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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 4,551
26. The Power of Reviews

On Friday author Kathleen Hale wrote an article for The Guardian about her experience being catfished. On Monday Twitter, and a number of blogs, got quite excited about this topic and lots of people had lots of opinions. I came upon the article when Jessica Alvarez mentioned it to me and before reading anything about it I went to The Guardian article. I wanted to base any opinion I had on what Kathleen Hale had to say rather than read the opinions of others first.

Even without reading what others thought I know that some people feel that Kathleen Hale was catfished, others feel she crossed a line herself and was not the victim or the only victim and still others wonder if the entire post was made up. After reading just Kathleen Hale's post I do stand behind her in some respects. Not all, but some.

I've been in this business long enough to know the impact a review can have on an author. I've seen smart, successful authors completely lose all self-confidence because of one review or one comment on a writing loop or in a blog. In most cases authors who reacted this way were not the stereotypical "neurotic" or introverted authors. They are almost always people who are successful in various different aspects of their lives. They deal with high stress jobs, families and seem to juggle an entire life on top of a writing life. In other words, these are people who have faced adversity before and wore it well.

In fact, while I'm not an author, I've been one of those people. After six years of blogging about what I really thought it was bound to happen. And happen it did. Time and time again. There were times when the comments on the blog got so contentious I would stop sleeping. I panicked that I had alienated my clients, editors or ruined it for all of us. There were times I would have to shut down the computer and walk away for the day. But each and every time it happened walking away was always the best answer for me.

In Kathleen Hale's case the only story we know is hers. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, we haven't heard from the reviewer she's charging with catfishing. A term by the way I had never heard until reading her article. Whether or not she was catfished, in my mind, doesn't really matter.  Fro a variety of reasons reviewers and bloggers act anonymously. In some ways it's one of the great things about the Internet. It's also one of worst things. Being anonymous allows us to really say what we want to say and what we think. Something a lot of people wouldn't be comfortable doing under their own name or couldn't do (it might hurt a career or their own reputation in some way). True confession here, before starting the blog I used to comment anonymously all the time on writing forums. I acknowledged that I was an agent, but I was uncomfortable giving my real name. I didn't want what I said to bite a new agency in the butt. Was I catfishing? I don't think so, I was just giving an opinion. And certainly there have been a ton of anonymous publishing bloggers and Tweeters, people who just want to say what they believe without facing repercussions.

Did Kathleen Hale go to far? Probably. Personally I think any time you start tracking down someone in person you are probably going to far. But I get how someone can go there. Putting yourself out there, whether its by writing a book, an opinion piece in a magazine, or a blog, is a scary, scary thing. Sure you feel great about saying what you believe or finding others to read your work, but at the same time you know you're going to face a backlash. That reviewers will hate what you write and have an opinion about it that differs from your own and you know they're not going to be afraid to say something. Especially because they have the right to remain anonymous in any way they see fit. And when we or our opinion or our writing is attacked it's hard. It often impacts our psyche in a big way.

Personally I've never gone to the lengths Kathleen Hale did to discover the truth about her naysayer, but I get it. Sort of. When someone says something really awful about you or your work you want a chance to discuss it with them. You want a chance to defend yourself without sounding defensive (which is often what happens when you start that discussion on comments). And probably you want the chance to discredit that person. To say, you are wrong and how would you know anyway because.... When someone posts anonymously she knows a whole lot about us, but we know nothing about her. It takes all the power away from us and gives it to her.

There were times when I have been attacked on this blog. Right or wrong, people came out to do whatever they could to discredit me and attack me and my professional integrity. I was scared, I was angry and I Googled. What I learned early on however, and what Kathleen Hale admits to learning in the long run, is that the best answer is to just sit quietly and, as they say, this too shall pass. Let the topic speak for itself or let the other readers comment and take care of it. Sometimes the biggest mistake we can make is saying something at all. What we're doing in that case is exactly what the naysayer wants. We're giving her attention. It's sort of like when Buford grabs my slipper and runs around the office with it. I have the option to chase him, call him and feed him treats. To give him the attention he wants. Or I can sit and work and watch him slowly drop the slipper, confused about why he's not getting the attention he wants.

I'm actually pretty impressed that Kathleen Hale wrote the article at all. Maybe she did it to finally get back at the reviewer, or maybe she just decided to put it out there and get rid of her moment of weakness once and for all. Either way it took bravery. Once again she's getting hit with a lot of opinions from a lot of people who don't know her. Sure its a choice she's making, but as writers I think we all know how difficult it is to face the opinions of others.

--jhf


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27. Review: Crossover

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Twelve year old twin brothers, Josh and Jordan Bell, are basketball players just like their father. And just like their father, they are GOOD.

Josh loves basketball and words; he is the one telling the story, in a sequence of poems organized by sections as if it were a basketball game, starting with Warm Up, moving on to First Quarter, and ultimately ending with Overtime. His father loves music, giving Josh the nickname Filthy McNasty after a favorite song.

His twin, Jordan, is JB, and loves basketball and betting.

The Crossover takes the twins through a basketball season, ending with an important game. And while this is a book about basketball and basketball players, it is also a story about brothers, a father and sons, a family. The two brothers complement each other on the court, a great pair leading their Junior High team to victory after victory. Their parents are loving but strict, with complications because their mother is also their Assistant Principal; their father, who played professional basketball, is a stay at home father who coaches his sons. And then there is a new girl in school, who Josh likes but before he can say a word, it's his brother who is dating her.

The Good: I'm on a roll of reading good books lately!

I loved Josh, his poetry, his love for his dad, his brother, basketball, words. Oh and his hair: he's proud of his locks, just like his dad wore when he played, and conflict with his brother starts when Josh loses a bet to JB -- a bet that allows JB to cut one of those locks off. There is also competition and jealousy, but those feelings are hidden deep inside Josh, only coming out in full force when JB begins dating. The feelings are so hidden, and the parents are so into reinforcing the brother bond, that these emotions are ones that Josh has a hard time understanding. Their father pushes both sons to be good basketball players, but he's individually pushing them: there is no setting one brother against the other.

If I talk more about the twins' father, it's because of the strong basketball bond between the father and sons. The father stopped playing years ago, explaining to his sons that he saved his money and is happy being with them full-time. As the twins learn, it's a bit more complicated than that: an injury ended their father's career. Health issues continue to plague the family; there's a history of hypertension, and their father has a huge distrust of doctors and hospitals so refuses to see one. (And yes there is foreshadowing there.)

One thing I really liked about The Crossover is that it's a book about two typical kids -- readers will see themselves in Josh as he struggles with his love for his brother but also his jealousy; with wanting to play basketball; enjoying being good at something; practicing to become better. Having a father who is loving and caring; a mother who is also kind and loving but knows when to be strict. Parents who value their sons' education as much as their basketball skills. It's a story played out in towns and cities everywhere.

Another Favorite Book Read in 2014!

Other reviews: The New York Times review; Stacked; Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; Bookshelves of Doom.







Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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28. Seconds

I don’t remember where I heard about Bryan O’Malley’s newest graphic novel Seconds, but I immediately put myself on the library hold queue for it. You may recognize O’Malley as the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series or maybe you might just know that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on one of those novels (I learned from the movie that I should have vegan superpowers but I must be doing something wrong because I’m still waiting for them). I’ve not read the graphic novel series, have you? And if so, should I?

But back to Seconds. It is about Katie, a successful chef who runs a hip restaurant called Seconds. She is in the midst of trying to strike out on her own with a brand new restaurant but the building is in such bad shape renovations are taking forever and costing a lot of money. Katie lives in a tiny room above Seconds in order to save money. One evening, there is an accident in the kitchen and a young waitress whom Katie has been trying to make friends with is badly burned. In her room, Katie is presented with a chance to change things. A notebook appears in which she it to write what she wants to change and then eat the little mushroom that was left beside it.

Now I know what you are probably thinking about that mushroom! I thought it too. But it isn’t that sort of mushroom. What it does is erase the accident. It never happened. Katie is happy and relieved and wishes she had more mushrooms because there is so much she would change if she could. And then she discovers the mushrooms are growing beneath the floorboard of a not frequently used storage closet behind the kitchen. She helps herself to quite a few of them, a dozen. And every time something happens that she doesn’t like, she can change it. Her new restaurant, her old boyfriend, friends, she changes them all sometimes more than once. She begins to get confused about what has and hasn’t happened.

She learns from Hazel, the waitress and now her friend who burned her arms that began this whole thing, that Seconds has a house spirit. The house spirit’s name is Lis and she makes an appearance in Katie’s room demanding she give back all those mushrooms, Lis’s mushrooms. But Katie refuses. Things get bad. Really bad.

The story is good, well told. The art is good too. They combine to make an enjoyable reading experience. I liked that Katie is a successful woman and this is her story. She is not drawn as tall and gorgeous, impossibly skinny and extremely well endowed. Nope, Katie is normal. Kind of short even with sort of crazy hair. I also enjoyed mulling over all the ways “seconds” can be applied in the story. From food so good you want seconds to second chances to how a life can change in seconds.

I don’t read graphic novels very often, not because I don’t enjoy them. I think I am just very picky about them. They have to meet some kind of worthiness test that I can’t even begin to articulate. But Seconds passed the test. I’m glad it did because it’s a good read.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Bryan O'Malley

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29. Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

barnett samanddave Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

star2 Review of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole Sam & Dave Dig a Hole
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Jon Klassen
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
10/14    978-0-7636-6229-5    $16.99

This adventure starts innocently enough: “On Monday Sam and Dave dug a hole.” The boys (indistinguishable save the color of their hats and Sam’s ever-present backpack) are fueled by chocolate milk, animal cookies, and a desire to find “something spectacular.” Alas, Sam and Dave unearth nothing, coming close to — but just missing — the precious gems that dot the subterranean landscape, and oblivious all the while. Eventually the chums stop for a rest, whereupon their canine companion, digging for a bone, inadvertently causes a rupture in the dirt floor underground that leaves the explorers falling “down, down, down,” only to land in what appears to be their own yard. But upon closer inspection, this house isn’t quite the same as before; a number of subtle differences go undetected by the hapless duo, but observant viewers will certainly take note. Barnett’s well-chosen words (“Sam and Dave ran out of chocolate milk. / But they kept digging. / They shared the last animal cookie. / But they kept digging”) and plentiful white space support readers. Klassen’s cross-section illustrations provide a mole’s-eye view of the underground proceedings, extending the spare text with visual humor. As in his previous books, Klassen shows an uncanny knack for conveying meaning with the subtlest of eye movements. How fitting that the wordless final spread features a knowing look between the dog and a cat familiar to Klassen fans; all that’s missing from the trippy conclusion is the theme music from The Twilight Zone. Mind-blowing in the best possible way.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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30. Thinking of Gone Girl

A few weeks ago I posted my review for Gone Girl to GoodReads and boy did I get some flack. Keep in mind that I usually write short reviews on GoodReads. I don't have a lot of time or energy to write out everything I'm thinking and with Gone Girl that was especially the case.

There will be no spoilers in this post so if you haven't yet read the book or seen the movie you are safe.

Gone Girl was the kind of book that left me really thinking, maybe even reeling, and yet I only gave it three stars. I guess I'm not sure I loved it or maybe I just didn't love the way it made me feel? I felt the beginning was long and it was difficult for me to want to continue going back for more since I really did not like the characters. I don't know that I liked any of them. Okay, maybe one.

I would say it easily took me six months to read the book and I would say I easily read six books in between chapters of Gone Girl.

And finally I got to the twist. At that point I could totally see what everyone was quacking about. Crazy good! Now I'm reading like a demon. But the end. The end just didn't do it for me. I wonder if I'm too much of a romantic and I want an ending that's wrapped up differently or if I just felt it was a little too contrived. Frankly, I'm not really sure.

So here's my take on Gone Girl for those who were horrified by my GoodReads review. I think it probably deserves more than three stars for the simple fact that I'm still thinking about it. Or is that because Ben Affleck is in the movie and I get to see his lovely face every time I turn on the tv? No matter what star rating I give it though I do think it's a book worth reading for everyone. It's one of the few times I wished I was in a book club because it's a book I'd love to sit around and discuss with others. It's a book worth talking about.

--jhf


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31. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

When Raina was little, she begged her parents for a sister. She thought a sister would be the best thing the world.

And then she got one.

Fast forward a decade, when Raina, her siblings, and her mother take a road trip from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion. Headphones help Raina tune out her family's bickering and blathering. But when she blocks out the world, Raina runs the risk of missing important things happening around her. Road trips can bring out both the best and worst in people. Things along the way remind Raina of previous events, and the flashbacks add to the story, rather than distract from it, as they are woven in at just the right time for just the right duration, true flashes. Were this a TV movie or an episode of a family dramedy series, one would compliment the tight script, the comedic timing, and the heartwarming moments and memories shared. The fact that this book was inspired by Raina's real life makes it even sweeter and more poignant.

Sisters is a follow-up to Raina's fantastic graphic novel Smile, which chronicled her sixth-grade dental drama. The two books can be read independently, if you'd like - and if you like one, you'll certainly like the other. Such is the case with all of Raina's graphic novels, which showcase her knack for telling stories readers can truly relate to as well as her signature style. Fans of For Better or Worse will definitely like her character's expressive faces and her realistic storylines.

Sisters is written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier, with lettering by John Green and color by Braden Lamb.

Related posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Raina Telgemeier
Review: The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels
Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier
What Makes You Smile?

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32. Review: Aurora West Rises

the rise of aurora west Review: Aurora West Rises

By Matthew Jent

The Rise of Aurora West

Written by JT Petty and Paul Pope

Art by David Rubin

Published by First Second

 

“You don’t have to attack what’s attacking you.”

At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Paul Pope appeared on a panel called “Middle Grade Extravaganza,” which discussed comics for a younger audience. Younger than the grown-ups who are currently buying superhero comics, at least. A young fan approached the mic during the Q&A and he asked how Pope got the idea for Battling Boy, the long-awaited original graphic novel released by First Second last year.

Pope responded immediately that he wanted to serve an audience that modern comics have left behind. “I have nephews who were your age,” he said, “and they thought it was cool I was making comics, but they can’t see most of it. It’s geared toward adults. I wanted to write the best superhero for people your age, so they don’t have to keep going back to Batman, who is 75 years old, and Spider-Man, who is middle-aged.”

The Rise of Aurora West, a prequel/spinoff to Battling Boy, expands the world of Arcopolis and the monster fighters who try to keep that megalopolis safe. Arcopolis as a nightly curfew that attempts to keep kids safe from the monsters (quite literally, they are goblin-faced, spaghetti-armed creatures with razor-sharp teeth) who prowl the dark alleys. Aurora West is a teenage monster hunter trained by her father, Batman-stand-in Haggard West, a super-rich adventurer with a face-fitting mask, high tech gadgets, and a Westmobile. In Battling Boy, Haggard is dead and Aurora is left to battle monsters on her own. In Rise, Aurora is still being trained by her father to, in his words, “make her strong enough to survive when I’m gone.”

Though set in the same world, Aurora West has a tone than the action heavy, magic-t-shirt story of Battling Boy. Aurora is not the strongest fighter or the surest of foot, but she’s got an investigative mind. She notices details others miss, even her father, who is “Arcopolis’ Wiliest Detective.” She plays squab at school (a game that seems to involve mallets and baseball bats, but not necessarily a ball?), practices “anti-mandible kenpo” with Ms. Grately (the Wests’ version of Alfred Pennyworth), and ignores (or doesn’t notices) flirtatious asides from Hoke, a boy from school she brings along on illicit investigations. As Aurora and Hoke look for clues in a library, his whispered “you’re so pretty” is a welcome reminder — right before the story kicks into creepy/action/conclusion mode — that this is still a story about kids, intended for an audience about that the same age or younger.

Aurora West can be read and enjoying without any foreknowledge of Battling Boy. It’s clearly established from the start that Arcopolis is a city with a monster problem, and that Haggard West is a Batman-figure with doom in his future. In Haggard’s case, the event from his past that’s made him the grim avenger he is today is the death of his wife — and Aurora’s mother. But Aurora is clearly our main character. She’s learning how to fight monsters, but more importantly, she’s learning when to listen to her mentors and when to trust her instincts. She’s learning to ask why there are monsters in Arcopolis, and discovering there might be more to their motivations besides madness and appetite.

Written by Pope with JT Petty, Aurora West is illustrated in black-and-white by David Rubin. Rubin’s work resembles a wonderful hybrid of Pope, Jeff Smith, Ren & Stimpy’s John Kricfalusi (those scrunched faces, that sweat!), and a pinch of Charles Burns. He employs great visual effects — the glare of light that obscures the face of Aurora’s mother the first time we see her, the thought balloon turning gears when Aurora puts something together in her head — and every page really works as a page. They are clearly constructed moments of story. Whether that comes from a tight script from Petty & Pope or from Rubin’s storytelling sensibilities — or both — it makes for an engagingly page-turning read, and it makes me think of Pope’s own masterwork (in my own opinion, at least), THB. Like THB, the art of Aurora West balances sci-fi action with adolescent drama, and while it gets spooky, it never stops being fun. Rubin’s monsters go from silly to strange to scary without losing any of their power, and when, late in the book, a strange creature steps from the shadows that is itself unsure whether it is a monster, a ghost, or something else altogether, I found myself looking around my apartment nervously. That’s a testament to Rubin’s work with mood and shadow just as much — if not more — as Petty & Pope’s words.

Zachary Clemente spoke to Paul Pope about Aurora West at NYCC, and Pope said that Aurora’s influences are H.P. Lovecraft and Boris Karloff Universal Monster movies, providing the flip side to Battling Boy’s wellspring of Jack Kirby, Moebius, and Miyazaki. Aurora West also speaks to something else Pope mentioned in that SDCC panel: that he’s writing to himself as a younger person.

The Rise of Aurora West is about a girl being propelled out of adolescence and into young adulthood, discovering that maybe her father doesn’t have all the answers, and that the imaginary friend she half-remembers from her youth might not have been so imaginary after all. It deepens a world of new mythologies introduced in Battling Boy and proves that there is a way to create new superhero comics, for a younger audience, without having to use the same old corporate characters of decades past.

Haggard West might be doomed, but Aurora is on the rise.

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33. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.

It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.

Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.

Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:

It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.

Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.

These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.

I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.

So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Hilary Mantel

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34. New Post: Bling Ring

The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World by Nancy Jo Sales. It Books. 2013. Library copy. Inspired film by the same name.
The Bling Ring.

It's About: The true story of how, in 2008 - 2009, a bunch of teens broke into the homes of their favorite celebrities and stole clothes and jewelry. The Bling Ring explores who those teens were, how they planned the crimes, and how they were caught.

The Good: Both the film and the movie view this series of home robberies as an opportunity to examine entitlement celebrity fan culture. The teens targeted those people they liked, not those they didn't. They wanted to be in those homes, go through their closets, wear their clothes. It was part celebrity worship, but it was also part entitlement. Why shouldn't they do this?

The reader is as much a voyeur as those teens, reading about the robberies and the celebrities, laughing at those rich people with poor security. The movie ups that aspect by filming in the actual locations, including some of the homes.

I found it helpful to read the book before the film: the film changes some things to the make the story more linear, less messy, so consolidates and shifts some events. In simplifying the story, some of the nuance and depth is lost. That the "ring" was messy is part of the point of the underlining story.

A book like this is dependent on who talks to the writer, and not all of the teens spoke with Sales. While understandable, it also means that the reader is left with not enough understanding of just exactly what happened, who was involved, how involved they were, etc. Still, it's a pretty valuable examination of a certain type of teenager as well as a look at what happens when they get caught.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea CozyThi

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35. Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and Mystery

by Zachary Clemente

Drifter Cover Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryWritten by Ivan Brandon, Art & Colors by Nic Klein, Letters by Clem Robins, Design by Tom Muller, Edited by Sebastian Griner, Published by Image Comics.

Mankind’s colonization of the galaxy has left countless planets mined bare and lifeless. A space transport crashes onto a backwater world whose unique properties set the stage for a story that combines the dark wonder of a strange and alien landscape with the struggles of an abandoned and lawless frontier town.

Something about the first issue of Drifter – the new frontier sci-fi story from Image Comics – leaves a raw, unnerved feeling in my gut that can’t be gripped. I can’t help but see an omnipresent sense of desperation that kicks off with the first page and gradually builds as Abram Pollux, our man in the midst, attempts to find sense in his new world. Bad things come in threes and he got dealt all of them.

There’s a poetic and almost antiquated mannerism to the way characters talk in the world that Drifter introduces us to. Their conversational cadence feels born out the expectation one would have of people living years in an isolated ramshackle frontier town on an alien planet: one part appropriately stunted, another part guarded familiarity, peppered with esoteric expressions. This kluged language serves the citizens and story of Drifter very well, serving to describe their affected state and the situation Pollux finds himself in.

drifter1 preview 01 Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryPollux’s internal reactionary dialogue lends a tenable perspective to the oddities presented around him, grounding this rust-and-dust world in his steadfastness. Not without fault though – it’s clear that the Pollux we meet here is a mere glance and what he’s all about; a past of gunning, wronging, and suffering trailing behind him. Inklings of shrapnel from every stripe is present in Drifter - from Pollux’s past to the welded-together town sparsely populated by outcasts at best.

I feel now that Drifter is going to come in with questions, raise even more along the way, and drop us off without answering most – but that’s just fine with me. I’m a sucker for fiction that trusts its audience with the world as it as and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. While it’s clear that the world of Drifter is heady with history and phenomena; I believe that they are a means to provide context to the plight of its inhabitants and will aide in the construction of the ongoing drama that is Pollux’s recently saved life.

drifter1 Pg14 15 Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and MysteryI want to make it clear that my previous commentary is coming from a holistic view; I wouldn’t find Drifter successful as mere words. I don’t mean to say that Brandon isn’t an accomplished writer, I just think that the way the story is being told couldn’t occur with his collaborators.  It’s strange, but for a story so intertwined with being “on the brink” Klein’s art is lush in a grandeur that seems of a uniquely European vein. Perhaps it’s the color choices, done by Klein as well, that evoke a willingness to experiment. I’m fondly reminded of the sketch and concept art of Ian McQue who blurs (perhaps literally) the line between paper and digital work that many contemporary artists ride. This extends to Robins’ letters, conveying narrative perspective with sublime ease. I’m not entirely sure it was him, but there is a really thoughtful segment where alien calls are powerfully featured as strong strokes of language that Pollux, therefore we, cannot decipher. Another exciting aspect is the inclusion of Muller’s design talents; carefully crafting a design evocative of star maps, he reminds us of the scale of Drifter. Considerations such as these can truly make world worth buying into.

Drifter #1 is a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to a clearly well-crafted frontier tale and I heartily encourage you to request your local store to order you a copy.

Final Order Cut-Off is Monday 10/20, Diamond Code: ICSEP140546.

Drifter #1 hits stands 11/12.

3 Comments on Drifter #1 [Advanced Review]: The Sky is Full of Stars and Mystery, last added: 10/16/2014
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36. Review: Complicit

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn. St. Martin's Griffin. 2014. Reviewed from ARC from publishers.

The Plot: Two years ago, Jamie's older sister was sent to juvenile detention. She'd burnt down a neighbor's barn, killing several horses and injuring a young girl who'd tried to save those horses.

Rumors have always swirled around Cate: she was that type of personality, that attracted and repelled and fascinated. And now... now she's been released.

Jamie is afraid, to be honest. He's put that all behind him, what happened with Cate. What she did. He's been seeing someone to help. He lost his best friend but he's rebuilt his life, flirting with a cute girl at school, continuing to get good grades.

What will Cate do, now that's back?

The Good: This is the type of book that is so hard to write about!

Jamie tells the story. He tells what he knows and what he remembers. And that is the sticking point. Jamie is an unreliable narrator.

The story as he knows it, the story as he tells it: Cate and Jamie were the children of a teen mother, struggling to make ends meet. When they were little, about six and eight, she was murdered. Jamie has little memories of his mother, or her death -- just hazy details, of their small basement apartment, of her living on the edge, the type of life that led to her death.

And then the miracle: after months in the foster system, Cate and Jamie were adopted, kept together, by a rich couple who were looking for older children to replace the ones they had lost. At first, young Cate is the one who seems to adjust easily, being happy, taking riding lessons. It's Jamie who is lost and sullen and doesn't quite connect, until he's sent to a therapist and things get better and Jamie gets better. Like the lost son, he takes piano, He calls his adoptive mother "Mom."

When Cate enters her teen years, things change. Jamie, the younger brother, looking on, doesn't understand why but suddenly Cate is the trouble maker, pushing boundaries, drinking, smoking, boys, and then, of course, the barn fire. And now she's back, reaching out to Jamie, and acting as if there's more to the story. That there's more that Jamie knows.

Jamie wants to know what she knows.

That's the story Jamie is telling us. Between the lines, though, the reader sees another story. Of a lost child. Of someone who has learned to act the right way, to give the right responses. Of the growing concern that part of Jamie's acting the right way includes what he is, or is not, telling the reader. Of trying to figure out how much of what he is saying about Cate is real. And of trying to understand Jamie, and who he is, and what he's done.

This is a suspenseful, psychological drama about a mentally ill teen. Who that teen is, and what they do, is a question that will leave the reader guessing.

A bit of a disclaimer: this is the type of book that I only like when done well. Unreliable narrator, unlikable characters, questions left for the reader to answer -- I am so picky about these things that usually my short-form response is that I don't like these things when the truth is that I do like them, I'm just very particular about how such books are crafted and written. And Kuehn in Complicit? Does it so well it's a Favorite Book of 2014.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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37. Don’t Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.

The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.

Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.

We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.

We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.

I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.

Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science Tagged: climate change

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38. Call for Submissions on Travel or Place: cahoodaloodaling

The online journal, cahoodaloodaling, is seeking writing and art submissions with the common theme of travel or place for its January 2015 issue, Travelogue. Issue #15 – Travelogue 

We are seeking submissions inspired by unique destinations, travel, international adventures, or simply the comforts of home. Send in your best works of “place” by the end of the year. Remember, we are open for all styles and forms of visual and audio art, poetry, literature, as well as essays, non-fiction, screenplays, collaborations and even letters home. Make us stand up and take notice. 

Submissions due 12/31/14. Guest editor April Michelle Bratten of Up The Staircase Quarterly. Issue live 1/31/15. 

Check out previous issues here.

Please review our submission guidelines here.

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39. Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter D. Sieruta

If you are fond of anecdotes and children's literature, pick up WILD THINGS! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature, written by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Packed from cover-to-cover with funny stories and little known facts about famous authors, secret feuds, inspired illustrations, and classic characters, this is a great resource for readers and writers alike.

This fun book contains true tales, the stories behind the stories. If you've read up on your favorite classic authors, you may already be familiar with some of these occurrences, such as the chapters and characters cut from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but there are also plenty of things that aren't widely known, as well as gems that are worth repeating. One of my favorite sidebars detailed the time author Richard Michelson was mistaken for Leonard Nimoy - while having dinner for the real Leonard Nimoy, whom the fans thought was his father.

The real lives of beloved authors and the inspiration behind the books we know and love can be surprising. WILD THINGS shares funny bits as well as sad stories: the authors who remained closeted for most if not all of their lives, worried it would affect their book sales and public image; the books which were not championed or honored until after the writers had passed away; the ghostwriters who never got their due; the illustrators who purposely added details to their artwork which may or may not have been appropriate; the authors who had multiple career paths, intertwined or wholly separate; the people who felt overshadowed by others in their field; and those who were not pleased with their celebrity status, preferring to stay below the radar.

WILD THINGS! was clearly written with respect and appreciation not only for stories but for storytellers. The trio of researchers, Bird, Danielson, and Sieruta, are also reviewers and bloggers. They know their books and know their audience, and in this volume, they acknowledge the work and the lives of a plethora of authors, ranging from Louisa May Alcott to J.K. Rowling, from Kay Thompson to Lemony Snicket. Give this book to your favorite children's librarians and literature buffs - they will dig it.

Learn more about the book and watch exclusive interviews with various authors and artists at http://wildthings.blaine.org

Read my interview with Julie Danielson and Betsy Bird.

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40. Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat Mora

WaterRolls1 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraWater Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube
By Pat Mora
Illustrated by Meilo So
Children’s Book Press (an imprint of Lee & Low Books)
$17.95
ISBN: 978-0892393251
Ages 4-8
On shelves now.

Sometimes I wonder what effect the televised ephemera I took in as a child has had on my memories and references. For example, when I pick up a book like Pat Mora’s beautifully written and lushly illustrated Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube I immediately flash back to an old Sesame Street episode I enjoyed as a kid that showed a water sapped desert landscape made vibrant once more with the appearance of rain. Taken by itself, such a ran is an event that happens every day on Earth, and as such it’s the kind of thing tailor made to inspire a poet’s heart and mind. Poetry, sad to say, is not a form of literature that I excel in as a student. I can appreciate it, even quote it when called up to do so, but my heart belongs to prose first and foremost. If I have to read poetry, it helps to read the best of the best. Only really stellar poetry can crack my shell of indifference. And when you pair that really good verse alongside art that makes you want to stand up and cheer? That’s when you have a book that won’t just win over crusty old fogies like me, but also its intended audience: kids. Because if a book like Water Rolls, Water Rises can make me stop and think about the natural world, if only for a second, imagine what it could do for an actual child’s growing brain. Better things than old Sesame Street segments, that’s for sure.

We start slowly and watch the roll of the tides and the rise of the fog. The water is blown, then slithers and snakes, and in one particularly beautiful passage glides “up roots of tulips and corn.” After that, things pick up a bit. In swells the water sloshes, in woods it swirls, and it all culminates in storms and thunder and “lightning’s white flash.” Then, just as suddenly, all is calm again. Water rests in an oasis and slumbers in marshes. The book concludes with water joyfully “skidding and slipping”, “looping and leaping” until at last we pull back and view for ourselves our blue planet, “under gold sun, under white moon.” The bilingual text in both English and Spanish is complemented by illustrator Meilo So’s mixed media illustrations and contains both an Author’s Note and key for identifying the images in the book in the back.

WaterRolls2 300x179 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraNow I’ll tell you right now that I don’t speak a lick of Spanish. I’ve the rudimentary single words and phrases culled from years of watching the aforementioned Sesame Street but there’s nothing substantial in my noggin. Therefore I cannot honestly tell you if the Spanish translation by Adriana Dominguez and Pat Mora matches the English text’s spare verse. Certainly I was impressed with the minimal wordplay Mora chose to use in this book. As someone prone to wordiness (I think the length of this review speaks for itself) I am always most impressed by those writers that can siphon a thought or a description down to its most essential elements. It’s hard to say what you’ll notice first when you read this book. Will it be the words or the art? Mora’s cadences (in English anyway) succeed magnificently in evoking the beauty and majesty of water in its myriad forms. Read the book enough times and you begin to get a real sense of the rise and fall of water’s actions. I also noted that Mora eschews going too deep into her subject matter. The primary concentration is on water as it relates to the landscape worldwide. She doesn’t dwell on something like water’s role in the human body or pepper the text with small sidebars pertaining to facts about water. This is poetry as it relates to liquid. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The bilingual picture book is fast becoming a necessity in the public library setting. Just the other day someone asked if we could have more Bengali/English picture books rather than just straight Bengali, because the parents liked reading both languages to their kids. Yet sadly in the past our bilingual literature has had a rough go of it. Well-intentioned efforts to give these books their own space in the children’s libraries have too often meant that they’re scuttled away in some long-forgotten corner. The patrons who need them most are often too intimidated to ask for them or don’t even know that they exist. So what’s the solution? Interfile them with the English books or all the other languages? Wouldn’t they be just as forgotten in one collection as another? There are no easy answers here and the thought that a book as a beautiful in word and image as Water Rolls could end up forgotten is painful to me.

Since this book travels around the world and touches on the lives of people in different lands and nations it is, by its very definition, multicultural. And to be honest, attaining the label of “multicultural” by simply highlighting different nations is easy work. What sets artist Meilo So’s art apart from other books of this sort is her fearless ability to upset expectations. I am thinking in particular of the image of the wild rice harvest in northern Minnesota. In this picture two children punt a boat through marshland. Their skin is brown, a fact that I am sure Ms. So did on purpose. Too often are white kids the “default” race when books that skate around the world make mention of the U.S. It’s as if the publishers forget that people of races aside from white live in America as well as the rest of the world. As such So elevates the standards for your average round-the-world book.

WaterRolls3 300x179 Review of the Day: Water Rolls, Water Rises: El Agua Rueda, el Agua Sube by Pat MoraEvery book you pick up and read has to pass through your own personal filters and prejudices before it makes a home for itself in your brain. Let us then discuss what it means to be an English-only speaking American woman looking at this book for the first time. I pick up this book and I instantly assume that the cover is sporting an image of Niagara Falls. On the back of the jacket I come to a similar conclusion that we’re viewing Old Faithful. Thus does the American see the world only in terms of those natural wonders that happen to exist within her own nation’s borders. Turns out, that waterfall on the front is Victoria Falls, found between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. And that geyser? Strokkur in Iceland. With this in mind you can understand why I was grateful for the little key in the back of the book that clearly identifies and labels (in both English and Spanish) where each location in the images can be found. It was interesting too to see each credit saying that the image was “inspired by” (“inspirada por”) its real world equivalent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about accuracy in works of illustration in picture books. Mostly I’ve been thinking about historical accuracy, but contemporary landscapes raise their own very interesting questions. If Meilo So came up with the “inspired by” label then it may well be that it was thought up to protect her against critics who might look to her view of the Qutang Gorge, say, and declare her positioning of this or that mountain peak a gross flight of fancy. Since she is illustrating both distinct landmarks (the Grand Canyon, Venice’s Grand Canal, the coast of Cabo San Lucas, etc.) alongside places that typify their regions (a fishing boat at sea in Goa, India, a well in a rural village in Kenya, etc.) it is wise to simply give the “inspired by” designation to all images rather than a few here and there so as to avoid confusion.

After soaking in the art page by page I wondered then how much control Ms. Mora had over these images. Did she designate a country and location for each stanza of her poem? The book sports an Author’s Note (but no Artist’s Note, alas) that mentions the places Ms. Mora has traveled too. Look at the list of locations and they do, indeed, appear in the book (China, Holland, Peru, Finland, etc.). So I make the assumption that she told Ms. So what country to draw, though I don’t know for sure.

As a mother of two small children, both under the age of 4, my interest in early brain development has been piqued. And like any mother I berate myself soundly when I feel like my own personal prejudices are being inflicted on my kids. I don’t go gaga for poetry but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read it to the kiddos as much as possible. Fortunately, books like Water Rolls, Water Rises make the job easy. Easy on the eyes and the ears, this is one clever little book that can slip onto any home library shelf without a second thought. Sublime.

On shelves now.

Source: F&G sent from publisher for review.

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41. Review: Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker. Vintage Reprint, 2014. Personal copy.

The Plot: The story of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the servants.

Sarah, one of the housemaids, is the main character -- and as she works long days, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, doing whatever is required -- she has her own dreams, her own hopes, and her own loves.

The Good: I was lucky enough to "discover" Pride and Prejudice on my own. I was in high school, it was a book on the shelf at home, I was bored with nothing to read. (Seriously, you want your kids to read? Have plenty of books at home and let them be bored.) Like many others, I fell hard for Elizabeth and Darcy and Elizabeth and Darcy together.

You may remember I was disappointed in the Pride and Prejudice mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley (yet I'm still looking forward to the upcoming TV program.) I am so happy to say that I had the exact opposite reaction to Longbourn: it was everything I wanted, and more, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

One thing I find interested, now, as an older, adult reader, is how often books written long ago, books like Pride and Prejudice, don't show certain aspects of life at the time. It reveals, of course, both what the characters would (and wouldn't) think as well as what the author thinks the reader does and doesn't want to know. In other words, the servants in Pride and Prejudice are barely mentioned, even though, of course, they are there because these homes and houses needed staff to run.

Longbourn looks at those servants -- and I loved, actually, how little we see the Bennets, because how often would they interact with each other? And even though we know Elizabeth sees herself and her family as not being well off -- still, they did have servants even if they don't have many. And they had the privilege that having servants meant. Or, as Sarah puts it: "If Elizabeth had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she'd most likely be a sight more careful with them." In that one sentence we see a different side of Elizabeth's behavior, which in Pride and Prejudice is strictly shown as her independence and non-conformity. It also shows a disregard for the people who have to clean her clothes. It's careless and rude.

Sarah is one of two housemaids, and that's another thing -- this is no Downton Abbey. There are a couple other servants, yes, but altogether there are very few, expected to do very much, with very little pay or free time, and from a very young age. Yet, it's shown that these servants are lucky because they have jobs, a place to sleep, food. It's shown just how few options these workers had -- especially the women. This is one of those books that makes me value, all the more, the servants and serving class of the past -- the workers, the people making the best of their worlds, the people who strive to be happy with what they have. And makes me thankful for all the laws we have, against child labor, for minimum wage, for overtime.

The source of the fortunes of the wealthy is explored, especially just what it meant to be "in sugar." Ptolemy Bingley, one of the Bingley servants, was born a slave. I loved that Longbourn showed that England wasn't all white in the nineteenth century, and how others would interact with Ptolemy.

The risky position of women, love, and sex is also shown (and I won't go into more because spoilers.) I will say this: Longbourn, surprisingly, made me much more sympathetic to Mrs. Bennet and the pressure she was under to have a son and how precarious the family was without sons. She was no longer a silly woman, but rather a desperate one who had few options other than trying to have a male heir and then wanting security for her own daughters -- a security her husband was reluctant, or unable, to think about.

Of course, this is a Favorite Book of 2014!




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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42. Thursday Review: IN REAL LIFE by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Summary: There aren't many books, graphic novel or not, that can combine sweetness and seriousness in the way In Real Life does. Written by Cory Doctorow with art by Jen Wang, it's a deceptively simple story at first: the protagonist, Anda, is the... Read the rest of this post

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43. I Really Hope You Read the Lead-Ins: Reviewing Avengers X-Men AXIS #1

AXIS2014001 DC11 197x300 I Really Hope You Read the Lead Ins: Reviewing Avengers X Men AXIS #1Have you been reading Uncanny Avengers?  You’ll want to catch up on that before reading AXIS.  I guess you probably ought to catch up on Magneto, too.  Maybe the other Avengers titles, maybe not.  I’m not remotely current, so I was scratching my head at a lot of the things going on in this comic.  Now, Beat columnist Brandon Schatz said that “delicate flowers” would need more background material to enjoy this.  Spoken like a man with a large order to sell and one who’s been reading all his Marvel titles.  For me, this was like coming in on the last book of a trilogy and I’d only read half of the first book.

Here’s the deal, the first two pages give you the briefest of recaps.  Essentially Red Skull stole Xavier’s brain, kidnapped some of the Uncanny Avengers cast, Magneto tracked the Skull down and killed him, but that just turned the Skull into Red Onslaught.  (Red Onslaught?)  And with that, you’re ready for the fight scenes, but none of the character bits.

For starters, there’s no real explanation of what an Onslaught is.  Is the Red Skull actually dead or transformed?  Is Red Onslaught a separate entity and the dead Red Skull’s voice is still somehow around?  Is the Red Skull in control of Onslaught?  I have no idea.  I guess if I’d read the Onslaught X-Men comics back in the mid-90s, I might know, but I dropped those like a brick before the lead-in to outsourcing the core books to Image happened.  That wasn’t really covered here except a line about Onslaught being a construct of pure hate, which didn’t exactly enlighten me.   Still, the character (characters?) has multiple voices which seem to be dominant at different times and it wasn’t exactly clear storytelling.  The story reads like everyone is supposed to know what an Onslaught is.  If the characters were confused, I might not feel like I’m missing out on something.

The problem with this book is that there really are a lot of character bits in the comic that need a little background.  In “Red Onslaught’s” quest to… take over the world/kill all the mutants/just make everybody fight each other, there are a multitude of psychological attacks on the heroes.  I’m assuming they’re meaningful if you knew what they were.  There’s a key bit about a child that doesn’t really get an explanation about halfway through that had me utterly baffled in early scenes.  Especially since I didn’t know two of the characters were now a couple.  I suspect the initial sequence involving the child is wrenching and affecting if you know what’s going on, rather than wondering what they’re talking about.  For that matter, in the opening sequence, I was distracted by the first appearances of the hammerless Thor and his new outfit, elderly Steve Rogers and Falcon as Captain America and the Vision being back.  Did I know Thor was losing his hammer and the Falcon was taking over as Captain America?  Sure.  But have those issue been out over a week?  First time I’d seen the new versions.  It’s a minor thing but given not knowing much of the backstory, it sure didn’t ease me into the questions of “what’s with those two as a couple and that kid” and “what exactly is an Onslaught?”  (Plus, if Marvel runs true to form and Thor is hammerless for ~18 months and the Falcon is Captain America for a similar length of time, it’s going to be a “huh” moment for the reader in a couple years.  Similar to reading anything with Superior Spider-Man guest-starring as you pause and wonder why Spidey is so out of character until you remember the time period the book was published in.)

Now, you can certainly jump in and read this book as “the big bad is messing with and trying to control the heroes minds” and “everybody hit the big bad.”  It looks to me like there’s some ongoing character arcs coming to a head and that’s what you’re missing out on if you come in cold.  I’m of the camp that thinks the character arcs are at least as important as the boss monster at the end of the level.  This just didn’t work on the level of something with #1 on the cover where you have the expectation of a starting point.  This starts in media res and never backs up to a starting point.  Or to put it another way, this feels like the next chapter of a serial, not the beginning of a book.  Then again, book collections are such a secondary concern these days.

If you’ve been reading Uncanny Avengers, I suspect this is a must read for you.  I suspect you might want to read the last 2 or 3 issues of Magneto, too.  Especially if it explains what an Onslaught is.  But if you’re current with those tales, I suspect you’ll like this quite a bit.

If you’re not current, you’re picking up the last volume in what appears to be a long saga.  It’s certainly better than what I saw of Original Sin, but that’s not exactly a great feat.  (Killing demon kings with gamma-bullets.  Riiiiiiight.)  If you want to check in on the latest Event, sure.  Go ahead.  It doesn’t seem like appointment reading to me after the first issue, but there’s some potential and there’s certainly a twist on the last couple pages with interesting implications.  On the other hand, you might be better off going back and reading the previous installments and then catching this in book form.  I’m of two minds on that recommendation.  I’ve read the collected editions of the first two Uncanny Avengers arc.  The first arc, which is the beginning of this storyline did not work for me at all.  The second arc, which was more of a Remender X-Force arc, did work for me.  I’m not so sure the one sentence summary of the first arc isn’t better than the real thing.

Recommended for people who are already grooving on Uncanny Avengers and will look at this as that title with the rest of Avengers and X-Men guest-starring.

Mildly recommended for people who haven’t been following Uncanny Avengers, but might like a crossover or are into following Events that theoretically change the course of the Marvel universe’s plotline.  (I’m waiting on the library for Infinity, but with that one out of the equation, this does seem to have a little better characterization and direction than a lot of the Marvel Events of late.)

4 Comments on I Really Hope You Read the Lead-Ins: Reviewing Avengers X-Men AXIS #1, last added: 10/9/2014
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44. Review of Circle, Square, Moose

bingham circle square moose Review of Circle, Square, MooseCircle, Square, Moose
by Kelly Bingham; 
illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky
Preschool, Primary    Greenwillow    48 pp.
10/14    978-0-06-229003-8    $17.99    g

Irrepressible Moose (Z Is for Moose, rev. 3/12) is up to his old tricks, trying to force his way into another concept book. This time the subject is shapes, and at first we seem to be reading an old-school shape book (“that sandwich you had for lunch? That is a…square”). The fun begins on the third page, when Moose appears and takes a bite of the sandwich. An offstage narrator addresses Moose directly — “Hey! Don’t eat that!” — in bold-type text. When Moose proves intransigent and ever more disruptive, his old friend Zebra comes to try to save the day. Things grow more and more chaotic until Zebra ends up tangled in the ribbons that illustrate curves; loyal Moose rescues him by turning the sun’s shadow (representing circles) into a hole that takes them clear out of the book. As in the first volume, Zelinsky expertly juxtaposes the expected orderliness of a book with the chaos caused by Moose’s interruption, but this time he steps up the meta elements. The ending is far from pat, but just as true to the characters as that of the first book. On the back endpapers, we see the same exchange that concluded their previous adventure, but the characters have switched places: “Can we do that again?” asks Zebra. “Yes, Zebra. We can do that again.” Adults should be prepared to share this book again and again, as well.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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45. Bad Reviews

Every book gets some bad reviews, but here are some ways you can minimize them for yours. 

http://colleencollinsbooks.com/blog/2012/11/30/three-tips-for-minimizing-bad-reviews-on-google-and-in-your-life

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46. Mind Change

Hi Everyone! I’m at Shiny New Books today. Here’s a taste:

With Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, Susan Greenfield has provided us with an even-keeled examination of the intersection of digital technology and neuroscience. She explores various ways in which digital technology is affecting our brains, identities and culture and the possible consequences. Human brains are naturally plastic, everything we think and do changes them; this is a known and uncontested fact. There is no reason to believe that digital technology will not also change our brains and ultimately, who we are. Isn’t it a good idea to assess the potential risks and benefits of technology before we are so deep in it that it is too late to go back?

Intrigued? Read the rest here. And be sure to check out the rest of the Autumn issue while you are there!


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science, Technology

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47. Review of Rain Reign

martin reign rain Review of Rain Reignstar2 Review of Rain ReignRain Reign
by Ann M. Martin
Intermediate    Feiwel    226 pp.
10/14    978-0-312-64300-3    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-250-06423-3    $9.99

Eleven-year-old Rose’s “official diagnosis is high-functioning autism.” She lives with her single dad, who does not have the resources, material or emotional, to be a parent. At school she is laughed at by her classmates. Her life works, but just barely. Uncle Weldon has her back; she is soothed by her ongoing collection of homonyms; and, best of all, she has Rain, her dog. This fragile contentment is shattered by Hurricane Susan, during which Rain disappears. A bad dad, a missing dog — this could be a tearjerker. It isn’t. Rose is a character we root for every step of the way. She is resilient, honest, and, in her own odd way, very perceptive; a most reliable narrator. The plot here is uncontrived, the resolution completely earned, and the style whole-grain simple until it blossoms into a final sentence of homonymic joy: “I stand up, then squint my eyes shut for (fore/four) a moment, remembering the night (knight) with Uncle Weldon when music soared (sword) through (threw) the air (heir), and the notes and the sky and our (hour) hearts were one (won).”

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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48. She

What I learned from She by H(enry) Rider Haggard: There is nothing more horrible than a woman of great beauty unless it is a woman who is old and ugly. Actually there is, but I’ll get to that later.

Ah those crazy Victorians and their adventure stories filled with misogyny, racism and classism and all kinds of other isms. All in all, it comes down to being a really silly adventure story in which two British gentlemen like to shoot animals and marvel at the backwardness of the natives who, because they are not British and wear animal skins for clothes and use mummies as torches, are obviously savages. But, I get ahead of myself.

Haven’t read She? Let’s see if I can summarize it for you. Newly minted Cambridge professor Horace Holly is visited late one night by his friend and colleague Vincey. Vincey is ill and tells Holly he will die soon. He makes Holly promise that he will take on the guardianship of Vincey’s five-year-old son, Leo. He then spins a tale about how ancient his ancestry is and leaves Holly a locked iron box he is not to open until Leo turns 25.

Holly raises Leo as promised. Leo turns out to be smart and tall and very blond and so beautiful that people refer to him as a Greek god. Every woman who sees him falls madly in love, which Leo finds mildly amusing. The day of his 25th birthday arrives and Holly brings out the iron box. Inside are all kinds of goodies that include writing in uncial Greek and also Latin, which our narrator Holly is kind enough to reproduce and then translate each one into English for us. The main prize is the Sherd of Amenartas. It tells the tale of the beautiful Amenartas running away from Egypt with the equally as beautiful Kallikrates. They end up in the clutches of Ayesha who falls in love with Kallikrates, demanding he abandon Amenartas and stay with her. But Kallikrates refuses and Ayesha in her rage kills him. Amenartas escapes. It turns out she is pregnant, bears a son, and then passes down from son to son the story of Kallikrates and the injunction to one day take revenge upon Ayesha, who, while not immortal, has a lifespan of thousands or years.

Can Holly and Leo believe such a fantastic story? Holly doubts it but Leo, bold and brave like a lion, is eager to find out. So they set off with their trusty servant, Job, to the wild lands of Africa. After their ship sinks and they get lost in the swamps, they are rescued by savages sent by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. These savages are the Amahagger who pretty much worship She and do her bidding. These savages do savage things like allow their women to be in charge. Almost immediately, Leo is claimed by Ustane. Young Leo is tickled by the whole idea of women being in charge — what a lark! —and goes along especially since Ustane is attractive and uh — shall we say attentive to his manly needs? Holly is too old and ugly to be of interest but servant Job is approached and offends the woman and the whole tribe with his proper British manners.

The savages are also cannibals and decide that they are going to take a bit of revenge on their guests by eating Mahomed, the ship captain who survived with them. The Amahagger don’t end up killing Mahomed, but Holly does. Aiming at the female agressor who holding him while a man is about to put a burning hot pot on top of Mahomed’s head, Holly somehow shoots the woman and Mahomed. Oops! is pretty much as grief stricken as Holly gets about that.

Anyway, Leo turns out to be the spitting image of the dead-for-two-thousand-years Kallikrates. She believes in reincarnation, she has been waiting around all those years for Kallikrates to return to her. Holly at first had a hard time figuring this out. He could not believe that She was immortal or even close to it because

The person who found it [near immortality] could no doubt rule the world. He could accumulate all the wealth in the world, and all the power, and all the wisdom that is power. He might give a lifetime to the study of each art or science. Well, if that were so, and this She were practically immortal, which I did not for one moment believe, how was it that, with all these things at her feet, she preferred to remain in a cave amongst a society of cannibals? This surely settled the question. The whole story was monstrous, and only worthy of the superstitious days in which it was written.

If you were nearly immortal your goal would be to rule the world, right?

Holly’s lack of imagination weaves its way all through this book where he repeatedly excuses himself from describing things because, well he simply cannot. For instance, when She removes her veil and he sees her face:

I gazed above them at her face, and—I do not exaggerate—shrank back blinded and amazed. I have heard of the beauty of celestial beings, now I saw it; only this beauty, with all its awful loveliness and purity, was evil—at least, at the time, it struck me as evil. How am I to describe it? I cannot—simply I cannot! The man does not live whose pen could convey a sense of what I saw.

Holly is really good at long moralizing passages though. Here’s a short snip:

Soon I gave up thinking about it, for the mind wearies easily when it strives to grapple with the Infinite, and to trace the footsteps of the Almighty as he strides from sphere to sphere, or deduce His purpose from His works. Such things are not for us to know. Knowledge is to the strong, and we are weak.

Of course, both Holly and Leo fall under the spell of She’s beauty. They lose their will, they can’t help themselves. Only when She steps back into the flame that gave her long life to discover that standing in it a second time takes it away and she shrinks into a hideous shriveled thing the size of monkey and then dies, are the two men released from her spell. Then Holly quickly tosses a robe over her horrible ugliness before the stunned Leo can see what happened.

Even with She dead, the two men have the chance to become nearly immortal themselves. The moralizing Holly of course refuses. Leo also refuses because he does not have the patience to wait two thousand years for She to return. And men call women fickle and inconstant!

This is a ridiculously terrible book. I have no idea why it caught the popular imagination and has been so influential. There is even a sequel called Ayesha, the return of She. But now I’ve read it and I don’t know if I am glad or wish I could wash it off my eyeballs. There is the real horror right there. It’s not She or the cannibals but the book itself that is horrible, which of course makes it more than appropriate for the RIP Challenge.


Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller, Reviews, Victorian Literature

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49. Review: The Timothy Wilde Novels

The Gods of Gotham (A Timothy Wilde Novel) and Seven for a Secret (A Timothy Wilde Novel) by Lyndsay Faye. Berkley Paperback 2013, Berkley Paperback 2014. Personal copies.

The Plot: The Timothy Wilde novels are mysteries set in 1840s New York City, at the very start of New York City's police force.

The Good: There are few things I like better than a historical mystery. Faye both recreates 1840s New York, full of details and interesting tidbits; yet also creates something that is a mirror to our own time. For example, the formation of the police force is far from simple. Part of it is need, with the growing size of the city and population. Then there is the mix of altruism and nepotism. Wilde, for example, gets a job on the new force not because he wants it or has any particular skill set -- he's a bartender. Rather, it's because of his politically connected brother.

Timothy Wilde is reluctant to even take the job, because he and his brother don't get along but for various reasons he needs the job. And, it turns out being a bartender is a pretty good skill set: observation, talking, listening, crowd management. Oh, and another thing: many regular people were opposed to a formation of the police, in part because they feared it was militarization. So.... 1840s questions that have parallels today.

The Gods of Gotham is the first in the series, and gives as much room to Timothy's own origin story as it does to the start of the police. He'd been left orphaned as a child, raised by his older brother, befriended by a local minister. Timothy isn't desperate enough to accept his brother's job until he loses everything in the Great New York Fire of 1845. And here is why I love fiction that accurately incorporates history: learning not just about fire but also the just how scary a fire was -- how it was fought -- and the devastating losses, both in terms of lives, injuries (Timothy's face is burnt, leaving scars), and property. Timothy's savings, all his property, is lost.

And Faye's writing! I loved it. Here, an example of showing the bias of the times and where Timothy stands in terms of that prejudice: "Popery is widely considered to be a sick corruption of Christianity ruled by the Antichrist, the spread of which will quash the Second Coming like an ant. I don't bother responding to this brand of insanity for two reasons: idiots treasure their facts like newborns, and the entire topic makes my shoulders ache."

The Gods of Gotham, as that quote hints at, is about the immigration as a result of the Irish Potato Famine, how those Irish Catholics were treated in New York City, as well as missing children, prostitution, child prostitutes, private efforts at addressing the problems of poverty, women's rights, religion  -- and, of course, the politics of the 1840s. And as I read it, I thought of all those historical fiction children's books, set in Ireland, set in other European countries, were the happy ending, the solution to poverty or discrimination, is emigration to America; and how often that was just the start of a new nightmare.

In Seven for a Secret, Timothy Wilde is still with the New York City police force. How the police worked, what actually it meant to be a member, was fascinating -- Timothy's role as detective, investigating and solving crimes, is almost as revolutionary as the force itself.

Seven for a Secret centers around a different group of New Yorkers than the one shown in the first book: the world of free blacks and runaway slaves. Without giving too much away -- don't worry. Timothy is not the Great White Hope that saves the day. The mystery involves that community, and so Timothy becomes involved, and at times he is ignorant of the laws and social mores and risks -- but the community itself has leaders, and Timothy works with them or for them. The African American characters are multifaceted and complex.

My favorite quote from Seven for a Secret: "He likes who he is in the story because it's the wrong story he's telling."

What else? I adore Timothy's older brother, Val. Yes, Timothy is often at odds with him; yes, Timothy is judgmental about Val's choices, from Val's politics to his substance abuse to his womanizing. But what captured me is that Val was a teen when his parents died; the two books show just how brutal and cold their world was, and just how indifferent it was to two orphaned boys. Timothy doesn't quite realize or appreciate just what Val did, was willing to do, to take care of him. Val, in some ways, has earned his right to drink or drug or romance too much. He's my 1840s Bad Boyfriend.

I also like how Faye portrays the female characters, including how Timothy views them. They are whole; more than tropes. (And having watched and/or read one too many historical fiction shows, where it's either the virginal wife (hey, you know what I mean) or the whore - -well, it was nice to see more than that, and to see Timothy himself seeing the disservice society does by viewing women as being either one or the other.)

Finally -- Timothy himself. He's in his mid-twenties, and while he's great at observations and putting the pieces of a puzzle together, he's not brilliant. He makes mistakes, mistakes that arise from his youth, his inexperience, his own biases (such as the ones he has about his brother), and his own stubbornness.

Good news: a third book is on its way! The Fatal Flame is scheduled for May 2015.

And yes -- these are some of my Favorite Books Read in 2014.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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50. Review of Tiny Creatures

davies tiny creatures Review of Tiny CreaturesTiny Creatures:
The World of Microbes

by Nicola Davies; 
illus. by Emily Sutton
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
8/14    978-0-7636-7315-4    $15.99

Davies introduces a likely brand-new — and immediately intriguing — concept to young readers: that there are vast quantities of living things (microbes) that are smaller than the eye can see. She does it not with dull lists of Latin terms and classification charts but instead through creative, easy-to-relate-to analogies, and itchy-but-cool facts about the microbes that live on and in us (“Right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your stomach”). An emphasis on scale, particularly size and quantity, helps children grasp the abstract concepts (a several-page sequence illustrating the rapid multiplication of E. coli is very effective). The tone is light and inquisitive yet also scientifically precise, covering topics such as the shape and variety of microbes, their function, and reproduction. The role of microbes in human illness is touched upon (“it takes only a few of the wrong kind of microbes — the kind we call germs — to get into your body to make you sick”), but balanced with discussion of the helpful things microbes do. Sutton’s colorful, friendly illustrations, which render micro-organisms’ shapes accurately (if stylized) somewhat, add depth to the presentation.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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