Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book List 2016: January/February

Wow. You would not believe just how little Blogger wanted this post to be finished. I tell you what, making anything look halfway decent on this thing is so much harder than it appears. Heaven forbid someone wants proper punctuation! Or various pieces of text in different styles!


I tried to fix it all up, but ended up getting really fed up with the process. So if you see any instances of text suddenly getting bigger or smaller or not quite fitting right; just know that that was the fault of this dumb site and not me!

* * * = Re-read

- ARC - ARC - = Advanced Reading Copy. Unfinalized versions of books sent out ahead of publication for promotional purposes. They’re still technically works in progress and you’re not supposed to quote them directly.


Furiously Happy:
A Funny Book About Horrible Things
by. Jenny Lawson

Mental Illness — Humor — Taxidermy

A collection of humorous essays from Jenny Lawson about trying to cope with mental illness by attempting to make the good moments so insanely good that they’ll carry you through the bad ones.

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I know that one should see things as their own entities and not compare them, but I just can’t help myself! This book reminded me a lot of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. (Sure, that one’s a comic, this one isn’t, but still.)

Brosh is a far superior story-teller, which cast an unfortunate shadow over this book for me. But to Lawson’s credit I liked how she tries to engage with the reader more. By doing so she attempts less to tell her own story, and more to use her story as a tool to help people (even if only to make them laugh).

“How can we be expected to properly judge ourselves? We know all of our worst secrets. We are biased, and overly critical, and occasionally filled with shame. So you’ll have to just trust me when I say that you are worthy, important, and necessary. And smart.

You may ask how I know and I’ll tell you how. It’s because right now? YOU’RE READING. That’s what the sexy people do. Other, less awesome people might currently be in their front yards chasing down and punching squirrels, but not you. You’re quietly curled up with a book designed to make you a better, happier, more introspective person.

You win. You are amazing.”

Notorious RBG:
The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
by. Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

Supreme Court—Powerful Women—Feminism

A biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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When it comes to biographies about noteworthy political figures I always picture large 400+ page tomes. This book is not one of those. And that’s one of the things I liked about it. It’s short, it’s to the point, it’s interesting. It’s definitely biased in favor of Justice Ginsburg, but it never gets so in-depth for that to really make too much of a difference.

My favorite parts by far were the annotated copies of Justice Ginsberg’s dissents. I’m not all that knowledgeable when it comes to the law, so having them explain the references and tones of the various points was really fascinating to me.

Those views, these court made clear in Casey, ‘are no longer consistent with our understanding of the family, the individual, or the Constitution.’ Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right to ‘participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.’ Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to ‘their ability to control their reproductive lives.’ Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.

*Here RBG is pointedly reminding Kennedy of the words he signed onto in Casey, from he was now departing.

**To RBG, abortion rights are about women’s equality, not ‘privacy,’ a concept the court had slowly begun to recognize too. This is the most direct and sustained statement of this idea in a Supreme Court opinion.

-Excerpt from RBG’s Dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart, pg 134

Beware of Cat:
and other encounters of a letter carrier
by. Vincent Wyckoff

Mail Carrier — Life Stories — Minneapolis

A retired letter carrier from Minneapolis recounts some of the interesting stories of his time on the beat.

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We all tell stories though, right? We tell each other stories about what happened to us at work, about what we heard someone say on the bus, etc. But it takes a real storyteller to turn these things into things people want to gather round and listen to.

The stories in this book? Well, these are just things that happened. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t ever interesting or humorous in their own way. But it is to say that you’d probably never go pay to hear your neighbor’s wacky work stories performed.

So take from that what you will.

“There are dozens of wonderful dogs living on my route. Some of them bark like demons at everyone else but whimper and whine impatiently as I approach their yards. Lady, a big black lab, sits at the window each day waiting for my truck to pull up at the corner. Then she runs to get her owner to let her out so she can greet me at the gate. There’s an old, gray-faced beagle that bays with delight when he sees me, and a miniature collie that dances in circles with excitement. On any given day, I probably meet and talk to more dogs than people.”

Pothole Confidential:
My Life as Mayor of Minneapolis
by. R.T. Rybak

Minneapolis — Mayor — Politics

The autobiography of the former mayor of Minneapolis.

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Yes, okay, the cover is a little bent. I may or may not have fallen asleep on it at one point or another...okay? You’ve found me out! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, Nosy McNoserson?

In other news, I think R.T. Rybak is a pretty cool dude. Not in the sense that I’d want to hang out with him, after all he loves politics and getting plenty of healthy exercise and I enjoy sitting on my ass telling my computer about the various things I sat on my ass doing. But nevertheless, when I was younger (and he was still in office) Rybak was the kind of approachable political figure that made you realize that politicians don’t have to be stuffy, power-hungry elites. They can be down to earth people who have the drive and vision (and let’s face it, narcissism) to believe they can make the world a better place for everyone.

Which is apparently a really hard thing to do when you’re trying to wrangle something as large and unwieldy as an entire city. I appreciated that he didn’t just focus on his victories, but also (albeit to a lesser extent) mentioned his failures as well.

The book starts out a bit slow and with a bad case of what I call Short-of-Breath writing. Sobby writing is when the author can’t maintain a chapter for more than a couple of pages and it is generally a tell-tale sign of a writer without lots of experience. However, once it gets into his run for office it starts to improve greatly in that regard.

I don’t know what to say really. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who isn’t from Minnesota, but I quite enjoyed it. It gave me a cool look at what was going down behind-the-scenes during some of my hometown’s biggest moments, demonstrated what it is that a mayor actually does, told some interesting stories, and even gave me some good laughs.


This Census Taker
by. China Miéville

Mystery — Small Boy — Murder Investigation

When a young boy’s mother disappears he is convinced his father killed her, but no one  believes him. Everyone, that is, except the rogue census-taker who insists on knowing where everyone is.

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This one took me by surprise as it has such a different feel than I’m used to from Miéville. At its heart it’s got a somewhat Neil Gaiman-y urban fairytale vibe and it focuses much more on atmosphere than it does on its plot or characters. None of this is a criticism per se, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

Speaking of what I wasn’t expecting: this book is really short! A fact that comes back to haunt its readers when the brevity results in a number of questions left unanswered! When I finished it I was left feeling kind of short-changed, but...

I dunno.

I’ve got to admit that this one got inside my head and I’ve thought about it quite a lot since I read it. Regardless of what I thought I wanted from it, it delivered a powerful story that stuck with me. The tone of it all just sinks in through your pores and leaves you with mysteries to ponder about and a new air with which to see the world in. 

“My father passed me. He looked briefly at me as you might at a stump or a broken machine or anything that’s specific only in that it’s in your way, to walk around it as my father did me.

I knew he was taking the dead bird to the rubbish hole, that he’d throw it up so it would curve as it had to and descend; I knew that day my father was feeding only the darkness.”

Moon Palace
by. Paul Auster

60s/70s NYC — Family Roots — Identity

When the most important person in his life dies, Marco Stanley Fogg’s own life begins down a strange road full of serendipity and heartbreak.

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The bookstore I work at took its name from the Chinese restaurant mentioned in the this book and that’s the kind of weird information that brings up more questions than it answers.

Moon Palace is a novel that alternatingly lifts its characters up with one hand and then smacks them right back down with the other. Or as the owner of the shop said to me, “...It’s not a happy story.”

Overall, I’m glad I read it, but it is of a genre that I more often than not have a difficult time getting into. I’m almost positive there is an industry term for said genre, but I have absolutely no idea what it is! They’re the types of stories that are mostly set entirely within the realm of reality, but are told in a rather fable-esque style? You know, that realm between straight drama and magical realism? Like...David Benioff’s City of Thieves or Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay? Or, in a slightly lesser extent Dave Eggers’ A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius?

So if that’s your jam, I whole heartedly recommend you check this one out.

“‘You need money, you gotta work for it. The way I see it, you just sit around on your ass all day. Like some chimp in the zoo, you know what I mean? You can’t pay rent if you don’t have no job.’

‘But I do have a job. I get up in the morning just like everyone else, and then see if I can live through another day. That’s full-time work. No coffee breaks, no weekends, no benefits or vacations. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the salary is pretty low.’

‘You sound like a fuck-up to me. A smart college boy fuck-up.’”

The Tale of Despereaux
by. Kate DiCamillo

Knights — Rodents — Princesses

No one expects anything from the little mouse Despereaux. He’s much too short, his ears are far too big, and his head is always in the clouds. But when the princess he loves gets kidnapped, Desperaux is the only one who can save her.

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I was all set to say some nice things about this book, but I cannot forgive how it continuously slanders rats. I’m used to stories portraying rats as evil, but she took it to another level. I’ve had rats as pets and they are amazing. Yet this book just kept saying crap like:

“Have you ever had hold of the tail of a rat? At best, it is an unpleasant sensation, scaly and cold, similar to holding on to a small, narrow snake.”

and even,

“Reader, in the spirit of honesty, I must utter a difficult and unsavory truth: Rats are not beautiful creatures. They are not even cute. They are, really, rather nasty beasts...”

Which leads me to the conclusion that Kate DiCamillo has never seen a real rat before? I’m not sure how she managed that, but it’s the only explanation that makes any sense. Whatever the case may be, one thing remains clear:

 She.  Was.  100%.  WRONG.

So screw this book.

Timmy Failure #1:
Mistakes Were Made
by. Stephen Pastis

11-yo Detective — Polar Bear — Hijinks

A young boy named Timmy Failure has started a detective agency with his pet polar bear Total. With a duo this good you just know your case is going to end with Total Failure!

#2: Now Look What You’ve Done
#3: We Meet Again

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Now I know what you’re thinking: "Stephen Pastis? The guy who does the comic strip Pearls Before Swine? He made a kids book? The guy who made jokes like this?" And the answer is YES! He totally did!

And, if you’re anything like me, you’re now rather curious to see just what these books are like.

[Spoiler alert: They’re pretty great.]

They’re these ridiculous detective stories for young readers that careen between light-hearted noir-parody:

“I look around to make sure we’re still alone. 

‘But I don’t judge, Angel. Because I’m a detective. And I learned long ago that the moral failings of my fellow man are none of my concern.’ 

Angel breathes into my face. It is the smell of dirty cash and cheap motels.”
-#3, p56

and outright cartoon silliness:

So then I had the Totalmobile. 
That was a wagon pulled by my business partner. 
But then my mother sold it (the wagon, not the business partner) 
So now I just let my business partner drag me through the streets on a rope.
-#2, pg 14
As Pastis puts it, “[Timmy] is not good at anything he does, and yet thinks he’s the center of the universe.” And yet lurking under all the goofiness are some really interesting elements. Like the fact that Timmy has a single mother who’s trying her best, but they often don’t have a lot of money. She also has a dating life that Timmy generally has mixed feelings about. Timmy himself is suggested to be more than just cartoonish simpleton, but to actually have a legitimate learning disability (coupled with a complete disinterest in school). And the stories will even have these occasional moments of awww-incuding sweetness.

The first volume is probably my favorite. The second volume is a bit weak to be honest. However, volume 3 is fantastic and I really liked the way to developed the character of Timmy’s “rival” detective Corrina Corrina.

“Chapter 2

The Candy Man Can’t ’Cause He’s Missing All His Chocolate

The call is from Gunnar. Classmate, neighbor, and now just another guy missing his Halloween candy. I get a lot of candy cases. They’re not headline grabbing, but they pay cash money. So I wake up my partner and hop on the Failuremobile.

I should say a word about the Failuremobile. It’s not actually called a Failuremobile. It’s called a Segway. And it belongs to my mother. She won it in a raffle. And she has set forth some restrictions on when and how I can use it.


I thought that was vague. So I use it. So far, she hasn’t objected. Mostly because she doesn’t know.

That touches upon one of the founding principles of Total Failure, Inc., which I’ve memorialized in ink on the sole of my left shoe.

Keep Mom in Dark
-pg. 6-7

by. K.A. Applegate

Children — Poverty — Imaginary Friend

A young boy’s imaginary friend Crenshaw returns to him when his family becomes destitute.

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I really like how this book tackled issues of poverty and how it works to show its readers just what that can be like for a family. About not knowing if you’ll have dinner tonight and having to live out of your family’s car. However, the crux of the story is made to be this imaginary friend. Yet there’s no reason for Crenshaw to be a part of the story at all! There’s an attempt for him to serve a role akin to the monster in A Monster Calls, but he’s not anywhere near developed enough for that to work.

Have you ever seen the cartoon Bob’s Burgers? Originally it was about a family of cannibals who had a burger restaurant, but then the studio told the creators that they should ditch the whole cannibal angle because was just superfluous. It got in the way of the good thing they had going.

Well, that’s how I feel about Crenshaw. You don’t need this whole imaginary friend angle. It sounds catchy, but in reality it’s just distracting from the good thing you’ve got going.

At least, for me it is. The book is aiming at a much younger audience than I am, so it’s quite probable that I’m just too darn old to be able to appreciate this from a kid’s point of view.

“Here’s the thing: I am not an imaginary friend kind of guy.
Seriously. This fall I go into fifth grade. At my age, it’s not good to have a reputation for being crazy.

I like facts. Always have. True stuff. Two-plus-two-equals-four facts. Brussel-sprouts-taste-like-dirty-gym-socks facts.

Okay, maybe that second one’s just an opinion. And anyway, I’ve never eaten a dirty gym sock so I could be wrong.”

Every Exquisite Thing
by. Matthew Quick

High Schoolers — Passion — Mental Illness

A high schooler discovers an obscure novel that changes her life. But when she gets a chance to meet the author she soon learns that our perceptions of ourselves and others, rarely reflect reality.

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Matthew Quick is really good at creating flawed characters. Other people so often will try to give their characters flaws, but end up just giving them BS flaws like Clumsy. Yet Quick’s characters have real flaws, like Selfish, Petty, or (quite often) some form of mental illness that requires therapy and/or medication to assist with.

Just like lots of real people! It’s really quite refreshing to see.

Overall I have some mixed feelings about this one though. I enjoyed a lot of it, but I was also really annoyed with a lot of it too. It starts off strong, but gets really weird at the end. But more than anything else, it plants its flag a little too deep into the territory of Catcher in the Rye. And that’s dangerous territory to be in; it leads to the inevitable question: “Why aren’t I just reading Catcher in the Rye instead of this?”

And I don’t have an answer to that. Honestly, you’d probably be better off just reading Catcher in the Rye.

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Night Watch
by. Terry Pratchett
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Police — Satire — Fantasy

While attempting to apprehend a dangerous murderer named Carcer, Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of the city watch, gets thrown back in time and is forced to fill the role of his childhood role model on the historical eve before the city is set to rip itself apart in revolt...or will it?

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Hey! Hey, everyone! Look at this book!

This is my favorite book!

It’s Terry Pratchett at his absolute best. The characters are well thought out and story is like a bodacious pair of pants: tight, hard for anyone to  take their eyes off of, and with a great end.

The satire regarding politics and the dangers of a abusive police force is more poignant now than it ever was. It’s got adventure, it’s got fantasy, it’s got time travel, it’s got laughs, it’s got action, it’s got poignant moments that really make you think about the world, it’s got my favorite literary character appearing side by side with a younger version of my favorite literary’s got everything!

I love this book so much that I can’t possibly begin to explain to you the myriad of ways that I adore it. But I do! And it is far and away my favorite book and if you happen to disagree then I don’t even want to know about such heresy.

“Vimes was still staring at the instruments.

‘You use all these?’ he said.

‘Yes. Some of them are experimental, though,’ said Lawn, busying himself at his worktable.

‘Well, I’d hate for you to use this on me,’ said Vimes, picking a strange instrument like a couple of paddles tied with string. Lawn sighed.

‘Sergeant, there are no circumstances where the things you’re holding could possibly be used on you,’ he said, his hands working busily. ‘They are...of a feminine nature.’

‘For the seamstresses?’ said Vimes, putting the pliers down in a hurry.

‘Those things? No, the ladies of the night take pride these days in never requiring that sort of thing. My work with them is more of, shall we say, a preventative nature.’

‘Teaching them to use thimbles, that sort of thing?’

‘Yes, it’s amazing how far you can push a metaphor, isn’t it....’

Vimes prodded the paddles again. They were quite alarming.”

by. Imogen Binnie

Trans issues — Drama Unusual Narration

A woman’s life begins falling apart around her causing her to have to take a journey of self-discovery.

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You know there’s a lot to this book I really liked. For one thing, I really liked the main character! She works in a bookshop, loves to ride her bike, and doesn’t know what she wants out of life so she tries to just stay where she is. Sure she does a bunch of drugs and is trans, so I can’t relate to those parts, but still!

I also like how the book is actually rather informative about some of the issues trans people have to deal with.

The thing that really turned me off on it though, was the ending. When it comes to books ending badly there are two types: 1) The books with poorly executed endings, and 2) Books that have no “ending,” they just end. This book is a perfect example of #2. There’s no resolution of any sort, no climax, no nothing. It genuinely felt like the author was writing the book, realized that she had to end it, had no idea what to do, and just leapt from the moving car that was her novel.

There’s also quite a lot of monologuing going on in the book. There is so much monologuing that the main character actually jokes about how much she monologues.

And yet I have a sense that perhaps this is one of those books like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man wherein everything is a metaphor for something else. Perhaps the reason it was narrated from certain people’s points of view, but nevertheless always spoke of them in the 3rd person was to illustrate their disassociation between the trans identity they had created for themselves versus the original one society had forced upon them? Maybe the lack of ending was trying to show that life is a constant struggle to find purpose and identity and there are no grand solutions. The characters decision to not move forward left them stuck and unmoving in their lives and in the story itself!

Who can say!?

“You know I love my bike. I’ve just been thinking, I don’t think my bike is just this thing that sits outside the bookstore rusting, or inside the kitchen, rusting. That bike is, like, the only way I know to really be in touch with my life, with the world outside myself. It sounds totally hippie, but Steph, all I ever want to do is ride my bike, and there’s a reason for that. I think I’m only happy when I’m alone.

Which was the wrong thing to say, or at least the wrong way to put that. Though maybe there is no good way to say I’m only happy when I’m alone. Steph's teary eyes spill over.

Maria says, I didn’t mean that that way. I just mean, I’m barely here in my life, and I need to figure out what’s not working.

Everybody feels that way! Steph yells.”
-page 72

Apocalypse Baby
by. Virginie Despentes

Mystery — European — Nihilism

When her surveillance gig suddenly becomes a manhunt, Lucie is forced to enlist the help of a legendary P.I. in order to solve the case.

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There’s something I really enjoy about Virginie Despentes’ writing. It’s like hearing stories from the radical feminist French aunt you never knew you wanted. The one who you tell your problems to and she laughs at you, pours you a glass of wine, then tells you to get the fuck over yourself.

The book is such a strange sort of mystery, because it really isn’t about the mystery at all. It’s almost a sort of Rashomon-ic tale, the plot is always advancing, but the story switches between every character’s POV so it ends up giving you every side to story. Which is a great showcase for one of Despentes’ secret writing abilities: she’s extremely adept at seeing the worst in people. I know that sounds weird, but trust me on this.

She has this weird gift for getting inside people’s minds and knowing what it is about their thoughts that is making them terrible. It’s one of those things that you don’t realize other author’s are doing poorly until you see someone doing it really well. And in a detective-esque story like this one it works really well. There’s just something about embracing the worst in a character that makes for really well developed characters.

As the name might suggest, it’s a rather nihilistic tale. It almost is a sort of outright playful mockery of the detective genre in general. Laughingly saying, “Haha, you think this is important? That one missing teenager matters in the grand scheme of things? Because, guess what? It doesn’t.” As such I really wouldn’t recommend it if you’re in the mood for an actual detective story. But if you’re in the mood for a tale about the underbelly of Europe and the human condition? Well then, look no further.

“Im aware of her back, her body against mine. To be able to clasp my hands around her belly, pretending to be afraid of falling off, makes me deliriously happy. Everything becomes more interesting when you want someone. When it happens, you get this special kind of intoxication. Its been a long time. I tell myself its as good as when I was fourteen. But thats wrong. Being fourteen was never as good as this. On the contrary, it was a tough, lonely sort of time, the worst moment of my life. I was never a little princess. My life was full of humiliations, brutal prohibitions, failures, and the inability to do things. I was scared of everything when I was fourteen, with nothing to protect me.”
-pg. 260


The Divine
written by. Boaz Lavie
art by. Asaf & Tomer Hanuka

Magical Realism — Based on a True Story — Child Soldiers
Loosely based on the legends surrounding the real life child soldiers/guerrilla army leaders Johnny and Luther Htoo, The Divine tells the story of an explosive technician who accepts a job going into a warzone, but when he encounters a strange pair of child soldiers he has to rethink his position.


I gotta admit I was intrigued by the concept. All in all though, the story is way too short. It kind of feels like a creative writing assignment more than a real short story.

ASSIGNMENT: “Find a photograph in the newspaper and create a short story from it.”

Yet I’ve got to give it some credit. It does manage to create some interesting characters that I would have liked to see more of and it does have some really memorable artistic moments.

“Just...promise me you’ll be here when the baby comes.”

One-Punch Man
vol: 2-4
written by. ONE
art by. Yusuke Murata

Superhero —Manga—Parody
Saitama (a hero so strong he can defeat any enemy with just one punch) begins to get annoyed that no one knows who he is despite the countless times he’s saved the city and decides to join the hero association along with his newly acquired apprentice.

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If you’re not a fan of shonen-style manga, you probably won’t enjoy this series, but if you are? Consider them a must read. It is a hilarious and loving parody of the genre. I know it seems like a series about a hero who can defeat any enemy with a single punch would be much fun, but they totally pull it off.

“I’m a hero for fun.

For personal reasons, I have to beat you guys up.”
-vol.2, pg.147

Batman Beyond 2.0
vol.1: Rewired
vol.2: Justice Lords Beyond
vol.3: Mark of the Phantasm

written by. Kyle Higgins, Cristos Gage, Alec Siegel
pencils by. Eric Wright, Thony Silas, Dexter Soy, Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester, Craig Rousseau

Batman — Action/Adventure — Near Future

In a future Gotham Bruce Wayne has become too old to be Batman and has passed the cowl to his protege Terry McGinnis.

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This new series’ take on Batman Beyond isn’t nearly as good as the last one was. They promptly implement this whole parallel universe storyline (a plot device that is greatly overused in the genre) and then just refuse to let it go. And then they take a trip to the back benches of the Batman universe, to the unfortunate Long Halloween rip-off that was Mask of the Phantasm film? Please no.

What’s worse is that this series writes over the events from the other Batman Beyond comic series! I was really hoping to see more from the cool new characters introduced in that one, but NOPE. I mean, it IS still Batman Beyond, so I can’t help but like it on some level. But it just irks me to no end that they erased the better version for this.

“I want you to listen to me carefully, Terry.

You’re not as good as Bruce. And you may never be.

And you should be thankful for that.”

“Why would I ever be thankful for that?”

“You’ve been keeping people at arm’s length for months. What’s worse, when they get between you and being push them away even further.

Like you did to me on the raft.

Like you’ve been doing to your mom and brother.

Like you did to Dana.

You’re hiding behind duty and sacrifice, but deep down...that’s not what this is. I know because I went through the same thing.

You need to remember what makes you who you are, Terry. You need to accept and embrace those things.

Don’t let what happened to Davis happen to you.

Don’t let the things you hate about Bruce...

...turn you into Bruce.”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
by. Katsuhiro Otomo
*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
Neo-Tokyo — Science-fiction — Action packed

In the epic conclusion Kaneda and his friends must rally together to defeat Tetsuo as his powers begin to amplify to levels outside his control.

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It sure took me long enough to get this volume!

I still can’t get over the fact that my library district only has one copy of each volume. It’s AKIRA! Why is no one reading it? Other comics are still referencing it to this day and its impact on the field is massive.

If you’ve never read it I highly recommend you rectify that. Japanese comics are the masters of kinetic story-telling. They’re often meant to be read quickly and will devote lots of pages and panels to action sequences, so that you become the animator as you’re flying through the panels, and it gives the action a much higher frame rate which makes everything that much more cinematic and thrilling. And Akira is the best of them all at it.

So many people I’ve met have seen the movie, but have never read the comic. Now the movie is rather impressive in its own right (if nothing else you should see it for the animation [the style is a bit dated now, but it’s on the ones handdrawn animation!]). And the movie was even directed by the creator of the comic himself! However, because the movie came out before the comic was done it only tells half the story.

I remember when I first saw the film I was left feeling really confused at what the heck I had just watched. In fact my confusion turned me of from wanting to check out the comic. But when I finally gave it a try I was shocked because suddenly it all made sense! All the holes were filled in. The story was so much bigger and more interesting. The characters were developed better. It’s just all around the superior story.

So if you ever find yourself in the mood for some epic Japanese science-fiction comics you definitely need to check out Akira.

“You mean humanity wanted to evolve again?!”


by. Jason Little

Comic strip — Homeless people — Tragic Comedy

A comic strip that emulates depression-era slapstick vagabond comics to point out the real-life plights of homeless people.

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Extremely well done, but horribly depressing.

Black River
by. Josh Simmons
Post apocalyptic — band of survivors — Female leads

A band of women try to survive in a post apocalyptic world.

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This one just wasn’t really my thing.

Similar to The Divine it felt like a creative writing assignment to me. ASSIGNMENT: “Very briefly describe a setting [location/time period/etc] and a group of characters. Then in one minute fill in each of these 20 notecards with what happens next to them. After your finished you’ll have the rest of the week draw your story out.”

It’s hard to explain the difference. But I like stories that feel...whole. Like someone gave birth to a fully formed creation that can move on its own, and the author just needs to hold its hand and teach it how to walk. But in other stories you can feel the author’s strings as they play puppet master and manipulate the events? Something like that.

“I can’t wait to see how much worse things can get--”

Y: The Last Man
[Complete series in 5 deluxe compendium volumes]
written by. Brian K. Vaughn

Science-Fiction — Adventure — 99% Female Cast

All it takes is a single moment and all over the world any lifeform with a Y chromosome suddenly drops dead. Every one, that is, except a man named Yorrick and his pet monkey Ampersand. With the world suddenly thrown into chaos Yorrick must try his best to survive and avoid being discovered.

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I was a big fan of this when it was coming out. Yet when I went to college I failed to keep up with it. Then a friend who was more on top of things than I told me the reason the story came up with for why all the men died and I thought it sounded stupid, so I never bothered finishing the series up...

...UNTIL NOW! (obviously)

Do I like the ending to this story? Honestly? No. Not really. I mean, the reasoning for the male extinction was kind of dumb, but that’s just a plot point. The real actual ending to the story is what bugs me. They did this thing I hate wherein someone stretches the story past its natural end, and it causes it to start cracking and breaking.

But in spite of the fact that it has a disappointing ending, it’s still a really great story! I mean, it’s a pretty weighty story, so the fact that it’s amazing right up to the beginning of the end? That’s a lot of quality story before things get a little wacky.

The world Vaughn creates here is legitimately one of the most interesting pieces of science fiction I’ve seen. What’s more, when looking at the story through a feminist lens it becomes all the more interesting. Because so many of the problems that are encountered in the story are a direct result of society’s sexism. The lack of a female presence in the government leaves it in shambles. The lack of female pilots and captains leaves transportation and shipping hobbled. And it continues from there. So many of the problems they encounter serves to illustrate these problems. If things were truly equal across the sexes then a lot of these things wouldn’t be issues.

“Welcome to the UNMANNED World

In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroyed every last sperm, fetus, and fully developed mammal with a Y chromosome—with the apparent exception of one young man and his pet, a male Capuchin monkey.

The ‘gendercide’ instantly exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 2.9 billion men. 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead, as are 99% of the world's landowners.

In the United States alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains did 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction workers are now deceased...though 51% of the planet’s agricultural labor force is still alive.

14 nations, including Spain and Germany, have women soldiers who have served in ground combat units. None of the United States’ nearly 200,000 female troops have ever participated in ground combat. Australia, Norway, and Sweden are the only countries that have women serving on board submarines.

In Israel, all women between the ages of 18 and 26 have performed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Force for at least one year and nine months. Before the Plague, at least three Palestinian suicide bombers had been women.

Worldwide, 85% of all government representatives are now are 100% of Catholic priests, Muslim imams, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis.”
-from series intro

Southern Bastards
vol.1: Here Was a Man
vol.2: Gridiron
written by. Jason Aaron
art by. Jason Latour

The South — Drama — Thriller

An old man begrudgingly returns to his hometown, but in doing so stirs up a whole heap of trouble that threatens to uncover all the town’s shameful secrets.

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I don’t know what my expectations were for this one, but this series definitely surpassed them.

I was initially intrigued by this series because Jason Aaron wrote it and, as you might remember, he was also the writer for all those Wolverine and the X-Men books I was reading last year.

The story starts off a little cliche; you know, the whole outsider going to a small town and defending what’s right thing? Or perhaps the story of the old man who stands up against the town bullies/criminals? And despite the cliche nature it was hard to care, because above all else it was a REALLY WELL TOLD story!

And as it went on? Wow. It just gets more and more interesting as the story progresses and begins to break out of its initial cliches and become something else entirely.

And in case you were curious: yes, both the creators are actually both from the South (one of them who still lives there and one of them who moved away).

“The longer I’m here, the more I remember why I left this place and never came back.

 It’s more like him than ever now. Whole damn town. It’s like he seeped into the water supply when he died.

I never told ya...much about my daddy, did I?
 Next time we’re together, I will.

Call me whenever you can. I gotta go.

Got somethin’ I gotta do.”
vol.1, chp.1

SuperMutant Magic Academy
by. Jillian Tamaki

High School — Magical Realism — Character-centric

The comic strip tales of the senior class of the SuperMutant Magic Academy! If you thought being a teenager was hard, try doing it as a mutant in school full of magic!

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Since I enjoyed This One Summer so much I decided I needed to see what else Jillian Tamaki had done. This turned out to be an amazing decision on my part, because it is amazing.

Its format is that of a comic strip each with each one’s own individual little comic vignettes. But Tamaki manages to do these while still providing character/plot development across the various strips and the way it’s done is just so much fun!

There’s just something about high school that keeps people coming back to tell stories set during that time of our lives. It’s a time when everything is new, feelings and hormones are at all-time highs, and we begin to feel the pressures that come with giving your life direction. Other stories try to delve into these issues in a head-on narrative, but there’s just something about the way it’s done here that really strikes a chord with me. It prevents it from getting weighted down with drama, and yet still adds that delightful weight of thoughtfulness and growth to its comedy.

What do you think of my prom dress?”

“It’s okay.”

“Only okay? What’s wrong with it!”

“I dunno. I guess I like your regular clothes better.
You look weird.”


It’s like you’re trying to look ‘pretty’ or whatever.”

“...That’s EXACTLY how I’m trying to look!”

Giant Days:
volume 1
written by. John Allison
drawn by. Lissa Treiman
colors by. Whitney Cogar

College life — Female Leads — Com-Dram

Three friends at university humorously attempt to deal with this thing called college life.

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If you’re already with familiar with John Allison from his work on Scary-Go-Round and Bad Machinery, then you know what to expect from this humorous look at college life. For the rest of you, you should know that Allison is extremely adept at fun characters, wacky hijinks, and enjoyable banter.

Although it must be said that his weak point is that his skills at creating fun moments in the present come at the cost to his ability to effectively create a larger overarching storylines.

“I might go back and see if Susan is all right.”

“Don’t you want to come and box at the gym?”

“I’m a pacifist, Esther.

And I’m worried that if I start punching, I might like it. Something inside me might snap and I might kill someone.”

“That almost never happens. It gets all your frustrations out though.”

“Maybe another day...
...when I feel 100% confident that it won’t unleash an unstoppable killing machine.”

“All right. It just helps when I’m thinking about the boy, you know?”

“Do you think about him a lot?”

“Quite a lot. I may never love again.”

Oh, you will! Try loving something small first. Like a paperclip.”

The Sculptor
by. Scott McCloud

Struggling artists — Rom-Dram — Deal With the Devil

A struggling artist makes a deal with the devil; in exchange for shortening his life to 200 more days he’ll be given amazing new skills. But when the man finds love, will the price he paid for his art be worth the cost?

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An engrossing drama with a fantastical hook. It serves up an interesting look at life and art and the conflicts that arise between them. Is it better to focus on what you’ll leave behind or to live in and appreciate the present?

I don’t really know anything about / care much about the world of high art, so those elements of the story certainly weren’t my kind of thing. And anytime a story involves someone making a deal with the devil/death/whatever it always inherently annoys me, because OF COURSE the supernatural force knows what it’s doing! People don’t just go around making people offers that in no way work out for them. Y’all deserve what you get for being so simple minded.

“Every night, I see them...these big, monstrous, beautiful things I could real I could almost reach out and touch them.

My dreams keep growing, Harry. Even while my options keep shrinking.

It’s like they’re demanding I make them. Demanding to exist...and now I’m scared I’ll never finish a single one.”

Girl in Dior
by. Annie Goetzinger

Fashion — Christian Dior — Post-WWII era

A story about Christian Dior and the impact his fashions had in a post WWII world.

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Surprising no one, fashion isn’t really my forte. And yet on an artistic level I do find it extremely intriguing. The plot is a bit mediocre, but I really enjoyed the way it showed the impact of Dior’s style.

Did I mention that Goetzinger’s fashion illustrations are gorgeous? Because they are. Clothes (like backgrounds) are one of those things that often goes overlooked in a lot of comics. Giving a character a fancy outfit means having to draw that fancy outfit over and over again. A fashion forward dress on a character would often mean making their work much more complicated than it needs to be. So there’s something rather delightful about a comic that not only illustrates fashion so well, but also showcases it!

I wouldn’t recommend you check it out for the story, but if you’ve got an interest in fashion (or fashion illustrations) I think you’ll find it to be well worth your time.

“In a machine age, dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable.”
-Christian Dior

The Private Eye
written by. Brian K. Vaughan
drawn by. Marcos Martin
colors by. Muntsa Vicente

Science Fiction — Noir — Detective
It’s 2070 and the world has changed. When the cloud burst and revealed everyone’s deepest secrets it threw the world into chaos. Now there is no internet and everyone is fiercely protective of their identity, hiding themselves behind various masks and aliases. But when a private detective stumbles onto something he shouldn’t have, it’s going to take all his wits to solve the case before someone can kill him for knowing too much.

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Wow! Okay, I loved this comic. It’s both a really interesting piece of speculative fiction and also a really fun take on the noir detective story. And as if that wasn’t enough it’s all done in a really artistically intriguing extra wide styled layout!

If for nothing else, everyone should read this for the P.I.’s millennial grandfather. He is one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve encountered in some time.

I really don’t know what else to tell you! I loved it and it’s inspired a lot of interesting questions. I mean, so many of us these days can’t imagine a pre-internet world, or a world that would turn its back on the internet, and yet...what if it did? I’ve thought about this story quite a bit since reading it, and if that’s not the sign of a great piece of sci-fi then I don’t know what is.

And I should mention that this comic about a future with no internet was originally distributed exclusively on the internet! And it was done as a pick-your-price download...and still is! So you can read it yourself for as much (or as little) as your want!

Do yourself a favor and check this sucker out from the library, or at least spend a little bit of $ to download the first issue. It’s an extremely worthwhile investment.

I’m not getting any bars. Are you getting any bars?”

“Gramps, your toy hasn’t worked in sixty years.”


“Christ they fed you kids a lot of pills.

Look, once upon a time, people stored all their deepest darkest secrets in something called ‘The Cloud,’ you remember?

Well, one day the cloud burst.”

“The fuck are you talking about?”

“You’re the one who lived through it!”

-from Chapter 1

#0: Most Wanted?
written by. Jason Latour
pencils by. Robbi Rodriguez

Super-hero — Female lead — Obligations

In an alternate timeline it was Gwen Stacey not Peter Parker that got received spider powers. But when her actions result in Peter’s death, Gwen vows to use her powers to help others.

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Spider-Gwen began as a bit of fun when the Spider-man verse did a storyline about a convergence of different alternate reality spider-mans. And yet Spider-Gwen was so intriguing and well done that it got its own comic! Unfortunately its past gives it a slight disconnect at the start. The first chapter in this volume started as just a one-shot look at the world, that then served to set up her appearance in that spider-verse storyline. So after that chapter it then jumps over all the spider-verse content to pick up her storyline after she gets back. So in true American super-hero fashion, there are a few confusing bits where she makes mentions of the events from the spider-verse saga.

But, sadly, that’s part of the genre. Things happen to your favorite characters in comics other than their own (and in series you don’t read no less) and it is just par for the course. So you’ve kind of gotta just put up with it, and either read some online synopses or just try and glaze over those references.

Yet that is really the only real problem I had with it! I am really loving this series. [Full disclosure: Spider-Man is my favorite superhero and thus I am extremely biased.] I won’t say that it departs much from the main course of Spider-man stories, but it definitely adds some very interesting elements to the adventures. For one, the protagonist being a woman definitely adds to the Spider-Man story in a meaningful way. And for two, it does a really good job at retelling the Spider-Man story in a modern setting.

Spider-Gwen is everything DC’s updated Batgirl story wishes it were (or maybe just what I wish it had been?): updated prominent female hero in a modern setting. Yet while Batgirl was painfully hipster-centric (or more likely a stereotype of what someone thought millennials would relate to?) Spider-Gwen achieves the goal of simply existing in the present-day without pandering to anyone.

“You’re doing this for the wrong reasons, Gwen.

None of this will change the past.

So long as you’re out here alone, running from the truth--

--Trouble’s gonna keep chasing you.”

Three Shadows
by. Cyril Pedrosa

Family — Loss — Fairy Tales

When an omen of doom predicts the death of his son, a father goes to great lengths to try and save his life.

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I really love the art style in this one. And the story’s quite cute to boot.

However, I’ve gotta say that it was much longer than its content could support and much of it felt rather drawn out. The beginning and ending are great though.

“In this our springtime
there is no better
there is no worse.

Blossoming branches
burgeon as they must.

Some are long,
some are short.”

Ex Machina
[the complete run]
written by. Brian K. Vaughan
pencils by. Tony Harris

Sci-Fi-ical Realism — Politics — Super-heroes

The mayor of New York City, Mitchell Hundred, has had an interesting life. After all, he was the world’s only superhero before he retired to try and help the city from within its government.

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Part superhero story, part political thriller; Ex Machina is an unusual sort of story. It ran from 2004 to 2010 with the story being set primarily between 2000-2008. It switched between the old exploits of "The Great Machine" (Hundred’s super-hero alter ego) and his time in office. Bouncing not only between eras, but also between superheroics and political intrigue.

Because of the nature of the protagonist, the story always has a science-fiction hue, but the political issues it deals with are right out of its time period: The aftermath of 9/11 (in this world The Great Machine was able to use his powers in time to prevent the plane from destroying the second tower), rogue mayors performing same sex marriages (like in 2004 in San Francisco, CA and New Paltz, NY, for instance), the backlash during the Bush/Cheney years, and more.

Like with Y: the Last Man this was one of those series I was really into back when it was coming out, but then failed to keep up with and the world spun madly on. But I wanted to see how it finally ended and luckily the local library once again was able to lend a hand.

All in all, it’s an interesting story. I’m sure it’s not up everyone’s alley, but it’s certainly unique. I liked the way the super-hero elements are set in a realistic world: one where superheroics really don’t work out the way they do in stories.

Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about the way the series ended. It kind of felt like an easy out? Brian K. Vaughan is great at coming up with epic stories, but he has a bad track record when it comes to his ability to bring those stories to a satisfactory conclusion. So you know...good luck with that, Saga!

“People blame me for Bush in his flight suit and Arnold getting elected governor, but truth is...those things would have happened with or without me.

Everyone was scared back then, and when folks are scared they want to be surrounded by heroes.

But real heroes are just a fiction we create. They don't exist outside of comic books.”
-Issue 1