’s a policeman still solving crimes anyway? Sign me up!

Of course, the world isn’t actually coming to an end, exactly, or probably even our intrepid policeman would be giving up. It’s coming pretty close, though — there’s a giant asteroid on an unchangeable collision course with Earth that is going to kill everyone within a very large radius of where it hits and make life pretty sucky for those on the other side of the Earth.

As the story opens, our characters know when this asteroid is coming but not precisely where, but people are still committing suicide left and right because they cannot handle this unknown future. So when a dude is found hanged in a McDonald’s bathroom, everyone except our protagonist, Detective Hank Palace, is absolutely convinced it’s just another “hanger” and that it’s time to go back to sitting around contemplating inevitable doom.

But Palace thinks that there’s something weird about the crime scene, especially the strange woman he saw avoiding it and him, and he, in his adorable memorized-the-rulebook baby-detective resolve, is going to solve the case.

So obviously there’s this possible-murder plotline, which goes through all the requisite twists and turns and red herrings and double-backs of your average murder mystery, and the solution to said mystery is fairly well thought out. But the real heft of the story lies in its setting, with this giant asteroid making everyone crazier than usual in small-town New England. Winters does a great job of writing this plausible reality where some people think that suicide is preferable to whatever could possibly come after the asteroid and others think that the asteroid is an excuse to do every stupid thing you wouldn’t do if you knew you had to survive it and still others are convinced that the whole thing is a government conspiracy.

And I love our detective friend, who takes himself so absolutely seriously with the memorizing of the rulebook and the following of the procedure but also knows that he’s taking himself too seriously even if he can’t do anything about it. Palace is really the only character that gets to grow and change, but even the most one-note of Winters’s characters is somehow delightful.

This is a book that was clearly written for me, and I am very happy that there’s already a sequel waiting for me on my library’s shelves when I am ready to delve into this world once more.

Recommendation: For my bonkers-loving friends and those who like mysteries that are more about setting than plot.

Rating: 9/10

Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, Vol. 1Even though I seem to be incapable of catching up with all of the single issue comics I’ve been buying over the last year, I got it into my head that I should and could totally start another series, for free from the library! Of course, see the first part of that sentence, so this particular book spent many months being renewed to the limit and checked in and back out until I finally decided that if I wasn’t going to read it now, it was never going to happen.

Part of my severe procrastination in reading this volume is that I really didn’t want to not like it. I had seen and heard this series talked about all over my favorite media, and everyone has pretty much agreed that it’s quite good. But on the other hand, it’s by Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote the Y: The Last Man series that I loved until I didn’t, and also the few panels that I had seen of the comic looked, well, a little too weird for me.

But, seriously, everyone was talking about it, and I am not one to get left out if I can help it, so now I can also say that I have read it. And that it’s quite good. I hope it stays that way!

First things first, yes, it’s super weird. The protagonists are a dude with horns and a chick with wings, and the antagonists include a robot prince with a monitor for a head and a chick with no arms but lots and lots of legs. We meet the robot prince mid-coitus, and later another antagonist goes to what is apparently a sex planet and we get many helpful illustrations of what goes on there.

But the story itself (so far) is pretty normal. Our protagonists are from two sides of a long war, and at the beginning of the book we are treated to the birth of their be-horned and be-winged daughter. No side of the war (and there are apparently many sides) is okay with this union, and so many people are sent out to kill our heroes, although at least some of the hunters are told not to kill the kid. So that’s interesting.

Also interesting is that the series is called Saga, and at certain points characters mention that the parents are ruining the “Narrative”, so I am intrigued to see what comes of that. And I am, as I was with Y: The Last Man, totally rooting for our protagonists and even a little bit for some of the antagonists, so it will be fun to see what horrors await them (I have been promised horrors!). Perhaps I’ll even find out in a timely fashion this time? A girl can dream…

Recommendation: For fans of Vaughan and strange worlds in general, and those with strong stomachs for sex and violence.

Rating: 9/10

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The MartianYou and I, we’ve known each other a while (unless you’re new here, in which case, hi! and, uh, prepare for swears ahead), and I think you generally know how I feel about things. So I hope it’s safe to say that you know what I was thinking when I saw the first lines of this book:

“I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.

If you guessed anything other than “SOLD SOLD SOLD” or at least “…tell me more”, then, well, you should go explore the archives!

If you yourself are thinking “…tell me more”, then read on, because I’m going to oblige!

The Martian, as the name implies, is the story of a dude on Mars. Why is he on Mars? Well, he was part of the third manned mission to Mars, which was going swell until a huge storm blew in, knocked everything around a bunch, and caused the mission to abort. Everybody got back in the capsule except for our hero, Mark Watney, who was knocked out and, according to his malfunctioning equipment, dead. Except, of course, he wasn’t, and now he’s stuck on Mars indefinitely, with only vitamins, water, and a handful of Thanksgiving potatoes to sustain him while he works out a plan to get home.

Are you excited yet? Because I am still super excited, and I have already read this book. In fact, in going back to look up details for this post, I found myself starting to read the book all over again, because, spoiler, I absolutely loved it.

The book is told primarily from Watney’s perspective via his log entries, written partially for himself and partially for whoever might find them in the future and therefore full of technical science-y things (which seem plausible enough and I so don’t care if they’re not) but also full of swears and emotions. Interspersed with the entries are third-person chapters detailing what is happening back on Earth and on the spaceship with the rest of the crew and sometimes what is happening to Watney when he is not writing log entries.

It was, for me, a very tense reading experience because I read it only on my breaks at work and so had to wait hours between entries, usually with something terrible having just happened to Watney, because, you know, stuck on Mars.

Luckily, Watney is a Space MacGyver, and really a lot of my enjoyment of the novel came from imagining this dude on Mars cutting apart millions of dollars of NASA equipment (including Pathfinder!) and duct-taping it back together, or combining hydrogen and oxygen together to make water with some explosive results, all the while explaining how this could totally work (again, don’t care if it couldn’t!). The rest of my enjoyment came from Watney’s personality, which is just the right combination of snarky and serious to match how I think I would feel, were I a super-smart astronaut suddenly given what is likely the rest of my life to explore Mars. I am totally Team Watney.

I loved this book so hard, from beginning all the way through to the exciting ending and even into the less-exciting, wrap-everything-up ending, which is brief enough that we can just pretend it never happened, right? Good. That’s what we’re doing, then. I loved this book from beginning to end, and from the beginning all over again just now. If I don’t just read the whole thing a second time, maybe I’ll go check out the other stories at Weir’s fantastically old-school website, which include Sherlock Holmes AND Doctor Who fanfiction? Uh, ‘scuse me guys, I gotta go. Be back… soon?

Recommendation: For fans of space and potentially totally made-up science and snarky dudes.

Rating: 10/10

Weekend Shorts: The Unwritten #43-44

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, largely because I’ve been spending all of my free time reading some pretty awesome full-size books. But then I looked at my towering pile of unread comics and thought it might perhaps be a good idea to read some of those before I became buried under them! But then after reading two of them I had more long books to read, so… that’s what you get this week! Perhaps more later?

Unwritten #43: “Wheels Within Wheels, Fires Within Fires”
Issue 43So at the end of the last issue, this giant bear showed up with some raccoon/mole/rodent-type friends, and I was like, um. But right at the beginning of this issue said giant bear calls Tom Taylor “a big, featherless chicken,” and as such this bear is my new best friend. This bear gets into a couple of cleaver fights with his friends and with Tom before being dispatched by our old friend Baron von Munchausen, who helps Tom figure out what’s going on and then attaches himself to Tom’s quest to save Lizzie. It definitely feels like a bit of a filler issue, mostly exposition, but the supporting characters offer enough humor (and anti-humor) to keep things interesting.

Unwritten #44: “Halfway Through the Journey”
Issue 44Which is good, because the humor falls right out of the story in this issue. Tom has made his way to the land of the dead in search of Lizzie, but first he loses his memory and meets up with some kids we’ve known for quite a while now and who I am glad are more or less okay. We get a nice little tour of the underworld of Greek myth, meet a few people from Tom’s past, and then get a surprise appearance from one of my favorite characters in this series (yay!). I am excited to get back to these comics, whenever that happens…

Wool #5: The Stranded, by Hugh Howey

Wool #5Oh, heeeeeyyyy, Wool, long time no read! You can stop giving me that pointed Look from the middle of my giant work-based TBR pile, now, although I will be sad to be sending you back to your home library, where it will be more difficult for me to foist you onto unsuspecting readers.

“The Stranded” (The Stranded?) is the final, novel-length installment of what we’re apparently calling book one of the Silo Series, because that’s not confusing at all. And it is chock-full of people and places and stories and craziness to rival those first four installments, don’t you worry. Let’s see what we can make of it.

So we ended the last story with our friends in the main silo headed off to war with themselves because of secrets and treachery, and this one picks up pretty shortly thereafter, with the war all but decided in favor of the secret-keepers. The Jerk Dude in Charge is training up an apprentice to join him in jerky in-charge-ness, but of course said apprentice, Lukas, is infatuated with our good friend Juliette, who is sitting pretty in a second silo plotting her revenge and having illicit phone conversations with Lukas while the boss is away. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be losers of the war have built a radio that is receiving all sorts of transmissions, and the isolation of their silo is clearly not going to last much longer.

This story was a pretty good conclusion to this… story… (criminy, Howey!), with lots of questions more or less answered and just enough questions raised or outstanding to set the stage for the next series. It was a bit overlong, with some scenes seeming repetitive and others not seeming to advance the plot much (though who knows with all the stories left to tell), but I wasn’t too sad about spending the extra time with Juliette and Lukas and even, to a certain extent, Bernard aka Jerk Dude. I felt like Howey did a good job of explaining just why Bernard was such a jerk and how jerk-ful-ness might actually be a useful skill in this very strange world and I even found myself a little annoyed with the naïveté of our ostensible heroes, which I think is good writing.

I am very intrigued to see where this story goes with the Shift series, though I am not in any rush to go out and get those stories; my brain is content to sit and think about this set for a while first.

Recommendation: Absolutely go read the first story, right now, go do that, and then read the rest of the series if you’re interested in a different, deeper, world-building experience.

Rating: 8/10

The Goddess Chronicle, by Natsuo Kirino

The Goddess ChronicleMany moons ago I read Kirino’s Out, a bonkers mystery/thriller story which I remember much more fondly than I gave it credit for back in the day. So when this book came up in my ordering, I was like, yes, I will put a hold on you right now.

The Goddess Chronicle is almost nothing like Out, although it is bonkers and it does have a sort of murder mystery to it. This novel deals with a girl called Namima who, we find out in the first paragraph, has died and now lives among the dead. Before that whole death thing, she was born on an island with some interesting religious practices that led to her sister becoming the island’s Oracle and being universally loved and praised while Namima, the yin to her sister’s yang, became the hidden, untouchable priestess of the dead. Not pleased with her lot in life, Namima broke a few rules, ran away, and eventually ended up dying with some unfinished business, leading her to the realm of the dead in which we meet her.

There she meets Izanami, the goddess who helped create the world but died in childbirth and ended up ruling the dead and choosing who will die every day. She has some issues with her husband, Izanaki, and we spend a few not-terribly-exciting chapters learning all about those, and then we get back to the good stuff, including Namima getting a chance to find out what happened to her family and then several chapters about that no-good husband, Izanaki, and his lady-loving adventures on the high seas.

I, to my shame and embarrassment, had no idea there even was a Japanese mythology to speak of before reading this novel — my mythological life was shaped primarily by the Greeks and Romans and then later those Norsemen, and of course being an American I worship different cultural gods. Luckily, the novel is apparently part of a series of novels retelling myths, many of which are making their way onto my TBR list as we speak so that I can stop being quite so ignorant.

Anyway, the point is that I found the story of Izanami and Izanaki quite fascinating; it is strongly based on cultural ideals of masculinity and femininity and gender roles that play out in Kirino’s frame story as well. If this book isn’t already on the syllabus for dozens of sociology classes, those hypothetical professors are doing it wrong.

I also loved Kirino’s writing, from the way she constructed a perfect myth-telling sentence (okay, those accolades might go to her translator, Rebecca Copeland) to the way she employs foreshadowing in my absolute favorite way — telling us what’s going to happen (like Namima’s death) and then letting her story be the interesting part of the novel rather than the filler between exciting plot events.

The Goddess Chronicle was almost entirely not what I was hoping for, but it was delightful in its own right and a book very worth reading.

Recommendation: For those in the mood for a slow, lyrical story, and especially those who fail at knowing Japanese mythology.

Rating: 7/10

Who Could That Be At This Hour, by Lemony Snicket

Who Could That Be at This HourSpeaking of kids with no parental guidance who are measurably smarter than the adults around them…

Man, I love Lemony Snicket. I’m not sure how this book got past my radar last year, but there must have been something really exciting going on, because otherwise I would have tripped over myself to get in line to read this first book in a series about the childhood of one Mr. Snicket, the writer of many fine books about my favorite orphans.

So it turns out that as a child, Snicket was part of some shadowy organization (of course) doing shadowy things (of course), and as we meet him he has just graduated Shadowy School or whatever and is off to train as an apprentice to a chaperone called S. Theodora Markson, who we find out is ranked last on the list of chaperones (of course). Snicket chose her to further his own mysterious plans, but her one accomplishment is ruining said plans, so he’s stuck with her on a shadowy-organization-approved case involving the retrieval of a maybe-stolen maybe-valuable object. Theodora bumbles her way through the case while Snicket, of course, learns the true facts, but if you’ve ever read Snicket’s work you know things don’t wrap up in a nice neat bow at the end.

The series is titled “All the Wrong Questions,” and as such there is a recurring theme in the book of Snicket asking questions and then remarking from the future that that was entirely the wrong question, and here are some questions he should have asked, or possibly here are some questions of equivalent worth that have nothing to do with anything. It is both dryly humorous and also a great way of getting the reader (or at least me) to think a little harder about this book that is just flying by and see those clues that Snicket is planting. Snicket also pulls in the “[word], which here means [meaning]” phrase from his previous books, except in this one he actually has his characters speak this phrase, which is ridiculous and wonderful.

I loved this book. It’s sarcastic and funny and pulls in a lot of references that the kids who read this book will hear of as adults and think, ohhhh, that’s where that came from. Even my usual complaints about books for kids fail here, because Snicket takes those stories’ failings to extremes that make them hilarious. Basically, this book was written just for me, and I couldn’t dislike it if I tried.

Also, fair warning, Snicket has given me my new catchprase: “Don’t repeat yourself. It’s not only repetitive, it’s redundant, and people have heard it before.” Thanks, Snicket! My friends are going to love you!

Recommendation: For people who like happiness, if happiness can be defined as complete insanity wrapped in sarcasm.

Rating: 10/10

Hollow Earth, by John and Carole E. Barrowman

Hollow EarthI may have mentioned before in this space a love of things Doctor Who and Torchwood. Not an unhealthy obsession, like some people I know, but enough of one that when I saw a book partially written by Captain Jack come into my library, I mean, I checked it out immediately.

That book was Bone Quill, the second in this Hollow Earth series, because of course it was, and of course again we didn’t have the first book in my library so I made my home library bring it to me. Libraries are awesome, guys.

Also awesome? This book.

In the world of this story, there are people called Animare who can draw things and make them come to life through the wonders of imagination and also people called Guardians who have super-empathic abilities that allow them to keep the Animare from going overboard with the redrawing life thing. These two sets of people are not supposed to make babies with each other, but of course babies were made, and those twins are our fine protagonists. They have abilities of both Guardians and Animare, and are actually kind of better at both than they should be, and the head of the Council of Fancy People Who Make the Rules (and some other members, but mostly the head dude) would really like them both to be stopped before they can be way too awesome.

So the twins and their mother run off to Scotland and the twins learn about their powers and how to really use them and bad people come and bad people are stopped (spoiler?). There are some pretty awesome action scenes involving animated Scotland-parts and drawings made in minds rather than on paper and all that fantasy stuff is pretty awesome.

But I think what I liked best about the book was the way the Barrowmans made all the kids (the twins and the friend they pick up) into real kids — feeling smart, being stupid, and understanding that both of those states can coexist. They even acknowledge that adults sometimes know what they’re doing, and in fact call for help when things get dangerous! I’ve read so many orphan or pseudo-orphan stories where the kids are 2000 percent smarter than the adults around them, and those can be awesome, but it’s great to see a story in which children are loved and cared for and still go out and defeat bad guys (with help).

I will definitely be reading Bone Quill sometime before the library wants it back, and then probably pining away for the third book as soon as I’m done!

Recommendation: For fans of fantasy and heroic kids and art and Scotland.

Rating: 9/10