This marks the beginning of a new Hellboy saga, and it's impressive. The war on Earth that ended the last story has repercussions in Hell, and HellboyThis marks the beginning of a new Hellboy saga, and it's impressive. The war on Earth that ended the last story has repercussions in Hell, and Hellboy's journey is marked by interesting allusions to other stories, primarily the three ghosts of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. There's also more about Hellboy's birth and the events that led to him possessing the big stone hand that I found fascinating. I'm pleased to see Mignola returning as artist on this one, though I loved Duncan Fegredo's art. In all, an excellent start to a new story....more
This slim story tells of a young Hellboy's encounter with a mysterious circus and its master. This being a Hellboy story, it's of course not a brightThis slim story tells of a young Hellboy's encounter with a mysterious circus and its master. This being a Hellboy story, it's of course not a bright and happy place, but something dark and sinister, and I think it represents the first time Hellboy is tempted to take up his infernal destiny. Young Hellboy is charming and adorable, rebelling against the limits Professor Bruttenholm and the army place upon him while also crying out for reassurance when things get scary. One of my favorite images is Hellboy fleeing through the Hall of Mirrors and seeing in one the possible reality in which he is the King of Hell. It's not a very big story, but it's a satisfying one....more
I was never the sort of child who played with dolls, other than dressing up my Barbies for covert intelligence missions. But I was obsessed with dollhI was never the sort of child who played with dolls, other than dressing up my Barbies for covert intelligence missions. But I was obsessed with dollhouses. We used to get the J.C. Penney catalog every year, and every year I would look at the different houses and all the tiny furniture and accessories and imagine owning them. I never did get one, but then I think the fantasy was better than the reality.
Which is why The Doll's House has always been a comforting favorite of mine. My favorite part is not reading about the dolls, but how the girls and their mother cleaned up the 100-year-old dollhouse, refurnishing it and washing the carpets and so forth. I love the woman who stitches petit-point for the cushions of the sofa and chair. That such things can be loved and kept safe for so long just fascinates me.
Of course, this is Rumer Godden, so the story and characters are beautiful as well--simple, maybe too simple, and I think modern readers may feel talked down to, but it's that simplicity that makes the story work. I love the mismatched nature of the dolls that fits so perfectly with how actual children's toys look (something the movie Toy Story captured as well). Tottie's assertion that she's not lesser because she isn't made of porcelain or kid, that great and strong things are made of wood, is a strong theme that makes the ending stronger: (view spoiler)[It's Birdie, made of celluloid and the most fragile of the dolls, who has the strength to make the final sacrifice, proving that impermanent materials have a strength of their own. (hide spoiler)] I bought this on a recent book-buying binge and was so glad to have the chance to revisit an old friend.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This was a fantastic end to the series--though not to the story of Hellboy, as the final panels suggest (I wish I could remember which volume they'reThis was a fantastic end to the series--though not to the story of Hellboy, as the final panels suggest (I wish I could remember which volume they're a reference to; the numbers blur together). I said before I was withholding judgment on developments in The Wild Hunt until I saw how it played out, and I was not disappointed.
(view spoiler)[Hellboy's rejection of both the throne of Hell and the crown of King Arthur is exactly in line with where his destiny has been leading him all along. In the sketchbook at the end, Duncan Fegredo mentions that drawing Hellboy with an ax felt right, and I have to agree that it seems a more natural weapon for him than Excalibur. And yet we didn't lose the noble dead of Britain either--army against army, Hellboy versus Nimue/the Dragon/Ogdru Jahad, and it all, again, seemed very natural. I was surprised only briefly that it all meant Hellboy had to give his life to win, then surprised that I hadn't anticipated it. It was far too epic a conflict to be ended without the supreme sacrifice. What was truly brilliant was how little it felt like tragedy, even though it was sad. (hide spoiler)]
Some of the other non-spoilery things I liked: the recurrence of old enemies and friends and enemies who turn out to be not so much enemies. Baba Yaga finally getting what she wanted out of Hellboy. Nimue, and not Morgan le Fay, being the true villain: I think most Arthurian retellings want Morgan to be either a misunderstood hero or an unredeemed villain, and here she's more neutral (though not at all nice; she comes off seeming more like Mab, though Mab is actually more sympathetic than I'm used to seeing her). And Nimue is scary as hell. Gruagach also completes his development into a well-rounded character instead of someone who just wants to see Hellboy dead. And, of course, Alice.
Another good collection of stories, four stars because I'm almost never satisfied with anthologies and because Mexican wrestlers creep me out. I don'tAnother good collection of stories, four stars because I'm almost never satisfied with anthologies and because Mexican wrestlers creep me out. I don't know why, they just do. Probably my favorite here is "The Sleeping and the Dead," which is a fantastic vampire story with some interesting twists. I also like "The Bride of Hell" for its ending--not at all what I think the history of such stories leads us to expect. This was a welcome break from the main Hellboy story, which has become extremely intense....more
Another collection of short works, reminding me of why I'm so glad I can read this series one after another instead of having to wait. Five stars forAnother collection of short works, reminding me of why I'm so glad I can read this series one after another instead of having to wait. Five stars for "The Crooked Man," four stars for the others, though Duncan Fegredo remains my favorite Hellboy illustrator (after Mignola himself, of course), and those four stars might just be because "The Crooked Man" is so very good that the others suffer by comparison. The feeling of Appalachian folklore is incredibly strong without losing the essential nature of this series. Still not better than "Makoma," but it comes close....more
As usual, the team of Mignola and Fegredo serve up a beautiful, haunting story rooted in folklore, this time featuring their take on the Wild Hunt andAs usual, the team of Mignola and Fegredo serve up a beautiful, haunting story rooted in folklore, this time featuring their take on the Wild Hunt and Herne the Hunter. It's longer than most of the others, which is suitable because it's a bigger story in which the folklore is paired with several revelations about Hellboy's origins, hinted at in earlier books. We also learn who the mysterious new queen of the otherworldly creatures is, the Gruagach becomes a little more understandable (if not terribly sympathetic), and Alice returns, this time as a partner for Hellboy. She works as a sort of mystic guide/maiden, and I found it interesting that even though she's fragile by comparison to the big guy, she never needs saving on an emotional level.
So why four stars? Because I'm not sure if they jumped the shark on this one.
(view spoiler)[The revelation that Hellboy is the only living male descendant of King Arthur is clearly something Mignola's been working toward for a while now. I can't say for sure that he had it in mind all the way back in Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction, but it's been hinted at that Hellboy has a heritage beyond that of Hell. And there's a line here about how because he had a mother and a father, he's going to wear a crown either way, and I like that because it sort of tightens the screws on a destiny he's never wanted. But...it's KING ARTHUR. That is some pretty heavy mythology there. It felt a little like it overburdened the story, because I'm already convinced that it's powerfully mythic and I didn't need the greatest English myth added to it to believe that. I know the reaction they were going for was "wow," but for me it was more like "really?" (hide spoiler)]
So basically I'm withholding judgment until I see how that all plays out. If I like where it goes, I may change this to a five.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I somehow managed to miss reviewing this and now I've forgotten all the witty things I was going to say about it. I loved the characters, I thought thI somehow managed to miss reviewing this and now I've forgotten all the witty things I was going to say about it. I loved the characters, I thought the plot was very funny, and it was a sweet romance. I'll be reading this again....more
I've finished my re-read of the first five volumes and am moving on into new material--I've read a few scattered later volumes in the series, but thisI've finished my re-read of the first five volumes and am moving on into new material--I've read a few scattered later volumes in the series, but this one was new to me. Two stories pick up where we left off in Conqueror Worm, with Hellboy leaving the B.P.R.D. and going off in search of...even he's not sure what, but it begins with him heading to Africa. I like the first story better than the second, mainly because the triad of the three mermaids' wishes is so poignant and so perfectly fairy-tale-like (the original fairy tales, not the children's versions that are famous now). Even so, both are excellent, and Mignola's description of the failed story "The Island" makes me hope he'll figure out a way to tell it someday....more
I used to really, really love this book. Louise Fitzhugh has a fantastic style, and Harriet's voice comes through clearly. Harriet, whose ambition isI used to really, really love this book. Louise Fitzhugh has a fantastic style, and Harriet's voice comes through clearly. Harriet, whose ambition is to be a writer and a spy (her commitment to each varies throughout the book) writes in her notebook constantly. Mostly she's keeping notes on the people around her, both her classmates in her sixth-grade class and the people she spies on. The latter are fascinating and so well portrayed, with all their quirks and oddities. But Harriet doesn't pull any punches, and when (as is inevitable) the truth about her writing comes out, she pays a heavy price and learns some valuable lessons about what a writer actually does.
Harriet is extremely perceptive, and her skewering of her classmates is accurate, which is probably why it pisses them off so badly. And this isn't a didactic novel, fortunately, because I think it would dilute Harriet's gift if the story were turned into some afterschool special about the meaning of friendship. But the one thing Harriet never realizes is that being perceptive, seeing to the heart of things, doesn't have to mean being cruel. It doesn't have to mean seeing only the bad. Harriet comes close to realizing this when she witnesses one of the people on her spy route, Little Joe, surrounded by heaps of food he seems to be devouring--and then he gives half of it away to some starving urchins. Harriet sees, but she doesn't understand.
The ending is particularly odd: (view spoiler)[Harriet's given the job of editing the sixth grade contribution to the school paper and uses it as an outlet for her writing ability. But she continues to skewer people, this time adults who are in a position to object to her airing their secrets before the whole school. I think, since the book ends with Harriet apologizing and her friends Janie and Sport forgiving her, it's meant to be a happy ending--but since her apology is a lie, and one her former nurse Ole Golly encouraged her to tell, I'm not sure Harriet has changed at all. Forget about such inanities as learning her lesson; if there's no change, then there's no point. (hide spoiler)]
I still really admire how brilliantly characterized this book is, but I have too many reservations about the conclusions I think the reader's meant to draw to truly love it anymore.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I can't believe I've never rated this book before. I come back to it occasionally because it's easy to read and yet quite powerful in what it has to sI can't believe I've never rated this book before. I come back to it occasionally because it's easy to read and yet quite powerful in what it has to say about teens, teachers, and education in general. Told through letters, memos, circulars, and, in one very painful moment, the notebook of one of the students, it describes the life of one new teacher through the course of a single semester in a New York high school. This is not an elite school, and these are not high achievers: Sylvia Barrett, as a raw beginner, is given the classes referred to by all sorts of euphemisms for "dumb." But they aren't dumb, and all of them have personality and dreams. My favorite of the students is shy Jose Rodriguez, who comes into his own when Sylvia assigns him to play the role of judge in a reenactment she does of a story. (He comes to school dressed for the part, with a gavel, and proceeds to play his role with perfect seriousness, telling a fellow classmate who challenges his point of court etiquette "I ought to know. I been." And then proceeds to become one of those kids every teacher dreams of having--someone her efforts made a difference for.)
The book is now more than fifty years old, and it's as relevant today as ever, despite changes made to (it's hoped) alleviate some of the physical conditions children should never have to endure. Given what's described in the book, that relevance is either hopeful or extremely depressing. I choose to see it as hopeful that teachers can, and always have, make a difference in many students' lives....more
Agnieszka lives in a village near the Wood, a dangerous place no one ever emerges from. Far more immediate and subtle a danger is the Dragon, an ancieAgnieszka lives in a village near the Wood, a dangerous place no one ever emerges from. Far more immediate and subtle a danger is the Dragon, an ancient wizard who lives in a tower nearby. Once every ten years, he brings a young local woman to his tower to live; while none of them are ever hurt, none of them ever want to return home, either. Though Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia has always been expected to be the one chosen, the Dragon passes her over for Agnieszka, against his will, because she has magic and by the law he’s obligated to train her. Agnieszka’s training coincides with the Wood’s new attack not only on the villages surrounding it, but on the wider world as well, and the story unfolds with Agnieszka’s magical development paralleling the Wood’s rise to power.
It took me a while to want to read this, because I knew it was going to be immersive, and I was right. My first impression—that is, from the first few pages—was that this was a particularly interesting take on the Beauty and the Beast story. Young girl, forced by circumstance to live with a terrifying monster (the Dragon is frightening not for his appearance, which is an attractive young man, but for his power and mystery), discovering that she has unexpected abilities that will eventually help tame the Beast…it’s not what the story is about, but it provides an interesting backbone for the tertiary story running through this book. (The primary story is the plot about the Wood, the secondary is about Agnieszka’s magic and her relationship with Kasia. Though I could see other readers rearranging that order.) That there’s a romance brewing is also fairly evident up front, but not in an annoying, inevitable way. I particularly like that the Dragon behaves like a crotchety 150-year-old man for most of the book. It annoys me when a very old character behaves like a twenty-something; that just makes no sense. It’s one thing to still feel young in some ways because you look young, but experience and maturity have got to make a difference, and at the very least should give a character perspectives that an actual young person just won’t have. So I was intrigued by the Dragon as a character from the start, though it took me a while to actually like him.
In fact, I’d say that was the case for all the main characters: I admired how they were crafted, but it took me a while to really like them. Agnieszka struck me as a little too perfect for her role—clumsy, always spilling things on herself, the loyal follower of the beautiful Kasia…of course she’s going to be the hero. And one of the things I disliked was that we never learn where Agnieszka’s magic comes from, only that it’s different from the Dragon’s and that she’s not the first to have magic like that. It just is. And when all the other forms of magic have explicit sources, that lack of explanation felt like an oversight, or possibly an attempt to make her magic more mysterious. She’s in all other ways considered a wizard, will live as long as a wizard, and her magic is complementary to theirs, so I wanted some acknowledgement that someone (the Dragon, at least) cared where it came from. There’s also a strong implication that Agnieszka’s clumsiness and constantly grimy state are related to her magic, as if it’s organic in some way that the other wizards’ is not, but that’s never addressed either. All of that put together left me feeling as if Agnieszka’s magic existed solely for the purpose of the novel, that it wasn’t part of the world the way the Wood and the wizards and the villages and the kingdom were, and that was unsettling.
Kasia, on the other hand, I found instantly relatable, since (duh) she was never going to be chosen even though she’d spent years being trained in the arts someone might presumably need to serve a lord. Being left without a purpose, even if it means she gets to have a life, is devastating to her and to everyone who expected her to be chosen. The life she ends up having is interesting and complex, and while she occasionally becomes a helpless maiden (yes, even with what she turns into, she spends a lot of time in the palace waiting for her fate to be determined) it’s never in an unnatural or dismissive way. (view spoiler)[I love that she ends up captain of the guard. I love that she turns her experience in the Wood into something wonderful. Though there’s not a lot of story there, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about how her life turns out. And I thought it was hilarious that Solya proposed marriage to her. (hide spoiler)]
But the most powerful character in the novel is the Wood, and Novik’s real skill here (this is a skillfully woven story, with excellent prose and characterization, but that’s not what stands out) is in crafting a plot in which the reader becomes gradually aware of the Wood as a character—and can then look back and see that isolated incidents that seemed unrelated make sense if you look at them as actions by a sapient, malevolent creature. At the beginning I was unimpressed with the plot, in which things just happened that were only related because Agnieszka was involved, but by the middle of the book I could see that all of them were part of the Wood’s plan. It’s a complex, interesting plan, and a horrifying one, played out in horrific detail. If this book were a movie, it would be directed by Quentin Tarantino with art design by Mike Mignola. There are some shocking, brutal scenes, and other scenes that are deeply disturbing despite not being gory, and the truth is that while I’m not in general put off by such things (Hellboy is my favorite comic, and I see a strong resemblance here, probably because of the Baba Yaga thing) I had to question what the purpose was. I’m not going to second-guess the author or say it shouldn’t have been as brutal as it was, because I honestly don’t know if that’s true, but even saying that this is what real fairy tales were like doesn’t seem enough to justify the brutality. And yet it doesn’t feel entirely gratuitous, either. Possibly (view spoiler)[it’s that when we finally learn why the Wood is doing what it’s doing, all of what Agnieszka sees about the Wood-Queen and her history plays out with no gore or extreme violence, just really disturbing and sad imagery—the grieving Queen bricked up alive in her dead husband’s tomb, for example. And yet Prince Marek’s forces are destroyed by that same Wood in violent detail, which makes it hard to believe that anyone capable of that kind of violence can then be a tragic figure as she becomes at the end. I suppose I’m saying that the Wood appears to be both evil and insane, and I have trouble believing it’s capable of regaining its sanity to the degree that the Wood-Queen does at the end. (hide spoiler)] At any rate, this is definitely not a story for sensitive souls, and I say that with absolutely no disparagement of any such people. I’m never going to say a book is a must-read and I’m certainly not going to suggest that this book is so fantastic everyone needs to get over themselves and just learn to enjoy it. If you’re at all disturbed by graphic violence, don’t read this book.
Despite that caveat, this is a very enjoyable story, beautifully written with engaging characters. The non-traditional European setting is solid and it feels very real, even if I hate Novik for forcing me to type “Agnieszka” a score of times in writing this review. While the plot is good, what did it for me was the experience of being immersed in the world to the point that the book stuck with me for a day after I finished reading it. I liked the bait-and-switch (view spoiler)[letting us think that Alosha’s sword would defeat the Wood-Queen, which would be the obvious way to go, and then making it about Agnieszka’s magic and the Wood-Queen’s torment instead (hide spoiler)] and the ultimate resolution of the problem of the Wood; I liked that almost everyone has a happy ending; I found the romance satisfying; (view spoiler)[I’m really, really glad there weren’t any dead children. That’s a level of violence I’m not happy with. (hide spoiler)]
I can’t say I want to go back and re-read it, which is normally one of my criteria for a five-star rating; four stars for the craft, 4.5 for a compelling plot, and five stars for the extreme book hangover afterward.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Meg Powers’ life is turned inside-out when her high-profile Senator mother decides she’s going to run for United States President—and it only gets harMeg Powers’ life is turned inside-out when her high-profile Senator mother decides she’s going to run for United States President—and it only gets harder when she wins. This first book in a series does an excellent job depicting the insecurities and trials of adolescence as they’re magnified by having to endure them under constant public scrutiny. Meg is charming and funny, and her relationship with her mother is complicated in a very natural way; White shifts constantly between showing us a normal (if wealthy and privileged) American family and the First Family of the United States. The characterization is superb, and I really warmed to Meg and her brothers.
I admit I wasn’t sure at first if I’d like this book. I really, really don’t like it when people with very young children run for high political office—mothers or fathers. And Meg’s brother Neal is very young. The scenes where we saw the effect his mother’s political career had on him broke my heart. While it’s true that families have to make decisions that sometimes mean hardship for some or all of their members, the nastiness that is high-level politics can be brutal on children, no matter how well-meaning their parents or what measures they take to minimize it, and to me politics isn’t nearly important enough to do that to your children. Despite the frequent comments about how honest and smart and qualified Meg’s mother is to be President, we never in this first book really see her do anything that proves the sacrifices her family has made, is making, are worth it. So this was hard for me to get past. What did work for me was how well-drawn the family interactions were, how Meg and her brothers related to each other and to their parents. Their transition to living in the White House felt very believable, their reactions to the constraints of their new lives funny and touching. The family dynamic kept me interested enough to accept the story on its own terms.
Though politics informs the entire story, and President Powers is a Democrat, White never uses this to lionize one party over another or flog any particular issue; the closest we get to a political issues speech is Meg telling people at her new school how public education should be handled. It keeps the book from being off-putting to half its potential audience, and I admire that. I’m a little less enamored of how all the other politicians Meg’s mother runs against are either thorough villains or caricatures. That she’s also presented as “too honest” and honorable and so forth I find slightly unbelievable. It’s a nice idea, and while I believe there are politicians who strive for that ideal, I think the dishonest ones eat them for lunch. I kept waiting for Meg to find out her mother wasn’t as honest as she’d claimed, because that would have felt more realistic. But the story isn’t really about the politics so much as it’s about Meg and her life and how she connects to her mother, so while I find it unrealistic, I also think having Meg’s conflicts with her mother be about her mother’s honesty would have been trite. Far better to have the President being caught up in her own issues about having lost her mother when she was very young, and have Meg’s natural insecurities and need for parental reassurance be complicated by her resemblance to her mother and the ways people expect her to behave because of it.
I’m really very captivated by the story and I’m going to have to go round up the rest of the series now. Naturally my library doesn’t have it, so it’s off to make the rounds of my favorite online booksellers....more
I remember now what my original reaction to this book was, years ago when I first read it:
WHY IS MARCO NOT IN JAIL HE SHOULD BE IN JAIL IZZY’S PARENTS SI remember now what my original reaction to this book was, years ago when I first read it:
WHY IS MARCO NOT IN JAIL HE SHOULD BE IN JAIL IZZY’S PARENTS SHOULD HAVE SUED THE HELL OUT OF HIM
Thank you. Now I will continue with the review.
Cynthia Voigt’s great skill at characterization comes through beautifully in this book, which is one long character piece about a girl who makes a stupid decision like so many other people have, but is unlucky enough for that decision to horribly, irreparably change her life. Izzy was nice, polite, friendly--unobjectionable, perhaps--and thought her life was perfect until a car accident WITH MARCO THE DRUNK DRIVING JERK caused her to have her right leg amputated below the knee. Izzy soon realizes that everything in her life has changed, not just the obvious physical challenges but her social life, her friendships, her relationship with her family, and her self-image. Through the course of the novel, she navigates these changes and--I can’t say she comes to terms with her new life, but by the end Izzy is certainly prepared to move forward.
A reader today coming to this for the first time can be forgiven for thinking Voigt is treading old, tired ground here, but I think it’s important to remember that the book is nearly thirty years old and at the time of its publication was a different kind of problem novel for teens. Izzy in particular is remarkable for not being remarkable--not incredibly beautiful, not incredibly smart, slightly popular, a cheerleader but not the captain, friendly to everyone but with only a few good friends. Voigt doesn’t create tragedy by striking down someone extraordinary; this is the story of a relatively small life that catastrophe forces to grow bigger. The structure is maybe a little obvious (people Izzy thought were friends are really shallow, odd girl turns out to be a real friend) but I think the point of the story would have been lost if Izzy’s old life hadn’t been completely altered, and that structure is part of that.
What I like about the book is how completely convincing everything is, particularly the moments after the crisis is long past and people have begun to move on, all except Izzy, who can’t just stop being an amputee. Izzy goes between wanting everything to be normal and being desperate to have her pain acknowledged. And I also like that the ending comes not when she’s completely reconciled to her fate, but when she realizes that she’s not half a person just because she only has one-and-a-half legs. She still has to deal with stares, and awkwardness, and physical challenges, but there’s going to be a day when people see her and not her handicap. It doesn’t feel neatly wrapped up, and I appreciate that because what it does feel like is acknowledgment of the struggle where a tidy ending would have felt like an insult. I can’t say this is my favorite Voigt novel, but it’s deeply satisfying. I like to imagine Izzy marrying Tony Marcel someday, and Rosamunde eventually going out with Izzy’s brother Jack, and all those people going on with their lives EXCEPT FOR MARCO WHO SHOULD BE IN JAIL....more