Rat Queens, Vol 1: Sass & Sorcery

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Rat Queens (written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by Roc Upchurch), like Saga, is another highly rated series. I’m not really finding hidden gems, I know, but I’ve only recently gotten into the graphic novel/comic scene. In classic role-playing game fashion the four kick-ass female leads are different races and classes. There’s Betty the Smidgen rogue, Hannah the Elf mage, Violet the Dwarf fighter, and Dee the Human cleric. They make up the Rat Queens, a mercenary troupe that is doing more harm than good for their city at the moment.

Plot-wise I like where the series is going. There is one major plot line which seems like it is going some place interesting by the end of this volume. What I really enjoyed were all the subplots though. Each of the women have their own issues, families, and relationships that they are dealing with on top of the trouble they are getting into. This of course leads me to the characters themselves. All of their separate plot lines make them very interesting. I feel like a couple of their personalities run together and feel a little trope-y in this one, but the volume is fairly short and is only the first so I hope they become more unique as time goes on. I definitely see their potential even now though.

Rat Queens is a funny, sexy, action packed adventure that I’d highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t already read it!

The Miniaturist

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I have been wanting to read The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton for a long time. It always seemed like I couldn’t find it or I’d forget it was a book on my “to buy” list when I went shopping. The plot really interested me. A young girl named Petronella (Nella) marries a wealthy merchant who buys her a cabinet house (doll house) as a “distraction.” Weird things begin to happen after she order miniatures for the house. I’ve had a fascination with small toys for a long time and the elements of magical realism in the book sounded right up my alley.

I was altogether pleased with this book. I thought it was a really good story, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. I expected a lot more of the magical realism elements and on that front I was a little disappointed. Though I am a fan of open endings, I wanted more explanation about the miniatures. To be honest the book was less about magical realism and more of a drama. I thought the drama between characters was good, but it wasn’t what I signed up for. If you’re expecting a lot from the miniatures then maybe give the book a pass or at least go into it knowing that it isn’t quite as advertised.

As I said though, the drama was good. The book was difficult to put down. I wanted to know more about the mysteries. There were some good plot twists that actually took me by surprise and overall I enjoyed the characters. Most of the supporting cast were great. The main character, Nella, was a little flat and sometimes annoyed me with her repetitive thoughts, but she had some growth that was mostly believable by the end. The writing was good. It painted a good picture, read fast, and wasn’t overly bloated or flowery. I didn’t know how accurate the historical information was, but it felt real and gritty. However, the plot had almost too much to say. It was about the power of women in this time period, but it also tried to comment on religion, closed mindedness, greed, and a lot more. The pace was fast and it felt like tragedy after tragedy and mystery after mystery unfolded. Some people may like that, but I prefer a slower pace to book most of the time.

I was pleased with the novel. It didn’t measure up to my expectations and I felt that it could have done more with the miniatures and the miniaturist, but it was still a very good read.

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1 & 2

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The Wicked + The Divine has a great premise. Every ninety years twelve gods are reincarnated as pop stars. They inspire the pop culture of their time, have rabid fans, and scholars are devoted to studying them and their reemergence. They burn bright for two years and then… they die. Even though I heard mixed things about this series I couldn’t resist trying it for myself and even though it was not amazing I wasn’t disappointed either.

As I said, idea behind The Wicked + The Divine is great. I love seeing a collection of different gods and goddesses being pop icons. I love how the gods are interpreted to fit into a modern setting. The art is amazing and the character designs are to die for. There is so much I like about this series, but for me the problem is in the execution.

The first volume threw me into the middle of everything. I felt lost. I can appreciate an energetic start, but this was a little much. I didn’t know enough about the world or the characters to understand exactly what was going on or what/who the characters were talking about. Suddenly there are nine gods and many humans to keep track of and there was not enough time to get to know everyone and keep track of the fast pace of the plot and lore. The second volume seems a bit more smooth, but maybe by then I was just acquainted enough with things to handle it better.

If I could change the story-line just a bit I think it would flow better and be easier to get into. I would start much slower and at an earlier point- like when the gods are first starting to reemerge. Then perhaps follow them one by one as they discover their powers. It would be a little slower, but I think it would help introduce them and perhaps start building the drama between them at the same time so that it ramps up. At times the relationships between gods were hinted at, but I wanted to know more of their stories instead of being thrust into the middle of a conversation between them that I couldn’t follow. From what little I’ve read about it, the third volume apparently goes into more of the gods’ backstories.

I would recommend this series, but I would also warn that it is a bit confusing to begin with. I will be continuing on with it and I hope I will enjoy it more as time goes on.

Wolf in White Van

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I’m not sure what I expected from Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. The summary on the jacket says that Sean, who is horribly disfigured by an accident, makes a text based role-playing game for others to play. He is reclusive because of his disfigurement so the game is how he makes money. However, a couple of kids take the game a little too far and take the game into the real world. This causes problems for them and for Sean.

Saying anything else would ruin some of the mystery, but the game and the kids aren’t the driving force of the novel. I was hoping for something more about the game or some details about exactly what the kids did. These details are vague at best. Since the novel is told from Sean’s point of view and the writing style is sort of stream-of-consciousness we learn a lot about him. However, the driving force of the novel is something a bit deeper than any character. I think that it is a difficult novel to get into if you’re looking for a conventional narrative. From what I could tell it appears that the novel is questioning the influence the media has on violent acts. This question is woven beneath Sean’s story.

This novel is difficult for me to review. The writing is quite good, Sean is well developed, and the topic is interesting to explore. I wouldn’t say that I particularly loved the novel, but I appreciate what it is and it is thought provoking.

Night Film

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Reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl is another attempt at me trying to scratch the literary itch left by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I think I may have finally satisfied the itch! That isn’t to say that Night Film is perfect or perfectly comparable to Larsson’s work, but it is certainly good.

Scott McGrath is an investigative reporter who once got a little too investigative into the life of a legendary film maker, Stanislas Cordova. McGrath reports on something outlandish without solid proof and his reporting career is forever smudged by Cordova. When Cordova’s daughter is found dead and the death is being called a suicide, McGrath is suspicious and picks up his investigation again. For better or for worse he is committed to finding the ending to Cordova’s story.

I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews on Night Film and, as I said, it isn’t perfect, but there appears to be a lot of outcry about how it ends. I really can’t say anything more about the plot without giving something away. I will say that it wasn’t what I was expecting and if you like endings that tie up everything nicely then maybe you won’t enjoy this book. Personally, I thought it ended very well… even if I did reread the last page a few times and did a desperate search of the end papers for something more to end on…

There were a few things that kept this book from being a five star review for me, but they are admittedly small. The book, though good and a fairly fast read for being just about six hundred pages, dragged a little. Especially around the middle I got a little bored with it. The pace slowed down and the clues leading from one place to the next appeared a little too conveniently. Some parts weren’t as believable as others, but it must be difficult to write a mystery/thriller and suck every reader into believing the trail of evidence.  The characters were also just a touch flat for me. I didn’t care about anyone that much and I felt like Nora was a poor man’s Lisbeth Salander. It is unfair of me to even compare the two, but I couldn’t shake the comparison as I read the book. That is probably more of a fault with me than the novel though. If the book sounds interesting, pick it up! It was a fun ride and really played with my mind. I will definitely be keeping an eye on Pessl in the future.

Saga

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So. This is amazing. You’ve probably heard of Saga (written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples) and you’ve probably heard people rave about it. I’d heard it all too and I was reluctant to give it a go because of the hype. But I’m glad I did because for me it was really, really worth it.

I’d read Vaughan’s Pride of Baghdad a few years ago and really liked it so I was confident of the writing. Staples’ artwork looked beautiful from what I’d seen online and the first three volumes were 20$ all together on sale so I couldn’t argue with the price. So, here I am on the hype train. Chugga, chugga, choo, choo!

Anyway, the writing and characters are just spot on. They are witty, fun, and fresh. There’s a enough sassy women, legless floating ghostly teens, lie detecting cats, assassins, and cute goat boys to go around. If you’re not OK with some weirdness and nudity then you probably will be turned off by this series though. There’s some weird things… like TV headed robot people having sex and huge naked giants with large genitalia, but trust me it is all in good fun! It’s just so SO good. I’ve dropped extremely heavy hints about wanting the next volumes for Christmas. Now excuse me while tie my hands behind my back and try not buy them before the 25th.

Update: I failed. I bought volume four and five during a black Friday deal. And yes, the series is still awesome in case you were wondering.

Never Let Me Go

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Have you ever picked up a book knowing that it is going to be a tough read? You know you are going to feel a lot of things while you read it and they might be uncomfortable feelings. I had a sense that Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro would be like this even though I went in blindly when I read it. I was right. I didn’t cry, but at the end I just kind of sat there and stared at the closed book. I took a day or so to think on it before I tried to write this post. My thoughts might make a little more sense now. Maybe.

I’ve read The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and they both feel foggy to me. Not everything is explained. I feel like there is a fog around the plot and characters. The fog begins to clear as you read, but your “vision” is still slightly fringed on the edges by the end. I like that about Ishiguro, but some people do not. I like having open ends and questions. It keeps me thinking about the text even days, weeks, or months later.

As I said I went in not knowing anything about the plot except for what was on the back of the book. The description of the plot was vague though and in case anyone reading this hasn’t read the book I won’t spoil anything. Not knowing anything about the book is really the best way to go into it. One of the most interesting things while reading the book was guessing exactly what is going on with the students. You get hints here and there, but things aren’t spelled out until the very end. Even then I had some questions about certain things, but I felt like it was summed up pretty well. I felt like the world was built up just enough, but I would have been happy to see more of it too.

In my opinion one of Ishiguro’s strengths is building characters. A character in the novel would do something very small and I would be reminded of people I knew or even myself. The characters felt real, familiar, and very human. Some people might find the characters in Never Let Me Go passive or flat, but I don’t feel that way. Sometimes a character might not say something they feel or cover their feelings with anger or they may misdirect the conversation. This may make them feel like they are unable to be strong or proactive in their lives, but I don’t see it that way. People do that sort of thing all the time in real life. The characters in this novel are dealing with some very serious things and their culture is against them. They can’t make sweeping changes. This isn’t a fairy tale where happy ending always come when things look darkest. It is a story about society, reality, and life. It makes you question things about your world.

This is a heavy book that will spark discussion. I loved it even though I was left emotionally disturbed. It is definitely worth a read if you can stand a rather slow pace and the “fog” I mentioned above.

Smoke and Mirrors

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As you might know by now I love Neil Gaiman. He’s probably my favorite author currently. This book has been sitting on my shelf since last Christmas. I’m not sure why. I wanted to read it, but I never quite felt in the mood for it. I wanted to clear out some of the older unread books on my shelf so I reached for this one. I find it difficult to review short story collections since they are often a mixed bag of “love it” and “leave it.” At least all these were by the same author so it makes it a little easier.

So, did I like it? Yes, of course. It’s Neil Gaiman. But, I didn’t love it. Some of the stories were amazing and others were just good. “Just good” is still praise in my book though. I was kind of surprised how many of the stories involved horror and sexual themes. I didn’t mind this, but I wasn’t expecting it so maybe other people will want to shy away from it? I loved the creepiness and the sex was well handled and not over done. I really liked how (at least in my edition) Gaiman wrote a little bit about each story in the introduction. My favorite story in the collection? Chivalry.

Dragonfish

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Robert Ruen is an Oakland policeman who is still in love with his mysterious Vietnamese ex-wife, Suzy. When he finds out that her new husband, Sonny, brutally injured her he goes to rough him up in return. When Suzy disappears Sonny contacts Robert and blackmails him into searching for her. He finds out a lot more than he bargains for, but he also uncovers more questions that need answers.

First off, Dragonfish by Vu Tran is a good book. That being said, it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I’ve been trying to find another book that scratches the itch left behind after reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson. I was hoping Dragonfish would alleviate this craving a little. The inner flap promises a suspenseful noir novel, but after reading it I am a little disappointed at the “suspenseful” part.

There is no sense of urgency in Dragonfish. I think this is because most of the novel contains stories being retold or remembered. Most of the action happens in the past. We are told about events by other characters or see things through flashbacks. Other times important points are told through letters recounting what happened years ago. Very little actually happens in the present. I was expecting a crime mystery to unfold, but it feels like a lot of backtracking. The novel is less about crime and more about learning who Suzy is than anything else.

I found Suzy to be a very interesting character so learning about her is not a bad thing at all. The other characters are a little flat though. We see everything through Robert’s eyes and he is lacking character depth. For as many memories as he recounts to the reader I didn’t feel any real connection to him. The supporting characters are quite good for the most part. I want to know more about them, but maybe it is the mystery of them that I find most alluring.

I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was an enjoyable read. It was well written and quite good for a debut novel. I will probably keep an eye on Vu Tran in the future.

The Sleeper and the Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell is a graphic novel about Snow White going off to rescue Sleeping Beauty. That’s a really basic description, but you get the idea. It is an interesting spin on the stories. There are no prince charmings or kings. Just some dwarves and a few ladies on an adventure. The book is gorgeous and very short (~70 pages).

There’s really not a whole lot to say about it. I like it a lot, but I wish there was more. It is short and not very deep, but it is written like a fairy tale. No one has names, the story is straightforward, and the language is simple. It is good, but too short! I recommend it to fans of the author/illustrator or if you really like the fairy tales because it might be pricey for what it is. It’s so gorgeous though! Did I mention it was gorgeous?!