Graphic Novel Review: Batman: Red Hood – The Lost Days by Judd Winick

Batman: Red Hood – The Lost Days by Judd Winick

Before watching Under the Red Hood, I knew very little about Jason Todd. I knew there was a Robin that had died, but being as I was never a big DC fan growing up, I never read about his death or even had much insight on the character. I enjoyed the movie Under the Red Hood, and it prompted me to read more about the history of the character and find out about his return.

I’m not a fan of comics bringing back characters whose deaths have such a strong impact on the other characters involved. To me, that cheapens a character’s death and the changes that he/she brought about in this fictional world. But I’m going on a whole different tangent.

This comic chronicles the years leading up to Jason Todd’s return to Gotham. He’s found barely alive by Talia al Ghul who has an unhealthy obsession with Batman and at first sees Jason as a means to getting to Batman. After being put in a pit by Talia to be made whole (an overall bad decision), Jason spends the rest of his years training for his return and his revenge, acquiring new skills that he hadn’t learned during his time as Robin, funded by Talia.

Jason is an interesting character. I don’t think he can be called a true villain. He does things that go against the “good” standard, but in his own twisted way, he is trying to do what Batman taught him. However, unlike Batman, he feels that a hero has to serve the same cruel punishment as the scum they fight, that doing the things they do doesn’t make him any less “heroic.” He believes it makes him “realistic.”

Jason can’t be called a true hero either because of his actions that go beyond that “good” standard. He’s also not afraid to take out anyone who stands in the way of his goals of wiping out the criminal element. For him, it’s less about protecting the people who need protecting and more about getting rid of the criminals using their own tactics. It’s better to sacrifice a few to the greater cause than allow these criminals to hurt the masses.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Jason coming back, but the stories that are written about him show a character who obviously still wants to impress Batman and still has strong familial ties to the Bat Family and vice versa. He annoys them, but they still care about him and treat him like the wayward son that needs saving.

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Wendy’s Book Haul

I’m focused on World Without End’s Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge and my local library has been good to me. I did my best to walk out with only the books I had requested, but got caught right at the check out desk with the “book of the day”: The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen.

The Red Chamber by Pauline A. Chen

In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Sixteen-year-old Maya is just an ordinary teen in an ordinary town. Sure, she doesn’t know much about her background – the only thing she really has to cling to is an odd paw-print birthmark on her hip – but she never really put much thought into who her parents were or how she ended up with her adopted parents in this tiny medical-research community on Vancouver Island. Until now.

Aaaand as I was writing this post, this just popped up on my Goodreads radar (Amazon’s one-click buy button wins again!):

Eye of the Goddess by M.J. Faraldo

Kyra St. Clair’s life is about to change. Terrible events will thrust her head first into a world unknown to her, a secret world where ancient Egyptian gods are not myth but in fact very real. With the help of an unexpected friend she will come to terms with who she is, and in doing so they will both discover that there is much more to the story than meets the eye.

Graphic Novel Review: Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman

Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman

If you have a weak stomach, do not read Chew. It is a foodie’s worst nightmare drawn and spelled out in vivid, disgusting detail. It is, plain and simple, gross.

With that warning out of the way, I sit here enjoying my shrimp fried rice while my husband makes yummy hamburgers and I can happily inform you that I love the entire concept of this comic and continue to be impressed with Image Comics for their promotion of such amazing, off the wall creator-owned books.

Chew is a detective story starring Tony Chu, a cibopath. Tony can read psychic impressions from anything he eats (except beets). Such a “gift” could make a solid vegan out of anybody, but Tony’s line of work ensures that won’t be happening any time soon. The story occurs during a time when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the most powerful authoritative body. Poultry products have been banned due to avian flu epidemic threats, creating a black market for chicken and chicken substitutes. Many radical groups are up in arms against the government and the FDA, serving as a backdrop to Tony’s personal adventures that all start when he takes a bite out of a serial killer to track down his victims.

It is black comedy at its finest. Hilariously dark situations are peppered with just the right amount of witty one-liners and commentary, with Guillory skillfully complimenting the words with his images.

The cast of characters is spectacular, each uniquely brought to life by Guillory’s art. I love that Tony is the typical new kid on the block when he joins the FDA, but he isn’t completely green. He’s a good and capable detective with morals and conviction and, despite the personal inconvenience of his ability, he’s reasonably willing to do what he has to do – from eating bad sushi to munching on decayed fingers – to catch the bad guy.

What’s a lonely guy without a potential love interest? She comes in the form of Amelia Mintz, a food critic with a special gift of her own that makes her perfect for Tony, but that doesn’t mean their relationship will be an easy sale. She falls into the Lois Lane category of strong, outspoken women who really don’t need (or even notice) the guys who are pining after them.

The different food related powers (link contains spoilers) are like characters themselves and should not be overlooked as mere plot devices.

But let’s not forget that this is a detective story. All the characters and interesting abilities are fascinating, but there actually is a story here and I appreciate the way Layman brings in all the extra details, without weighing things down or venturing too far from the unraveling main plot. There is a mystery to solve and in typical detective story fashion, a seemingly inconsequential case grows into a much, much larger conspiracy that leads to a pretty impressive cliffhanger ending to the first arc.

I am sad to learn that Chew will not appear on television as originally planned, but I’m secretly still holding out hope for a special guest appearance on Hannibal.

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Book Review: Jhereg by Steven Brust

Jhereg by Steven Brust

Guess this is what you’d call an oldie but a goodie. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Steven Brust until a few weeks ago, but he was recommended to me by a gaming friend of mine, and then another good friend jumped into the Twitter conversation to second the recommendation. So, that’s two shoutouts from a couple of people whose opinions I highly value, and that’s when I knew I had to get my hands on this book, posthaste!

Jhereg is the beginning of a whole bunch of books set in Brust’s Dragaera world. It is the first novel to be published in the Vlad Taltos series, even though its place is actually fourth or so in its timeline. It introduces us to Vladimir Taltos, an Easterner (human) working as a killer-for-hire in the House of Jhereg in a setting where his kind are barely tolerated by a race of long-lived, statuesque sorcerers called the Dragaerans (or, as my friend told me, just think of them as “elves”!) Being a Jhereg doesn’t help either, since their faction is like the mafia of the Dragaeran world.

One day, a powerful Jhereg boss offers Vlad a lucrative contract to track down and assassinate a council member who stole millions of gold from the house. It is discovered, unfortunately, that this thief has fled to Castle Black, home of the Dragonlord Morrolan who is also Vlad’s good friend. Now Vlad has to try and figure out a way to fulfill his contract without royally pissing off Morrolan, whose strict rule against the killing of anyone on his premises while they are under his protection is proving to be more than just a minor inconvenience.

At just 200-something pages, this was a very quick read. Despite the volume’s relative thinness, however, there is a lot information crammed in here. You’ll immediately get the sense of hugeness from the world of Dragaera, and I admit I spent much of the first half of this book feeling like I was missing something, because not everything about the setting is explained right away. There will be names of people, animals, factions, cultural traditions, events in history, etc. that are alluded to, but won’t mean anything to you until you get further into the book (or even the series). Even now, I wish I had more room in this review to give examples of all the strange magical spells, weapons, creatures, lore and customs that are in this book, but there’s just too damn much. The good news is, everything you need know in order to understand and follow the story will be there, and it will come in time.


I also really liked the writing style, the fast pace and the lightness of it. Normally when you get high fantasy featuring a world full of magic and so much history, along with noble sorcerers and lords and ladies and such and such, you’d expect the writing style and dialogue to be somewhat serious and austere. Not so much with this book, which includes instances of modern day habits or colloquialisms, and that played a part in making Jhereg easy to get into and reading it so much fun.


It’s got a great story overall, involving a plot about an assassination, but which almost reads more like story about a heist. It has elements of mystery in it too, as Vlad likes to conduct investigations and figure out the solutions from the clues he finds. He as much as admits that he prefers the process of planning an assassination to the actual assassinating, and events in the story reflect that. It just struck me as interesting especially when compared to more recent fantasy novels about assassins, which tend to be darker and more action-oriented, and Jhereg was published before I was even born.


The series is still going on today, with book 14 expected to come out later this year. So glad I discovered these books, thanks to my friends. I’ve got a lot of books in my to-be-read pile, but since all the Vlad novels seem to be such quick reads, there might actually be hope of me finishing up to Tiassa before Hawk comes out. Maybe.


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Mogsy: The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

 

This is where keeping track of my books on Goodreads comes in handy. To narrow down my options for Best Book I’ve Read This Year, I went straight to my 5-star reads. Still, 2013 isn’t even half done yet, and according to my stats I’ve already racked up quite a few of those. Looking over the list, it was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go with Heir of Novron for overall best read.Why? Well, Heir of Novron is actually an omnibus that collects the last two books (Wintertide and Percepliquis) of a six-part fantasy series called The Riyria Revelations. The first two omnibuses are Theft of Swords (collecting The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) and Rise of Empire (collecting Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm), and it’s the gradual building up of the over-arching story in these books that made the stunning conclusion such a joy to read.

This is a delightful down-to-earth fantasy series, filled with adventure, action, and a cast of great characters. Once you start the first book, you just can’t help but keep going; each installment has its own self-contained story, but the series is also meant to be read a whole. As you make your way through it, you will find that the author has dropped hints of what’s to come in the earlier books, WAAAAAY before you even realized it was happening, which is what made Percepliquis such a mind-blowing experience. So many twists and turns, and shocking reveals. Let’s just say the word Revelations in the series title is certainly apt.

And the icing on the cake is that the author is such a nice guy. After you finish the series, Michael J. Sullivan asks that you contact him for bonus material. So I sent him an email about it, along with my thanks and comments about how much I loved his books. This led to a back-and-forth email conversation which lasted a couple days where we talked about the themes of the series and he answered all my questions. To be able to discuss a book that I loved so much with the author right after reading it was one of the coolest experiences ever.

All Female Cast for the New X-Men #1

The much hyped new X-Men #1 is out today! Be sure to grab a copy! No, we’re not going to review it just yet because frankly, while the art was fantastic and we’re loving seeing our favourite ladies doing their thang, the story isn’t quite there yet. No matter, we’ll definitely be back for the next issue to find out what happens!

The (Sort of) 30-Day Reading Challenge

There are many 30-Day Challenge memes for every point of interest out there,which means of course there would be one or ten related to books! They are enjoyable activities that allow people to expound on their love or hate for a particular topic and the various elements that comprise it.

They can also be rather time consuming and difficult to manage for people like us who really enjoy sharing our feelings, but can’t be bound to the implied daily commitment. So we have altered the requirements a bit to post our individual responses to the questions below whenever we please! Look out for our random 30-Day Reading Challenge posts under the “Reading Challenge” category.

Day 01 – The best book you read this year
Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan (Mogsy)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Wendy)

Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than three times
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Mogsy)  

Day 03 – Your favorite series
The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell (Wendy)
Kushiel Universe by Jacqueline Carey (Mogsy)

Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series

Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (Mogsy)

Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
11/22/63 by Stephen King (Mogsy)

Day 07 – Most underrated book

Day 08 – Most overrated book
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Wendy)

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (Wendy)

Day 11 – A book you hated

Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore

Day 13 – Your favorite writer

Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer

Day 15 – Favorite male character

Day 16 – Favorite female character
Vergere (Wendy)

Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Wendy)
Sula by Toni Morrison (Tiara) 
Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch (Mogsy)

Day 18 – A book that disappointed you

Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Tiara)
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Mogsy)
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Wendy)

Day 20 – Favorite romance book
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (Wendy)

Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood

Day 22 – Favorite book you own

Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Day 24 – A book that you wish more people have read

Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Day 28 – Favorite title
Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind by Nicole Knepper (Tiara)
Sweet Dreams are Made of Teeth by Richard Roberts (Wendy)

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked

Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Having really enjoyed Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist, I became interested in checking out the author’s other works and decided to pick up his new young adult book The 5th Wave.

The book tells the story of an alien invasion, happening over a period of time in a series of planned attacks called “waves”. The 1st wave was an electromagnetic pulse-like burst that knocked out electricity and almost everything that runs on power. The 2nd wave wiped out all cities on the world’s coastlines. The 3rd wave was a plague that decimated the human population. The 4th wave made those still alive mistrust and turn on each other. Cassie is one of the few lucky (unlucky?) survivors, believing that striking out alone is the only way to stay alive. Those that are left now prepare for the worst; they know “the Others” aren’t done with humanity yet, and a 5th wave is on the horizon.

I was really excited when I found out the premise behind the book, hoping to see a new take and fresh ideas on the alien invasion concept. Going on a tangent here, but I think most of us today take movies like Alien for granted; the image of the chestburster exploding out of a human chest cavity is a familiar one to us now that it’s been propagated in pop culture, but can you imagine actually sitting in that theater seat watching that scene play out for the very first time on the big screen back in 1979? It was before my time, but I can’t help but think it must have been one crazy, horrifyingly mind-blowing experience, simply because no one then could have expected it.

You could say I’m trying to I’m chase that feeling, I guess. I live for those moments when I’m surprised by my science fiction, those OMG-I-can’t-believe-that-just-friggin’-happened moments. Anyway, I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately it didn’t quite get me there. Even so, it was great read. Never mind that some of the waves were based on familiar ideas, and there were themes reminiscent of stories like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Thing (TRUST NO ONE!), the horror of their relentless assaults was very well done, making the characters’ fears seem very real.

In fact, I only have a very few minor gripes, and they mostly stem from the things the author threw in to make this book feel more mainstream YA, almost like he was deliberately trying for a Hunger Games vibe. There’s that aspect of the young girl struggling in a survivalist situation, complete with a sappy romance with a cute boy with a lop-sided grin. Arrgh, seriously, why do they always always ALWAYS have to have the lop-sided grin?! Spare me!

I know it’s a stereotype, and as usual there are going to be exceptions, but some male authors just can’t seem to pull off writing convincingly and realistically from the point-of-view of a teenage girl. Some of Cassie’s thoughts about crushes and boys are either giggle-worthy or cringe-inducing, and I get the feeling Rick Yancey simply used general ideas found in mainstream movies and books when it came to writing Cassie. She definitely didn’t come across as naturally compared to his characterization of Will Henry in The Monstrumologist.

I only mention this because YA romances that feel corny or awkward have a tendency to drive me absolutely bonkers, but thankfully it was only mildly distracting here. Ultimately, there really wasn’t much in this book that took away from my overall enjoyment. Despite incorporating a lot of elements I feel like I’ve seen
before, I really have no complaints in terms of the story. It was
entertaining, full of action and suspense and all I could ask for.

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Audiobook Review: Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Curse continues the adventures of Moirin mac Fainche, now on a quest to find her lover, Bao, who has run off to determine his own fate after their Master Lo sacrificed himself to help Moirin unwittingly bring Bao back to life. Half of Moirin’s soul spark, or diadh-anam, now resides with Bao, guiding her towards him, but making him uncertain of whether or not his feelings for her are genuine.

Leaving Chin behind, Moirin travels through many of the lands of Carey’s world, all of which are based on the real world. Carey seems to be making a point of covering the entire world in her books, with this one crossing Mongolia and India and the next book completing the world tour with the west.

This is, first and foremost, a love story that speaks to the lengths Moirin will go to for those she loves. To be clear, Moirin loves just about everyone. She remains committed to Bao, but Moirin falls in love with the inner beauty and positive traits of many of the people she meets on her journey. As a child of Namaah, Moirin is heavily influenced by desire and believes in the D’Angeline consensual tenet of “Love as thou wilt.”

Through the Alban side of her heritage, Moirin is also a child of the bear goddess, the Maghuin Dhonn.  The gifts from these goddesses are manifest in Moirin and this brings her to the attention of a particular Yeshuan Rebbe intent on cleansing her of all those sins and lead her and other sinners to salvation. When this occurs about a quarter of the way into the book, it got my back up. In the second book of Carey’s adventures in Terre D’Ange, readers are introduced to the Habiru, worshippers of Yeshua and the One God. Due to my Christian upbringing, I tend to balk when I have to deal with the religious beliefs I rebelled against in my youth (unexpectedly) showing up in my entertainment and taking a very prominent role. It’s clear that the cultures and religions in this series are all based on actual cultures and religions and it is very easy to identify them all, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to me to find the Christian god’s involvement – especially since the gods of Terre D’Ange are birthed from that very faith. My prejudice usually isn’t enough to make me turn away, and I appreciated the way Kushiel’s Chosen presented it as something more for its main character, Phèdre, to learn and comprehend in order to achieve her goals. In fact, as the books progress and more cultures and religions earn some focus, Carey does so with great care and respect through her characters. But, unlike the previous adventures with Yeshua where I could get over my religious prejudice because the telling was never delivered with preachiness or condemnation, Moirin’s introduction to the Habiru, it is nothing but preachy and condemning.

As Moirin tries to justify her religious beliefs and subsequent actions to her captors, it felt a lot like it was Carey herself trying to unapologetically validate the “love as though wilt” principle and the licentious behaviour of her D’Angeline people. As if Carey had suffered criticism from some right wing Christian group and needed to vent her frustrations within the story. Later, when Moirin travels to Bhodistan, Carey’s disguised opinion piece moves to the condemnation of the caste system and the Untouchables of India.

I would have liked to avoid comparing Moirin to her predecessor, Phèdre no Delauney, but Moirin does it often enough herself. Moirin also spent a lot of time reiterating events from past books. In her travels, she frequently is asked to tell her story from Namaah’s Kiss, so if you haven’t read that one, you almost don’t need to. But she also goes into a lot of detail about certain events that took place with Imriel de la Courcel, who had his own trilogy in Carey’s Terre D’Ange series. Everything is raised within context, but I found the repetition tedious.

There is a heavy reliance on magic. Originally, the gods’ involvement in the world was clear, but not as heavy handed as it has been with Moirin. All of her decisions are based on the commands of her diadh-anam and plans rely on her ability to “summon the twilight” or make use of her many other abilities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that has struck me since the Imriel Trilogy, becoming almost the entire focus in Moirin’s Trilogy. The theme is that the gods use their chosen hard, as established with Phèdre   but Phèdre made choices that in some cases, meant defying the gods. I don’t expect Moirin to be Phèdre   but I grew disappointed in the way Moirin seemed to be the sum of her god-chosen status, without actually making decisions herself or really even questioning her destiny.

I was disappointed that we really don’t get to spend enough time with Bao and Moirin being together, though I know that was a necessary part of the story of Moirin’s love traversing all obstacles to be with him. I guess that just means I’ll have to read the third book in Moirin’s Trilogy to get my satisfaction!

My final complaint goes to the narrator, Anne Flosnik. I was not fond of her slow speech and the voices she affects for the characters other than Moirin, who tells the story. I particularly did not enjoy the drawn out, hoarsely whispered voice she uses for Bao. It did not match my image of Bao (as portrayed by Godfrey Gao in my head) at all. Not to mention that Flosnik pronounced all the words I’ve been reading for the past seven books entirely *wrong*, of course. Otherwise, the narration was tolerable, but I will definitely be reading the next book myself.
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