Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 9

Remember when I kept these reviews brief?

Remember how much less time it took to do them that way?


Also, full disclosure: I accidentally read a series out of order. Why? Because I'm an idiot. For the sake of clarity I've kept their numbers in tact, but I've switched their places in the lineup.

* = reread
[GN] = Graphic Novel/Comic Anthology

Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales
by. Brian Jacques

A collection of 7 supernatural tales for young readers.

I'm gonna be honest here; this was disappointing. I love his Redwall books so I thought that I should try some of his other stuff as well. And a book of spooky stories by Brian Jacques? That sounds amazing!

But these stories lack all the Jacquesian charm that I love so much. His Redwall books are just so full of rich fantasy. They've got memorable characters with tons of charisma. And he creates such lush environments for his characters to live in. And yet these stories really...don't.

The best way I can describe it is this book seems like something that would've been his first book. It wasn't, but it seems that way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's bad per se. In fact a couple of them were pretty interesting (most notably, “Bridgey”, the story of a girl who lives with her cruel uncle and takes care of his ducks). But overall when you know what the man is capable of, these stories come off as terribly subpar. They're kind of like what you'd expect to get if you asked Brian Jacques to tell you a watered-down R.L.Stine story off the top of his head.

The afternoon was peaceful; under the warm sun the lake lay smooth and placid. Even the ducks had stopped paddling; they floated about silently, napping in the noontide. Mister Rafferty stood on the bank, gently squelching the mud under his webbed feet. Though he was facing away from the house his bright little eye oscillated backwards, as he watched Bridgey come to the water's edge, her bare feet disturbing the thin crust that the sun had baked upon the mud. Rafferty gave a short quack of welcome, declining to comment further on the loaf and honey crock which the little girl placed upon a stone. She sat down next to them. The drake wandered over, his slim graceful neck nodding slightly as he waddled. Bridgey passed her hand gently over his sleek head.

“Good afternoon to you, sir. Have you had enough of the swimming?”

Mister Rafferty nodded and settled down by her.

“Ah well your family look all nice and peaceful there. See Matilda with her head beneath her wing, fast asleep, Lord love her.”

Drake and girl sat watching the water. Bridgey half closed her eyes and began intoning in a soft singsong voice.

“Grimblett, Grimblett, are you there?”

The lake stayed calm and unruffled.

“I know for sure you're out there, Grimblett. Will y'not bid me a good afternoon?”

Out upon the middle of the waters a single large bubble plopped and gurgled, causing ripples to widen across the surface. Bridgey and Mister Rafferty nodded knowingly.
page 86-87

97. [GN]
Essex County, Volume 2:
Ghost Stories
by. Jeff Lemire

The story of an old man as he looks back on his life and ponders the mistakes he's made.

These Essex County stories are so well done. They are amazing. While Tales from the Farm dealt with ideas of youth and growing up, Ghost Stories goes at things in the opposite direction: starting with an old man and then going back in time with him as he remembers his life.

It deals with a lot of powerful ideas, things like: growing old, dealing with regrets, and having life not quite work out the way you planned. And if telling a beautiful and powerful story wasn't enough, Ghost Stories subtly links itself back to Tales from the Farm. Showing us why the series is a series.

If you want to read some great graphic novels, or maybe if you're just looking for a good place to jump into the genre, I couldn't recommend these ones more. They're highly accessible and so very well done.

It's sort of like drifting in and out of a nap...

...Moments of clarity still come...

My mind will snap to attention and I'll know who I am, and where I am, just as clear as I ever did.

This is my farm. It was my brother's before me, and my father's before him. That is here to take care of me 'cause I can't much take of myself anymore, let alone this place.

My farm is in Essex County, Ontario, Canada.

It's about forty minutes outside of Windsor, which shares its border with Detroit.

It's about a four-hour drive to Toronto.

It's early fall and the Toronto Maple Leafs lost 8 to 2 last night to the Ottawa Senators. It was an embarrassing loss by a team with no identity of its own.

But, I'm optimistic about this season. For the first time in years they have some good young talent.

The veterans are a bit of a hodgepodge though. And, they don't have any scoring depth.

As quickly as these moments of clarity come...

...they can go.
pages 10-13

The Wee Free Men
Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching has a job to do. Some would call it saving the world. Some would call it fighting back the forces of evil. And some would call it Being a Witch. But to Tiffany it's just her responsibility. And with a little bit of help from a couple experienced witches and a clan of tiny pugilist pictsie thieves, she might just have what it takes to get the job done.

Here is my one and only complaint about this book: the paperback version has a really dumb cover. This'll happen with books from time to time, but what really bugs me about it is that the hardcover version has an absolutely amazing cover! If I was to rank my favorite book covers of all time I would probably have to put the hardcover version of The Wee Free Men high on that list. I love it. The paperback version, though? It's as if they took the beautiful illustrations of the hardcover and then did it again using an awful and bland overly digital style.

So there you go. As complaints go, that's pretty trivial.

Everything else about this book is amazing. I love it to death. If I had a daughter I would read her this book as soon as I could, because no other book I've ever read has better morals or a more powerful female lead. And more than that I think it would be a really fun book to read out loud. The feisty little Nac Mac Feegle's Scottish twang would be a blast to try out.

It's a fairy tale, but instead of the usual heroine, this one isn't petite and blonde and doesn't need to be rescued. She's clever and if something needs to be done then she's gonna go ahead and do it, not wait around hoping someone else will.

“Anyway, she preferred the witches to the smug handsome princes and especially to the stupid smirking princesses, who didn't have the sense of a beetle. They had lovely golden hair, too, and Tiffany didn't. Her hair was brown, plain brown. Her mother called it chestnut, or sometimes auburn, but Tiffany knew it was brown, brown, brown, just like her eyes. Brown as earth. And did the book have any adventures for people who had brown eyes and brown hair? No, no, was the blond people with blue eyes and the redheads with green eyes who got the stories. If you had brown hair you were probably just a servant or a woodcutter or something. Or a dairymaid. Well, that was not going to happen, even is she was good at cheese. She couldn't be the prince, and she'd never be a princess, and she didn't want to be a woodcutter, so she'd be the witch and know things, just like Granny Aching—”
pg. 35-36

And that's another thing, she has pride! She isn't trying to change who she is for anyone else. She knows who she is and she is proud of it!

You're going to turn into somebody like Miss Tick, said her Second Thoughts. Do you really want that?

“Yes,” said a voice, and Tiffany realized that it was hers again. The anger rose up, joyfully. “Yes! I'm me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don't understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That's the kind of person I am!”
page 309

It is all just such a breath of fresh air.

So many people try to write great female characters but they so often fall short. People seem to think that having a character be tough or feisty is enough. Think of a strong woman and describe them to yourself.

Done? Let me guess, you came up with a lot more words than just “tough”, right? Perhaps you thought of things like Confident, Smart, Capable, Kind, Proud, No-nonsense, Caring? There are whole spectrums of attributes that people so rarely take advantage of. Yet this book does.

If all that wasn't enough, the thing that really cements it all for me is that Tiffany isn't perfect. She has flaws. And not ridiculous flaws like Clumsy or Dim. Flaws like judgemental, over confident, and inexperienced. Flaws which serve to make her a more fully-formed character. Flaws that get her in trouble. Flaws which she can learn lessons from. I really cannot say enough nice things about this character. She is just so well done.

And did I mention how good the writing is? Terry Pratchett once again proves why he is my favorite author. The writing is clever and witty and, in his usual fashion, he's able to put amazingly complex ideas into such beautifully eloquent phrases.

Ever since I started doing these booklists I've tried to mark passages I like as I read so I can go back and take down the quotes later. And by the time I finished this book the book was positively bursting with paper scraps.

This book is my favorite thing I've read all year. And I highly doubt anything will be able to dethrone this one by the end of it.

“Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”

“Will it cost me anything?”

“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.

“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.

Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say that this advice is priceless,” she said. “Are you listening?”

“Yes,” said Tiffany.

“Good. Now...if you trust in yourself...”


“...and believe in your dreams...”


“...and follow your star...” Miss Tick went on.

“Yes?”'ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Good-bye.
page 51

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
collected from American folklore by. Alvin Schwartz
drawings by. Stephen Gammell

A collection of scary stories from American folklore.

I think this joke just about sums the book up perfectly.

That's just the long and the short of it. The stories are pretty much just your typical sitting-around-a-campfire, just-before-bed scary stories. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's just pretty much what you'd expect. After all, we've heard the folklore before. But the illustrations on the other hand? Holy shit.

If anything caused this book to stick in the minds of the kids who've read it over the years and if anything caused people to want to ban it, it had to have been because of these illustrations.

I swear Stephen Gammell must live in some sort of terrifying nightmare world when he closes his eyes. Just do a google image search of his name and see what I mean. Horrifying? Yes. But also some of the best illustration work I've seen.


Don't you laugh as the hearse goes by,
For you may be the next to die.
They wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet.
They put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks.
All goes well for about a week,
Then your coffin begins to leak.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout.
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose,
They eat the jelly between your toes.
A big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes.
Your stomach turns a slimy green,
And pus pours out like whipping cream.
You spread it on a slice of bread,
And that's what you eat when you are dead.
pg. 39

The Outlander
by. Gil Adamson

It's 1903 and a widow is on the run through the wilderness as she attempts to escape from the voices in her head and her brothers-in-law. Why are they after her? Because she killed her husband, of course.

This is a hard book to try and describe. For one thing it wasn't what I was expecting.

I was expecting an adventure and survival story of this woman as she tries to escape her pursuers through the unforgiving wilderness. And while it does have parts that are like that, on a whole it isn't that kind of story. She'll be trying to survive on her own for a while and then she'll come across some kindly stranger and live with them for a while. Then she'll find her brothers-in-law have found her trail and she'll run off again.

I also thought her mental illness would play a much bigger role than it does. It really hardly factors into things at all.

And if I'm being really honest, part of the way through I found myself getting a bit bored of her story.

But despite all of that, I have to say that this is a good book. For one thing the widow is a really great female character. She's really well developed.

For another thing the writing is really good. For instance here's a passage from it:

“All along one side, a number of bodies had been laid out in a row along the planks, each pair of boots in a slack V. The widow approached and leaned half-swooning against a tree, the thrum of birdwings above her, her eyes in unwilling study of these many boots. Toes risen up, a palisade against life, and beyond them, the faces of the dead.”
pg. 305

I actually had to look up the word “Palisade”. Turns out it's a fence of stakes usually used for defense. That's a really great turn of phrase that creates some top-notch imagery and tone.

Here's another example:

“Alone again and just imagining her? Still, the body radiates contentment, release. His unhurried mind ran back to the night, the tent, the blankets, and her — suddenly there was a cavalcade of salacious scenes, ruinously beautiful...”
pg 386-287

The author really knows her stuff. I won't include it here, but I will say that this book also includes the most literary description of shitting in the woods, that I have ever read. Impressive stuff.

Also I really liked the ending. I thought it was going for some typical cliche ending, but then it took a hard right and went some place I didn't expect it to.

So there you go. The story isn't without its faults, but it has a lot going for it. The parts I found boring weren't boring because they were badly done; those parts were boring to me because they just weren't my kind of thing. If you decide to give it a try, just know what to expect. There's plenty of parts where she's on the run through the woods fearing for her life, but there's also a romance angle and plenty of scenes featuring normal Little House on the Prairie kind of drama.

Sometimes discontent is unknown to the sufferer, a shadowed thing that creeps up from behind. It had been that way for Mary. Of course, she knew there were reasons for her unhappiness, there are always reasons. One thinks, I am unhappy, I am discontent, because of this or that. But such thoughts are like a painting of sorrow, not sorrow itself. Then one day it comes, hushed and ferocious, and reasons don't matter any more.

The Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 1:
The Last Iron Fist Story
written by. Ed Brubacker & Matt Fraction
art by. David Aja (and others)

I honestly can't remember the overarching plot to this's about a super powered martial-artist though.

I got this from the library because I thought it'd be an origin story or something. Yet it wasn't. But I read it anyway. I didn't fully understand what was going on, but I liked some parts of it and the art was interesting. So I'll just talk about those bits.

Apparently in this world the Iron Fist is a power that's bestowed upon a person once a generation. So there were all these little parts that where they'd show a bit from one of the older ones' lives. Honestly, I really wish they had just told those Iron Fists' stories, because they look really cool. None of this typical superhero versus an evil global organization of well financed criminals BS. Although they were brief, those scenes were all really cool. There were also some Eastern mythology references in the stories proper which I enjoyed.

There were a couple of interesting and unique things going on it the art as well. Obviously without visual reference I can't really get into specifics. They weren't anything major, but they were definitely noteworthy.

If you know who Iron Fist is from the comics then I'd say you should definitely check this one out. But if you're like me and you don't know the first thing about the character, it'll just leave you confused.

The village is insignificant...300 lives, more or less.

The armies of the Khan...

No man dares stand in their way.

Who am I?

I am the Iron Fist.

I stand before the unstoppable hordes...and I hold them back.

That's what I do.

What I've always done.

A Hat Full of Sky
by. Terry Pratchett

Tiffany Aching is learning how to be a witch under the supervision of a senior witch named Miss Level. However, something has taken note of Tiffany. Something ancient and powerful that has a penchant for hiding inside of people's minds until they go insane. Now Tiffany has to find a way to defeat something that has no body and yet a mass of minds.

As you might have noticed I actually read this one before The Wee Free Men. It was slightly confusing and I wouldn't recommend trying it that way. But I've read all the Discworld books so it really wasn't too much of an issue for me. After reading the proper first book in this series, I can say that this one works a lot better when you've read the first one.

What can I say? Everything that I said about The Wee Free Men goes for this one as well. Admittedly it's much more of a laid back story than the first. The threat the main antagonist poses doesn't loom quite so large, but because of that we're able to focus of Tiffany's lessons. Since all the stuff Tiffany is up to is really interesting, that's a trade I was perfectly fine with. Plus anything the antagonist lacks in terms of threat it makes up for later by being an interesting enough entity that it allows Pratchett an opportunity to offer up some brilliant concepts. As I said before, no one can simplify high concept ideas into a more profoundly eloquent form than Terry Pratchett.

“Well, it's important to him. Sometimes old people are like that. They'd hate people to think that they were too poor to pay for their own funeral. Mr. Weavall'd die of shame if he couldn't pay for his own funeral.”

“It's very sad, him being all alone like that. Something should be done for him,” said Tiffany.

“Yes. We're doing it,” said Miss Level. “And Mrs. Tussy keeps a friendly eye on him.”

“Yes, but it shouldn't have to be us, should it?”

“Who should it have to be?” said Miss Level.

“Well, what about this son he's always talking about?” said Tiffany.

“Young Toby? He's been dead for for fifteen years. And Mary was the old man's daughter, she died quite young. Mr. Weavall is very shortsighted, but he sees better in the past.”

Tiffany didn't know what to reply except: “It shouldn't be like this.”

“There isn't a way things should be. There's just what happens, and what we do.”

“Well, couldn't you help him by magic?”

“I see to it that he's in no pain, yes,” said Miss Level.

“But that's just herbs.”

“It's still magic. Knowing things is magical, if other people don't know them.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean,” said Tiffany, who felt she was losing this argument.

“Oh, you mean make him young again?” said Miss Level. “Fill his house with gold? That's not what witches do.”

“We see to it that lonely old men get a cooked dinner and cut their toenails?” said Tiffany, just a little sarcastically.

Well, yes, said Miss Level. We do what can be done. Mistress Weatherwax said you've got to learn that witchcraft is mostly about doing quite ordinary things.
pages 124-125

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by. Shirley Jackson

Two young women and their elderly uncle live alone in a gigantic mansion. The community fears and shuns them, so they stay locked away from the world. Why do the people of the town fear them so? Because the reason these three live alone in a giant mansion is that one of them may have poisoned the rest of their family.

I read this one based on Joey Comeau's recommendation, so I didn't realize right away that I had read something by this author before. Shirley Jackson is, of course, the author of that infamous short story “The Lottery”. If you've never read “The Lottery” you really should. Frankly I'm surprised people don't talk about it more, especially with The Hunger Games being so popular.

This really is an odd book, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The story is told by the younger sister and she is just such a strange girl. It really gives the story an air that is almost akin to a fairytale.

And while the quirkiness and the quality of the writing are all great things about this book, they aren't what really makes this book stand out. The high point of the book is how it manages to convey some pretty dark ideas. Ideas of feeling like an outcast, being afraid of change, using solitude and a close group of loved ones to protect yourself from the world. Thus what's really impressive is that is able to maintain a quirky and fairytalesque air while dealing with rather heavy and often dark subject matter.

I don't really know what else to say. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it's a pretty quick read.

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
page 1

Peter Pan and Wendy
by. J.M.Barrie
illustrations by. Robert Ingpen

The story of the Darling children and their adventures in never land with the boy who never grew up.

I realized that while I've seen a number of Peter Pan movies I had never actually read the book. I guess I have seen the play and that's the true original, but that was when I was very young. Thus it struck me as wrong to have this story dominated in my memory by Disney.

I really hate being honest, because I think it makes me sound like a pompous jerk, but if I'm not honest then what good would a review even be? So, honestly, this book isn't that amazing. They story is all over the place and the characters are rather one-dimensional.

That being said, I cannot simply write this book off, for it has a very important element that I look for in books: imagination. The whole thing is highly imaginative and, what's more, highly memorable. It's really no wonder that it's found a place inside cultural memory and that we're all so familiar with these characters and their adventures. Overall I think I like it as a play better than as a book, but they both deserve credit for crafting a story that really stays with you.

As a final note I have to say that so rarely do I come across a book that uses such painfully outdated terminology. I realize that words evolve and their meanings change with the times, but damn, the fates did not look favorably on this poor man's word choice. For instance:

“After a time he fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy.”
page 99

Or how about this gem:

“And then, as so often before, the gay children dragged him from his tree. As so often before, but never again.

He had brought nuts for the boys...
page 136

I realize I must be hopelessly immature to find these things as funny as I do, but I can't help myself.

The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.

Peter was not quite like the other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremor ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, 'To die will be an awfully big adventure.'

page 125

106. [GN]
Welcome to the Real World
by. Angela Melick

The second collection of Angela Melick's webcomic Wasted Talent, this time chronicling her post-college experiences.

As you know by now, I always make a point of buying the collections of my favorite webcomics. Because if they can't buy food then they can't make webcomics. Simple as that.

You might recall that I read this webcomic's first book, We Are the Engineers, earlier in the year. Actually I'll just provide the link to that one (it's #47) as much of what I said about the comic there applies just as much here.

While the first collection contained her strips about her time at college, this one details her life immediately afterwards. Living on your own, paying bills, trying to find a job: all that fun stuff. I really like how each of these collections really does have an overarching sense of theme to it.

There are a few jokes that seem more like an in-joke than anything else, but there's only a few of them.

I want a mug-sized coffee, lady, fill 'er up.

But, liiiiike...a large won't fit!

Having twice as much cup as coffee isn't a 'fit' either!

You wouldn't buy clothes that way!

Pour your coffee like you put on your clothes, m'kay?

from Wasted Talent strip #333


  1. ooooh, the layout of the comment box has changed..I think I like it.

    ohhhh my God, thank you for posting about Scary Stories, I vividly remember being terrified by those illustrations but extremely frustrated that I couldn't recall the title. Memories!

    Wee Free Men=amazing. Will try to remember that one.

    I also saw We Have Always Lived in the Castle on Joey's list, and kinda wanted to read it. Gotta love dark fairy tales.

    1. Haha, glad I could help.

      Yeah, I changed up the comment system, because this way allows you to reply to comments. Like I'm doing now for example.