Weekend Shorts: X-Men, Rocket Girl, and Lemony Snicket

Well, it happened. My pile of single-issue comics got so overwhelming that I begged my comic shop to sell me the trades instead. It was a good experiment, but clearly I need a giant paperback book staring me in the face rather than a pile of itty-bitty issues.

I’ve still got that pile, though, so I’ll see if the potential for giant stacks of trades gives me more incentive to read the single issues?

And, because I only managed to read two issues since last time, I’ll throw in a recently-read kids book that was delightful but not really meant for discussing at length. Let’s go!

X-Men #2
X-Men 2I read the first issue of this new series almost ten months ago (criminy) and I liked it a lot — lady X-Men kicking butt? I’m in! In this issue, there’s a lot of butt-kicking but unfortunately for the X-Men it’s mostly by this chick (chicks?) called Arkea who is the sister of the creepy dude from last time and is also inhabiting the body of an X-lady I don’t know and using it to take over the school. As you do. There’s some exposition about how she inhabits technology and downloads information to herself, and there’s lots of fighting and the school gets locked down and then at the very end there’s a timer that is like three seconds from going off and that is probably not good. Apparently this storyline is going to be wrapped up nice and neat after the next issue, which seems… unlikely… but then again I’m used to The Unwritten and its disdain for closure.

Rocket Girl #1: “Times Squared”
Rocket Girl 1While I’m liking X-Men and its gang of heroes saving the world against… things… I have to say that Rocket Girl may be more of what I am looking for in a new comic. For one, I don’t feel like I’m missing something every time I don’t know a character. For two, the story is nice and specific from the beginning: our hero, 15-year-old Dayoung Johansson, is a cop from the future 2013 sent back to the present 1986 to stop a company from inventing time-travel and becoming a Goliath-like corporation in the future world of flying cars and stuff. Wait, is this girl the reason I don’t have a flying car? Maybe I’m not rooting for her anymore… Anyway, in this issue she comes back in time and blows up the time machine thing and goes off to be a cop to the consternation of actual 1986 cops who do not have rocket boots and are therefore just jealous, and I am really excited to see what she does next. Preeeeetty sure I’ve got the next issue around here somewhere…

When Did You See Her Last?, by Lemony Snicket
When Did You See Her Last?I read the first book in this series about four months ago and loved it, so of course I had another branch send over the second practically right away, and also of course it languished on my desk until I realized that I couldn’t tell other people to read it if I continued to have it checked out. This book continues the story of young Mr. Snicket, working with a terrible chaperone to solve strange mysteries. This time the mystery is the disappearance of an ink heiress, and it involves stolen notes, impersonation, forced labor, a creepy hospital, and all of the awesome (and differently awesome) townspeople from the first book. I loved the characters and I thought the story was delightful and if you’re a Snicket fan this series is a must-read. If you’re not a Snicket fan, I don’t understand.

What quick reads have you been reading quickly lately?

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

The Penultimate Peril and The End, by Lemony Snicket

Normally I would do two separate posts for two separate books, but then there would be two short and boring posts about these books, and I promised to be more generally awesome this year, so you’re going to get just one slightly longer and hopefully slightly less boring post about these books.

Okay, so, the Baudelaires. When we last left them, they were eating some horseradish. Mmmm, horseradish.

The Penultimate PerilIn The Penultimate Peril there is less horseradish, but more AWESOME LIBRARY, so this is a good trade here. This book takes place in the Hotel Denouement, or the tnemeuoneD letoH as it actually says on said hotel, and this building has nine floors and a basement whose rooms are arranged in Dewey Decimal order, which is just fantastic. I had fun trying to guess what numbers Daniel Handler would pick for the various characters’ rooms, which is extremely nerdy but I am totally okay with this. Anyway, library shenanigans aside, this book introduces some new characters (particularly a second set of twins who are actually triplets) but mostly does a roundup of all the surviving characters from the previous books, the conceit being that they’ve all arrived at the hotel to take part in a trial of the Baudelaires. The idea is that they’ll get exonerated of all the stuff they’ve been blamed for but haven’t done, but the orphans have done plenty of bad things themselves (like using disguises!), so they’re not sure they’re really on good footing, here. And then of course completely ridiculous things happen and the trial is disrupted and then the orphans set the hotel on fire and end up out to sea. As it goes.

The EndAnd so then in The End the Baudelaires wash up on a coastal shelf that is inhabited by a sort of utopian community, whose members are only not quite as stupid as the rest of the Baudelaire’s world in that they can recognize and dislike Count Olaf, who has washed ashore as well. But unfortunately they are all boozed up beyond belief and also completely bogged down in stupid stupid rules, and so they are of no help to the Baudelaires in either staying safe on the island or getting off of it. And then the Medusoid Mycelium shows up again and bad things happen and good things are prevented and more people die whether you want them to or not and then there is an epilogue and then I am like… sigh.

While we were listening to these Scott kept mentioning that Handler must have been being paid by the word because he just gets so incredibly repetitive and tangential and loses track of the plot quite often, and I was like, “Nooooo it’s awesome just enjoy it” but secretly (or, well, not-so-secretly), I totally agree. I enjoyed the heck out of this series when I read it, but I think I must have skipped over these parts or just blocked them from my mind, because damn, those passages are super boring.

I really loved the beginning of this series, but the end is just not the same at all and I’m finding myself really recommending against reading these last books. But I also can’t figure out where you should stop reading the series, because all of the books have their excellent parts that are totally worth it. So maybe you could just skim through the print versions and read the good parts and not the bad parts. You’ll finish in a few hours that way. Or, you could read the series to a member of its target audience, i.e. short people, and then their enthusiasm for the repetitiveness will make you smile instead of bang your head against the wall.

Ratings: Really a 7/10 for both, but PP gets 8/10 for library awesomeness and TE 6/10 for awful awful epilogue

The Grim Grotto, by Lemony Snicket

This is the second and last of the Unfortunate Events books Scott and I made it through on our road trip… Scott spent too much time sleeping for us to listen more. That’s right. I’m blaming him. I’m sure he cares.

Right, so, this is the one, as I recalled before we started it, that features horseradish. And a submarine. I have an excellent memory, you can see. But it is true that there is a submarine, and it is captained by a man who says “AYE!” a lot and crewed by AYE!-man’s step-daughter and the optimistic dude from The Miserable Mill. And there is a fungus among us and it is super-deadly except that the deadliness can be cured by horseradish. And so of course it is. Spoiler.

I liked this better than the previous book largely because it seems to have more going on β€” there’s the fungus and the sugar bowl and some capturing and releasing and only a few more questions and a decent number of answers, aye. But overall the series is getting more tedious than I remember and I am really hoping that it picks up in the last two books, or I am going to be apologizing to Scott for the next five years.

Recommendation: I think you know if you’re going to read this one or not.

Rating: 7/10

The Slippery Slope, by Lemony Snicket

Another road trip, another journey along the sad, sad path of the Baudelaire orphans! I’m not sure why that gets an exclamation mark, but it does.

Unfortunately (HA), I had forgotten how frightfully boring this installment is. After the violence and sloppy eating of The Carnivorous Carnival, this trip up a snow-covered mountain is just… meh.

What happens is this: Violet and Klaus have been separated from Sunny and are trying to find and rescue her, but they get sidetracked when they meet a wayward triplet and end up going to find the VFD headquarters, which has been set on fire. Meanwhile, Count Olaf is pretending it’s The Bad Beginning all over again and making Sunny do chores. Yawn. Various secrets about the VFD are revealed, but of course they lead only to more secrets and more questions, and then in the end there is a very strange showdown that lets the orphans go on their not-so-merry way one more time.

I enjoyed it, certainly, because as always β€” TIM frickin’ CURRY. But there is simply not enough exciting and treacherous in this story.

Recommendation: I mean, if you’ve read the other nine books already… πŸ™‚

Rating: 7/10

The Carnivorous Carnival, by Lemony Snicket

The last of the Unfortunate Events this time around. Not sure when we’ll be moving on, but there are only four to go! We will make it!

In this adventure, the Baudelaires have hopped in Count Olaf’s trunk after the burning of Heimlich Hospital, figuring that Olaf is good at evading the law and also knows something about their potentially living parent, so who better to follow than the guy who wants to kill 2/3 of them? Oh dear. In an ironic twist, the Baudelaires disguise themselves as carnival workers and pass undetected even right under the nose of Olaf himself. For a while.

So this one I like a heck of a lot better than The Hostile Hospital, largely because it makes me happy to know that Count Olaf is an idiot. The big thing is the not seeing through the Baudelaire’s disguises, because come on, but also it turns out that Olaf has been seeing a psychic to find out where the Baudelaires have been hiding from him, but of course she’s not actually psychic and is using things like newspapers to find the children. I would say that Olaf might be illiterate, but he did write a play that one time… nope. Just a lazy idiot. I would hate to think that a smart person was so evil.

Recommendation: Tim Curry. Precocious children. Violence and sloppy eating. How can you go wrong?

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Hostile Hospital, by Lemony Snicket

The second Unfortunate Event of our road trip! I may have possibly slept through part of this book, but I’ve read it before and Scott caught me up with what I missed, so I think I’m all right. πŸ™‚

So in this one, the Baudelaires have escaped VFD just barely ahead of the law, hopping on a convenient bus that takes them to Heimlich Hospital along with a group of crazy hippie people who think that singing cheerfully about awful illnesses and handing out heart-shaped balloons will make patients feel better. I think it would make me more ill. Anyway, they sneak in and are again conveniently assigned to work in a library of records, in which there is conveniently located a Snicket file which mentions the Baudelaires, except that it’s mostly missing. Oh, and also Count Olaf has figured out where they are and also wants this Snicket file which he doesn’t know is mostly missing and he is pretty insane at this point and that is a bad thing.

This is not one of my favorites of the series, because I felt like there were just too many conveniences. I’m not usually too hard on a plot contrivance or two, but this book is just filled with unlikely things that help someone a bit too much. My disbelief fell right to the ground.

On the other hand, I like that Snicket delves into the good/evil grey area in this book, with the Baudelaires doing some things β€” trickery and disguise β€” that make them wonder if they’re not being just as evil as Count Olaf. Snicket doesn’t really give an answer, either, which I like a lot. The series is definitely getting more grown-up in ideas as it ages.

Recommendation: Again, Tim Curry. Come on. Also good brain candy.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Vile Village, by Lemony Snicket

Hey, look, another road trip happened! You’ll be seeing this and two more Series of Unfortunate Events posts over the next several days. These books are just so perfect for driving β€” they’re simple, they’re engaging but not so much that you cause an accident, and they are easy to pick up again after you’ve taken a pee break. They should clearly list these qualities on the CD case.

Okay, so, we pick up on the V.F.D. thing in this book with a trip to a town called V.F.D., where the citizens have decided to take part in an orphan-raising program based on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. Yes, you can groan.

The Baudelaires find a friend in the town handyman, who helps them attempt to decipher notes that are clearly coming from the Quagmire triplets but who is too “skittish” to do any good defending of the orphans when Count Olaf comes waltzing into town accusing the orphans of murder. Oh, snap.

In the last book, the series got an overarching storyline (finding V.F.D), but this book radically changes the way that the Baudelaires will follow that storyline, as they go from “orphans being shipped around the greater Earth area to increasingly inappropriate guardians” to “orphans running around the greater Earth area trying to find V.F.D. and also avoid the people who think they’re murderers.” I don’t really remember the rest of this series very well, so I don’t know if this is a good shift or not, but it definitely makes the series a bit easier to bear over the next couple of books, as you’ll soon see.

Recommendation: I really like this series, even if it’s not exactly “good.” You should read this if you like sarcastic humor, and you should listen to this if you like Tim Curry.

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Ersatz Elevator, by Lemony Snicket

I promise this is the last Unfortunate Events post until I go on another road trip. Though that might be pretty soon. You never know.

In this one, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are back to regular β€” well, as regular as you can get in this series β€” guardians, in this case Jerome and EsmΓ© Squalor. Luckily, the Squalors actually live in a very nice 71-bedroom penthouse apartment, though there’s no elevator to get there, elevators being “out” right now. But since orphans are “in,” they get to live with the very fashionable EsmΓ©, who doesn’t ask them to make staples or saw lumber but does ask them to wear pinstripe suits. Unfortunately, Olaf shows up right quick and bad things happen and the orphans barely escape his clutches.

Note: listening to four of these books right in a row is a really bad idea, because they are very similar and you start to wonder if it wouldn’t hurt just to skip the next half-hour or so because you know essentially what’s going to happen. I recommend spacing these out much, much further.

But this book is one of my favorites of the series, mostly because we finally get an overarching storyline that is more than just “it sucks to be the Baudelaires.” The kids meet up with their triplet friends from the last book, who tell them about a mysterious “V.F.D.” that will become very important over the succeeding books. Hooray for giving the series something to hold on to!

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Austere Academy, by Lemony Snicket

And now, back to the Baudelaire orphans.

In Book the Fifth, here, Mr. Poe just doesn’t even try to find a decent guardian for the orphans and just packs them off to boarding school. And he doesn’t even pick a good boarding school β€” Klaus’s teacher makes her class measure things all day and Violet’s tells his class stories and quizzes them on unimportant details. And Sunny is employed as a secretary by Vice Principal Nero, who, as you might expect, gives six-hour violin concerts every night which the students are required to attend. It’s a pretty crappy time, except that our beloved orphans meet some other orphans, two of the Quagmire triplets, and make fast friends. Of course, Count Olaf soon shows up and does terrible things and the book ends badly… but you knew that, I hope.

Of audio note: the phrase “cake-sniffing orphans in the Orphan Shack” and mocking voices are much better rendered in audio, even if I never want to hear such things again.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.