Oct 31, 2015

Rat Queens, Volumes One and Two, by Kurtis J Wiebe et al

There's a very specific audience for this comic; luckily, I fit right into it! The Rat Queens are a group of four women of various races - only, this is based on Dungeons and Dragons, so "races" really means species: elf, dwarf, etc. There's magic and mayhem and very big swords. Oh, and a whole lot of swearing. So the "very specific audience" this comic is geared towards are people who enjoy D & D, badass women, and off-color humor. It's great fun! The art is really beautiful, expressive and rich. The story line is a good mix of bigger picture and smaller side stories. The dialogue is snappy and fun. All in all, this is a pretty good start to my comics education!

Oct 27, 2015

The Story of My Tits, by Jennifer Hayden

Now that I'm expected to be some sort of expert on graphic books (haha), I figured it was time I start reading them in earnest. "The Story of My Tits" was a magnificent place to start, and would be a fantastic gateway for many who are new to the graphic genre. This is the story of Jennifer Hayden's life thus far, structured around the various stages of her breasts: having none but wanting them, being comfortable with having none, growing them, motherhood, breast cancer, double mastectomy, and having no tits again. There's a lot that happens besides this, namely her relationship with her husband, his parents, and her own parents. Many of these stages are familiar stomping ground for all women, and we can all relate to Hayden's feelings about her tits in particular, and her femininity in general. Breasts can define a woman in many ways: too large, too small, too young, too old, too saggy, too perky; life giving and life taking. Hayden's story should resonate with men, too, since it's also about finding your place in the world and the slow, inexorable and often unwilling crawl into adulthood. Men who's lives have been touched by breast cancer in some way (relatives, friends, partners) will appreciate Hayden's no-nonsense, but emotional description of her own illness.

The art is wonderful, totally distinctive and accessible. Tits, in all their various forms, are obviously omnipresent. Hayden's drawings of angry faces turn into horned, hairy beasts, while the rest are simply drawn. This incredible book deserves all the attention it's getting, and I hope its reach continues to grow.

Oct 26, 2015

The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

This is a pretty spectacular book, but probably isn't for everybody due to the level of gore. It's also rather difficult to describe, but here goes: The Library houses twelve main areas of study, all collected and collated by Father, a man of incredible age and unspeakable cruelty. Father gathered twelve children on Adoption Day, the day their parents all died, and each child has mastered his or her subject: death, healing, languages, war, etc. Now in their early thirties and familiar only with the insular yet vastly knowledgeable world of The Library, the unimaginable has happened: Father has been killed, but no one knows how or by whom. We follow mostly Carolyn, one of the twelve, and it quickly becomes apparent that she is planning something special all on her own.

This is the kind of book I'd love to see turned into a movie, but am so appreciative that it wasn't obviously written with that in mind. There's a good amount of action and violence, while the characters are astonishingly stark and well-drawn despite their alien natures. I found myself deeply invested in the outcome, and sped through the book in a single day (phenomenally fast for me, not an especially quick reader). I wish it were a little more accessible but the gore would make it difficult for some. But if that's not your problem, I cannot recommend this fantastic novel enough.

Oct 23, 2015

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, ed. by Anthony and Ben Holden

I've never been able to get into poetry, so I thought this would be a good entryway to the genre that so many of my reader and writer friends love. While I was much more likely to cry at the brief introductions than the poems themselves, it's really a fantastic collection and very well edited. There are slightly fewer than one hundred poems, as some men picked the same pieces; they are written mostly by men but a solid handful of women; they are arranged in chronological order.

My trouble with poetry is I find it hard to concentrate on and relate to. I love language and words, but I need context and at least the semblance of a story to really connect to something. Having the introductions before each poem by the men who chose them did much to remedy this for me, and I found I was able to better dig into the dirt of the poem. There were a few standouts, such as Billy Collins' "The Lanyard," which was the only one to legitimately bring me to tears; and the more recent poems were easier for me to sink my teeth into than the older ones. Slow reading, it was, but it's a fabulous collection and perfect for the uninitiated poetry reader.

Oct 12, 2015

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

I'll be honest: I don't have much to say about this book. It's really well done, but I didn't absolutely love it, nor do I have any complaints. The writing is great, the plot is great - it's as intricate as it should be and lets the reader make her own guesses along the way. It's a really good book, but for some reason I find it a bit unremarkable. Perhaps this is because I regularly read novels in this genre, whereas most of "Station Eleven's" big fans don't, so it's more unique to them. I think that I'd like to read more of her work but only if it falls further along the spectrum, either straight literary fiction or straight science fiction. But despite not being blown away by it, I must stress that it really is a very well-done book, and I'd absolutely recommend it to readers looking for something a bit beyond their normal fiction.

Oct 10, 2015

Not On Fire, But Burning, by Greg Hrbek

In an astounding feat of writing, Greg Hrbek has managed to humanize terrorism, hatred, and fear. Though there are speculative-almost-science-fiction aspects to this book, it is really the story of two boys growing up in circumstances that conspire against their conscience and better judgment. Dorian's parents think he's going crazy: lately he's been insisting that he had an older sister, Skylar, who died in the infamous bombing/meteor blast/unknown destructive event that decimated San Francisco on August 11 in the 2020s, but who never actually existed; not to mention his recent well-publicized Islamophobic vandalism of a local mosque. Karim, an opium-addicted orphan in the internment camp of Dakota, whose parents were killed in a government drone strike, is being adopted by an old veteran of the Gulf Wars and preparing to give his life to the Islamist cause in order to see his mother again in Paradise. When Dorian and Karim meet, they bring with them years of indoctrination and peer pressure, and with the weight of societal expectations bearing down on them, are lead to a moment when a crucial decision must be made. Will they make the right choices, and, in their situation, is there even a right choice to make?

This is a difficult book to read, mostly due to its content, but also partly because of the structure. We switch rapidly between characters and perspectives, sometimes in the third person, sometimes in the first, and occasionally even into parallel universes. It's well worth the effort, though, as Hrbek delves deeply into our national consciousness to expose the prevalent but underlying prejudice and hopelessness that leads us to curtail freedoms and rights in the name of security. This is an important book, a look at what we have become and what could be our future in this post-9/11 world.

Oct 4, 2015

Dumplin', by Julie Murphy

What a treasure, this book is! Meet Willowdean Dickson: sixteen, blond, and fat. But she's okay with it, really; her body is the way it is and she's comfortable in her own skin. She loves Dolly Parton and her best friend Ellen, and misses her beloved Aunt Lucy who died of a heart attack after reaching 500 pounds. But this is the summer of the changing status quo... Ellen and her boyfriend Tim decide to finally have sex, and Bo, the drop dead gorgeous private school boy Willowdean works with at the burger joint, starts kissing her behind the dumpster at work. It's wonderful, beautiful, exciting - until Bo touches Willowdean's body. Every caress reminds Will of her back fat, or her bulging thighs, and she just can't get it out of her head. Then school starts and Bo is suddenly at her high school, and this football player Mitch starts courting her, and she gets in this huge fight with Ellen that there seems to be no coming back from, and, oh yeah, she decides to compete in the Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pagaent. Whew...

This book is just fantastic. There's no apologies here, no physical transformations or realizations of some hidden innate talent to make everybody love her. Will muddles through like the rest of us, doing her best to be happy and confident but not succeeding most of the time, and who can't relate to that? She doesn't lose weight or even try, she doesn't embrace her body and start flaunting it like a drag queen; she just comes to terms with the fact that sometimes trying out something different isn't so bad, and that a bully just isn't worth anybody's time. This isn't a manifesto; it's a common ground on which all people with insecurities (i.e. ALL people) can meet each other and recognize that we've all been there. Willowdean isn't a hero, just a kid trying to find her way and starting on that journey with a smile on her face. I love this book, and hope it gets read by all the girls out there who need it.