GENE LUEN YANG: Did you just finish reading Boxers? ME: Yes! GENE LUEN YANG: Well, I have a present for you! ME: I like presents. What is it? GENE LUEN YA...moreGENE LUEN YANG: Did you just finish reading Boxers? ME: Yes! GENE LUEN YANG: Well, I have a present for you! ME: I like presents. What is it? GENE LUEN YANG: I'm going to punch you in the heart! Isn't that yay?
Vibiana is a fabulous character. She’s coarse and resentful, violent and impish. Her family thinks she was sent to them from the devil, so she purposely contorts her face as a warning to others. When she finally leaves them and finds a home among Christians, she’s still feisty and self-directed, even despite the teaching of Christianity. What’s great about Vibiana’s story is that she doesn’t so much come to Christianity out of any righteous desire, but because Christians are willing to give her something her Chinese family isn’t.
And of course, there’s also the visions.
Throughout her life, Vibiana experiences visions of Joan of Arc. Throughout Saints (which is a quarter of the size of Boxers), Vibiana tries to glean some sort of meaning out the visitations of this strange golden girl. Unlike in Boxers, Yang’s illustrations are gray and dull, with the lone exception of Vibiana’s visions. My feeling was that this suggests something about Vibiana’s life, how dull and colorless and absent of joy she finds the world, except for those brief moments of transcendence when she glimpses visions of a young girl who did important and exciting things.
I’m not going to go into the ending because that would make me a huge asshole, but I would like to vaguely state that it a) Punched me in the heart as promised, and b) Perfectly tied together the two volumes into one thematically consistent story. It also managed to surprise the hell out of me, which is no mean feat.
I’d really recommend these two graphic novels to anyone: people who like history, graphic novel aficionados, graphic novel virgins, daydreamers, imagineers, and seekers of the spiritual and the enlightening. And I’ll definitely be picking up Yang’s previous effort, Born Chinese, which has been on my to-read list forever. I’m thinking it probably won’t be as weighty as Boxers & Saints, but then again, that’s a pretty tall order to fill.
Malin has made the Turner series (of which this book is #3) sound verrrry appealing in her reviews, and well-written. So I gave it a go, and I was kin...moreMalin has made the Turner series (of which this book is #3) sound verrrry appealing in her reviews, and well-written. So I gave it a go, and I was kind of shocked by what I found. If you’re familiar with classic 80s romance novels, you’ll know what kind of fare I was used to getting from my romance reading (purloined from my mother's collection). Most romance novels I've read mostly revolve around women being put into sexy situations or dangerous ones or extremely melodramatic ones and then letting themselves fall in love with a man, which usually involved surrendering of some kind. It’s all very 80s and very trashy and I LOVED IT. The nice thing about Milan as an author, though, is that she manages to scratch that romance itch without falling into idiotic plot traps, or compromising the intelligence or integrity of her heroes and heroines.
All three books in the Turner series focus on a Turner brother, and whereas a great majority of historical romance novels center around characters being forced into situations and sexing their way out, Unraveled and its two predecessors are quite character focused and character driven. It’s inner conflicts that are the issue here, not manufactured plot twists, misunderstandings, and character decisions driven only by plot necessity.
This particular book centers around middle brother Smite (long story, don’t ask), who, er, has issues. Like, real psychological ones. He was abused as a child (a more mental type of abuse inflicted on him by his mentally ill mother), was forced to care for his younger brother, Mark, while they were both homeless on the streets, and whose devotion to the law as an adult has earned him the nickname of Lord Justice. He upholds justice in such strict measures because nobody bothered to listen to him as a child and his sister died as a result. Smite leads a lonely life by choice. He doesn’t believe there is any woman who could put up with his quirks (night terrors, for one), or who he would even want to try.
Enter Miranda Darling, child of actors, currently trying to make it as a seamstress and wigmaker. Miranda and Lord Justice meet when she’s sent to court to testify on behalf of a thief who is under the protection of the local crimelord, someone Miranda is also under the thumb of. Miranda and Smite had met before under similar circumstances, and quickly seeing through her act, he warns her that if he ever sees her in his courtroom again, he’ll have her arrested. So of course he becomes obsessed with her and asks her become his mistress. To which she agrees (hey, she’s got a foster kid to take care of). From there, it’s just a matter of the both of them breaking through each other’s walls (which is basically the plot of every romance novel ever written).
I actually liked the other two Turner books better than this one (damaged dudes aren’t really my thing), but this was still really good. Miranda was pretty standard, but Smite’s inner life was very convincing, and really thoroughly thought out and executed. Plus also it was fun, even if the ending was a little cheesy (the resolution to the crimelord story is what I’m thinking of here).
Romance novels aren’t my go-to pleasure reads normally. For that, I have fantasy. But usually about once a year, I get a craving that nothing but binging on romance novels can satisfy. It’s good to know I have Courtney Milan not only to satisfy these cravings, because she actively tries to make her stories stand out in such an oversaturated genre, but to give me well-constructed story with three-dimensional, flawed characters. (less)
I have soooooo many thoughts about this book. Which I will give to you now. REJOICE, PEASANTS.
The first thing I want to say is that I wish the image o...moreI have soooooo many thoughts about this book. Which I will give to you now. REJOICE, PEASANTS.
The first thing I want to say is that I wish the image of the cover was bigger because it’s gorgeous, and when you shrink it down it goes all dark and you can’t see the detail. That candle in the center, and the moths coming out of it, and the colors and and the textured details: it’s just lovely. I also really like the title, although, as I’ll get to later, I don’t feel the book lives up to the promise of that title.
The second thing I want to say is that the entire presentation of this book makes me think Viking as a publisher has never before read a fantasy novel, or at least not many. I wasn’t even aware they published fantasy. These are the same guys that published Grapes of Wrath, Finnegan’s Wake, Death of a Salesman, The Satanic Verses, and yes, Bridget Jones’ Diary. They seem to be treating it as this lovely, original, striking piece of writing, when really it’s just pretty okay, standard fantasy. It has its interesting moments, certainly, and overall it wasn’t a bad way to spend a couple of days, but I’m of the opinion it needed a serious editing whack upside the head, and by no means is it worthy of being treated like literary fiction. I can name at least five other fantasy authors off the top of my head who are writing seriously great fiction and largely being ignored by the literary community for their troubles. Viking’s credo, from their official website:
“To publish a strictly limited list of good nonfiction, such as biography, history and works on contemporary affairs, and distinguished fiction with some claim to permanent importance rather than ephemeral popular interest.”
It may just be me, but I seriously doubt Moth and Spark will lay claim to “permanent importance.” Oh, wait. Some quick googling has reminded me that Viking publishes Lev Grossman’s Magician’s series. Well, there you go. For those of you who’ve read those books, I think you’ll agree with me that (even if you don’t like them) they are deserving of that credo up there. They challenge the genre in a way that isn’t done by any other other books, and they do it with intent and purpose. And if you haven’t read them, I guess just trust me on that. Moth and Spark is not in the same league as The Magicians, although you can see that it’s trying really really hard to be. If The Magicians is the major leagues, then Moth and Spark is your local high school’s baseball team. There’s potential there, but no innovation, and most of the talent present needs a bit of seasoning.
Moth and Spark has two POV characters, both told in third person limited: Corin, crown prince of Caithenor (oy, the names in this), and Tam, a commoner who has The Sight. The novel opens with the dragons (there are dragons! but don’t get too excited! they’re barely in it!) bestowing Corin with a mysterious gift that is then wiped from his memory. Meanwhile, Tam takes a dreamspirit journey or whatever in a dragon. So the reader is clued in from the beginning that Corin has been chosen by the dragons and that Tam has the sight, although it takes both of them half the book to catch up. This is frustrating for a number of reasons, and was the first thing I noticed about the book. If she had simply deleted that prologue, Corin’s struggles to figure out what’s going on and Tam’s mysterious visions would have actually been, you know, mysterious. And full of tension! This is only one example of the problems an editor who was actually paying attention could have fixed.
But back to the plot. There’s three main things to be concerned about, and they’re all intertwined with one another. The first is a super confusing and honestly sort of boring war that’s happening in Corin’s country, Caithenor, thanks to two neighboring countries, one of which is ruled by the most horrible human in existence, but that doesn’t even matter because we never actually get to meet him. The other is the seat of the Empire, ruled by this asshole called Hadon whose great great grandfather stole the dragons from Caithenor and enslaved them. So here’s where the dragons come in. They’ve chosen Corin to free them from their five hundred year slavery. This part was actually okay when Leonard bothered to feature it, but mostly it was just the war. And the romance, of course.
Just so you don’t think I completely hated this book (three stars! and maybe only half of that third star is me being generous and just really liking fantasy stories with dragons in them!), I did really enjoy when Leonard’s characters interacted with each other. She has a nice sense of character and her dialogue is great in places, and actually makes implausible situations sort of believable. This is fortunate, since her brain creates a bunch of those for her to overcome, the largest of which is the fact that(view spoiler)[ her protagonists meet, fall in love immediately, and then marry in the span of five days, all the while “overcoming” the challenges presented by her being a beautiful, intelligent commoner (which is basically none except that princes can’t marry commoners). I mean, she really emphasizes this. Princes CANNOT MARRY COMMONERS. But then Tam is just so amazing and everyone loves her, including the king (and she is pretty cool, which is in itself a problem, but more on that later). So SPOILER, because everyone just loves her so much BOOM out of nowhere the king is all FUCK IT YOU CAN GET MARRIED RIGHT NOW. And marries them right then. As a war is starting. (hide spoiler)]
I had to put the book down for a while after that.
I had a bunch of other issues with this book that all basically boil down to one thing: me reading and getting my enjoyment up, and then my enjoyment being batted away like a fly or an annoying small child when something in the text made it impossible for me to remain in that magical bookspace that makes stories come alive. Lots of clumsy little details that could have been fixed by an editor contributed: comma splices EVERYWHERE. I mean it. EVERYWHERE. The fact that she has nobility incorrectly addressing each other, mostly Corin. Several times, she has characters call him ‘prince.’ Not ‘my prince,’ just ‘prince.’ Granted, I’m not 100% up on this but I know at least from Game of Thrones that kings and princes are never ‘my lord.’ It bugged me, and it hurt Leonard’s credibility. Not to mention that every time she started in about the politics of the war, it felt like she was an amateur playing at a professional’s game. It’s like she was focusing too much on the stuff she was weakest at, and not enough on the stuff she wasn’t (dragons, dialogue, interesting characters, character interactions). The romance was cliche to the extreme; it was only saved by the skin of her teeth by her dialogue and the characters themselves. By COME ON. Five days? FIVE DAYS!? (This is termed ‘insta-love’ in the blogging community, but I utterly despise that term and refuse to use it.) Plot happenings were more often than not fueled by nothing more than coincidence.
Even the greatness of Tam as a character was problematic. She was so great from the start she had nowhere to go. Her character arc isn’t so much an arc as it is a flat line. In fact, none of the characters in this book grow or change at all. They meet each other, they have adventures in places, they almost die and stuff . . . but none of that changes them internally. Only their external circumstances differ by the end of the novel. That may fly for some readers, but it doesn’t fly for me, and it certainly doesn’t fly with they type of fare Viking prides itself in publishing. All of this combined with Leonard’s poor understanding of how to build, maintain, and then satisfy tension in a story. Which leads me to the final problem I had with this novel: none of it was original. That’s not necessarily a crime. And don’t quote me that ‘there are no original stories’ bullshit. I don’t care. What I do care about is that if you are a writer and you are writing standard and predictable stories, you better damn well make sure your characters have it going on internally. It’s characters and their arcs that are important when plot is standard.
Writing it down like that validates my original intent to give this book two stars, but like I said, I was feeling generous, and I do so like a good fantasy book. The other thing is that while I was reading, I could tell Leonard is an author with lots of promise, like maybe once she gets this shitty predictable story out of her system and gets herself an actual editor, she might start producing stuff worth recommending to less generous readers than myself. Oh my God, that last sentence sounds so egotistical now that I’ve typed it . . .
Meh. I stand by it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Mystery Knight, the third novella in the Tales of Dunk and Egg series, is probably my favorite. There’s just something so fun about seeing Westero...moreThe Mystery Knight, the third novella in the Tales of Dunk and Egg series, is probably my favorite. There’s just something so fun about seeing Westeros like this after having lived in Martins’ A Song of Ice and Fire series for so long. All of the events in this series have long slipped into history, if not into legend, by the “present day”. It’s a different Westeros, one in peace (albeit threatening to break out into war), but it’s also the exact same Westeros. Still filled with petty humans supporting or betraying their petty legacies, their human concerns, their selfish needs. It’s still full of complicated people who intereact in complicated ways (which is my favorite part of reading Martin).
I feel sort of guilty using that word: fun, in this context. Because even though I’m having fun, for fuck sure none of the characters are, especially poor Dunk, our hero.
Dunk and Egg are making their haphazard way across the seven kingdoms of Westeros, and with an idea of going north to the Wall, are waylaid at a wedding. Egg senses something amiss right away, but Dunk is mostly concerned with making a good impression on his fellow knights (including the hedge knights). He would like to be perceived as something other than Dunk the Lunk, Dunk the Absolutely Ginormous. And like the tournament at Ashford, he somehow manages to blunder into a situation that’s much more complex and dangerous than he or Egg at first realized.
I don’t want to say too much because: spoilers, but I will say that the twists and turns of the plot were equally as satisfying as the dialogue, the atmosphere, and the subtle character work, as well as Martin’s constant dwelling on themes that threaten to punch you in the feels when you’re least expecting it. Can’t wait for the fourth novella to come out (when????), as it’s called The She-Wolves of Winterfell, and duh excitement because WINTERFELL.
The Sworn Sword opens a year and a half after The Hedge Knight. Egg is still squiring for Dunk, hiding his distinctive Targaryen lineage by shaving hi...moreThe Sworn Sword opens a year and a half after The Hedge Knight. Egg is still squiring for Dunk, hiding his distinctive Targaryen lineage by shaving his head. Dunk has temporarily sworn his services to a landed knight named Ser Eustace, whose family the Osgreys used to have wealth and lands, but now have neither. Ser Eustace is the last Osgrey, his wife long dead, his daughter taken as hostage by king (and now dead), and his three sons dead in the Blackfyre Rebellion over ten years past.
The main action of the story starts when Dunk and Egg return from fetching casks of wine to find that the stream that provides sustenance for all of Ser Eustace’s crops has dried up. This is potentitally disastrous, as there is a drought on. Upon further investigation with Ser Eustace’s other sworn knight, Ser Bennis, they find that the Red Widow (Ser Eustace’s neighbor, the lady of Coldmoat, which also happens to be the castle Ser Eustace’s ancestors once owned) has constructed a dam and diverted the stream for her own use. When Bennis and Dunk find the dam, Bennis attacks one of her knights and they hightail it out of there. Dunk knows this means trouble. From there, Dunk has to help Eustace train some truly pathetic smallfolk to defend their tower and lands against the widow, who will surely come seeking vengeance, and when one horrible thing leads to another, Dunk wonders if he should even be fighting for Ser Eustace at all.
As always, what makes reading stories in Westeros so satisfying is what Martin does with the inner lives of his characters. Unlike in the main series, we’re only getting Dunk’s point of view, but he’s a good character to see the world through. He’s honest, steadfast, and his position as a lowborn knight gives him a perspective his peers don’t quite understand. But even though we only get Dunk’s POV, Martin also makes sure that all the other characters in the story get their due as well. Ser Eustace is a washed-up knight whose family used to be nobility, and is suitably bitter about everything he has lost (including his family, a king, and his legacy). The Red Widow is even more interesting. Martin takes what could have been the role of a straightforward villainess and makes her one of the most interesting parts of the story. My only complaint about this one is that there just wasn’t enough Egg, dammit. I know he’s only ten years old, but I like the kid, and I’d like to see him play more of an active role in their adventures.(less)
HOLY SHIT, Y’ALL. Sending out the Bat Signal. This is a book you should read probably as soon as possible.
I can’t believe it took me almost nine month...moreHOLY SHIT, Y’ALL. Sending out the Bat Signal. This is a book you should read probably as soon as possible.
I can’t believe it took me almost nine months to hear about this book, and I only heard about it then because a particularly prolific book blogger I follow on Goodreads received a free review copy of the audiobook, and also gave it five stars. She also had not heard of it before, even though it had been published last May. This is a travesty. Everyone should be reading this book and singing its praises to the rooftops. Fucking everyone.
Golden Boy centers around Max Walker, an intersex teenager who identifies as male. The only people who know about his ambiguous gender are his parents, who have done all they could since he was a baby to make his life as normal as possible. In fact, everyone loves Max. His brother adores him, he’s popular at school, is great at sports, the top in all his classes, and is kind to everyone. But when Max is raped by a trusted childhood friend, things fall apart quickly. It sets in motion a process of self-discovery not just for Max, but for his entire family, and the girl he’s fallen in love with.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because then I’d be a ruiner, but I would like to point out that I started this book at 5 PM on a Friday night, fully intending on only reading a couple of chapters before heading out for a movie or calling up a friend to go eat or something, but then somehow it was eight and then ten o’clock, and then I ended up reading straight through until the end. It was almost midnight by the time I finished (at which point I exploded my feelings all over Twitter, where the author responded very kindly, but more importantly, where I got at least two people to buy it that night). I shall continue my mission to make everyone read it forthwith.
The novel is told by several different narrators as they go about their lives and deal, knowingly and unknowingly, with the fallout from the rape: Max himself, his little brother Daniel (who is a bit odd, and knows it), his lawyer mother, his crush Sylvie, his doctor Archie from the local clinic, and a couple from the POV of his father, who is running for a seat in Parliament. What’s great about this is how distinct each voice is. I’m of the firm opinion that you can tell how talented an author is by their use of first person POV. It takes someone very talented to create a character’s distinct voice, one that helps to shape the character’s arc as well as portraying their personality (the beautiful harmony of style and function), and Abigail Tarttelin manages to create six. (Contrast this to several YA books I’ve read in the last couple of years where the first person narrators are indistinguishable not only from one another, but also from the author’s voice).
And if all that sexy talk of form and function isn’t doing it for you, perhaps I can interest you in the UTTER AND TOTAL AGONY OF EMOTIONS that you will also experience.
And it’s not just that the book is well-written, has interesting characters that you fall in love with or become extremely angry with, and centers on an interesting topic. Because it does all of those things very, very well. But it also happens to be insightful and beautiful and horrible and wonderful and uplifting all at the same time. And like all great pieces of literature, it manages to weave its thematic threads so subtly that you don’t realize you’re being wrapped up in them until they’ve got you tight without any possible hope of escape. It’s a great book, is what I’m saying. It’s the book I wanted from Middlesex (although I did quite enjoy that book, problems with it aside). It’s the book I never knew I always wanted.
These were my favorite books when I was a child. I enjoyed some more than others, but the ones I loved I REALLY LOVED. If I would have read them for t...moreThese were my favorite books when I was a child. I enjoyed some more than others, but the ones I loved I REALLY LOVED. If I would have read them for the first time as an adult my views would probably be a bit different, but I didn't, so suck it and stuff.(less)
A fun collection. Some stories superior to others. The highlight is definitely Eleven/Gaiman (par for the course). Did get some new authors on my to-r...moreA fun collection. Some stories superior to others. The highlight is definitely Eleven/Gaiman (par for the course). Did get some new authors on my to-read list (notably Philip Reeve and Malorie Black). Most disappointed in Eoin Colfer's outing, and whatever guy's story they got for Ten. Most meh about Richelle Mead. WTF Americans in this collection. ENGLAND. This review is becoming incoherent.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that my only knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion before reading these books came from those crossover episodes of Buffy the Va...moreI’m a bit ashamed to admit that my only knowledge of the Boxer Rebellion before reading these books came from those crossover episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel where Angel, Darla, Spike & Drusilla are taking advantage of the carnage of the Rebellion, and Spike ends up killing a Slayer (“Fool For Love” and “Darla,” in case you’re feeling like a rewatch). And really, I was more concerned with the vampires than with what was happening around them. Now that I know the context, I really think those guys were acting like dicks.
Anyway, such was my mindset when I first opened Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints, a dual-volume graphic novel. Each volume focuses on one side of the Rebellion, roughly split up into the poor rural villagers that make up the Boxers (as they were named by the Foreign Devils) and the Christian-converted Saints (or Secondary Devils, as they’re known to the Boxers). The Boxers (who call themselves the Righteous and Harmonious Fist) were extremely concerned about the encroachment of foreigners into China, specifically Christian missionaries from Western countries. The Saints were a mix of foreigners, missionaries, and Christian converted Chinese people. The situation was made worse by a severe drought, raising tensions between the two groups. Yang breaks up the story into two volumes to illustrate both sides, but the whole thing ends up being about the futility of violence (as all war stories should be, in my opinion).
Our way into the conflict starts with Little Bao, the youngest son of a village Farmer in the Shantung province of China, in the late 1890s. Little Bao is a dreamer at heart. His favorite thing in the world is to watch the opera singers who come to the village fair in the spring time. He imagines the gods and lords and ladies in their opera masks accompanying him on his daily tasks. And yet, he is still illiterate, uneducated and the youngest son of the family. Through Little Bao’s eyes, Yang takes us through several years of Chinese history, as Little Bao’s whimsical daydreams (colored and drawn beautifully) are harshened by real life. Foreigners are encroaching on Chinese territory and converting Chinese citizens. A local missionary smashes a statue of the god that oversees the spring festival, something of great emotional import to Little Bao. And Chinese men who wear crosses around their necks are terrorizing local villages. Little Bao’s father is attacked by a group of converted Christians, and crippled for life. And no one in the government seems to be doing anything about this.
When a young kung fu expert named Red Lantern moves into Little Bao’s village, he begins training all the young men in kung fu and sword fighting, and soon all of them (even Little Bao, who at first wasn’t allowed due to his age) are training. When Red Lantern is also killed for being a member of the Big Sword Society, a group of young men who see it as their duty to protect Chinese citizens if the government will not, Little Bao and his talent for spirit possession take over the group. From village to village they go, following Little Bao into battle. Killing foreign devils and secondary devils. All the while fueled by righteous indignation, and the desire to prevent the world from chaning out from under them.
At the beginning of the novel, the whimsical tone and rounded, brightly colored lines of Yang’s world fool you into thinking this is going to be a happy sort of story. A coming of age tale, perhaps. To illustrate, my favorite panel from the book: an encounter between the protagonists of Boxers & Saints that neither realizes the importance of. Bao has seen Vibiana for the first time, and likened her scowling devil face to that of the opera masks he so loves. It’s a quick moment, but it typifies the wit and attitude of the story.
Later panels, however, are full of fury and desperation, and the bright colors of Little Bao’s daydreams morph into spiritual hallucinations fueled by anger, fear, and revenge. His opera singer visions are replaced by ritualistic callings of the old gods, who inhabit Little Bao and his men of the Righteous Fist. This is a genius detail, because a key element of the Boxer Rebellion was the Boxer’s apparent belief that they were impervious to foreign weapons, and that during battle they were possessed by spirits who provided them with mystical powers. Yang’s decision to make the spiritual and religious elements real in both volumes on serves to heighten the metaphorical nature of it. But more on that later.
The choice to humanize the historical content of the Boxer Rebellion through Little Bao was a good one. The history of the Rebellion comes alive with the personal stakes we’re given in rooting for Little Bao, even as we can see from the comfortable hindsight of 100 plus years that at points he’s making mistakes, and that he’s going to regret his actions by the end. Because of course that’s where this story ends up: tragedy. Little Bao and his Righteous Fist are fighting a losing battle — a losing battle against people whose motivations are just as strong as complex as his own.