Thursday, December 26, 2013

Graphic Novel mini-reviews #16

Fables: Homeland (Volume 6)

Written by: Bill Willingham; Illustrated by: Mark Buckingham, David Hahn, Steve Leialoha

Published: 2006

My Thoughts: My library was missing volumes 4 and 5, but I was in a real Fables mood and decided to skip ahead. There was a bit of a transition period, A LOT happened in those two volumes, but there was a handy little catch up section at the start. As it were, this is almost like reading a whole new story, most of the characters from the first three volumes are no longer part of it (but hopefully will be back). The majority of the book focuses on Boy Blue as he makes his way back to the Fables homelands, armed with the witching cloak and vorpal sword. He's such a small character prior to this, and I loved how bad ass he was. I'm excited to see what he does next. And we find out who the Adversary is. Maybe it's because of the two volumes I missed, but it came as a hell of a surprise to me!

Runaways: Pride and Joy (Volume 1)

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by: Adrian Alphona

Published: 2004

My Thoughts: I heard about this series awhile ago when I went through a it of a Brian K. Vaughan phase and when I found out the concept - kids find out their parents are evil super-villains and they have their own powers - and that it was eventually taken over by Joss Whedon. Welp, I. Was. In. I really enjoyed this volume, the story was exciting (who is the mole?), the characters were unique and fleshed out well, and the writing was tight. I wasn't quite as fond of the illustrations, they were fine but I prefer art that was drawn by someone who cares what the human form actually looks like. It's not bad enough to turn me off the series by a long shot, but it's definitely not my favourite style either.

Fables: The Mean Seasons (Volume 5)

Written by: Bill Willingham; Illustrated by:Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Tony Akins, Jimmy Palmiotti

Published: 2005

My Thoughts: I might have skipped ahead two volumes, but that was only until my library could delivery the missing volumes into my hands. Turns out volume 4 exists in no library in Brisbane, for whatever reason, but I'll skip past it for now I guess. Anyway, volume 5 is a transition volume. There are characters leaving, new characters taking on new roles, the ebb and flow of Fabled life in the Mundy world. Snow gives birth, a murderer is hunting down Fables, we meet a spy of Bigbys, and there is a new mayor in town. There's plenty to fill the pages, and it's all really interesting and fun, but the fact that it's a transitional piece is hard to escape. There's also a brief two-part story about Bigby during WWII which was fine, but nothing to write home about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

Written by: Sarah Waters

Published in: 1998

Synopsis:  this delicious, steamy debut novel chronicles the adventures of Nan King, who begins life as an oyster girl in the provincial seaside town of Whitstable and whose fortunes are forever changed when she falls in love with a cross-dressing music-hall singer named Miss Kitty Butler.

When Kitty is called up to London for an engagement on "Grease Paint Avenue," Nan follows as her dresser and secret lover, and, soon after, dons trousers herself and joins the act. In time, Kitty breaks her heart, and Nan assumes the guise of butch roue to commence her own thrilling and varied sexual education - a sort of Moll Flanders in drag - finally finding friendship and true love in the most unexpected places.

Challenges: LGBT for Book'd Out's Eclectic Reader Challenge

“Being in love, you know... it's not like having a canary, in a cage. When you lose one sweetheart, you can't just go out and get another to replace her.”

I started reading this months and months ago after Alice gave me the longest list of Lesbian Lit ever written and this was the only book from that list in my library. But even though I was enjoying it I took ages to get anywhere with it (I blame the chapter length, they make stopping and starting ridiculously difficult) and eventually had to take it back to the library unfinished. I then, for whatever reason, took about two months to finally borrow it out again. But eventually, EVENTUALLY, I managed to finish my first Sarah Waters and now feel very up to date with the lesbian goings on in Victorian London.

This book is about two things and the two things rather inform one another. Firstly, the book is about Nan(cy) - Whitstable oyster girl turned stage performer turned rent boy, turned sex slave, turned housekeeper - and secondly, the book is about the various types of lesbian relationships during the Victorian era. As Nan navigates London and the careers and lifestyles unique to it, we navigate the same path, if Nan is in the dark then so are we. We remain unaware of exactly how extensive the lesbian or "tom" lifestyle is in London until Nan learns such things, and while she throws herself into aspects of the lifestyle (which we'll get to) she remains pretty naive until the final third of the book.

The book is broken up into three sections, and as this is something of a coming of age novel, they loosely map the critical moments in Nan's young adulthood. When we meet her she's on the typical Whitstable career path for Victorian females. She's got a sweetheart, she works in her parent's oyster shop and she'll probably be married and pregnant within a year or two. A trip to the theatre changes this when she witnesses Kitty Butler on the stage, cross-dressing and performing as a male. Nan is immediately drawn to Kitty and after spending night after night at the theatre she finally begins a conversation with Kitty and eventually becomes her dresser and then her performing partner in London. This section is all very sweet and awkward and full of blushing and stolen glances, and when Kitty and Nan finally start a relationship it's wonderful.
“We fitted together like the two halves of an oyster-shell. I was Narcissus, embracing the pond in which I was about to drown. However much we had to hide our love, however guarded we had to be about our pleasure, I could not long be miserable about a thing so very sweet. Nor, in my gladness, could I quite believe that anybody would be anything but happy for me if only they knew.”
But, alas, things quickly sour when Nan realises that Kitty is terrified of people finding out the truth of their wicked and naughty ways and ultimately breaks Nan's heart. After Nan runs from Kitty she becomes a rent boy (no need to expand on that) before finally becoming a sex slave for Diana. This section is filthy! I mean, this shouldn't come as a surprise since I described Nan as a sex slave, but woah, Waters does not hold back with the scenes between Nan and Diana. And I'm not exaggerating when I call her a sex slave, because that's exactly what she is. She's "paid" in new clothes and accessories but she has no life of her own. Her movements are resticted, she can't leave the property and she's treated like a performing animal at Diana's parties.
"My dear, I have said: you should have pleasure for your wages! You should live with me here, and enjoy my privileges. You should eat from my table, and ride in my brougham, and wear the clothes I will pick out for you - and remove them, too, when I should ask it. You should be what the sensational novels call kept"
The second section, torrid sex scenes aside, is also kind of heart breaking. Though Nan seems to accept that her sexuality isn't something she can change, she also seems to have resigned herself to see it through Kitty's eyes. So while there are elements of self-empowerment and pleasure in choosing to be kept by Diana, it also seems like Nan is punishing herself for her proclivities. It's as though she believes that lesbians can't have a regular love life and since her sister and Kitty see it as something to be ashamed of she'll prove just how extreme it can be, whether it's actually what she wants or not.

The third and final section is probably my favourite of the three. After living a pretty rough 5 years, Nan is left with nowhere to turn. Luckily she finds Flo who is perhaps one of the loveliest characters to ever be written. After 18 months being spoilt and abused, life in the working class comes as something of a shock to Nan, but she quickly gets used to cleaning house and looking after little baby Cyril. It's in this section that Nan realises life as a lesbian isn't all secrets and sex slavery, and that she's not as unique as she thought. This section is about stability, growth and perspective and it's wonderful to watch Nan navigate her way around.

The book is very well written. Sarah Waters has a gorgeous way with words, bringing life to Victorian London and the excitement of the theatre and the complexities of a lifestyle looked down upon at the time. Though as much as I loved the characters and the actual narrative, I could have happily read 300+ pages of Sarah Waters describing the sights and sounds of Victorian London and the surrounding towns.
"Like our oyster-house, it had its own particular scent - the scent, I know now, of music halls everywhere - the scent of wood and grease-paint and spilling beer, of gas and of tobacco and of hair-oil, all combined. It was a scent which as a girl I loved uncritically; later I heard it described, by theatre managers and artistes, as the smell of laughter, the very odour of applause"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm hiding from the cold so here's a post about bookish stuff I've done.

So Canada is cold. Really, really cold. It's about -10 at the moment (a google search says that's 14 F, does that sound right?) and I'm hiding out in my hotel room because I made the mistake in going walking earlier without 15,000 layers on. SILLY KAYLEIGH.

So since I'm sitting here covered in the super warm doona I figured I might as well stop being lazy and write a post. I'll save the full run down for when I get home and grab all my photos off the camera and the holiday is behind me but for now let's talk books. Sounds good right, and so weird for this book blog *nudges you all sharply in the ribs giggling maniacally*

I'm really glad that I decided to only bring the one physical book and rely on my kindle for everything else. Mostly because I have bought TOO MANY books. My bag is about 50kg heavier already and I'm only halfway through my trip. Whoops. But I don't even care, because STRAND! We went back for a second visit after feeling really proud for only buying a single teeny tiny David Sedaris book (Holidays on Ice) and a souvenir magnet. I wasn't so restrained visit 2.

I snatched up a copy of Great Showdowns the Return which is full of adorable illustrations of famous meetups in films, which also happened to be signed by the author. I also found a gorgeous (faux?) leather bound copy of The Woman in White since I loved reading The Moonstone so much. It was also $3, so I can hardly feel guilty about that purchase right? I bought The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni. I actually haven't ever heard about this book before, but I really liked the blurb and the cover and at this point I already had an armload of books and figured another one wouldn't hurt. And finally I bought a teeny little book called Contradictory, the blurb says it is;
A compendium of conundrums, aphorisms and apercus. 
A glossery of capitalist cant and anarchist argot. 
A lexicon for the lawless. 
 It's full of quotes and alternative dictionary definitions and it's equal parts snarky and fun. I actually think I'll save this one to give as a gift to someone, but I couldn't pass it up. And since I spent so much I got a free tote bag, which is maybe partly why I was OK with constantly piling books into my arms.

There was also a bookstore between our hostel and the train station which was awful and awesome. McJ's (which was short for something but I forgot to note it down) was pretty amazing, they had an actual printing press running in the front window which local writers and poets use to make little books and zines of their work. Coolest or what? I also spotted my first celebrity there, Jared Leto was in there one night when we were walking around the shelves.

And of course I couldn't *not* buy a book there, what with my lifelong crusade to keep independent bookstores alive with my wallet. So I bought Jenni Fagen's Panopticon. It comes with a recommendation from Irvine Welsh so I have certain expectations which I hope it'll meet. Watch this space.

6 books, that's not too bad is it? I mean, it's going to be hell to lug home but on the grand scale of bookish purchases made on holiday they aren't any where near extravagant right*? Amazingly I have managed to go into bookstores without buying books though. I went into Ravens bookstore in Harvard Square and listened to an extremely private and ridiculously loud conversation between two girls about the boy one of the girls was seeing and kissing regularly and a best friend who was no longer a best friend. I checked out a Barnes and Noble to see how America does it's Big Box Bookstores. I've also been into about half a dozen comic book stores across the North East hoping that the final issue of Locke and Key had been released (late again, you're killing me Hill, KILLING ME). By far my favourite were the two in New York but then I've only been in Canada for one day (show me what you've got Canada!) so it's probably not fair to lock in anything definite so far.

I've also managed to get to see a bunch of bookish, non-bookstore things too. In San Francisco we went to the Beat Museum which was less museum and more loving collection of all things Beat writers in a single location. They also have a bookstore section separate from the museum, so if you don't want to spend the $8 (which was probably a little pricey) you could still see some first editions and the full range of work by Beat writers and academics. In New York we visited the literary walk and giggled at the statues (you can totally see up Shakespeare's tunic and Robert Burns looks like he's farting - it's not my fault!) but also sighed over the prettiness of it all. We stopped by the Dakota, not because it was the site of John Lennon's murder (which is such a weirdly morbid stop to make on a holiday), but because it was used in the film Rosemary's Baby. It's a really gorgeous building, perfect for a horror film.

We also went to the NY Jewish Museum where they had an Art Spiegelman exhibit. Sadly they had a no photo policy (I tried to get a sneaky shot but they caught me) but it was phenomenal to see his amazing process. Obviously there was a lot of space dedicated to Maus, there was a recording of the interview he had with his dad to get the story and a bunch of early drafts and concept pictures, but there was also a lot of stuff from before and after that. I only really know Spiegelman for Maus, so I was surprised to see what a subversive comic creator he was. I'll have to track down a bunch more of his work when I get back to Australia. We also saw two shows on broadway, The Book of Morman which was fantastic, and Waiting for Godot, which was so flipping amazing I could barely handle it. Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart were phenomenal in their roles and obviously having the best time. Where do I go to apply to be their best friends? Oh and most important bookish thing I did in New York? I met up with Alley! Stupidly we forgot to get a photo but I swear it happened!

And I think that's about enough for one post - I don't want to melt you faces with holiday overload. I've been reading a fair bit since we've been catching buses between the cities we're visiting, so I think I'll do a big post of mini-reviews for them some time in the next week. But just so you know (because I know this is important to you all),  NOS4R2 (Joe Hill) is amazing, The Circle (Dave Eggers) is terrifying and Bossypants (Tina Fey) is hilarious.

Btw, Christmas soon! Is everyone excited?

*You guys need to answer yes here otherwise I'll keep buying more and more.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next #3)

Written by: Jasper Fforde

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Leaving Swindon behind her, to hide out in the Well of Lost Plots - the place where all fiction is created - Thursday Next, Literary Detective and soon-to-be one parent family, ponders her next move from inside an unpublished novel of dubious merit entitled Caversham Heights. Her husband, Landen, exists only in her memories and with Goliath and the Chronoguard on her tail in the real world, the safest place for her to be is inside the covers of a book.

But changes are afoot within the world of fiction. The much-awaited upgrade to the centuries-old book system --- in which grammasites will be exterminated, punctuation standardised and the number of possible plots increased from eight to an astonishing thirty-two --- is only weeks away. But if this is the beginning of a golden age in fictional narrative, then why are Jurisfiction agents mysteriously dying? Perkins is eaten by the minotaur, Snell succumbs to the Mispeling Vyrus and Godot is missing.

There'll be spoilers for books 1 and 2 in this review. Probably. So be warned.

“Anything devised by man has bureaucracy, corruption and error hardwired at inception.”

I know I've been a little hard on this series in the past but I have come fully on board with the Jasper Fforde/Thursday Next appreciation club. All of my issues with the previous two were completely sorted out in this third installment of the Thursday Next series.

Less Deus Ex Machina? Check.
Less dependence on Landon to motivate the plot? Check.
More Thursday being awesome and independent and kickass? Oh my god, check.

For the first time I felt like this was a book actually about Thursday and her literary adventures, rather than just an excuse to put some clever references and ideas to paper. It was more focused, much tighter and infinitely more interesting as a mystery novel. I'm guessing Jasper Fforde finally got comfortable in his voice and role as author, or maybe it just took 2 books to really work out what it was he wanted to achieve with this series. Either way, The Well of Lost Plots was an absolute winner.

Thursday is now living within the literary world, holed away in an unpublished crime novel. As her stay is part of an organised character exchange Thursday has to take on one of the roles, while also juggling her new work as an apprentice Jurisfiction agent, early pregnancy and a memory-worm which is actively trying to remove any trace of her eradicated husband Landon. She has a full plate is what I'm saying. Except that's not even the tip of the iceberg. She's also living in, and maintaining, a flying boat - which I had to google and now I want one - looking after two Generics* and caught in the middle of an treacherous plot which causes the deaths of several Jurisfiction agents. While there is plenty going on here, every story thread leads to the next and none seem extraneous to the central mystery that Thursday explores.

Because the mystery and central story-lines were better tied together in this volume I actually found myself enjoying the little literary mentions even more than before. And it's the little things which make the book so unique and fabulous. It's basically Harry Potter for grown ups,** there are hints and flourishes designed purely for the literary and grammar minded. Like the Mispelling Vyrus being contained by dictionaries, or the lack of U's in American English being due to a U shortage. Fforde clearly loves reading and the worlds you get to explore as a reader, because there are so many loving touches that pay tribute to readers everywhere.
“After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer's breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more.”
I wonder if Fforde spent his youth wondering up these back-stories for classic stories and characters, because some of them are really brilliantly imaginative. Like the counselling sessions in Wuthering Heights. These sessions are mentioned in the earlier books but this time we actually get to witness one. It's not only great because of the catharsis that's given seeing these horrible, horrible characters fight it out, but we also find out that the book has been evolving and getting more angry since its original publishing. I LOVE how fluid Fforde represents fiction as being because it makes sense. As the outside world changes the perspectives and points of view that we bring to our reading changes from earlier generations. Like it or not the way we read Dickens is incredibly different to how the people read Dickens when it was originally published. And why shouldn't that impact the actual story and characters within?

I also really, really loved the women in this book. In my review of The Eyre Affair I accused the series of barely passing the Bechdel test, which was mostly driven by my absolute hatred of the shoehorned relationship. The characters, female and male, in this book are far more nuanced. Thursday is this beautiful mix of hardass go-getter and vulnerability. When it comes to her work she pushes herself to try new things and grasp difficult concepts immediately, but in her personal life she's far less sure of herself. Her dream fight with Aornis and the resulting bad memories which are dredged by repeatedly add such a depth to her character and made me love her far more. The other supporting females, Thursday's nana, Mrs Havisham, Lola and even the villainous Aornis are almost mentors to Thursday, bringing something different, a varying perspective, to help her make sense of the chaos that now surrounds her life. So Fforde I apologise for being mean before, you've proved you can write a female protagonist and a litany of other females. Bravo!

Now that this series has hit its stride I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next. How will Thursday get Landon back? Will she succeed against the Goliath Corporation? What will the fallout from this book's conclusion be? What will Thursday be like as a mother? How many other puns, literary tips-of-the-hat and grammar jokes can Fforde make? If you're yet to launch into this series then you should definitely do so asap, because this is fast becoming one of my favourite series.

*characters before they become characters. Basically blank slates + college students.

**Not that adults shouldn't read HP.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A day in New York


So I've been a little bit more absent than I was expecting but there's so much to do and see! My senses are on complete overload, which has the benefit of sending me off into a deep sleep without worrying about the constant time zone changes I've gone through.

I was going to upload a bunch of photos from the trip so far but most of them are on my camera and I'm far too lazy to download those at the moment. Instead I thought I'd snap a few non-instagram-destined photos and do a bit of a photo-an-hour post. Except it isn't a photo an hour, it's more of a photo-when-I-remembered general gist of how my day went. I always feel like an idiot whipping out my camera on holiday which is stupid because it's not like being a tourist is a bad thing but I always try and snap my pictures as quickly as possible anyway. My camera is good enough to deal with my walk and snaps, my phone camera...not so much. So these are far from being the best pictures ever, but since I'll probably wait until the end of my holiday to upload the proper camera pictures they're the best I've got for now.

Today was a strangely bookish day, which was awesome but not something we set out to do when we left in the morning. There are some killer bookstores in the city, and I'm trying really, really hard not to just buy ALL THE BOOKS and leave myself with no money and no luggage space for the rest of the holiday. But it's hard you guys. It's real hard. Anyway, I'll be back with some reviews and holiday updates soon, promise!

The gorgeous steps up to our hostel.

The mural and cheap shelves at Strand Books (sooooo good!)

Grand Central Station

One of the lions outside the NYPL

Looking through the Midtown comics racks for some gold

Waiting for Book of Mormon to begin!

Going home for the night.

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Written by: Maria Semple

Published: 2012

SynopsisBernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I'm going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I'm about to kick the shit out of life.”

I know this book had been given pretty good reviews by a few of you (Alley and Laura for starters) but what really made me want to read it was that cover. Damn that's a pretty cover. So when I found myself in a bookstore and I saw that cover on the shelf I couldn't not buy a copy could I? And I'm really glad I did. It's always good to know that you guys don't let me down with your recs AND I should totally keep buying books based on pretty covers because it works.

So this book, I really, really loved it. I took it to the beach with me to read and I ended up reading two-thirds of it while I sat on the beach, and then I ended up staying up way too late so that I could get it finished. I felt like it had to be finished that night or else it might lose some of the magic, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't kind of regret that choice the next day when I could barely keep my eyes open. The things we do for books amirite?

What did I love about this book? Umm, everything? I loved the epistolary style. Normally just hearing that a book is written in this style sends me running to the hills, not because I don't like the format, I actually really love it, but 9 times out of 10 it's done terribly and just comes off as kind of lazy. Semple manages to get around this by including all kinds of correspondence, things like email, post-it notes, faxes, reports and also included the occasional 'note' written by Bee as she goes through these documents. I also feel like one of the reasons this worked is that there was a reason for the epistolary format. After the disappearance of her mother (which happens at around the 2/3 point) Bee uses these to try and work out what led to her mother's disappearance and maybe, hopefully, hint at where she might have gone.

So I should probably rewind a little bit. Bernadette Fox is Bee's mum, and she's an eccentric agoraphobic (sort of?) crazy lady. I loved her, I loved her wholeheartedly, and I wanted to be her best friend. She'd absolutely hate that, but maybe if I approached her via email it'd work out okay. She actually reminded me a lot of myself, which is maybe a not so good thing. I mean, I'm not suffering from the range of legitimate psychological conditions she evidentially is, but there was something about her sardonic, grumpy manic energy that was familiar. Which is maybe why I felt so Chris Crocker any time someone was an ass to her.

And people are really nasty to her. Because she isn't your usual cookie-cutter stepford wife, all of the other mothers at Bee's school hate Bernadette and constantly gossip and complain about her lack of school pride. Because Bernadette is so offensive to what they've decided is important in life, they trespass onto her property and complain about blackberry thickets or falsely accuse her of running over their feet. And it made me so mad. Because if Bernadette and her family are okay with her eccentricities, and if her daughter is healthy and happy then why should they even think about getting involved?

Of course, it isn't as simple as that. Semple does such a good job of setting up the good guys and bad buys and then completely destroying those roles. As more emails or letters come to light, you realise that something that seemed selfish perhaps wasn't so selfish. Or maybe that event was actually a lot more one-sided than young Bee's recollection is. Some people remain awful (some are so, so awful*) but none of it is black and white. There are reasons people act the way they do, or act out the way they do and it's so refreshingly real.

But (and this is a little but) I found the ending a little silly. And actually, when you consider that Semple used to write for Arrested Development it's almost to be expected - those shows didn't exactly have a realistic wrap up each week. But while it soured the story for me a little, it wasn't nearly enough to really make me feel any less warm and fuzzy about it. Even Semple being mean to Canada** wasn't enough to make me turn against her and her poppy bright book.

This has been pretty vague, but everyone else (*ahem* Alley and Laura) has already said so much, so well plus I don't want to give away any little details which might temper your view when you decide to read it (which you're going to do right? Of course you are!). But just know this little book about family is the perfect proof that there is always two sides to every story, but more often than not there are actually 5 or 6 or 7 hidden sides that we rarely find out about. So do read it, okay?

*Guys, I NEED to discuss Bee's dad and Soo-Lin. How did you feel about that whole scenario and how it was laid out?

**Don't worry Canada, I've got your back.


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