The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon GirlI read Keil’s first book several months ago, and it was super cute adorable brain candy. When I was done, I went to read her second book, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, but it wasn’t out in the US yet! Noooooo! But luckily, it’s here now, and I grabbed it up as soon as I could.

Cinnamon Girl sounded like it was going to be even more up my alley than Outer Space, since it had a nerdy comics-loving protagonist in addition to its lovely Melbourne setting. Our girl, Alba, is just after graduating high school and is planning on putting off thinking about the future for as long as she can, or until the end of the summer when everyone’s off to university, I guess. But her plans for an uneventful summer are ruined when a weird internet prophet names her sleepy town as the place that’s going to survive when the world ends in a few short weeks.

This sounds great! I’m super in! But, unfortunately, the story takes a really really strange tack on the love triangle story that I just couldn’t make myself enjoy. Alba’s got a cute boy bff who is ONLY her bff, but when a former classmate turned super hot TV star shows up in town to partake in the end-of-the-world festivities, things get super weird between her and the hot guy and also her and the bff. Throughout the whole book it seems like Alba knows what she wants, and what she wants is not to have a relationship with either of these guys, or anyone, really, but then at the end, surprise! A relationship is totally in the cards. If there had been any indication of this, it would have been okay, but it seriously came out of nowhere. Laaaame.

Also lame was the fact that “comics-loving protagonist” turned out to be “name-dropping comics-artist-obsessed protagonist”, with seemingly every sentence out of Alba’s mouth containing a reference to a comics artist or their run on a series or something else crazy specific. When I got the reference (Kelly Sue!) it was awesome, but when I didn’t it just felt awkward. It is entirely possible that I am too old and uncool for this book. That would be unfortunate.

On the plus side, I really did enjoy the whole end of the world plot line and the general existential angst of the post-high-school summer, and I did like Alba quite a bit as a character until her sudden but inevitable betrayal of my expectations. So maybe if you’re prepared for the romance bit it’ll play about better for you?

Recommendation: For serious lover of comics, regular lovers of teen angst stories and Australia.

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End-of-the-Year Comics Roundup: Superpower Edition

I just can’t even with this December, guys. I have started three novels and finished only one, and it’s not that I don’t want to finish the other two, it’s just that that feels like it requires, like, effort. And I just don’t wanna.

Thank goodness for my backlog of comics and the fact that I am apparently all for reading words that are accompanied by pretty pictures. I’ve read lots of comics this month and they’ve all been pretty awesome.

Today, let’s talk about the ones that will scratch your superhero itch.

S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1: “Perfect Bullets”, by Mark Waid and various artists
S.H.I.E.L.D., Vol. 1When I read Ms. Marvel, Volume 3, there was a super awesome bonus issue from a crossover with S.H.I.E.L.D., and I was like, yeah, I’m probably going to go read that now.

So I did! And I liked it a lot! This is a series made for the single issue, as the story in each issue is almost entirely separate from the stories in the other issues, with a different fight and a different main character each time. There’s a Coulson backstory issue, the wonderful Ms. Marvel issue, an issue with Spiderman (who I always forget is an Avenger), a kind of terrible and manipulative Sue Storm issue, and a two-parter with the whole Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. team, which is weird but I like having the whole gang together so that’s fine.

It’s a little weird reading this and watching the TV show, as I can’t quite place the comic in the timeline of the show and it quite possibly doesn’t have a place in it. Things are just off enough to be confusing, but also enough that I’m curious anew about how things might go. Win! This isn’t going on my “A plus plus will read while walking home” list, but I will probably be picking up the next trade volume when it comes out in a couple months.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: “Last Days”, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4Speaking of Ms. Marvel… things are not going well for her in this volume. Her former crush object is a real a-hole, for one, and as she won’t stop telling people, but then also there’s this, like, giant planet coming in for a landing on top of Manhattan. I’m sure that has something to do with important Marvel Universe things, but I can’t be arsed to look it up. The upshot is, Kamala finds herself running all over Jersey City trying to protect her family and community from the bad things that are going to happen and the bad things that ARE happening thanks to a certain former crush object. This is exhausting me just to think about it. I will never be a superhero.

Awesome things in this volume include a visit from Carol Danvers, which would be whatever except that Kamala’s insane squeeing is absolutely adorable (it’s the meeting with Wolverine times a thousand), an unexpected “be true to yourself” speech, and some serious truth bombs about love and responsibility. There’s also another crossover event included here, two issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but I’m just not that into Spidey so I don’t think this one’s going to get me to buy more comics.

We Can Never Go Home, by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood
My copy of the trade paperback says “Volume One” on it, but I’m pretty sure this is a one-off miniseries. I’m not sure what they would do if they made more of these. But I’d probably be interested in finding out.

This is not a superhero story, but it does have a girl with a superpower in it: the power of glowy eyes and super-strength with the Hulk-like limitation of having to be anxious for it to show up. Our girl, Madison, is a football-player-dating popular-kid at her high school until one day, she’s not, having shown her superpower to her jerk boyfriend when he deserved it. However, she also showed her superpower to a loner classmate at the same time, and this completely changes Madison’s life, and not really for the better.

It’s a short series, so I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say the writer did some super interesting things with the “girl discovers her place in the world with the help of a cute boy” story as well as with the concepts of heroes and villains and self-determination and all that good stuff. Some of it is a little anvil-y because, well, five issues of a comic does not give you much time or space to work with, but some of the characterizations are surprisingly subtle. I’m not sure I loved this as a complete work, but there are definitely parts of it that are really awesome.

That’s all I’ve got for now — what other awesome superhero/superpower stories should I pick up next?

I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItTrue story: I am so on board the A.S. King train that when I saw a pile of advance copies of this book at the library conference I went to this summer, I snagged one immediately, even though I already had a digital advance copy and basically no plans to read it in print. It’s just so pretty! And it’s by A.S. King! I wants it!

When I finally did get around to reading it, entirely digitally, I was… confused. I haven’t read all of King’s books (a situation to be rectified indeed!), but all of the ones I have read have followed a similar pattern: normal teenager, normal but slightly heavy teenager problems, weird magical realism element that may or may not directly affect the plot or story.

But in this book, and King acknowledges as much in the, um, acknowledgements (haaa), it’s all the weird, all the time, and it’s more like magical surrealism.

The main character, Stanzi, is our more or less normal teenage girl with unspecified-at-the-outset normal teenage problems. Her friends, on the other hand, are super weird. Gustav is building an invisible helicopter that Stanzi can only see on Tuesdays. China walks around literally (figuratively? figuratively literally?) inside out hoping maybe someone will ask her why. Lansdale has hair that grows when she lies, and so has very very very long hair. Also, there is a dude who hangs out in the bushes giving away crafted letters (like, As and Js and Qs and the like) in exchange for kisses and possibly other things.

So, weird people. Also weird situations. These teens go to a school where someone is calling in bomb threats every day, so the kids are constantly doing bomb-threat drills, and when they’re not wandering in and out of the building due to potential bombs they are taking standardized tests because that’s how the high schools do. And that helicopter I mentioned? Gustav and Stanzi end up taking a ride in it to a land of geniuses from which there are no departures.

And, let me be clear, I have not named all the weird things in this book. It is weird. But it’s also, as is to be expected from King’s books, a smart look into the lives of teenagers. All of the characters have their issues, and with those issues a need both to hide them and to share them with everyone else. But everyone else is so busy with their own issues that there’s not time to play those games until it’s nearly too late. Oh, teenagerhood, how I do not miss you. Of course, the parents in this book are all at least as weird as their kids, so that’s something to look forward to, I guess?

This is definitely not the book I was expecting, and I spent much of it with a look on my face approximating “What even is going on here?” But still it was fun and fascinating and it’s A.S. King so it was wonderfully written and I would definitely not recommend this as your first King book but if you’ve liked her others you will like this one.

Now to go work on her backlist some more until her next book comes out!

Recommendation: For lovers of the superest of super weirdness.

Rating: 8/10

Love is the Drug, by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Love is the DrugI had picked this book up as an advance copy at last year’s ALA conference because, I mean, that cover, but it went straight into the teen giveaway box and not into my grubby little hands. But after the umpteenth time the internets told me good things about it, I was like, fine, internets, I will read this book.

And I’m glad I did! I was disappointed that the book wasn’t quite the suspenseful thriller I was promised, but when I eventually figured that out, I started liking it a lot more.

See, what happens is, a teenage girl called Bird goes to a fancy-pants networking party at a classmate’s house, talks some dangerous talk around some CIA-type dude, and then wakes up eight days later to find out that she apparently got both super drunk and super high and got herself in a car accident. CIA dude, Roosevelt, is rather pointedly wondering if perhaps she remembers anything from that night, and in fact she does — but what she remembers doesn’t quite match up with what he’s telling her.

So Bird starts asking around, trying to figure out what really happened, while meanwhile a terrorist-spread flu virus is taking down city after city around the world and her drug-dealer friend is hiding from the cops because he’s accused of giving Bird whatever made her so high and also Bird is just trying to make it through senior year in the hopes that there will be a college for her to go to next fall.

Oh, and, love triangle. Ish. It’s not a terrible one but it still made me roll my eyes quite often.

I enjoyed the story a lot, and I very much wanted to know what Bird knew and why anyone wanted to know it as well and what exactly was up with her parents and their top-secret everything. I liked the DC setting a lot, including the juxtaposition between Bird at fancy private school and Bird at “home” with her uncle in the decidedly-not-fancy part of DC and Bird with her various rich and scholarship friends at school. There’s a definite focus on class and race and especially what it means to be Black and how much presentation matters in being taken seriously.

Things I didn’t like include the ending, which is practically epilogue-ish in its efforts to tie everything up in a pretty bow, and the fact that so much of this entire story could have been avoided if only people would just freaking talk to each other. On the plus side, the lack of communication is actually well done and feels different depending on who is failing to communicate. Bird just really really needs to get new friends. And parents. And probably enemies.

So, all around, a pretty good book! I’ll definitely be checking out more from this author in the future.

Recommendation: For fans of teens solving problems and getting into fairly dangerous situations in the process.

Rating: 7/10

Weekend Shorts: Tiny Cooper and Terry Pratchett

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, by David Levithan
Hold Me CloserTrue story: I almost didn’t read the adorable and wonderful Will Grayson, Will Grayson, because I didn’t want to deal with Tiny Cooper. And yet, when I saw this ridiculously shiny book coming out earlier this year, I was like, yeeeeeah I’m totally going to read that.

Hold Me Closer is, I guess, Tiny’s draft of the big gay musical he puts on during Will Grayson, Will Grayson, with all the songs and talking but also little notes about how Tiny sees particular scenes going and jabs at Will’s love life. The musical itself is great and pretty realistic for a teenager’s first musical — the songs are obviously not professionally written but are pretty darn good, and the content is infused with that hopefulness that teenagers have in spades.

And Tiny is a wonderful character, full of self-confidence and self-doubt alike as he navigates his childhood and the wonders of dating and friendships and family life as you get older. Even if you are not a large gay teenager, you will still relate to a lot of the ideas of this book.

I’m not sure if you could get away with reading just this and not Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but you should read the original book anyway so why not do both?

A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
A Slip of the KeyboardAnother true story: It took me five whole months to get through this book. To be fair, I started off reading one short essay per day, and then kind of completely forgot about the whole thing, and then came back to it and read it much more quickly. I think you can read it either way — slowly parceled out or in huge gulps — and still have a fine time with Sir Terry.

This was kind of a weird book for me to have picked up, really, as I’ve only read three of Pratchett’s books, all fiction, and this is a book of non-fiction essays whose only commonality is that Pratchett wrote them. So there are essays about books and reading and fantasy and science fiction and all those great things, but there are also introductions to books I know nothing about and asides about books of Pratchett’s I’ve not read yet and essays about weird Christmas things and nuclear power plants and stuff. I feel like I probably needed at least five more of Pratchett’s books under my belt before attempting this.

But it was still pretty darn good! And the reason I blazed through it at the end is that I got to the section where Pratchett rants about Alzheimer’s and how it’s a terrible thing, and you need not have any of his books in your house to agree with that sentiment. You may not agree with his stance on assisted death, on the other hand, but in these essays he’s clearly done his research and it’s fascinating to see the various opinions in this debate.

All in all I would definitely recommend this more to Pratchett mega-fans, but even if you’re not you’ll make it through all right.

The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer

The UncouplingYou guys, I was so excited when a fellow book clubber announced this book as her pick. I had heard nothing but great things about The Uncoupling and about Wolitzer’s work in general, but had just never gotten around to reading any of it.

And I think I may have to just pretend that that’s still true in case I ever want to read another Wolitzer, because this book… uggggh.

I was not alone in this — I don’t think anyone in my book club actually liked this book. It was a quick and easy read, and the words themselves were perfectly nice, but the way they came together into a story absolutely did not work for our group of late-twenty-something females. Clearly we were not the target audience.

What happens in this novel is that a high school drama teacher picks Lysistrata for the school play and over the next couple of months leading up to the performance, a literal cold wind sweeps through town and causes the ladies to stop wanting their men. No sex, no cuddles, no intimacy if there’s a penis involved. The novel looks at all the different relationships in the town, from rock-solid marriages to rocky marriages to benefits-only relationships to high school romances, and shows us what happens when the women stop wanting the men.

And that’s a solid premise, which is part of why my friends and I were so upset at how the premise played out. Note: It’s pretty much complaints from here on out.

One big problem that I had was, simply, why. At the end you find out that this spell has been cast more or less purposely and for the purpose of strengthening relationships, but more than one relationships seems to be worse to me after the spell. And, okay, so, that’s on the spell caster and her weird priorities and maybe Wolitzer’s not saying that withholding sex is a winning relationship strategy, but she’s not not saying that either.

Another problem I had was, like, the core concept. In Lysistrata the women withhold sex for a reason, but in The Uncoupling it is withheld from them just as much as from the men. The men go a bit silly without their sex, and it seems like we’re meant to think that men can’t survive without sex or whatever, but it’s notable that none of them (that we see, anyway) leave their wives or girlfriends of their own volition. They’re all trying to fix their relationships, which from their perspective (I assume; we don’t actually get a male perspective) have been suddenly and irrevocably changed for no apparent reason. That would make me a little crazy, too.

It would be great if that were part of a nuanced story, but there’s an official publisher discussion question that reads, “Dory and Robby seem to be the perfect couple at the start of the book. How does the author signal that there might be problems beneath the surface?” She signals it by creating a giant problem beneath the surface! Come on!

So I just can’t even with the plot, is what I’m saying, and outside of main couple I didn’t particularly care about what happened to any of the characters. The sentences that made up the story were well written, and there was enough good in that to keep me reading and the book in one piece, but the ending was so completely unsatisfying that making it to the end wasn’t even consolation!

But the woman who picked this book assured us that at least Wolitzer’s The Interestings was completely different than this book, so there’s hope that Wolitzer and I can be reconciled and that I can figure out what all the hullabaloo is about. Just not anytime soon.

Recommendation: For… fans of Lysistrata? Women who are considering sex strikes? Other… people…?

Rating: 4/10

Weekend Shorts: Rat Queens and The Woods

Comics comics comics. I have lots of comics. Let’s read some!

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: “Sass and Sorcery”, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch
Rat Queens, Vol. 1I had heard decent things about this comic from people I trust, but the concept — dwarves and elves and stuff going on quests — is one that I tend to like in theory more than in practice, so it wasn’t on the top of my reading list. Then I got stuck in a long line at my comic shop and this book was hanging out on the counter, and one flip through the artwork had me sold. It is super pretty, guys.

And then I read it, and the story is equally as awesome, as it is closer in tone to that Terry Pratchett style of fantasy that I find enjoyable despite myself. Rat Queens isn’t quite a parody, like Pratchett’s work, but it does play around with the source material in fun ways. To start with, our main heroes are all ladies with distinct personalities and looks (coughxmencough), and then also they’re all pretty aware of the fantasy tropes they are following, and then also they are violently and excitedly gouging out goblin eyeballs, which is super gross but fascinatingly realistic. Well, “realistic”.

In this volume our Rat Queens are one of several raiding parties who are sent out on generic goblin-killing, loot-gathering quests that quickly turn out to be ambushes. The Rat Queens survive their ambush (with goblin eyeballs to show for it!), but not everyone else can say the same, and so the Rat Queens set out to figure out who set them up and why. There’s intrigue and subterfuge (my favorite things!) and also shapeshifting and sibling rivalry and an adorably tiny kick-ass Sherlock Holmes and love and sex and mystical religions and um, when does the next volume come out?

The Woods, Vol. 1: “The Arrow”, by James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas
The Woods, Vol. 1Now this one I had just seen mentioned on a blog somewhere, and I wrote down that I wanted to read it, and then by the time I got to the comic shop I had no idea why I had wanted to read it but I bought it anyway, trusting my past self even though her short-term memory is terrible. Plus, again, the artwork is awesome, so I figured it couldn’t be all bad. And… it wasn’t! Two for two!

This book is much much darker than Rat Queens, though. Here we have a bunch of teenagers and teachers in a school that somehow gets transported somewhere that is proooobably not Earth. The air is breathable but the animal population is less than friendly, and so most of the humans are content to stay inside the school. A small faction, led by a kid who has apparently spoken to a mysterious statue, go off into the woods to see what they can find there, but of course it’s super dangerous. Sadly, it is not much more dangerous than staying at the school, as an ex-military current-egomaniac sportsball coach has made himself de facto leader of the school and is installing martial law and convincing impressionable teen sportsball players to help him keep the rest of the students in line.

It is a terrifyingly appropriate metaphor for high school — damned if you follow the status quo, damned if you don’t — and you know I like those. And I am super curious about how and why the school is in its current location, and what any of these guys are going to do in a week when all the frozen pizza and chocolate milk cartons are gone. And now I am thinking about exactly what is going to happen when the chocolate milk is gone and I am very very worried for those kids. Uh-oh.

What comics are y’all reading that I should be adding to my list?