Monthly Archives: September 2016

Read: March: book one by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

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Continuing the trend of graphic novels, I recently finished reading Congressman John Lewis‘ March: book one. Lewis played a large role in the civil rights movement and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This book is part of a trilogy and the final one was published earlier this summer.

March: book one takes place on inauguration day on January 20th, 2009, as Lewis ready himself in his office for President Obama’s swearing in. However, it’s only the backdrop of this first book, as most of the action takes places during Lewis’ childhood and the start of the civil rights movement. The story ends in April 1960 and in the present, Lewis just leaves his office to head outside for the ceremony.

Similar to Maus and Persepolis, March uses the form of the graphic novel as a conduit for the serious and often violent history of the civil rights movement. It’s a great medium for showcasing important scenes in a visual form, with concise story and dialogue to explain. This makes for an accessible, inviting read for what could be an otherwise dense and detailed non-fiction book. Perhaps this way it will attract more readers and hopefully younger ones who likely don’t know about the history or don’t know much of it. 

With a trilogy, the story is allowed more time to develop. For this first book, while it spans many years of Lewis’ personal history as well as the beginning of the civil rights, not much happens. This book feels like it’s just getting started as it wraps up. The end feels too abrupt but then again, the subtitle conveys that there will be future books. As a stand alone, it feels incomplete although they seem to have done a good job with it. 

Recommended?: Yes but I have a feeling that all three books will need to be read together. This book covers Lewis youth and the Woolworth lunch counters demonstrations along wth Rosa Parks. It’s really the tip of the iceberg but the story and sketches are so well done. I can’t wait to read the next two!
March graphic novel cover

Read: The girl on the train: a novel by Paula Hawkins

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The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins is another of the recent novels to garner public attention from the Huffington Post, The New York Times, and NPR among others. After a personal recommendation, I had to get a copy. It’s easy to read so you have until October 7th if you want to read it before seeing the movie! There are a couple of trailers out for it although there’s so much more to the story and they don’t give much away.

This story is the most realistic that I have read in a while. It is set in England, frequently on trains and a suburb just outside of London called Witney. Rachel takes the train twice a day past the house that she and her now ex-husband used to live. He kept living there with his mistress-turned-wife-and-mother. Due to Rachel’s infertility, depression, and blind drunkenness helped lead to the end of their marriage despite her still loving him. From the train, though, Rachel watches the next door neighbors whom she never knew, giving them an ideal backstory. However, the neighbors lives weren’t perfect and the wife goes missing which drives most of the plot. Questions surrounding the story are how do people live with the choices that they make and how well can people ever really know their loved ones?

The format itself is told in first person in journal-like entires broken up into morning and evening portions. The main and majority narrator is Rachel with Meghan the neighbor who goes missing and Anna the mistress-turned-wife. It’s an odd format as a psychological thriller, especially as at a cliff-hanger it usually jumps to a different character. Though with the pacing of the plot and the odd mystery, it’s easy to keep turning to pages to find out what happens next. One I was about a third of the way through, I became hooked and then about halfway I began hurtling towards the last page almost in a sprint to finish.

The writing itself is journalistic, with sparse yet detailed sentences that focus on action. This make sense since the author Paula Hawkins was herself a journalist. For this type of a mystery thriller, it works well. Some also have equated her writing to Alfred Hitchcock and I agree that there are similarities. She works for the small yet long build up, with unexpected story progression and honing in on certain details in a way that Hitchcock does with his films; instead of being an abrasive action-packed thriller, the pieces begin to come together over the entire duration and only come into clear focus right at the end, like a Hitchcock film.

The tone of the novel is quite eerie since it’s hard to know who to believe or how much to trust anyone. Plus Rachel makes so many bad decisions that are “cringe-worthy” (as my personal recommender told me) but it’s impossible to put the book down so as I reader I follower her along in her misguided actions, mainly due to her alcoholism. In a way, the story is a perfect storm that coalesces into a fantastically odd, enthralling thriller. As this is Hawkins first novel, I can wait for more from her!

Recommended?: For suspense and mystery lovers as well as readers who enjoy a fact-paced thriller. There’s a fair amount of violence, abuse, and of course adultry. That aside, the violence itself is low-key, although we will see if the movie ups it and adds in any gore.  If any of this doesn’t sound appealing to you as a reader, then you can go ahead and it this one since it isn’t going to become a classic that everyone should read, although it’s a fun fairly quick one.

The girl on the train book cover

Transmetropolitan volume 2 by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

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Transmetropolitan: Lust for life volume 2 continues the story of journalist Spider Jerusalem returned to the grimy, overcrowded, hedonistic City after a few years of solitude in the country. Thrust back into his old stomping ground, he once again takes up his blistering crusade to expose the seedy underbelly in the name of justice for the common man. Warren Ellis writes the story and Darick Robertson created the artwork.

With volume 2, Ellis and Robertson focus on Spider’s past which is literally hunting him down to bite him in the ass (at least one police bulldog anyway). He is a crude, rude dude and it’s clear that he’s made a multitude of enemies that are out to get him, including his ex-wife whose head is cryogenically frozen, and featured in the cover art. In addition to developing Spider further, the world in which he lives takes more shape as the revivals (reanimated people that had been suspended cryogenically) as given a storyline and explained more.

The plot lines flow together better in this volume. While some of the elements are self-contained, there is much set up for future graphic novels and a continuation of many of the stories. This volume feels like an in-between-er, a stepping stone to the upcoming volumes. There’s nothing wrong with that but it does seem like the first one must be read before this one. The first was choppier and this one is almost too calm in the sense of less overall action. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the same brutal, occasionally gory, and explicit story as the first one, it’s just more subdued as they further the plot.

I remain intreguied and so will order the next one from the public library. Based on the condition of the volumes, not many make it to the second. I’m a bit disappointed that some of the aspects from the first weren’t mentioned in this one but we will see what’s in store for re in volume 3. They sure are super fast reads, which is nice for a change of pace. 

Recommended?: For those who read and enjoyed the first volume. There is a lot that’s not explained in this one, so I recommend starting from the beginning. 

Transmetropolitan lust for life book cover

Read: The night circus: a novel by Erin Morgenstern

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Curiosity finally got the better of me, well that and praise for this novel. I have known about it for years, hearing about its start as a NaNoWriMo story that met great success; author Erin Morgenstern even gave a NaNoWriMo pep-talk about her experience along with advice. However, the little that I knew about the premise of The night circus turned me off from reading it, since it reminded me of Something wicked this way comes by Ray Bradbury about a mysterious circus. Recently, I looked up the novel again and decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did because it truly is a remarkable work, unique all on its own.

The night circus as a title does not do this novel justice. It is so much more, although the Circus of Dreams (Le Cirque des Reves) purports to be just a night circus and most visitors blindly believe that the only difference between this one and others is the fact that it only opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. In reality, the circus is a playing field for two competing magicians to showcase their very best talents with magic until one is declared the winner. Unlike a typical circus, the night circus contains a multitude of tents, each with its own exhibit or performances. Tents filled with frozen gardens, origami animals that move, an ever-changing labyrinth, and a cloud maze, just to name a few. Bound together by the game, Celia and Marco grow then circus by adding on new tents, rooms, and enhancements, trying to out due each other. However, because of this challenge, the circus requires care and attention as if it were alive so there are many people involved who keep it going as well. This twist on the classic circus setting is captivating and Moregenstern pulls it off beautifully, just like a well-practiced slight of hand. 

In stark constrast to The girls, Morgenstern’s sentences are long, lush, and buoyant. The novel itself feels like a fantastical floating dream. The characters and details are so vibrant and extravagant that there is a pervasive richness throughout, adding to the wonder and glamour. It is a relaxing, enchanting, and delightful read.

The novel itself is comprised of dated entries from different characters’ perspective although always in third person. These entries jump from different times and places, moving forward and backward without a clear pattern. This makes for a somewhat disjointed experiences, especially as a few are the same date but a year apart. It’s easy to follow otherwise but the story did jump around quite a bit which gets a little confusing. I love following characters so it’s tough as a reader when I get pulled away to be shown something else before catching back up with the previous character. That being said, I like how Moregenstern reexamines an event or period of time from multiple people, giving a richer experience to the reader by providing more perspectives. While here are two main characters, there is a large cast of supporting ones who the reader comes to care for just as much. I appreciate her letting them speak for themselves and expanding the novel to include many of them as well. 

Recommended?: Yes, definitely. It’s a charming novel that envelopes the reader the way a magician entrances an audience. The story might not be for everyone, with its magical elements and dreamy prose. However, if it sounds intriguing and you want something different, then step right up and enter this circus. 

Read: The girls: a novel by Emma Cline

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Wow. What a quirky, quick read. The girls: a novel by Emma Cline captured my attention With its cover and piqued my interest with its praise but I finally picked it up once I read the synopsis. As an enjoyer of true crime shows and dramas, and a love of Capote’s In cold blood, this book was a perfect fun read for me. Since it is also about a young girl growing up fast and becoming more adult sooner than she should have to, it reminiscent of Lullabies for little criminals, although this novel is no where near as bleak or dismal of a life.

Cline’s writing style reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s short, sparse, tactile sentences. On the page, they look so simple and plain, yet they convey a lot of story within them. For example, this paragraph covers much more in the periphery around the text beyond just what is written:

I imagined Suzanne and the others would be happy with me for bringing this new person. Expanding our ranks, all the old tricks. A pie-faced admirer to raise his voice with ours and contribute to the food pool. But it was something else, too, that I wanted to extend: the taut and pleasant silence in the car, the stale heat raising vapors of leather. The warped image of myself in the side mirrors, so I caught only the quantity of hair, the freckled skin of my shoulder. I took on the shape of a girl. The car crossed the bridge, passing through the shit-stench veil of the landfill. I could see the span of another distant highway, sided by water, and the marshy flats before the sudden drop into the valley, the ranch hidden in its hills.

The type of novel that best describes The girls is a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old girl in the late 1960s in California. But that alone doesn’t do the novel justice because the plot of the story is her experience and involvement with a cult that commits a horrific, brutal, multi-casuality murder in the name of their leader Russell. It’s clear that the inspiration for the story is Charles Manson and the Manson murders yet Cline makes this story her own with its unique qualities and characters. Evie, the main character, narrowly avoids committing the murders, unbeknownst to her. This of course affects the rest of her life, always hinging on the worry of “what if” and “would I have” constantly replaying over and over in her mind. There is also an unending fear of harm from others, as she realizes that anyone at anytime can be violent, which leads her to like with another constant fear of being a potential victim. Her morality is clear and yet at the ranch with Russell, her chosen role-model Suzanne, and the others, she stifled it on purpose and put on self-created blinders as she wanted to badly to be a part of their rag-tag, misfit family.

The inner turmoil becomes apparent as the novel progresses. This paired with the no-nonsense writing style gives the novel a sense of honesty as Evie sorts through her past experiences as an adult, trying to understand what happened better. The story itself is written in first person, bringing the reader closer to Evie, and it switches between present day and her past which shows how these memories are triggered and continue to affect her current being and responses to the world. She clearly is not over the fact that her “friends” committed this terrible crime, her guilt of knowing, and her inner struggle of whether she would have joined in or maybe even stopped them from committing the murders.

From the beginning, the murders are key but through the novel they never take center stage. Small details creep in here and there. Sure, there is a few sentence about the gore of the crime and the acts perpetrated but it is never the focus. The sense that the reader gets is that the public know all of the details and so the reader does too, and any facts that Evie recounts are just her memories surfacing as she deals with them.

The girls book cover
Recommended?: Yes. I’m sure that most people would really enjoy it. There are some illegal activities of the underage minors and brief descriptions about few forced sexual acts and murder details but for the most part it is just a story about teenage struggles growing up during a time in which kids had more freedom to roam and less parental monitoring (especially since technology isn’t what it is today). It’s also a pretty quick read and the main character is sympathetic so it is easy to care about her and desire to understand her past along with her.

P.S. I sure am getting use out of my public library! The next few reviews will be from there as well–I had a compulsion of book borrowing recently and need to get through them all before they are due!