These geeks sure are cool. I would have thought a "nerd herd" would include more shoegazing and straight-edgers, but nope, plenty of casual booze and...moreThese geeks sure are cool. I would have thought a "nerd herd" would include more shoegazing and straight-edgers, but nope, plenty of casual booze and hooking up. What elevated this book for me were the instances of geeks assuming aggressive roles, unknowingly becoming like their hecklers. There's a curious lack of anime, videogames, and comic books, but the variety of geekdoms and personality types represented remains vibrant and fuels the mostly-good stories (I'll leave the few clunkers for you to determine).(less)
3.5 stars. Improves greatly in the final third, when the seeds planted in the first act take fruit and the "YA trio of adventurers" trope finally take...more3.5 stars. Improves greatly in the final third, when the seeds planted in the first act take fruit and the "YA trio of adventurers" trope finally takes a backseat to some unique moments. I wouldn't give this canonical status, but as a YA adventure with Frankensteinian flavor, it works.(less)
One of the hottest fiction releases of 2011 was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I read some articles about it last year in The New York Times and...moreOne of the hottest fiction releases of 2011 was Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. I read some articles about it last year in The New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly about how it received a huge marketing push, Morgenstern was well compensated for a first book, and the movie rights were already sold to create a huge franchise. “This could be the next Harry Potter!” I was told.
But it’s not.
The Night Circus‘s great appeal is in its visual storytelling. Even the book covers of its various editions are impeccable and represent Morgenstern’s talent for striking descriptions. Just about every chapter includes a clear image of either someone’s clothing, a dessert, or the entertainments of the night circus. Some combination of fabric, chocolate, and magical flame will take hold of your imagination, and I am sure these images will make for a grand movie spectacle, as well.
The magic is also easy to picture: Morgenstern’s magicians use illusions without bringing the reader too far behind the curtain to know how everything works. If a character heals cuts on her fingers with telepathy, then that is all the reader needs to know and Morgenstern is happy to omit any Latin spellcasting or bejeweled wands. I enjoyed letting the magicians wield automatic, mysterious magic. How they use the magic says more about their character than the existence of magic, anyway.
About halfway through the book, however, I started to lose touch with the cast. Maybe Morgenstern’s narrative jumped forward and backward through time too often. Maybe I’d had enough of the Starbucksian descriptions in which everything involves vanilla, chocolate, ice, cinnamon, clover, or some other fancy coffee ingredient. One thing is for certain: the dry characters had lost their appeal. Even by the time a romance entered the story, neither love interest felt compelling enough to care about. There’s a scene described as, “there was a boisterous mood in the room.” Thanks for the info! And thanks for every character trying to out-dandy everyone else. I loved reading about the Victorian-Romantic manners and outfits (this book could spark its own convention of cosplayers and merchandisers), but after a certain point the book’s world feels like a dinner theater where the murderer is just a member of the audience and nothing is really at stake. Insert joke about corsets.
A large chunk of the book serves as an epilogue for other characters who were not fleshed out nearly enough for the treatment they were given, unless a sequel revisits everyone. Imagine if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ended with 70 pages explaining how Neville Longbottom became class president and made up his own business cards.
But then, that’s the difference between Morgenstern and Rowling. One put us in the head of a boy in a magical world. The other just led a tour of a castle.
A.S. King already won my recommendation with Please Ignore Vera Dietz and her lovely Printz Honor speech, but now she’s two for two in my book and nee...moreA.S. King already won my recommendation with Please Ignore Vera Dietz and her lovely Printz Honor speech, but now she’s two for two in my book and needs to rack up a similar score in others’ books.
On the surface, Everybody Sees The Ants seems like a bunch of issues hurled together: high school freshman Lucky Linderman has a grandfather MIA in Vietnam, a “turtle” father who doesn’t engage his family, a “squid” mother who escapes to the pool all the time, and a serious bully to deal with, Nader. If that weren’t enough, Lucky attempts his public polling assignment by asking people how they would prefer to commit suicide, thus bringing the guidance department on his head to make sure he won’t do anything drastic to himself or others. Lucky is a little crazy, but only in the form of seeing tiny ants everywhere he goes who act like little mascots to follow him around and pantomime reactions to everything that happens.
I was extremely relieved that there were not after-school special monologues delivered to and from every character. I am also glad that the way Lucky deals with his problems is not cut and dry, though he does grow as a person and experiences some Big Moments that he processes mostly within his head. After nailing the temperament of the “older teen despairing” archetype with Vera Dietz, King nails the “younger teen looking for a role model” archetype with Lucky. His reactions to girls (along with The Vagina Monologues), his grandfather’s MIA status (along with his escapist dreams to join him in Vietnam), and his general lack of confidence (of course he can’t tattle!) all smack of adolescent psyche, and anyone opposed to how the material is handled might be surprised how much truth King expresses.
There is romance in the book, though it is not the focal point of the story. Nonetheless, teenage billboard model Ginny is an interesting foil for Lucky in that her double life involves leading a charmed life with little freedom, whereas Lucky has plenty of freedom but little charm. Ginny has some Manic Pixie Dream Girl in her, but her plot resolves in a way that protects her from perfection, no matter how much of it Lucky might assume in her.
I know the cover isn’t a devastating close-up of a girl’s eyeball or an iconic symbol, and that the title isn’t “The Girl…” or a standalone word or a sequel, but trust me, this book is a relatable winner for anyone who remembers when their awareness bubble grew from one person to over six billion.(less)
The last time I visited Chicago, I visited One Stop Comics and noticed several issues of a comic called Scarlet. Each cover seemed to be reaching hard...moreThe last time I visited Chicago, I visited One Stop Comics and noticed several issues of a comic called Scarlet. Each cover seemed to be reaching hard to look as “alternative” as possible, with its redheaded protagonist always brandishing guns and making serious faces. The covers reminded me of Synthia “Sin” Schmidt from Captain America.
Modern comics love a ginger with a gun, I guess. Sin was a hyperactive snot of a villain for Marvel, rushing around with pistols and laughing at death and destruction until she turned out to have no martial arts abilities and every superhero she met took her out. Sensing that I did not want to read a comic with that type of character in the lead role, I moved on. Now, years later, the first five issues are collected in a hardcover that has been selected by YALSA as one of their Great Graphic Novels For Teens. Why don’t I quit flashbacking and start reviewing, then?
The gritty world of Scarlet is drenched in cynical shadows and blurred faces on every page. Well, there are some snatches of joy to be found, but like any vigilante origin story, joy becomes a necessary bygone. Scarlet Rue enjoys life with her boyfriend in Portland, Oregon until a dirty cop kills him for drugs he didn’t have and shoots her too. Scarlet talks a lot about having enough of “the bullshit,” but I am glad that her unimaginative ranting applies to an observed problem. Without spoiling too much of her anti-corruption methods, let me just say Scarlet gets the police’s and public’s attention, escalating everyone’s stake in how “the bullshit” turns out. I am also glad that Portland is shown to have some serious problems in addition to its whimsical hipsters who inject magical creativity into everyday life.
All in all, I think this is a good comic for “older teens,” meaning anyone who can handle salty language and some gun violence. Scarlet is a good counterculture voice and stands up for what she believes in, including when she questions the right thing to do and how she will handle the increased attention and danger she invites.
The comic covers scream, “whoa, a badass chick with a gun,” but writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev go to pains to make sure that we see she is a human being with a gun, complete with a past, a family, and a brain. The characters who speak directly to the reader leave the impression that what happens on the page makes us witnesses more than audiences.(less)
+A strong-willed woman starts a small-town movement that soon gains national attention. +Religious leaders encourage Americans to "do the right thing"...more+A strong-willed woman starts a small-town movement that soon gains national attention. +Religious leaders encourage Americans to "do the right thing" even when the "wrong thing" is a multibillion-dollar business that demands nothing from its users. +Criminal activity swells in large cities that could be prevented if only the law didn't make the crime so profitable. +The upper class wields enough money and privacy to do whatever it wants, no matter the rules imposed on the public at large. +Government officials passionately decrying "immoral behavior" turn out to engage in that exact behavior. +Despite sensational headlines about history in the making, large swaths of middle and suburban America are largely unaffected and go about their day to day lives.
Do any of those statements sound familiar? Such are the events I've picked up from Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. Karen Blumenthal does an excellent job of singling out the individuals who stuck out during the formation, enforcement, and breakdown of Prohibition. I'm pretty sure historical events don't count as spoilers, but I was amused and surprised by some of the endorsements and resistances to Prohibition. The only parts that dragged for me involved official legislation and the game of votes in Congress; otherwise, this is the go-to book for all things hypocritical, self-righteous, honestly concerned, humorously daring, ordinarily tragic, and criminally tragic in America.
This entry's title comes from Morris Shepard, who observed that local stores went from selling all manner of things to reverting back to alcohol. He believed with all his heart that the lack of alcohol in Americans' lives would lead them to more productive and interesting causes. Blumenthal seems to ask which is worse: millions of alcohol dependents, or slightly fewer alcohol dependents funding a series of Al Capones?(less)