Weekend Shorts: Post-Hurricane Comics

Hey, look, a theme! And this is really a double theme, as my pile of comics reflects the fact that we’re in RIP season with mystery and spookiness abound! I enjoyed these comics outside in the lovely post-hurricane weather that approximates fall in Florida, and I’m hoping that weather sticks around but not the hurricane stuff. I don’t think my heart can take another one this year!

Goldie Vance, #1-4, by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Goldie Vance #1I put this series in my pull list basically as soon as I heard about it, back when it was just a four-issue thing. I actually have #5 in my house, as this series, like all the other miniseries I’ve subscribed to, is now ongoing, but I figured let’s take this one arc at a time.

It’s not quite what I was expecting; it’s advertised as along the lines of Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars and other Girl Detectives, and it… is, but it isn’t. It lacks the depth of mystery found in those stories, proooobably because it’s a comic and it’s intended for tweens and how much space do you have in those 20-something pages, anyway, and I found myself rather baffled and a bit disappointed in the ending.

But, on the other hand, you have delightfully fun characters. There’s Goldie, who wants nothing more than to solve ALL THE MYSTERIES; her friend Cheryl, who wants to be an astronaut; Walter the beleaguered actual detective who wants nothing more than to be left alone and maybe meet a hot chick; and Goldie’s dad and mom, hotel manager and mermaid-costumed entertainer, respectively. Did I mention this book is set in 1962, in Florida? And that most of the main cast is not white, and that so far that’s not a plot point? And that Goldie Vance is apparently a race-car driver with a crush on the hot record store chick? The mystery might be the weirdest, but I’ll stick with this cast for a little while longer and see what they’re up to.

Beyond Belief, #2-3, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Beyond Belief #3I thought these would be perfect RIP reads, until I got to the end of #3, realized there was a #4 to be had, scoured my shelf to find it, couldn’t find it, and then took to the internet to discover it CANCELLED. Who cancels what I presume was already the final issue??? Gah, comics publishers are the worst.

Right, so, anyway. Frank. Sadie. Reluctant monster hunters. In issue 2 they take on the incredibly creepy imaginary friend of the moderately creepy imaginary friend of a little girl who used to have under-the-bed monsters which Sadie is very sad not to get to meet. After besting this beast, Sadie’s friend Donna from issue 1 is kidnapped, leading to…

Issue 3! In which Frank and Sadie take on a literal tree with a literal cult following that seems to be doing evil but might actually be doing good but it is VERY HARD TO SAY BECAUSE THERE IS A CLIFFHANGER ENDING THAT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FINISH THANKS IMAGE. I might be be overly upset about this, but, I mean, seriously. I really enjoyed these two issues, which have a perfect blend of weird creepy story and Frank and Sadie banter and truly amazing artwork that captures the over-the-top quality of this series.

What’s that? If I put my mad librarian skillz to use I can actually find issue 4 available for purchase online? Excuse me a second…

[$3 and several minutes later…]

Beyond Belief, #4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Aha! So. Yeah. The literal tree was being sort of a good guy, as he was trapping a big evil. Meanwhile, two detectives get in on this case and one of them becomes a ghost and the other one becomes Donna’s husband (I mean, later, not in this issue, there’s no time!), and all the good things I said about the previous issues still hold.

I do hope, whatever caused this shenanigan aside, that there can be more Thrilling Adventure Hour comics (Sparks Nevada too!) in the future, because they are sooooo good. I mean, I’m still getting sporadic radio shows in my feed long after the podcast “ended”, so anything can happen!

Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer

AuthorityHmm. This book. I was prepared to be all sorts of excited about it, but my reaction when I realized this was next in the queue to be reviewed (to wit: “Ugh, that book?”) shows approximately my level of actual excitement at reading the thing.

Authority is one of those novels that I probably would have put down “except”. In this case, “except” was a… let’s call it an unplanned and very depressing vacation, and let’s call Authority a terrible book to read during such a vacation, especially when surrounded by lots of other books that could be read. But I didn’t have the brain power to pick a different one, so this was it.

So… yeah. In my review of the first book in this series, Annihilation, I mentioned that I had a lot of questions and no answers and I hoped the other two books would give me some of those answers. On the plus side, this book is chock full of answers. So many answers. I kind of hate answers now.

This is possibly by design, as the book is almost a love letter to bureaucracy. The story takes place just after the events of the first book, but from the point of view of the Southern Reach rather than its scientists. After the very strange return of the first book’s scientists, the Southern Reach wants its own answers, so they send in a new guy to take over the office and get them. But you soon come to find out that the new guy is more or less terrible at his job, that he has no idea what’s going on, that no one else has any idea what’s going on, that Area X probably doesn’t know what’s going on, and that nonetheless there are people to report to and paperwork to file. Exciting?

The interesting bits of the story are our new guy’s interactions with the returned biologist, who is acting oddly even for the Southern Reach and who creates the few intriguing questions this novel contains. I wanted to know so much more about her story and so much less about basically anyone else, but no, of course I can’t get the answers I want out of this series. Siiiiiiigh.

The answers we do get are less exciting, as they largely pertain to the overall scope of the Southern Reach and to the running of the outpost and to the history of new guy who I sooooo didn’t care about.

And yet, I do still want to read the third book in this series, which I think is largely attributable to VanderMeer’s writing, which is lush and poetic and lovely even when it’s actively not be used to tell me anything of value. So rude. I did cheat and check the description of the next book, and it does not seem to have anything to do with bureaucracy, so I will probably, some day, eventually, get it from the library and move on with my life. If it’s more like the first book than the second, it’ll probably be worth it.

Recommendation: I hate to say skip it, but I really probably would unless you’re reading the whole trilogy in one sitting. And definitely don’t read it if you haven’t read Annihilation.

Oye What I’m Gonna Tell You, by Cecilia Rodriguez Milanés

Oye What I'm Gonna Tell YouBefore we start, I have to admit that I read this book almost entirely because it fits in with my personal diverse books challenge. Usually short story collections “chronicling the lives” of anyone are well outside my wheelhouse, so it’s a double whammy of diversity when you add in the Cuban-American element. So I am probably about to say some stupid things about slice-of-life and immigrant fiction, is what I’m saying.

The collection started off poorly for me because of what I hope is some terrible formatting in my advance copy that led to me being absolutely baffled about whether or not I was continuing one story or starting a new one (verdict: a little of both). A few pages later I was back on track, but then the story turned out to be about a bunch of girls who die under terrible circumstances, and I was like, is the whole book going to be this depressing?

It is not. Thank goodness. The collection covers a lot of different stories across different age groups across different states and countries (mainly Florida, “Nueva Yersi”, and Cuba, with a jaunt to China once), and the stories vary in length from about half a page to tens of pages, so for the most part if a story isn’t great there’ll be a completely different one soon! That’s always a plus in any short story collection.

I really liked the second story in this book, which is about a girl who brings home her black Haitian boyfriend for the first time, at Thanksgiving, without specifying to her family that she is bringing home her black Haitian boyfriend. This interaction goes about as swimmingly as you are currently imagining. Around this, there’s bits about the ingrained racism of the girl’s family and how she feels mistreated by them but also loves them, because family. Also, there’s lots and lots of Spanish thrown around and I was happy to be reading on my Kindle with its translation feature, although I am pretty sure it does not know all the slang these characters do.

Other great stories include the one where a mother breaks her own rule about never visiting other people’s houses and an unexpectedly hilarious one in which a girl gets stuck with a dog she really doesn’t want, both of which could have been in any non-Cuban-American collection of slice-of-life stories in almost the same form. Turns out diversity isn’t that hard after all!

Some of the shorter stories I had trouble with because they’re that kind of story that picks up in the middle of nothing and ends in the middle of nothing, and kind of nothing happens in the middle, and some of them ended on these weird sentences that seemed like they should have great meaning because they ended the story but just… didn’t? I don’t know.

But overall it’s a solid collection of stories and has definitely piqued my interest in Cuba and its emigrants for future reading adventures. Any suggestions?

Recommendation: For people who actually like literary short stories and those interested in Cuban Americans.

Rating: 7/10

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen

Bad MonkeySomewhere around eight million years ago (read: before this blog and therefore lost to time), I read Carl Hiaasen’s book Skinny Dip and recall loving it dearly. But then somehow I managed not to read another of his books, which seemed like such a shame that I picked his newest book for my library book club just so I’d have an excuse to read it. I am smart like that.

Now I think I understand why I didn’t immediately read every Hiaasen available. Bad Monkey was funny, ridiculous, absurd, and weird, but it was also… weird.

So basically, there’s this guy, Andrew Yancy, who was a cop until he assaulted his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner where the sun don’t shine, even in Key West. Now he’s on roach patrol, but angling to get back into the police department’s good graces. He gets tasked with driving a severed arm found in the Gulf up to Miami and ditching it for their cops to take care of, but instead he ends up storing it in his freezer and deciding to take on the case of this dead guy in order to get his job back. In the meantime, there’s a dude called Neville Stafford living in the Bahamas with his ex-movie star monkey, Driggs, trying to pull some voodoo on a rich white dude who bought Stafford’s land from Stafford’s sister. Stafford just wants his house back, but between the questionable loyalty of his voodoo witch and the strong right hooks of the white dude’s security team, he’s got some work to do.

The story was almost too obvious from the beginning — obviously Yancy and Stafford’s stories will collide, obviously the dead guy story has something more to it, obviously things aren’t going to be as straightforward as anyone (including me!) wants them to be. I thought one key plot point was so clearly labeled that Yancy would catch on immediately and then spend several dozen pages trying to convince everyone else, but instead he spent those pages and more doing everything but catch on. Come on.

But I suppose one doesn’t come to a Hiaasen novel for the intricate plotting, one comes for the zany characters and the hilarious writing, of which there are many and much, respectively. Yancy’s nuts, obviously. Then you’ve also got this poor guy trying to sell an eyesore house next door to Yancy’s place, which Yancy is passive-aggressively against (but more aggressive than passive, really). Then there’s Yancy’s old girlfriend, who turns out to be wanted by the cops for something completely unrelated, and Yancy’s new girlfriend, who works and does more than work in a morgue. Stafford and his monkey and the voodoo witch and the bodyguards and basically everyone we meet on the Bahamas is a little off, and the dead guy’s family is a piece of work, too. Altogether I am very happy with the relatively sane friends and family I’ve got!

So, A for absurd characters but, like, D for deranged but dragging plot. I might read another Hiaasen in the next eight million years, but it’s going to have to come with some strong recommendations.

Recommendation, mine: Read it if you love everything Hiaasen or need a book that will break your brain in the best ways.

Rating: 7/10

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching GodAnother book club, another book I should totally have already read. This one a little more drastically, though… I was in fact assigned to read this for a class in college, and in fact I wrote a term paper partially based on this book and got an A on it, but I had never read more than the minimum required to write said paper and remembered none of it.

But actually I think it was probably more interesting to me now than it would have been oh those many, many years ago, because the book is set entirely in Florida and very very partially in my adopted home of Jacksonville, so not only did I get to read a classic story but I got to learn more about the history of my current surroundings! I say I don’t like history every time I read a historical novel, but I suppose I have to admit to finding bits and pieces of it fascinating.

Which is good, because this historical stuff is really important to the novel. It’s one of them literary novels that doesn’t really have a contained story to it, but instead ruminates on the life of a mixed-race dreamer girl called Janie living in an urbanizing state in the early 1900s. I’m not sure if that specific time is ever pinned down, but the book was published in 1937, so not later than that?

The urbanizing state part was super interesting to me. Janie travels from the Panhandle to Central Florida, briefly to Jacksonville, and then down to the Everglades, and you can see the vast differences between these parts of the state then and now. Central Florida (before Disney World!) is just this vast expanse of nothing where Janie’s husband can use his modest dollars to build and run an entire town. The Everglades area near Lake Okeechobee is like California during the gold rush, if you like your gold in the form of beans. It is nuts to think that these places that were essentially wild eighty years ago are chock full of suburban subdivisions and snowbird winter homes today.

The dreamer girl part was less interesting to me, largely because there is so much less variation in Janie than in her surroundings, which now that I write it down seems to possibly have been kind of the whole point. So it goes. Anyway, Janie starts off as this dreamy teenager who just wants to, like, have epiphanies under pear trees (I admit that I do not understand this part at all), but quickly gets married off to a wealthy guy who’s good for Janie’s pocketbook but not for her mental or physical health. So naturally, she runs off with a handsome man who turns out also to be good for her pocketbook but terrible for her independence as a human being. Eventually he dies, and she goes off again with a man who seems to love her very much but still beats her and searches for the ulterior motive in all of her actions. I’m not exactly sure what Hurston is trying to say with Janie’s inability to find a man who cares about her brains, but my takeaway is that you should maybe look into this aspect of a relationship before running off and marrying someone. Good advice, self.

There are so many parts to this story that I found myself utterly baffled by, including toward the end a giant but brief hurricane and a giant but brief court trial, and I think that maybe I should have read this book during that college class after all, when there would have been someone to explain it all to me. I bet there’s a Cliff’s Notes on this somewhere, maybe I’ll go read that? But even without really getting the story, I did like Hurston’s writing style (even the dialect!) and I enjoyed the reading experience very much.

Recommendation: I mean, you should probably read this, it’s an important book for some reason that Cliff’s Notes will undoubtedly explain to me someday.

Rating: 7/10

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (8 July — 10 July)

Back in the day when I could easily creatively acquire television shows (ahem), I watched a lot of TV. Possibly too much. But one of the shows I dearly loved was Dexter, a show about a serial killer who kills serial killers. It was interesting and quirky and starred Michael C. Hall, and I would still be watching it today (it’s still on, right?) if I wanted to pay for Showtime. Which I don’t. Maybe I’ll be able to grab the seasons from the library, but that is for the future.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes. This excellent show is based on the book Darkly Dreaming Dexter, a short-ish novel about, well, a serial killer who kills serial killers. Shocking. Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst for Miami Dade, working alongside his foster sister, Deborah/Deb/Debs/Debbie, a vice cop looking to move up to homicide. Deb’s father, Harry, was a cop himself, and took Dexter in after finding him at some crime scene that he kept a secret from Dexter even in his death. All Dexter knows is that he’s emotionless (sort of), not-quite-human, and carries a “Dark Passenger” inside him that likes to kill people. But Dex follows his foster dad’s advice and keeps the DP at bay by killing only people who really deserve it. But then, one day, another serial killer pops up with an M.O. rather like Dexter’s for disposing of bodies, and Dexter’s world goes a little lopsided.

This book is not for the faint of heart, though it’s a bit less graphic than the series. Also, while it covers the same time span as the first season and is pretty much the same plotline, it has a rather different ending, so don’t feel like you’ll be spoiled too much.

Unfortunately, the ending is my one big beef with the novel — not that it’s different, of course, because that’s allowed, but because Lindsay leaves a couple of my questions unanswered (like [spoiler alert] what the heck happens to the killer and how Dexter convinced Deb to be okay with any of what just happened to her [end spoiler alert]), after he complained about LaGuerta not asking questions and therefore being a bad detective. Whatever. My recommendation: read this first, then go watch the series and love every bit that doesn’t have Lilah in it.

Rating: 6.5/10

Paper Towns, by John Green (12 June)

When I saw that John Green had mentioned Scott Westerfeld in his acknowledgements as part of a writing group, I was surprised but not surprised. I love them both! And now I’m going to have to search out the works of the other authors in the group, because I imagine they are also swell.

But back to the book at hand. Paper Towns is the story of Quentin Jacobsen and his quest to find Margo Roth Spiegelman, his erstwhile best friend. Margo showed up at Q’s window one night after several years of non-speaking-ness, took him on a grand revenge-getting and trouble-making adventure, and then disappeared. When Q hears from her parents that Margo likes to leave clues when she runs away, he gathers up his friends to decipher the ones it seems she’s left for them. It takes him a while to make sense of what she’s left, and all the while he starts to realize that he doesn’t even know who Margo Roth Spiegelman is, let alone how to get into her head and find her.

It’s a good time and a fast beach read. (But be careful on the beach — you’ll get so caught up in the book you’ll get a sunburn. [Yes, this did really happen to me.]) Green’s characters are always so very, and these guys are no exception, but I feel like I could have known these people as a larger group in high school. And they’re fun, so that’s good. And [spoiler alert?], Green evens out all the ridiculousness inherent in the road-trip-on-a-deadline at the end with a punch of reality to the face, and I for one appreciated it.

Rating: 8/10

Cadillac Beach, by Tim Dorsey (29 December — 4 January)

Yes. Well. I read this book because my dear friend Pat told me it was awesome. I can definitely understand why he would find it awesome, but it was definitely not the right fit for me.

This book is weird. No, WEIRD. The plot, what there is of one, is that the main character, Serge, is out to solve the mystery of his grandfather’s death. It was ruled a suicide, but Serge just knows that it had something to do with the theft of a bunch of jewels from a museum. He sets off to find some answers and ends up creating a tour company, getting on the outs with the mob and the police when some of his customers kill a mob boss who is ratting and going into witness protection, and creating an invasion that sort of happens but doesn’t but makes everyone like him again.

It doesn’t make any sense. It’s pretty funny in parts, when you see all the threads of all the different stories that are going on start to come together, and when Serge does things like threaten someone with a leaf blower. But I just couldn’t hold all of those plotlines in my head and still figure out what each sentence meant. Sorry, Pat, but I think I’m going to take a pass on Tim Dorsey.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2004)