CBR 6 Review 1: The Unwritten, Volumes 4-7 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

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I have ben reading these, slowly, over the course of January.  This has been one of my favourite series, outside of The Sandman and Y: The Last Man Standing. It is dense with literary references, and in some ways reminiscent of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, strongly blurred the lines between reality and literature. For those unfamiliar with the series, it centres around Tom Taylor, the child of Wilson Taylor, a noted novelist who wrote a series of books about a boy wizard called Tommy Taylor. There is a worldwide obsession with the character and it’s supposed inspiration, but it all goes askew when a mystery organization murders a series of people, including Wilson Taylor, in an effort to get at Tom. Wilson left a series of clues and helpers for Tom, and the whole thing hinges on layers of story, and how stories can affect and are affected by the world around Tom.

In these last four volumes that I have read, Carey and Gross have provided a lot of background information, giving us some key pieces of Tom Taylor’s dark and mysterious family history, as well as explaining the origins of the evil Mr. Pullman. There are a number of humorous scenes in these volumes, and increasingly specific references to particular stories with which the reader is already familiar. As Tom starts to finally understand who he is and what he is for, the world around him starts to literally be torn asunder, the fabric of reality beginning to unravel as he loses everyone he has ever known. I am having a hard time guessing at how this will all be resolved, which is a nice change from many graphic novels that I have read.

As always, the art in these book are quite lovely, particularly the covers that would have been seen on each individual issues. The characters are drawn remarkably consistently. There is a new narrative, with animal characters from various stories travelling a staircase throughout literature, with drawings that I found particularly dark, detailed and interesting. As always, I recommend this series to everyone.

#CBR5 Review 26: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher

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And with this review, I have made my half Cannonball. I had intended to go one over to make up for last year’s unavoidable failure, but no luck. However, this is a fun book to go out on.

Ian Doescher has loved both Shakespeare and Star Wars for many years, as he describes in the Afterword. He discusses how George Lucas drew on the research of Joseph Campbell in refining his original story, incorporating the archetypes used repetitively throughout history into his space opera. Of course, many of those archetypes are well represented in Shakespeare’s works. Doescher also points out that Shakespeare and Star Wars are both pervasive in Western culture, with both being very quotable and readily referenced. All of this combined to inspire Droescher to write William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, which is really quite fun.

My husband picked this up for me on a work trip, as he knows I am both a Shakespeare and Star Wars nerd myself, and because he thought that the asides that R2D2 is able to make in the book were very funny. I was initially a bit doubtful, but Doescher has done a good job of converting the dialogue and plot into iambic pentameter and of also describing the action similarly to how it would be done in a Shakespeare play. The chorus he uses is a good way to set the scene and do an “exposition dump.” The other character’s are also able to convey a lot of information about their thoughts and motivations via asides to the audience, and Doescher includes some very Shakespearean turns of phrase in the adaptation. Some of it is indeed funny, particularly in the conversations between the droids and between Han and Leia, as in the movies.  The book also includes some nice illustrations from Nicolas Delort, including my favourite (image is obviously an early sketch of the back cover illustration):

williamshakespearestarwars3It is just so perfect. The book was well done and so much fun to read, easy and amusing. It was a great way to end my 2013 Cannonball Read.

#CBR 5 Review 25: Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

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I have read a lot about this graphic novel over the years, and finally picked it up while travelling in a city with a comic book shop. I love Neil Gaiman, I love Dave McKean, but I just did not love this book.

I did not know very much about this one prior to buying it, and I actually really loved the beginning of the book. We are introduced to a conference room full of villains, and one of them is gradually revealed to be the Black Orchid. She is a crime fighter with some interesting powers, and the whole scene is quite mysterious and intense. Black Orchid seems to have been killed by the end of that scene, and it seems like the kind of thing that would take, although the reader knows the series namesake can’t be gone for the entirety of the book’s run. It was a very strong opening, shocking and intriguing.

After that great opening, the story seems to get convoluted and a big vague. It felt experimental, with a few really strong vignettes accompanied by an attempt to try and slot in some characters from other series (eg. Lex Luthor, Swamp Thing). I did not have any strong feelings about any of the characters, despite the story being quite sad overall. The art is quite lovely, and I enjoyed the addendum of the notes from the editorial staff about the original story proposal. It certainly wasn’t a terrible book, but I had high expectations, and was a bit disappointed.

#CBR5 Review 24: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

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So, I realize I am a little late to the party with Mindy Kaling’s book, but it turns out I have a lot of self control in terms of buying books, except when it comes to airports. This was an impulse purchase for my return trip from California, and it was another good pick. Of course, I had remembered all the positive reviews on Cannonball Read, so it wasn’t really a big risk. I am really only familiar with Mindy Kaling from The Office, and some interesting interviews that I had read. I have not yet watched The Mindy Project, but I might give it a shot now, given how much I enjoyed this book.

I do not generally consider myself a regular reader non-fiction or biography, but I have had kind of an interesting run of comedienne’s books lately – Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and now Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? While I seem to have identified most with Kaling, all of them seem to grow up as smart, nerdy kids who didn’t really seem to fit in anywhere until adulthood. That is similar in many ways to my own experience, although I did not end up in comedy, obviously. Kaling seems to have revealed a lot more of her childhood and adolescence here, with the humour a bit more gentler, perhaps. She just seemed like the friends I had growing up – not particularly popular, obviously going someplace, and with fun if esoteric interests.

Kaling also discusses her comedy career in this book, as did Fey and Dratch, and they have all had varying success. It seems to me that all of them are kind of struggling to find a career in what seems to be a male dominated industry, which is also something that seems familiar to me. In my workplace, there are many women in middle management, but very few females above that level. It seems very strange to me, and I would be curious to know about Kaling’s experiences are in working on her own show and how they would compare with Fey’s. None of the three authors directly address working in an environment dominated by males, but that may be related to where they currently are in terms of their career. Of course, I am not working in anything remotely entertaining, but it is something that interests me.

Kaling’s book is warm and funny, and I particularly enjoyed how she spoke of her friend and family with such obvious love. The occasional pictures are fun, and the book was certainly a perfect read for a airplane.

#CBRV Review 23: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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Allie Brosh’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half, is very funny, and I have been reading it for years. She took an extended break from blogging after struggling with some health issues, but had previously announced she was writing a book. I have consequently had this on my Christmas list for years, but I was taking a relatively long flight last week and saw it being promoted in Hudson News in the airport. I could not resist the impulse purchase, and so now the gentleman who was sitting next to me on the plane might think I am a lunatic. So, thank you, Allie Brosh?

This book was designed with some fun details – each chapter is printed on different coloured paper, and the paper is glossy as with trade paperback graphic novels. It comes with a glowing review by another of my favourite bloggers, Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), along with some explanations and lies by the author on the back.

As is the case with Lawson’s book, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, reading a book based partly off a favourite blog means that you will have previously read some of the material. Hyperbole and a Half includes some of Brosh’s most popular posts, including the post about being a grown up that spawned the “Clean All the Things” meme and my favourite, The Party. I don’t mind that these chapters were included, since I tend to go back and reread them every year or so anyways. It also includes her recent chapters about dealing with depression, which are touching and accurate. The new chapters include several meditations on her inner life and personality, but the section that made me cackle on a crowded plane is the introduction. Brosh writes a series of letters to her younger self at a variety of ages, trying to convince herself to stop various strange behaviours. For some reason, the pictures of a young Brosh creepily staring at her sleeping parents and standing naked in a playground absolutely cracked me up.

The book is great, just as witty and creative and revealing as one would expect from reading Brosh’s blog. I am already thinking of whom I can lend it to next.

#CBRV Review 22: Wool by Hugh Howey

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I think I first heard of this book in Wired, when they were discussing the future of publishing. Howey began publishing his work online, first in short stories and the collected version online for Kindle, and then made a deal with Simon and Schuster to distribute print versions only. I mention this not because it has anything to do with a review, but because I am fascinated with the publishing industry in general, and Howey has had some pretty unique success in the business.

The book I read collects the first five stories that Howey wrote, with the more recently published Shift collecting the prequel stories . Wool introduces the reader to the world of the silo, a deep underground structure that seemingly contains all that is left of humanity. It is entirely self sufficient, and informally divided into collections of floors – upper (generally administration), middle (the all powerful IT) and lower (mechanical). The only view to the poisonous outside is a projection onto the wall of the uppermost cafeteria, and the view gets progressively blurrier as the wind and sand scratches the lenses.  The lenses are cleaned, periodically, by people punished by people banished from the silo and sentence to cleaning the device with wool. Given the careful use of resources required, people are unable to have children unless granted an opportunity in the lottery, which is only available when someone else dies.

Howey’s world is enormously detailed, and gives a great sense of the claustrophobia and enormously regulation the residents of the silo are forced to live with. The absolute worst crime one of the residents can commit is to express ideas about wanting to leave, wondering what exactly is out there and how things have happened. Given the tight control of the dense population, ideas are the riskiest currency  in the silo.

The book neatly ties in some elements of crime drama with the more traditional dystopian science fiction tropes. Although I felt it slowed down a little towards the end, I really thought it was a really gripping and fast paced story, particularly the opening chapters that introduced the silo.  I am really looking forward to reading Shift.

CBR V Review 21: Gulp by Mary Roach

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Well, I love Mary Roach and her books. I reviewed Packing for Mars for CBR III a few years ago, and I loved that too. I received Gulp for my birthday, but a backlog of books kept from getting to it for a few months.

While I found this book amusing and informative as always, I did not love this one as much as her previous one. While the human body is, as always, fascinating, it just didn’t inspire quite as much awe for me as did Packing for Mars. Also, she kind of spent quite a bit of time discussing the science between some really strange physical phenomena, but was maybe a bit too jokey about the suffering of the patients described (a guy with a hole into his stomach experimented upon by a doctor for years, exploding colons, etc).  Those scenes mostly made me sad – it just seemed like a lot of suffering, although the conditions described are certainly interesting. My two favourite chapters are the two about the ones about making cat and dog food that is appealing to them, and the chapter about prison inmates and how they smuggle items into the prison. The prison chapter in particular made me giggle on a plane, laughing about the anal jokes. I guess I am still 12 years old.

The books was certainly good, but I didn’t love it like I did the space and death ones. I think part of it is that there isn’t that much mystique about the digestive system.  Plus, Roach points out there are still a number of taboos surrounding saliva and other digestive issues, so maybe I was predisposed to not like it quite as much.

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