Wednesday, December 18, 2013

#CBR5 Review #53: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

A story of a young man’s unrequited love, tangled in a web of death, mental illness, and the impact of sexual experience upon a person’s life. I was unaware that that last point would play such an important role in the story of Norwegian Wood, which made reading on the bus next to an older women conspicuously reading over my shoulder a bit of an interesting experience. In general, however, this novel focuses on the confusing time that is a person’s late teens, and how certain moments have the power to stay with us all through our lives.

Norwegian Wood begins with a 37-year-old Toru Watanabe, suddenly being hit with a wave of nostalgia, and memories from the 1960s when he was around 17-20 years old. And the trigger of these memories? An orchestral version of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”.

The rest of the novel is where Toru recounts all that occurred during this early and altering time in his life. It all begins when Toru’s best friend, Kizuki, commits suicide when he is 17, which profoundly influences both Toru and Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko. Not feeling as though he has many friends, Toru soon begins studying at University in Tokyo, leading a reasonably isolated existence there. One day, he happens upon Naoko, and the two begin walking together throughout the city. Over time, Toru develops feelings for Naoko, yet she seems hesitant to reciprocate them. Eventually, on Naoko’s 20th birthday, the two end up sleeping together, in a moment of deep vulnerability on the part of Naoko. Soon after, and due to some evident emotional issues that need to be worked out, Naoko quits college and goes to a sanatorium.

While Naoko is gone from Toru’s life, he meets a young woman named Midori, who is almost the complete opposite of shy and self-conscious Naoko. The two have strange interactions, but come to care for one another, in a strange relationship that almost hovers between the realm of friendship and “relationship”. Meanwhile, Toru and Naoko have been exchanging letters, and Toru eventually decides to meet Naoko at her sanatorium. He meets both Naoko, and her new confidante, Reiko. While the three are together, they begin to share deep and personal things with one another. Reiko seems to believe that Naoko could be on her way to a full recovery from her mental afflictions.

Toru continues his young life, torn between his real world featuring his relationship with Midori, and with his other life that revolves around Naoko. He wants to keep holding on for Naoko and wait for her to come back to Tokyo, yet he is uncertain as to what he should do in regards to Midori, or even his life as a student. A cloud of death and guilt seems to surround Toru as he tries to find happiness for himself. But at what point does he need to figure out where he wants to go, or how exactly he is to move on from his past?

Norwegian Wood is quite soft and beautiful, in a way, particularly in the manner in which it addresses mental illness as a legitimate problem in many lives, as well as the fact that it can be dealt with in many different ways. The confusion and uncertainty about life that is experienced particularly at a young age also resonated with me, being in my early twenties myself. And yet, Toru’s insistence to keep himself isolated and disconnected from the world, particularly when people were reaching out to him (such as the manic-pixie-dreamgirl-ish Midori) left me saddened and wondering what was holding him back; was it really just his love for Naoko, which was founded on their connected loss of Kizuki? Death does have a profound impact on the living, which is another concept that was strongly addressed by this novel.

But did I like it? I think I did. Not all stories need big, dramatic acts and storylines. Many times, it is the simple, everyday issues of people’s lives that make for the most touching and interesting tales, with all the ins and outs of the human character. And for that reason, I enjoyed Norwegian Wood, though it may not have been quite what I expected (though to be honest, I’m not really sure what I expected when I began reading it, anymore).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

#CBR5 Review #52: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak is a young adult novel that deals with the aftermath of a young woman’s rape: a time wherein she feels she cannot tell anyone what happened, leading to a period of depression. I hate to think that these things happen to people who are so young and vulnerable, and yet I know that it does occur, and more often than not, the blame is placed on the wrong person, or the victim is too afraid to speak to someone who can help them. Laurie Halse Anderson portrays this issue in a serious manner, which I think is very important, yet she doesn’t allow for it to be so dark that there is no hope for redemption. While I could not possible know what rape victims feel, or even have an inkling as to how it may stay with them throughout their entire lives, I want to believe that there is still the possibility for happiness after such a trauma.

The protagonist of Speak is a 13 year-old young woman named Melinda, who attends a party at the end of the summer before she enters high school, only to be raped by an older student, Andy. Drunk and disoriented, Melinda calls the police, but does not know what to say to them. Because she alerted the police to the party (which led to some students losing their jobs), many are angry with Melinda, and she begins high school with no friends, essentially ostracized from all of her peers. And yet, no one thought to ask Melinda why she phoned the police, despite the fact that something was clearly wrong.

The only person who befriends Melinda at the beginning of the year is a new student named Heather, who later leaves Melinda for a different clique known as the “Marthas”. Throughout the year, Melinda becomes more and more recluse from her peers, her teachers, and her parents. Her grades slip, she begins skipping school, and even makes a hideout in an old janitor’s closet to act as a sanctuary away from class and away from her home life. The only class wherein Melinda thrives is art class, where she uses her project to focus on her thoughts and work out what really happened to her. Overall, however, Melinda is clearly exhibiting signs of depression, and begins to almost stop speaking entirely, which her parents and other authority figures see as her means of seeking attention.

Melinda’s dormancy in the social world begins to break, however, in the form of her lab partner working with her to find a voice in certain classes. Her old best friend, Rachel, also starts to date Melinda’s rapist, Andy, and Melinda starts to feel as though she needs to do something in order to help her friend from being hurt like she was, thereby choosing to confront Rachel who doesn’t want to believe what Melinda is saying about Andy. Everything comes to a head, however, as Andy gets wind of what Melinda has been saying about him, and corners her once again for a final attack that brings everything out into the open and allows for Melinda to gain some (albeit, somewhat violent) resolution.

It is difficult to watch Melinda spiral into a state of not speaking at all, especially considering how there are so many teachers, adults, and other students around her who should be able to see that something is wrong and going on with her, and yet they just don’t. Isn’t it an educator’s job to pay attention to their students and be able to notice negative changes in behaviour, or am I asking too much of them? My friend recently obtained her first teaching job with low-academic students, and within a week she was able to identify certain aspects of her students’ behaviour that may be indicative of other issues. And what about Melinda’s parents? Why assume that her lack of speaking is because she is seeking attention? Did they ever stop to think about why she may be wanting attention in the first place? The whole thing is very frustrating, and could be one aspect of many that accounts for the reluctance of victims to report the crimes against them.

What this novel succeeds at, however, is not even dipping into the idea of victim blaming, except for some slights by the rapist himself. Yes, Melinda went to a party, drank, and danced closely to a boy, but she was 13 and being guided by an older, stronger male: a male who was the one that chose to engage in sex with her, regardless of her state of mind or exclamations of, “No.” Other students may be angry with her for calling the cops on the party, but even before Andy is caught attacking Melinda, there are still those ideas floating around the school that Andy is the one who is “trouble” and one to stay away from, not the girls who are the “sluts” that are “asking for it.” That kind of mindset disgusts me, and I honestly cannot fathom why it is such a common thing today for people to blame the actions of the victim, rather than those of the attacker.

In general, Speak carries a dark tone with it, but still contains some of the typical teenage sentiments of angst, friendship, and petty social issues. Overall, I found it to be a very successful novel, and would recommend it to many, despite being aimed at a young adult demographic. Just because teenagers are young and can be silly at times, that doesn’t mean that they don’t deal with many of the same, serious issues that everyone else does, and I think we sometimes forget that.

[Be sure to check out the Cannonball Read group blog]
*Heeeey, full Cannonball! Twice my goal of 26, which would be more surprising if I hadn't read so many graphic novels this year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

#CBR5 Review #51: Hellboy, vol. 4 – The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola

I don’t really know why I’ve found myself liking Hellboy so much lately, but I really do enjoy him as a character a lot, as well as how Mike Mignola uses dark folklore tales as the basis of his short, episodic stories, just changing them slightly to suit the world of Hellboy. And there are always little explanations from Mignola as to where the stories came from, which I find to be incredibly interesting. Then again, I have a thing for supernatural lore being used in different works, if just in influence, or being reinvented in a new way, and The Right Hand of Doom definitely follows the pattern of Hellboy’s past volumes in that it plays little installments from his life involving different paranormal threats, which may or may not be connected to a bigger picture. I really enjoy it, but I know that some people aren’t into that kind of thing, just like how I like the somewhat less-detailed nature of Mignola’s drawings, which makes them almost seem more moody and dark (heeeeey, early expressionism, nice of you to drop by), while others enjoy more detail. Really I have been finding the Hellboy series to be one of those things that if you like it, you like it quite a lot, but if you don’t, then you are indifferent to it and just don’t see the appeal.

In any case, the tales involved in this 4th volume of Hellboy follow three different stages of his life, and pan out as follows:

Part 1: The Early Years
Pancakes – A two-page, almost joking story about Hellboy trying pancakes for the first time. Seemingly nonsensical, but the demons of Pandemonium appear unhappy that this has occurred for some reason.

The Nature of the Beast – Hellboy is called to England by a mysterious club to destroy a creature known as the St. Leonard Worm. His success in defeating it was not by his own hands, and yet lilies appear to grow from Hellboy’s battle blood, linking him to the folklore of the beast in the first place.

King Vold – Professor Bruttenholm sends Hellboy to help another professor friend to research the myth of a figure known as King Vold.

Part 2: The Middle Years
Heads – In this adaptation of an old Japanese folklore tale, Hellboy finds himself invited to stay at a rural Japanese home with what appears to be a group of other travelers, only to find them decapitated in the middle of the night. Or have these bodies chosen to be this way?

Goodbye, Mr. Tod – An other-worldly monster that wants to enter the physical plane of earth is using a medium known as the Amazing Mr. Tod. As per usual, Hellboy is called to diffuse the situation.

The Varcolac – While hunting a Romanian vampire countess, the giant vampiric creature known as the Varcolac is summoned on behalf of the Countess.

Part 3: The Right Hand of Doom
The Right Hand of Doom – The son of Professor Malcolm Frost meets with Hellboy, to discover an apparent reason as to why the Professor had tried to destroy Hellboy in the past. The cause appears to be something to do with Hellboy’s large, stone hand, and a sheet of ominous symbols that may suggest that it is prophesized to be a tool of destruction in the earth.

Box Full of Evil – Hellboy and Abe Sapien are sent to investigate a mysterious robbery at a castle that results in the release of a minor demon, Ualac. Ualac yearns for the crown of the Beast of the Apocalypse, but ultimately needs to fight Hellboy for this title.

At the end of the day, seeing as this is the 4th volume of the Hellboy series, I’m sure by now you know if you like the style of writing and the character enough to make you want to read it. It wasn’t my favourite of the series (so far) by any means, but I still enjoyed it. But as I said earlier, I like this kind of thing.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#CBR5 Review #50: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I know a lot of yee fellow Cannonballers have already read and reviewed this book since it came out this summer, so I’ll try to keep it brief. For me, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was an exercise in reminiscence on the past, and the wonder of childhood. I was amazed at how quickly and unquestioningly the young boy of the story just accepted the strange things occurring around him. But when I think about it, children are like that, aren’t they? They are the most likely to believe in things that defy logic, or even yearn for more magical explanations for things that they may not understand. This brief novel truly captures this quality:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane begins with our nameless protagonist, returning to his hometown for a funeral, and finding himself back at the old farmhouse at the end of the lane where his childhood friend used to live. As he sits looking at the pond in the back of the farm, he recalls some strange events from when he was seven years old. It all began with the family car being stolen by a lodger living with the protagonist’s family, which is then used as the place of suicide for the lodger. Upon discovering this with his father, our protagonist meets a young girl, named Lettie, and her mother and grandmother. There is something peculiar but spectacular about these women, and they soon inform the young protagonist of some danger afoot in the area in relation to the recently deceased man. The lines between different worlds and realms are blurred, and figures cross between the two, threatening the stability and commonplace nature of the human world. The young boy of our story must learn to question that what he sees, and more than anything, to become brave in his world. But as he sits and remembers these events now that he is older in age, the question becomes whether or not this truly happened, and if it did, what it all means? And why is he remembering it now, after having forgotten these events for so many years? Do we need to forget these things from our childhood when we get older? Is it a mark of growing up when we can actually explain things and let go in order to move on with our lives? There are so many questions I now have that this book made me think about that I don't know if anyone can really answer for us all: we can just try to understand for ourselves.

There is an enchanting quality to this novel that is simply beautiful, but at the same time, I’m not really sure for whom it was written. The story is reminiscent of a tale that would be told to children, and perfectly suited to the sense of adventure of a young person. And yet there are things in it that I’m not sure a child would understand. What I do love, however, is how the different mythologies and worlds are worked in so seamlessly. It may be a short and sweet story, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is both mysterious and cute, and very much enjoyable to read, even if just to know how it will all unravel and be explained in the end.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Friday, October 25, 2013

#CBR5 Review #49: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I’m going to be honest, despite hearing countless references to The Bell Jar and it’s author over the years, I never had any idea what it was about. And so finally, I decided to read it, with all it’s beautiful language and strange meanderings of thought and progress. I found myself both understanding and irritated throughout it, and while I liked reading it, I don’t know if I could have stood if it went on longer than it did. I also don’t understand why this novel and Sylvia Plath’s life has become so romanticized in the modern day, but maybe that’s just me. The life presented in the novel is a struggle of mental instability, and while it is important to read stories like this in an attempt to understand those afflicted, it by no means makes you feel good, nor should it be a mark of aspiration, despite the tragic poetics that may be deciphered from the words of pain.

In any case, The Bell Jar is about a young woman named Esther, who we first meet at a summer internship for a prominent fashion magazine in New York. Esther appears to not be all that interested in the goings on of the big city, or anything at all, really. As she is coming up to her last year of college, she wonders what she will do with herself after her education is complete, only to realize that she has no idea whatsoever: nothing is appealing to Esther, and she starts to just go through the motions of life. Aside from knowing she wants to write poems, Esther shows no real motivation to achieve or work towards anything, despite the fact that she is afraid that the longer life goes on, the fewer options she will have for her future. Inevitably, Esther’s confusion as to what to do and lack of feelings about everything leads to an almost numb and depressive state: she experiences a mental break, after which we see her slow and uneven steps to recovering and coming back to the world that she longs to no longer be a part of.

While reading, I felt some connection to the problems of Esther, regarding not knowing where to go in life with all those opportunities that youth holds, only to see them slip by without you even realizing it. But as she slowly broke and spiralled downward into a cage of psychological unrest, it made me uneasy, and I just wanted to push her and say, “work at getting better, you are only hurting yourself!” Apparently I get frustrated with these things, even though my current course of study at university is in psychology: I should be able to be more understanding, but with this book I was not.

And yet, The Bell Jar still managed to convey to me such a strange and powerful state of mind that I hope to never experience, that I couldn’t help but enjoy it: the meandering and languid language that is used really captures the mindset of Esther, though I may not have always understood her intentions or motivations (or more likely, lack thereof). I kept reading because I was intrigued, however, after it ended, I didn’t feel as though I needed anything more. So I don’t know. I guess I liked The Bell Jar, but I also didn’t. I can’t really explain it (though I hate to say that and come across sounding like our dear, noncommittal Esther).

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, October 14, 2013

#CBR5 Review #48: The Steampunk Tarot Manual by Barbara Moore and Aly Fell

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of tarot cards: how they work, the different beliefs behind them, and more than anything, the symbolism involved. And so, on the spur of a moment, I picked up a book (and set of cards!) on tarot, these ones specifically being in the style of Steampunk. Why not just a regular deck? Because these ones looked beautiful, and I’ve sort of been digging the whole steampunk thing lately. And surprisingly, I feel like I made a bit of a connection to these cards, as weird as that may sound. The images just strike something in me, even if I don’t quite know how to do the whole “reading” thing yet, except for on a level of personal interpretation.

In any case, what is included in The Steampunk Tarot Manual is a reasonably comprehensive layout of all the different cards in a typical tarot deck, their standard meanings, and a few different ideas as to what this might mean, especially given the images in the steampunk style. It also includes illustrations of each card by Aly Fell, and a description of a few different types of spreads and reading methods by Barbara Moore. The illustrations and drawings are just gorgeous, and I feel like I have quite a good grasp of what each of the cards means now. However, there were a few here or there that relied a bit more on telling a story that didn’t truly lay any concrete information out, which frustrated me as to what exactly was trying to be said about those particular cards. But maybe that goes with the whole, “learn to tell a story” idea in terms of doing tarot readings. Speaking of which, if there is one thing that I wish was expanded on further in this book is a more detailed rundown of how to do readings and interpret cards when they are put together or placed in different areas of spreads. I do understand that a lot of that comes down to personal interpretations, but it is still a little confusing as to how to even go about it at this point.

But, at the end of the day, this guidebook was helpful to get a good grasp on the basics of tarot cards and the ideas behind them. Maybe with a little further reading I will have a greater handle on this newfound hobby of mine. For now, however, this was a decent starting point. Maybe not the most complete of guides, but quite easy to understand, not judgmental as to one particular set of beliefs or use for the cards, and very much adhering to its overall theme.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

The Knight of Cups Card
The Page of Swords Card

Sunday, October 6, 2013

#CBR5 Review #47: Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden [Plus Some... Personal Stuff]

I find that in a lot of romantic comedies these days, there is always that scene where the female is discussing her past relationships, only to at one point mention her “experimental college phase” that included a relationship or sexual experience with another woman. “Hahaha! Everyone does it! Look how uncomfortable or surprised the man she is currently dating looks right now!” But then I think, is that kind of experience really that common? Do girls always find that one, really intense friendship that leads to them experimenting romantically or sexually? Is it always just a “phase”? For some, obviously it is not. We know that. So why are these experiences so often played up for laughs?

Annie On My Mind deals with two young girls in their last year of high school, discovering a new sort of kinship in each other, that eventually leads to romantic love. It is serious and confusing for them, and in all honesty, it feels real: like a real situation that might happen between two friends that realize maybe their feelings are more than they thought they could be. And although this novel may have some downfalls, it made me think of myself, and some things I have felt in the not-so distant past (well… a few years back, I suppose). So I apologize if you don’t like how personal this review gets; you can turn back now if you don’t care to hear all that, I don’t mind, and it is quite unusual for me. But the main reason that I liked this book was because of the resonance I felt to it.

The main story is told from the point of view of Eliza Winthrop, as she tries to write a letter to her friend, Annie, going over the whole course of their relationship from the past year in her mind. Annie and Eliza are two high school girls from New York, who happened to meet each other one day and become fast friends. Eliza is the student-body president at her private school, while Annie goes to a public school in a not-so-great area of town. Soon after they meet, Eliza finds herself in trouble at school, and is suspended for a few days, leading to her and Annie to be able to spend more time together during the first few days of their friendship. The girls have almost unrestricted freedom with where they go and what they do with their days in the city, and that was weird to me: when I was that age, I never had the chance to just pop out wherever I wanted with a friend, as my parents always wanted to know exactly what was going on at all times. Maybe times are different now, or New York parenting strategies just end up being a bit dissimilar to what I’m used to, given the location? In any case, Annie and Eliza’s bond is intense, and they start to feel more for each other than simple friendship: both girls look at themselves and their pasts, and wonder if they both haven’t been homosexual all along. Eliza, in particular, isn’t sure what to make of her feelings for Annie, but the two girls choose to stay spending all their time together, strengthening their relationship over the course of a few months. They do this in secret, however, as they fear what people might think, and don’t know how to tell their parents.

Later in the year, Eliza volunteers to take care of the home of two of her female teachers while they are away on holiday, only to find that the two women not only live together, but are lesbians as well. Having this empty home to go to for a few weeks, Eliza and Annie feel as though they have a space to call their own, and begin exploring the more physical aspects of their relationship. This leads to them inevitably being found in a compromising position (we knew it had to happen at some point) by one of the other faculty members from Eliza’s strict school. It is at this moment that the truth must come out, and the two girls must address what to do with their relationship now that people are aware that it might not just be two very close friends.

There is no real indication as to what time period this novel takes place, though I would assume that it is contemporary to the early 80s, in which it was first published. That being said, some of the conflicts and inquisitions as to whether or not the lesbian teachers influenced Eliza, --and should even have a place teaching children-- and the overall reaction of people to the girl’s sexualities could be seen as less relevant today, or maybe just slightly dated. It’s true, of course, that some people still fight about how “right” homosexuality is, but nowadays, sexuality isn’t really taken into question in regards to a person’s ability to teach (at least it seems that way here in Canada, as I had an extremely stereotypical gay man as an English teacher in high school, and everyone absolutely adored him as both a man and a teacher). Personal reactions, such as that of Eliza’s mother versus her father, however, are of course still different to every individual. You never really know what people are going to say or how they will react, do you?

The story of Annie On My Mind itself progresses cleanly, if very simply, but stumbles every now and again with the flipping back and forth of telling the girls’ story mixed in with Eliza ruminating on it in the present day. There is also the matter of dialogue, which feels stiff and clumsy at times, especially when Garden is trying to use certain figures to drive a message home or make some kind of speech about their views on the subject: it’s just a little like a direct message of “this is what I think and what you should also maybe think” and not like how a real conversation about those subjects would go.

That being said, the emotion and confusion that Eliza conveys throughout the novel felt very real to me. For some, discovering their sexuality is an epiphany, but for others, it’s a creeping feeling and needs to be explored and considered with time and thought. And what Eliza often expressed, I have felt at some point in my life. So I guess here comes the question: am I gay? No. I don’t think so. But for a little while near the end of high school (and first year out of it) I wondered if I was. Like Eliza, I always felt more comfortable hanging out with guys, and at that point in my life had kissed more females than males. But I didn’t really think that much about it until… until a friend. My Annie? At the time I thought she might be.

Growing up I never really had that close, intimate friendship that Eliza’s mother says every adolescent has at some point, but then came late high school, and my one friend and I became very close; we told each other everything, and sometimes when we drank a little too much at parties (hey hey, drinking age is 18 in this province, it’s okay) we would get close, intimate, and cuddly. And so I thought about myself, and I looked back, just like Eliza did, and wondered if this would make other moments from my past make more sense. Do I like girls? Am I bi? Then another friend of mine tried to start a rumor that I was a lesbian; this rumor went nowhere. But even so, I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew something about myself that I didn’t? I started to question myself seriously, and it hurt me that this friend of mine had been using this facet of who I might possibly be in a negative way. So what if I did like girls? Why was I so worried about the reaction of others, especially those close to me? And more than anything, what did this friend that I thought I was having feelings for think of me? That’s why I had to be sure before I made any declarations about myself, because of my parents and all my others friends and how they might react (just like Eliza and Annie experienced). But I was still insanely attracted to guys. Was it just this one girl, like Annie may have been to Eliza? Was I just searching for some close relationship to hold on to, in the absence of anything even remotely romantic throughout the rest of my life? Adolescence is confusing enough trying to figure out who you are, even without these other questions about what you feel, who you are, or even what people might think of you: especially those close to you. And I feel like Annie On My Mind captures this chaos of emotions and personal questions very well. At least, that’s what it felt like to me, and I couldn’t help but think of myself when I read this book, even if in the end, my self-realization differed from Annie and Eliza’s. I am not homosexual, like these protagonists understand themselves to be, but it was important for me to go through that and consider it. And what happened between my friend and I? While I may have mentioned how much she meant to me, I don’t know if she really understood what I was trying to say. If she did, she didn’t show it, or maybe she just didn’t want to acknowledge that I thought I might have romantic feelings for her. Eventually we grew apart, like friends do, and I tell myself that it’s fine. But what if I had just outright told her I was questioning my sexuality, particularly in regards to her? That’s something I will never know, and at this point in my life, I don’t really need an answer to that question anymore.

Even though I do consider myself to be straight, I don’t dismiss the possibility that there might be someone of my same sex that I fall in love with some day. Sometimes I find females insanely attractive, or wonder what it would be like to date them. And I have still kissed more females than males in my 22 years. But what and who you are is not defined by what you love, and I know that. Annie and Eliza learn that maybe the gender of the person you fall in love with is not important, but the person themselves: it’s about finding someone who you can be real around. Okay, so maybe I don’t like how so many young adult novels try to make you believe that you can find your true love and soul mate in high school, and know that this person will be with you always (I never experienced that, in any case). But even though this book insinuates that same feeling at times, I just feel like the other aspects were so much more important.

I don’t think everyone will feel so strongly connected to this as I did, or maybe it might make you think of some other feelings and issues entirely. In any case, Annie On My Mind is a good book. Sure, there were some problems here and there, and the language wasn’t per say exquisite, but it is still gentle and quite beautiful at times to make up for its imperfections.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, September 30, 2013

#CBR5 Review #46: Chew, vol. 3 – Just Desserts by John Layman and Rob Guillory

The third volume in the Chew comic series is all about relationships. In particular, Just Desserts focuses on chibopath Tony Chu’s relationship with his new girlfriend, Amelia Mintz the saboscrivner. They have been dating for a while now, and things seem to be going swimmingly between them. Things are also working out splendidly between Tony and his partner John these days. Now if only Tony’s job would stop getting in the way of his newfound love of life; that, and his dysfunctional family’s apparent disgust for him.

This volume of Tony’s story also brings back Tony’s old partner-- and overall nemesis him the series so far—Mason Savoy, as he tries to uncover the truth behind the poultry bans across the globe.  The story is a rolling, my friends.

What I love about this series is how humorously it manages to handle some dark and gruesome subjects. It is ridiculous, yet still hits on some serious political and conspiratorial issues. I also thoroughly enjoy the artwork that Rob Guillory produces, with it’s crisp and comic-y, yet still detailed nature. The only thing that kind of throws me off every now and again is the portrayal of women: both men and women are drawn with overstated and strange body features, yet while the men still feel natural despite being so comically exaggerated, the women often come off as… heavy and disproportionate?

Despite that, however, and even though I sometimes find some of the action and eating sequences to be slightly unpleasant, I can’t help but like this series for some reason. It’s just so different from anything I’ve ever read. So if you are a fan of comic books and don’t mind the strange every now and again, you should totally check out the Chew series, and just hope I haven’t led you astray.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#CBR5 Review #45: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This book was an impulse purchase of mine as I waited in line to buy my textbooks for this semester. And it was enjoyable and fun, but at the same time I expected something… different. I’m not sure what that was, but I almost thought that this book would be creepier (well, besides the old photographs, that is) or more intense than it turned out to be. But even so, this is still a fun book, and I expect a young adult audience that likes fantastical mystery would absolutely love it.

Miss Perengrine’s Home for Peculiar Children focuses on a teenage boy named Jacob, who grew up with his grandfather’s stories of the old orphanage he used to live in as a child, and all the strange children that lived there, hiding from the “monsters” in the world. As Jacob grows older, he believes less and less in his grandfather’s stories, that is, until his grandfather dies under mysterious circumstances, his dying words being somewhat of a riddle for Jacob to solve. As Jacob tries to get over his grandfather’s death and solve the puzzle left behind, he finds himself being drawn to his grandfather’s old stories, and eventually, to the Welsh island that started them all. Jacob is looking for closure as he goes to this small island that once housed the orphanage his grandfather grew up in, but when he gets there, he finds so much more than he bargained for. And more than anything, Jacob learns that all those stories he was told as a child may in fact have been true.

Before writing this novel, Ransom Riggs has begun collecting old vintage photographs from flea markets and other collectors. Throughout the book, you see these images being tied into the story seamlessly, giving it an old and eerie feeling. The photographs themselves appear to have lives and stories to be told of them on their own, and Ransom Riggs really uses this to his advantage in Miss Peregrine’s. The story itself if straightforward enough, and full of mystery and wonder. I did, however, find it to drag in the middle, only to be stuffed with action right at the end, which made the pace seem a little uneven at times. The action is also very… I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but, typical in a way? Though I must say, leaving the ending open as it did was a very successful choice, yet I know a sequel will be coming soon which may change the overall uncertain but hopeful mood that is left at the end of this novel. In any case, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a reasonably fast and enjoyable read, though in my opinion, not exactly one for the ages.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

#CBR5 Review #44: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

There’s something a little “Six Feet Under” about the premise of this book: a son whose life is in disarray returns home after the death of his father, only to have to deal with the rest of his dysfunctional family that wants nothing to do with one another. I thought I could get behind something like this, and while the writing is solid and some real, complicated emotions are examined, This is Where I Leave You left me a bit irritated.

Judd Foxman’s life is a mess, what with recently discovering that his wife had been cheating on him with his boss, forcing Judd out of their house and into a dank basement with no job, no friends, and no idea what to do with himself. Now, to top this all off, Judd learns that his father has just passed away, and that his dying wish was for his family to all sit Shiva for him: this is a Jewish mourning ritual that requires Judd and his 3 somewhat estranged siblings to all congregate at their childhood home for an entire week. The Foxman clan isn’t exactly one that gets along well, and shortly after reuniting, all of their old issues surface and tensions are raised. And although Judd may have started out thinking that his life was the worst of the lot, he soon comes to see that if he looks close enough at the lives of his family, they may not be all that put-together either.

Writing characters that are arguably “not very good people”, yet still have them remain likable is a difficult task; many of Jonathan Tropper’s main figures teeter gravely on the line between being “flawed” and being simply aggravating in this novel. Unfortunately, try as I might, I just couldn’t get behind a lot of them, and found myself not connecting or even liking a lot of the characters in this book.

That being said, despite the fact that I couldn’t stand the people that this novel centered on, the mood of it really struck a chord with me; the uncertainty in the face of death, how to act and how to feel, and how to go on with your life after certain things happen to you, or after you’ve found yourself in a place that you never thought you’d be. There is a lack of resolution to a lot of these ideas as well, especially with the open-ended nature of the novel’s conclusion, and I think that this is one of the strongest things about This is Where I Leave You: the idea that we cannot know where to go for sure, all we can know is that though it might be difficult, there are always choices and options for us, even if we feel like there is nothing we can do.

At the end of the day, I appreciated the honesty that was poured into This Is Where I Leave You, as well as some of the bluntness at times. And yet, I wouldn’t say that this was a favourite book of mine by any means. It was good to read, but I’m afraid I will likely forget it quickly, due to my lack of resonance with the characters, and my annoyance with some of their “issues” that they weren’t really willing to work through. This is Where I Leave You is definitely thoughtful and well written, but not a page-turner by any means.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Friday, September 6, 2013

#CBR5 Review #43: Chew, vol. 2 – International Flavor by John Layman and Rob Guillory

“Hey, you like funny things! You should totally read this,” my cousin said to me one day as he rifled through his vast collection of comic books.  They are basically his most prized possessions, and while some may think he’s a bit of an oddball, my cousin definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this stuff, and he was dead on about this series; Chew is hilarious, in a demented kind of way, and I am starting to absolutely love it. I will admit, it’s the sort of thing that won’t appeal to everyone, as it gets a bit ludicrous and also very dirty and grotesque at times, but if you like the weird and wonderful in your graphic novels and comic series, then you will probably like this as well.

Volume 2, entitled International Flavor, follows our dear chibopath Tony Chu with a new partner at the FDA, who just so happens to be his old police-force partner, John Colby. John had previously been injured while on a job with Tony, and after having some serious reconstructive surgery, he now has a half-robotic face. John’s new robotic abilities, coupled with Tony’s ability to see the history of anything he ingests basically makes the two a new buddy-cop duo of “freaks” at the FDA, and Tony’s boss makes sure he puts them on any case that may involve Tony having to taste something especially disgusting (Sewage! Feces! Rotting corpses!).

While on their first assignment together, John and Tony inadvertently make a chicken bust, as chicken is still outlawed in many countries around the world, including America. When Tony tastes this “chicken,” however, he sees that it is not in fact chicken, but a fruit that tastes just like it from a tiny island called Yamapalu. Tony vows to find out what this fruit is, and takes an impulse trip to Yamapalu in order to learn more about it. On the way, he runs into his brother, who has been called to the island to become a new star chef at a high-end resort. It turns out that the leader of this small nation has some big ideas for his country, based on the new fruit that has been found. But his means of achievement greatness for his people isn’t going as smoothly as planned, and Tony can’t help but get himself mixed up in the mess.

Twists occur frequently in this volume, making the story clip along nicely, and making you want to keep reading to find out what happens next: I read the whole thing in one sitting, but considering how it’s not a long book, that really isn’t hard to do at all. The characters are bright and vivid, all with their own unique little abilities and personal characteristics. As for the artwork, it is very much on the cartoon-y side, but I really love the expressiveness of all the characters’ gestures. I want to say that it’s crisply drawn yet still feels very visceral, but that sounds… pretentious.

In any case, International Flavor may not be perfect or fitting to everyone’s tastes, but I found it to be extremely intriguing, cheeky, and right up my alley. Hopefully the series is able to keep up the fabulous momentum it has so far in it’s future installments: I definitely plan on reading more soon to find out.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

#CBR5 Review #42: Hawkeye, vol.2 - Little Hits by Matt Fraction

[With art by David Aja, Javier Pulido, Steve Lieber, Francesco Francavilla, and Jesse Hamm]

Hawkeye might be a bit of a doofus and not really know what he’s doing with himself at any given moment, but there is still something so likeable about him; you can tell that he genuinely cares about people, despite his often confused and public “I couldn’t care less about anything” nature. Hawkeye wants to do the right thing, he’s just not always sure what that is.

Once again focusing on the life of Clint Barton when he’s not acting as a part of The Avengers, Little Hits collects issues 6 to 11 of the Hawkeye series. Each issue acts like it’s own little episode in Clint’s life, though some are connected with recurring characters, such as Kate Bishop (the Young Avenger’s Hawkeye), and Cherry (the girl who is always in with the wrong people) who first appeared in My Life as a Weapon.

The stories seem to progress much slower in Little Hits than they did in the previous volume, and I also found some of them to be a bit confusing in their jumping back and forth in little sections. And yet, it was still enjoyable, much due to the fact that Matt Fraction has written Hawkeye as such an interestingly human character. Unlike some superheroes in comic books who just seem to be so different that no one can relate to them, Hawkeye is just such a regular guy that you just can’t help but feel connected with him (at least, I feel as much). Plus, there is one issue within Little Hits that is told through the eyes of Clint’s dog, Lucky, often known as “pizza dog”, which is particularly amusing and fun to read, I only wish it went on for longer.

And as always, the minimalist artwork in this series is absolutely stunning. The lines, angles, and small palettes of color allow for the story to be told visually without being overwhelming or distracting, yet still have a huge impact. I know this kind of art style isn’t for everyone, but I absolutely love it.

So even though I didn’t love Little Hits as much as I loved the first Hawkeye volume (My Life as a Weapon) I still found it to be a good read, and am excited to follow this series some more to see where exactly it goes from here. There doesn’t yet seem to be one strict course of action or conflict as of yet, but the formations of one are definitely starting to line up and look quite promising.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#CBR5 Review #41: City of Glass by Cassandra Claire

Or as I like to call it: City of Why Can’t You Guys Just Communicate a Little Better?

And so, after a strong first novel and slightly less-engaging sequel, this installment to Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series hits the third-book-slump for a number of reasons. While the story is still engaging if you have become invested in these characters from the previous books, there is a definite increase in melodrama and love-angst in City of Glass. Furthermore, many of the plot twists and outcomes can be seen coming from a mile away, making it far less exciting than say, City of Bones with all it’s amusing turns. Although I must admit, I did accidentally spoil one of the big twists for myself before reading this book (I was dorking around on the internet, rookie mistake, I know), but I still feel as though you could see where all of this was headed very easily.

[Hold on to your hats, kids, if you haven’t read any of these books before, this plot description is likely to leave you a bit lost:]

City of Glass picks up after the battle against Valentine in City of Ashes. Jace and the rest of the Lightwoods are planning on going to the city of Alicante in the Shawdowhunter homeland (Idris) to speak with the Clave about what happened with Valentine. Clary also wants to go to Idris to find Ragnor Fell, the man who supposedly knows how to wake her mother up from her self-induced coma. Jace, however, is afraid that the Clave will ask questions about Clary’s role in Valentine’s defeat, and wonder about her special gifts, only to use her as an experiment. He pleads with Simon not to let Clary come along, but as he is doing so, the troop is attacked and forced to portal to Alicante with vampire Simon, even though doing so is illegal. Clary is left behind, and resolves to find her own way there despite Luke begging her not to go, claiming it is too dangerous for her. But does Clary listen? Of course not.

And so, everyone ends up in Alicante, in one unfortunate situation or another. Because Simon is a vampire who can walk in the daylight, the new Inquisitor imprisons him, despite telling everyone that he is to be sent home. Clary does not know that Simon came along, and obliviously trundles her way to Alicante with a reluctant Luke, and with the help of Luke’s sister who he hasn’t seen in years, Amatis. Jace and Clary fight about her being there, and it is clear that they both still have feelings for each other despite wanting to treat one another like brother and sister. The plot thickens, however, when Clary meets a young man named Sebastian who is all too eager to help her find Ragnor Fell; Sebastian is extremely charming, yet there is something sinister about him. It is only later that we learn the true reasons for this, after the city of Alicante is attacked by demons, a situation that should be impossible. After the destruction, everyone is on high alert for Valentine as he searches Idris for the last mortal instrument, a mirror. During this time of tension, Luke tries to reason with the Clave to form alliances with the four different factions of downworlders (vampires, werewolves, fairies, and warlocks) in order to protect themselves from demons now and for the future. Meanwhile, Clary and Jace continue to struggle with their relationship, and find out more and more about how Valentine had been experimenting on them in order to give them special gifts. These special gifts end up coming in handy when everything comes to a head at the end for one final battle with Valentine, and the big, ultimate reveal that (tada!) Jace and Clary are not in fact related. I think we all knew that that was the case from the get go. At least, I did, so that’s why I wasn’t all too concerned about the incest vibes leading up to this point.

Apparently it’s quite difficult to succinctly relate what occurs in these books because there is just so much going on! I didn’t even scratch the surface with this. In any case, most of City of Glass features lengthy conversations or back-and-forth information as to what is occurring with everyone all around Alicante and nobody can seem to really keep anything straight at any one point in time. Honestly, there are a lot of he-said-she-said situations and missed connections that lead to angst on many people’s parts. But that’s not the only problematic thing I found in this installment to the series:

First of all, Clary’s stubbornness is a trait of her character, I understand that, but her act-first nature and insistence on doing whatever she wants regardless of what people tell her is starting to tire me. Of course, it is this nature of hers that leads her to be the one who magnificently comes up with the solutions to all the big problems, but sometimes it’s like, wow, you are being totally disrespectful to both people and customs, girl, I don’t care how much of a special and gifted little thing you are.

Furthermore, all the characters seem to be keep rehashing all their old issues with nothing really new to bring to the table character-wise for some reason: they all started out with so much potential only to get lost in melodramatic love stories and static stereotypes. And the melodrama is really hindering the writing as of now; no seriously, I’m pretty sure I saw the word “wistful” being used to describe someone’s expression about 100 times in the last 3rd of the book alone. Sure, there are still some surprises to enjoy, but a lot of times it just seems like everyone is relying on Magnus or Clary to do all these fantastical magical things in order to save the day, and many of the twists, like I mentioned, can be easily predicted after just one too many hints are given along the way. I guess I’d say this book is the most derivative of typical young adult fantasy so far.

But more than anything, I am tired of the Jace and Clary relationship struggles. At first, it was kind of different, but as soon as you can see that they love each other and act like “soul mates,” you just know that they aren’t related. And because of this, I didn’t really care about their issues, because I knew they would eventually solve themselves to allow for them to be happy (You’re the father! Wait, no, HE’S the father!) . Plus, nobody else really seems to care about them being in love and yet related either. Sure, sometimes characters will use this to taunt them and call them disgusting, but apparently people understand that they love each other and see the way that they are just drawn to one another and so look past the relation or something? I don’t know. I guess I’m just exhausted from the countless YA books that promote the idea that there is one person who sends electricity through you and once you find them you are bound forever in some unspeakable way. Yeah, okay, so everyone that comes into your life becomes a part of you and a part of your story, but this just seems like a little too much. Also a little sappy: sappy writing is no good in my books.

All that being said, and despite all of City of Glass’ downfalls, I still liked knowing what was going to happen to these characters after City of Ashes. And the ending wrapped things up nicely, in a way that felt like it could have been the end of the series as a whole, if in a overly happy and neat manner. Happily ever after, ya’ll! Oh… no. There are still some books to go. But I think I’m going to give Mortal Instruments a break for a little while before picking up the next novel in the series. Because I do like them, I really do! This one was just disappointing.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]

Monday, August 19, 2013

#CBR5 Reviews #39-40: City of Bones and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Whenever I read a young-adult series, I find that I fall in love with the first book, only to be extremely disappointed by each sequel that comes to follow it (I’m looking at you, Maze Runner, a series I still haven’t finished from frustration with the second novel). Because of this, when I embarked on reading City of Bones before the film adaptation is released this week [Jonathan Rhys Meyers film career, back from grave!], I also decided to read City of Ashes immediately afterwards. While City of Ashes does experience a bit of a sequel slump, it’s not nearly as drastic as I feared it would be, and is still quite good.

In any case, the first two books of The Mortal Instruments series have definitely made me want to continue reading to see what happens: I’m enjoying them a lot. Maybe it’s my love of all that fantasy, angels and demons stuff (which we can see in the fact that I never met a Supernatural reference I didn’t want to make). Or maybe it’s that everything seems to have a very distinct purpose and is very planned out; the books are richly detailed, but not so much so that it becomes a chore to read through them. Of course, being that these books are aimed at the young-adult demographic, there are bound to be some young romance plot lines, which vary in their degrees of being seemingly necessary or just plain irritating. City of Ashes definitely hinges more on the slow-paced discussions of relationships and issues of love than the action and back-story-filled City of Bones.

City of Bones
City of Bones begins with 15 year-old Clary Fray at an all-ages club in New York with her best friend of many years (who is hopelessly in love with her) named Simon. At the club, Clary sees three young people attack another boy, who they claim to be a demon, yet nobody else seems to be able to see these people at all. She is shaken by this, and starts wondering if she is hallucinating. Soon after, Clary and her mother fight about leaving town for a while, and Clary runs off for the night with Simon, at which time, Clary’s mother, Jocelyn, gets kidnapped. Clary only discovers this after bumping in to one of the boys who she saw killing the demon at the nightclub, named Jace. Jace appears to be following her, and when Clary returns home to see about her mother, Clary is attacked by a demon. Upon waking up, Clary finds herself in “The Institute” for “Shadowhunters,” which is what Jace is. Essentially, Shawdowhunters remove demonic threats from the earth for the protection of humans. They also make accords with other “Downworlders” such as vampires and werewolves, so that they might live peacefully with all other races; in a sense, they uphold supernatural laws. Jace introduces Clary to a brother and sister named Alec and Isabelle who are also Shadowhunters, as well as an old man named Hodge who runs the Institute in the New York area.

From here on out, Clary (and Simon) are thrust into a strange world that they don’t fully understanding, taking part in dangerous adventures, and learning more and more about Clary’s mother and what being a Shadowhunter entails. Clary learns that her mother was once a part of The Clave of Shadowhunters, but that her husband and Clary’s father, Valentine, was essentially a power-hungry dissenter. Valentine, who they once thought to be dead, now appears to be on the hunt for The Mortal Cup, an artifact that can create more Shadowhunters, by having children drink from the cup to turn them into Nephilim (half angel, half human). Jocelyn is believed to have hidden the cup, leading to her kidnap. Clary also learns that she herself is a Shadowhunter in blood, but not in training, as well as the fact that her mother’s best friend, Luke, is actually a Werewolf who was also once a Shadowhunter. Yeesh, things sure do get complicated and tied together in this big conspiracy, don’t they?

The main focus of the story, however, is on Clary trying to find her mother. This involves meeting some interesting characters, such as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, named Magnus Bane, who had Clary’s “sight” of the supernatural world wiped every two years since she was a child, at the request of her mother. Oh, and of course, the story also focuses on Clary and Jace starting to develop feelings for one another, only to have those hopes dashed when they find out they are… related. Closely. As in siblings. Bonds are formed, betrayals occur, loyalty is questioned, and the blood ties of family are tested.

One of the great strengths of City of Bones is how interconnected everything is, and how shocking some of the little twists are. I literally gasped a few times during this book, which doesn’t happen all that often with me while reading (well okay, sometimes). I also found it refreshing that while the Shadowhunters appear to have some special abilities, most of their power and skill comes from years of training, and also from temporary runes that they draw on their skin. In addition, all the characters seem to have a prominent role in this book, so no one is really left to the side to be undeveloped by the end. All in all, I found City of Bones to be very intriguing, especially in learning much of the history of the Clave and the Shadowhunters. I guess I’m just kind of into that stuff, as I mentioned earlier.

City of Ashes
City of Ashes deals with the aftermath of Valentine’s first reappearance, and his new insistence on finding another mortal instrument (like the Mortal Cup). Clary and Luke are left to face the fact that Clary’s mother is essentially in a coma and won’t wake up after being kidnapped by Valentine. Jace, on the other hand, is being accused by the Inquisitor of the Clave as knowing all along that he was Valentine’s son, and also of working with Valentine to steal the Mortal Cup. Jace is reeling in that fact that he never knew his father was such an evil figure, and also in the fact that the girl he loves is his sister (who is also now dating Simon), so he reacts stubbornly to authority figures at this point in retaliation. The Inquisitor imprisons Jace at the Silent City because of his insolence. While he is there, Alec, Isabelle, and Clary decide to rescue him, only to find that all the Silent Brothers of the city have been murdered and the Soul Sword has been stolen; the Soul Sword is a sword used by the Inquisitor to make people tell the truth during trials, but Valentine appears to have stolen it in order to perform a spell on it that will allow him to summon any and all demons to his command in the human world. This spell requires the blood of four different types of Downworlder children, including a warlock, a werewolf, a vampire, and fairy.

The Clave doesn’t want to listen to Jace’s ideas about what Valentine is doing, and so he turns to Luke, the Lightwood siblings (Alec and Isabelle), and Magnus Bane to help him try and stop his father. Their actions are seen as unsanctified and dissenting from the Clave, leading to these young Shadowhunters to be pulled at from every direction, not knowing what to do. Meanwhile, Simon is experiencing some troubles of his own, as not only is Clary clearly still in love with Jace, but he is also afraid that he is turning into a vampire. Clary, on the other hand, appears to have skills in drawing new runes that she never realized she could before. Apparently, Valentine had been using new Nephilim as experiments, to see if they could be bestowed with special gifts, and apparently he has succeeded. Everything comes to a head when Valentine kidnaps a young member of Luke’s werewolf pack and newly vampirized Simon in his attempt to finish his spell on the Soul Sword. The Clave of Shadowhunters is led to act and fight in a battle with hundreds of demons in order to stop Valentine, and the loyalty and abilities of the Shadowhunters are once again put to the test.

While City of Ashes is definitely still worth the read, it falters a bit in comparison to City of Bones. This may have to do with the fact that the first great lengths of the book hinge on discussion and tactical ideas, rather than any real action, only to have all the fighting and faced-paced stuff shoved into the last few chapters. That being said, there’s a slight Cabin in the Woods feel to all the demonic creatures being released in one bloody free-for-all at the end, which I definitely enjoyed. On the other hand, some characters were almost too relied on in this novel to do some serious heavy lifting on the magical side of things (Magnus), while others fell to the sidelines and became flat and almost just mentioned from time to time to remind us that, yes, they are still here (Isabelle). What the biggest downfall of this book is, however, is the insistence of many of the characters moping about their relationships and unrequited loves. Ah yes, this really does become a huge topic of this novel, not just with the Jace, Simon, and Clary issue, but also with Alec, Jace, and Magnus, as well as Luke, Jocelyn, and Valentine. Funny how they all manage to parallel, huh? Though I’m sure it will all work out eventually for them; I mean, Jace and Clary are soul mates or something, they can’t be siblings, right? That’s the vibe I’m getting from this author, at least. I suppose I’ll have to read more to find out, which at this point, is what I intend.

At first, I thought this was just going to be another story about a girl who thinks she is so ordinary and unimportant, only to find out that she is really a truly special snowflake, becoming all kick-ass and immortal after kissing a boy for the first time. But thankfully, I was surprised by a difference to this: oh yes, there is still the whole, “you are special but you didn’t realize it,” and “you think you are so plain but you are really so beautiful to everyone” thing going on, but Clary herself has had a much slower and more progressive transformation into the Shadowhunter world than I anticipated so far. She doesn’t just become a lean, mean, fighting machine after discovering who she truly is, but still needs people to help her, while slowly becoming more active in fights and decisions as she learns more about this world. At the same time, despite these general young-adult feelings, I still often forget how old the main characters are supposed to be. Sometimes they speak way older than their age, and it leaves me wondering if any teenager has ever talked like that. Maybe, given a different Shadowhunter upbringing? It’s hard to say, but sometimes when I get reminded of their age I have to do a double take. Though at the same time, having them feel slightly older may also work in connecting with people that are just out of the target age-range as well.

What is also beneficial to the series as a whole is the insistence of people in this world trying to live semi-normal lives, and how they are shown doing seemingly ordinary things all while the hectic life of a Shadowhunter or Downworlder is still pulling them at every end; just because you are a werewolf doesn’t mean you don’t need a regular job, and just because you are a demon-hunter doesn’t mean you don’t stop to go out for donuts or watch Gilligan’s Island every now and again, you know?

One thing that I do find a bit tiring, however, especially in City of Ashes is the repetitiveness of some of the conversations about danger and going in to certain situations.  “You can’t come, you’re not trained/just a mundane.” “I’m not just sitting out of the fight/I’m not going without him coming too.” “Okay, fine. You’re stubborn like your mother.” I’m sure you can see how this would become slightly exasperating after a while.

And while I am interested to see how this entire world and adventure pans out as a whole, I am a tad worried (as always) that the coming sequels will be less and less engaging as time goes on. Will Valentine always be the “big bad” that they face, only to just slightly defeat him each time before he manages to run away and escape again? The Mortal Instruments could easily fall into this monotonous cycle, but I guess for now, all we have to do is wait and see. Not to mention, go see the film soon to see what angle they choose to take in adapting it. Aidan Turner as Luke Garroway? I’m not sure, but I am definitely intrigued.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball read group blog]

Thursday, August 8, 2013

#CBR5 Review #38: Star Trek/Doctor Who – Assimilation^2 by Scott and David Tipton

 (With art by J.K. Woodward)

A crossover between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Pond-era Doctor Who? It’s like a super geeky fantasy dream! Written as a short serial of 8 issues collected into two volumes, this idea totally roped me in, but in the end was a bit disappointing. There was potential here to do so much, but inevitably all the conflicts and conclusions felt… easy, I guess? And the action was very swayed to feel much more like a general 2-part episode of Doctor Who than a Star Trek story. At the end of the day, however, Assimilation^2 is a fun little story that combines two worlds that may not otherwise meet, if not in a very memorable fashion.

The main conflict in Assimilation^2 centers around a combined attack on Federation planets between the Borg and Cybermen, who are using each other’s technologies in order to co-conquer the human race. Upon this crossover of threats, the TARDIS chooses to mobilize between universes and appear on the Holodeck of the Enterprise-D. Why this crossing-over between universes occurs and what the ultimate ramifications for it may be are never really explained in this book, which was a little confusing to be honest. In any case, The Doctor, Rory, and Amy appear to have new memories of this universe that formed when they materialized in it, and they now want to help the crew of the Enterprise in eliminating this combined threat.

Soon, however, the threat of the Borg appears to be minimal, and we see the Borg actually asking Starfleet for help, as the Cybermen have betrayed their alliance. Captain Jean Luc Picard is hesitant to help out the Borg defeat the Cybermen, due to past traumas. The Doctor, however, insists that he helps, and shows Captain Picard just what the Cybermen will be capable of doing to the future of his universe. Captain Picard reluctantly agrees, and he and the Doctor lead a strike force into the center of the main Cyberman vessel in order to defeat them. Although the Borg and the humans now have an alliance against a single enemy, the question then remains if the Borg will continue to uphold this, or if they will try to use the new technologies of time-travel as seen in the TARDIS to overtake humans through all of time and space.

One issue I had with Assimilation^2 was the characterization of many figures: The Doctor was written true to form and was very fun, as was the robotic yet endearing Data, but many of the others fell a little flat or felt like one-note characters (it basically highlighted the most irritating parts of Amy Pond, while also pushing her to the sidelines, which is unfortunate). Also, although J.K. Woodward’s artwork would be beautiful as stand-alone pieces, as a means of telling a story, the artwork could probably do with some refining. There is one section in the first volume that flashes back to tell a story of when the crew of the USS Enterprise NC-1701 (Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty) had once met the 4 incarnation of the Doctor: the artwork in this segment is crisp and energetic, and I almost wish the whole thing had been done in a similar style.

So I guess in the end, there could have been a little more thought and work put into Assimilation^2. I mean, overall it’s a quick and amusing read for fans of the two series being involved here, I just really think it could have been a lot better.

[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]