August Reviews

A wild graphic novel appears! I had every intention of reading graphic novels again (my friend very kindly bought me a collection of Watchmen) but I was always intimidated by the size of the universes that comics have built. Especially Marvel, which has a continuous universe since inception. But my brother and I got digging and we found a list for where newbs can get stuck in.

I had a stint where I collected Japanese comics so now I’m turning my attention back to superheroes. Soon I want to look into non-superhero comics (got my eyes on you Saga.)

Okay, without further ado, August:

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole [3.5/5 stars]

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Huh. I put this as four stars but in retrospect it just misses it. Why? There’s no plot or characterisation to speak of. What we get instead is essentially an observers brief foray into Nigeria, in particular Lagos which is interesting as it is shocking. The prose is spare with a gently burning passion. It read more as journalistic writing than fiction, which is pertinent because some people have stated that it reads as a thinly-veiled “fictionalisation” of Cole’s own story: a man who left Nigeria for America as a youth and is revisiting it later in life. I don’t mind too much, especially with the short chapters interspersed with some of Cole’s photos.

So overall, good writing and subjects, no real sense of character—I barely remembered the narrator’s family, for example. That’s a bit of a deal breaker for me, sadly.

House of M: Written by Brian Michael Bendis [4/5 stars] (Full credits through THIS link.)

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Like superheroes? Like crossovers of various Marvel properties? Want a good plot and art? This is the book for you. I’m going to have to withhold a more detailed analysis/breakdown for when I’ve read more comics to compare the style to: obviously the rules are going to differ to novels, with obvious visual advantages but some storytelling deficits.

This is a collection of the eight stories that make up this arc in the Marvel Universe. For a newbs first foray into Marvel after about 15 years, I enjoyed myself quite a bit and did make me want to see what’s after this. Have a peek.

The Silver Tide by Jen Williams [4/5 stars]

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And so comes to an end a story of friendship and adventure. This book demonstrated Williams’ growth as writer which keeps rewarding readers with more fun, being the vision of what a final book should be, and what I imagine she hoped her first book to be. This one deals with time but in a way that keeps the concept surprisingly fresh.

So long, Black Feather Three. A touching and wholly “right” ending to a solid series. I’ll be definitely sure to check out Williams’ next trilogy (starting with The Ninth Rain, the book that put Williams on my map). Probably starting when book two drops next year.

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April Reviews

This month was a good one. I liked April’s book a lot.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami [4/5 stars]

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From the opening lines, I am struck at the readability of this book. The prose guides the reader through with careful fluidity. We as the audience are addressed as an observer as if we’re watching a film. In fact, the way he describes scenes is through the lens of an imagined camera as it moves through the spaces in the book. It’s like we’re being watched while watching. It’s very self-aware and less jarring than it sounds. It works by giving the book a very cinematic feel. I often felt as though I was watching a translation of a film onto the page, the various scenes para-real, film-like.

Set in Tokyo, the book focuses on a cast of characters over the course of one night as the title indicates: after dark. They all have their own problems and backstories that develop as time moves on. What’s made clear are the divisions of reality that come to the fore in the night, inner darkness—violence, ill intent—that can hide in the pureness of day but is exposed at night. Like occupying a different world. There are some surreal elements as well which I enjoyed.

What I loved as well is the idea of people as both individuals but part of a whole, like cells in a body of the city. Very enjoyable stuff.

Also, of course we have Murakamisms in abundance: the quiet, unassuming protagonist, characters with serious/mysterious backstories, jazz, etc. No talking animals or weird sex scenes though.

The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams [4/5 stars]

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This was plain and simple an improvement of the first book in the sequence of the Copper Cat: it tightens the focus of the book to one setting and the consequences that develop over the course of it. A surprising amount of stuff is covered over the course of this second volume which I’m uncertain if I liked or not. I experienced a bit of a lull in the middle but it was for the most part fun and inventive in just the right amount. I do wish that the antagonist was a.) not spoiled in the blurb (!!!!!!) and b.) a bit more fleshed out. Their defeat was fairly underwhelming, I have to admit. Otherwise, though, I was very pleased with how much better it was. Williams clearly knows how to build a world and make you care about the cast.

Also, I love how things fit together without relying too much of the previous book. It definitely deepens the experience by starting from the first book but I could easily see a new reader starting here with little difficulty.

 

Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger [4/5 stars]

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A short story and novella concerning the Glass family focusing on the eponymous characters, respectively. I said in a earlier review of this but I felt like I was reading a play or the script for a film (that makes two books this time around!). This for me is more a treatise arguing for authenticity in life and spirit. The way the ideas develop mostly through prose, conversations between speakers that are out of sync with one another. The methods of communication was very naturalistic to me (although the use of italics felt overused in a lot of cases—also what’s up with Zooey’s rudeness to his mom? Man. Learn some respect, haha), characters sorting through problems in a believable way (and pace), hence why I thought film/play. The translation could be pretty easy, I think.

I don’t think it’s for everyone but man did I learn a thing or two from it, both as a writer and as a person. For a lot of people, Salinger might seem to didactic, in your face with the Lesson of the book but I genuinely felt a hardened of my spirit when I was done. I think I want to re-read Catcher now.

I’m also pleased to learn that the Glass family is a saga so I’ll jump into that next story when I can.

(Interestingly I caught the influence Salinger had on David Foster Wallace with the Glass family. It’s interesting to see the links between authors I think.)

 

March Reviews

Last month was a slower month than February despite the fact it was longer? I suppose it happens. Here’s what I’ve been reading!

The Copper Promise by Jen Williams [3/5 stars]

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Don’t let that star rating deter you. This book is a lot of fun. So much so, that I borrowed its sequel from the library long before I’d even finished this one. So why didn’t it get top marks?

Let’s go back a bit: The Copper Promise was initially a short story about a group of individuals on an adventure into an ancient citadel and it … shows. Well, the book works kind of fine, but it doesn’t hang together as well as you might hope. The through-line of a continuous story across the four parts (or novellas) was nice for a sense of some continuity but some threads were more tenuously connected than others. Because of that, some things didn’t need to happen whatsoever.

Also, sadly the focus on adventure meant they flitted across the book’s world meant that I couldn’t soak into much of its locales in depth, or appreciate certain events that happened, which is a shame because there are flourishes of some really cool stuff that would have been heavy-hitting had there been more careful build up. The focus is more of the world’s history which is well-drawn. Place needn’t be your number one, especially if you don’t have a fixed one in place, but I wish there was more anchoring. They seemed to be in one place for only a tiny amount of time, which was a shame. What I’m saying is that having more development of the places they were going would have made it better.

Also, there are a surprising amount of unnecessary POVs (one-time characters who had zero bearing on the plot, for example).

But—and this a big but—the other aspects are an utter delight. Even when the story was slowing down to weird side streets and avenues, the writing was breezy and unobtrusive. Details were pared down and chapters were short, which made it quick to get through, although I did feel its size towards the end. And Bezcavar. And the griffins. Wydrin, and having one of the main cast be gay (and it not define who they were!)—all really cool!

Overall, it was a fun ride and I’m currently reading its sequel which structure-wise is so far improved upon the major gripes I had with its predecessor. You’ll hear about it soon enough.

Economics by James Forder (Beginners Guides) [3/5 stars]

I’ll confess my disappointment.

What I thought I was getting: an accessible introduction to economics for the uninitiated. What I got: was a strikingly obscure one in places. This is not to say that there weren’t lucid moments—quite the opposite. But Forder had a habit of running away with a long train of abstraction that didn’t do well for my understanding. Difficult subjects can be explained well and points of this book were not. It definitely could have benefited from more practical examples to illustrate points more clearly, for that is when I could understand Forder’s presentation of ideas.

Despite that, I did learn a few things about economics and what it can and can’t do. Also, a huge amount of respect for his critique of economic and, to a larger extent, academic “priesthood” (or elitism). It had me grinning. I do feel slightly more confident in exploring economics but sadly not as much as the sweet, sweet promise that the book offered.