Books with Pictures: The Raven Girl and The Hypothetical Gentleman

I don’t have deep thoughts about either of these books, but I figured I’d let you know that they exist and are pretty cool!

Raven GirlThe Raven Girl, by Audrey Niffenegger
It is a true fact that I will read basically anything that Ms. Niffenegger publishes, because even when it’s weird it’s usually pretty good.

Well, this is very very weird.

In this story, which is meant to be a sort of modern-day fairy tale (and is in fact shelved in the fairy tales section of my library), a postman and a raven fall in love and somehow (NOT ASKING) produce a part-human, part-raven child whose mother says she is lucky to look human, even if she can only speak in raven, but who does not actually believe that. Our raven girl wants to be a raven, and will do whatever is necessary to make that happen even if society (in the form of a classmate) objects.

There’s a pretty sweet and easy moral to the story — that we all need to be who we are inside no matter who we are on the outside — but this fairy tale is decidedly more Grimm than Disney, especially with the modern-day attempt to become a raven that I still totally agree with the classmate about (well, if our girl were a human, anyway). It’s got pretty pictures and is a quick read, so I’d say if you can get your hands on a library copy you should pick it up.

Rating: 7/10

Doctor Who, Vol. 1Doctor Who, Vol. 1: The Hypothetical Gentleman
So I had thought that this would be one long story like the other Doctor Who comic book I picked up at the same time from the library, but as I figured out, say, halfway through, it’s actually two separate stories. So the first story disappointed me a bit in ending much sooner than I had expected, but I’m not sure I can actually fault the story for that.

In this first and titular story, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory go to hang out at the Great Exhibition, but when they arrive they meet with a strange football, a stranger machine, and a couple of possible clairvoyants. When the machine starts freezing people (including the ever-unlucky Rory) in time, the Doctor puts on his investigating face but (spoilers!) is frustrated in his attempts to figure out what is going on. I am frustrated also.

In the second story, called “The Doctor and the Nurse,” Amy decides that Rory and the Doctor need to have some bonding time, so she drops them off at a pub and goes off to explore on her own. The Doctor says to heck with that and attempts to skip himself and Rory ahead to the end of the evening but of course does not get there as planned. Meanwhile, Amy finds herself following an operative of the Silence and then minimizing the death toll of the London Beer Flood that said operative caused.

I’m not sure how these stories fit into the comic series overall; it seems that the series is full of short two-issue stories but I have no idea if they’re supposed to stand alone or not. As stand-alones, I found them amusing but not terribly good or exciting, though I did notice a running thread of “The Doctor does a lot of unnecessary things” that would be interesting to delve into in more detail, so maybe that’s a thing? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out someday?

Rating: 7/10

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Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan

What a weird little book. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad… it just is. This was another pick for my YA class this summer, and one that I’d been meaning to read since I heard about it on NPR a while back. Not sure I’d have finished it except for my class, though.

The beginning is… awkward, is how I’d put it. As soon as I started reading, I was like, “Wait, this is a young adult book? Ooookay.” It starts with a, um, romp in the hay, as it were, between a young man and woman, and then gets into icky incest between a different young woman and her father, and abortions, and then has a, well, a gang rape. It is less than delightful. It is pretty awful, actually. Which is, I guess, appropriate. But anyway. Soon after these horrible things, the second young woman, Liga, comes across some fancy magic and gets transported into a lovely world where all of the bad people she used to know are gone and where she can raise her two daughters (yes, from the aforementioned bad things) in peace. But of course, it being magic and all, it’s not perfect, and soon outsiders who have no business being in Liga’s world are barging in all willy-nilly and upsetting the balance of Liga’s life.

I liked the middle part of this book very much, with the outsiders and the daughters dealing with them and their lives and Liga sort of seeing what kind of world she lived in. But the beginning part was squicky, and the ending part dragged on a little long and sort of danced around whatever points Lanagan was trying to make. However, I appreciated the point that I did catch on to, that perfect heaven worlds aren’t really all they’re cracked up to be, and I was interested in the descriptions of the real world Liga left behind. This is definitely a good book for thinking about, and would probably make a great book club read if you had the right people for it.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Australia, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
books i done read
A Striped Armchair
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman (27 December — 28 December)

Ah, a nice quick read to cleanse the mind. I borrowed the movie version of Stardust from the library maybe a month or two ago and loved it, so I obviously had to go out and get the book, which had to be better.

It wasn’t. But it wasn’t worse, either. Just different and equally awesome.

Stardust, the book, is a wonderful fairy tale. Tristran Thorn, who lives in the English town of Wall and doesn’t know that he is the product of a liaison between his father and a woman who lives on the other side of the wall, in Faerie (apparently because he can’t do math), falls in love with a Wall girl called Victoria and promises to bring Victoria the shooting star they’ve just sighted. He goes on a journey into Faerie and finds the star, which happens to look rather like a beautiful and ticked-off woman, and sets to bringing her back to his town. Unbeknownst to him, there are several other people looking for the star as well, for their own nefarious purposes, making his trip a bit more difficult.

Although I liked the theatrics of the movie quite a bit (who doesn’t like Robert DeNiro in a dress, eh?), I also appreciated the simplicity of Gaiman’s novel. Things happen, they’re taken care of, good wins out over evil without having to try terribly hard.

Rating: 8/10

p.s. This was my first foray into Gaiman. What should be my second?

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman (1 November — 5 November)

Finally! I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since I bought it a couple of years ago, but I’ve always been reading something else instead. A lull in my library book stream led me to pick it up, and I’m really glad I did.

If you’ve seen the movie, you pretty much know how the book goes, interruptions and all. If not…

The Princess Bride is a “classic tale of true love and high adventure” featuring the titular Buttercup, who falls in love with her farm boy, Westley. Westley leaves for America to make his fortune but his ship is taken over by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who takes no prisoners. Disconsolate, Buttercup — who also happens to be one of the most beautiful women in the world — allows herself to be engaged to the prince of Florin so long as she doesn’t have to love him.

Unfortunately, that whole not-loving thing is pretty real and the new Princess finds herself kidnapped by a Sicilian, a giant Turk, and a wizard Spanish swordsman. She is also being followed by a man in black who wants to kidnap her from her kidnappers…

The greatest part of the book is its really tongue-in-cheek feel. Goldman wrote it as an abridgement of a great Florinese novel (which, of course, it’s not) and there’s an entire chapter devoted to talking about why he loves the book and how he ended up abridging it. He also cuts in throughout the novel to talk about why he cut 15 pages here and 87 pages there. Of course, Goldman leaves in all of the “original author’s” asides, which are equally ridiculous.

I read the 25th anniversary edition, so there’s also a bit in the back about Goldman abridging the sequel, Buttercup’s Baby, and how Stephen King was going to do it but he said Goldman could abridge the first chapter, and then there’s the first chapter, but at that point I was really just done with the conceit. Part of that first chapter is really engaging, but most of it just doesn’t make any sense and I’m not sure where Goldman was going with it. Alas.

Rating: 8/10