Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Ooof, ok, three books in and we’ve hit a real tear jerker. This is not to say that Maggie Stiefvater wasn’t strumming the emotional strings in the first two books, but in Blue Lily, Lily Blue the stakes were so much higher and the moments more weight. This is book three in the Raven Cycle Series and this is your obligatory spoiler warning. If you’re interested in reading about my thoughts about book one you can that here and if you’ve read that and want to read my thoughts on the second book you can read that there.  Maggie Stiefvater is in the habit of leaving us on massive heart wrenching must pick up the next book as soon as possible cliffhangers so when I say reading this might give you some spoilers what I mean is that reading this absolutely WILL give you some spoilers.

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What I think is so impressive about this series is the number of “main” characters in no way inhibits the amount of emotional depth they all get. This tapestry is complex but never tangled and at this point that is something worth noting.  I love love love the little tidbits we learn about the characters via their long friendships. I believe at one point Gansey wants Ronan to hum because he knows so much music from his Irish Music Competitions. It’s one part of one sentence that just adds to the richness of character, makes you even more curious about him, and really solidifies and proves the fact that Ronan and Gansey have been close friends for a long time.  I think that that may be an undervalued technique in literature, but often really interesting plots lose me because there’s not enough silly detail. Those details give the story, characters, and scene’s so much more life and lushness.  I think lush is the perfect word to describe what Stiefvater has built here.

Now, to the doozy (or one of them anyway), we start out the book with Blue dealing with her mother (Maura) having left to look for her father. Upon first reading I’d say this bit of the book is underplayed. If my mom left with nothing but a note saying she’s gone to looks for someone somewhere dangerous and that was all I’d be broody at best. Blue certainly has her moments, but I think they are quiet. There is nothing wrong with quiet moments, they’re powerful and, in this case, appropriate, however when there is so much noise and action happening in conjunction with the quiet moments, they get a little trampled. If anything, I’d say Blue, true to character, gets to work to find her mom rather than dwelling on teenage broodiness.

There are far too many characters to try and go into each one of their storylines. As a group, it’s interesting to see their different perspectives when dealing with each other. There is a giant pink elephant in the room wanting to stomp out all the tension, but they’re very caught up in making sure they don’t fight and they all remain fine. This adds to the pressure cooker feeling this entire book has. I have no guesses about what’s going to happen because Stiefvater has regularly upended my expectations.  I anticipate that no matter where she ends the series I will be dissatisfied just by virtue of having become close to the characters themselves. I want to see where they end up. For now, at least, I have The Raven King to look forward to.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington makes no pretense of starting happy and good. It’s true to its title in moroseness but entirely withholding about the excessive violence  on the brothers part that causes most of the sadness.  Had I given the back cover a closer read it probably wouldn’t have surprised me so much but I borrowed this from a friend and for some reason it never occurred to me to read more than the big words in red on the back cover, “We ain’t thieves and we ain’t killers, we’s just good men been done wrong.”  Well, I suppose anyone that feels the need to say they’re not a killer can be suspect of being a part of a bad and potentially violent situation. It was lackadaisical reading on my part that was quickly corrected by the contents within the book I’d very much misjudged.

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Just so I know that I’ve said this The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart does not mince on violence or, appropriately, grossness. So there, now you know. Aside from that it was so interesting reading this story and knowing, pretty much from the beginning, that I was never going to like the brothers.  For about half the book I kept hope alive for some sort of redemptive act or characteristic, but then realized that I’d think less of the story if it gave me what I wanted in that regard and hope, along with belief in human goodness, slowly faded away. An argument could be made that given the time and circumstances the brothers were doing what they had to to survive but this was never argued in the story. In fact their reasoning for most of their actions went to their strong belief that Mary (Jesus’s mom…that Mary) would care for them and save them.  All of their actions were for the greater good of their belief and religion. Which was not a ringing endorsement for Mary or religion. It honestly made a lot of their more sickening behavior all the more slimey and cringe inducing.

The goal of the brothers Grossbart was to find a grave that they knew had an abundance of wealth and, as they do, rob it.  This often got lost in the action of their journey to the grave.  The story started to feel less like one story of their quest and more like a series of smaller stories exemplifying their habits of destruction and survival. Every once in a while one of them would mention the grave they were headed to to buck the other up and keep moving forward, but it was often in passing. This fits with the characters themselves, just in that they are not surviving because they’re so intelligent, in fact a lot of their survival seems to be in spite of a lack of intelligence, so a loss of focus is not surprising. What is surprising is how much their terribleness made me think pretty deeply about people and our tendency towards selfishness as less of a fault and more of a survival skill. This story is set in a time when overt meaness and manipulation was not only expected but used as a way of coping with some of the more awful things that nobody could control.  The magic and demons confronted serve to amplify a feeling of loss of control and as the back cover points out there is no foulness to rival the brothers Grossbart, so maybe they knew what they were doing after all.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

The Dream Thieves

I realized part way through reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater that this was one of the first times I read the second in a series without immediately prior reading the first.  Whether I’m reading them all in a row or rereading to make it so I’ve always gotten a refresher on series before carrying on with them.  I used to get a little annoyed at any recapping that happened in books that weren’t the first in the series and that is so not the case anymore. If anything, with this book, I could’ve used even more recapping. If you need a recap or you’ve never read any of The Raven Cycle series I reviewed the first of the series, The Raven Boyshere.  To avoid spoilers go ahead and click on that link, read the first book, then come back here let me know what you think!

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Is it a sign that I’m getting older when I say I was a little confused because I didn’t remember all the details from the first book?  Or is the sign that I’m older that I didn’t reread the first book because I have so many other books that I want to get to and patience is a virtue that I’ve all but given up working on? I don’t know. I know I was a little lost sometimes but I got the impression that my confusion and uncertainty was mirroring what the characters were feeling. This book focused a lot on Ronan, not only his special dream abilities, but also his history which goes a long way in explaining his coarseness.  I was especially excited to see a more vulnerable side of Ronan. He went from a character that we’re told is mysterious to a character that we see as complex and therefore a tad mysterious.

This was a theme throughout the book. The Raven boys and Blue were no longer being described as a group. They are very much individuals with individual problems with themselves and with each other. This story displayed their growing pains while furthering the magical aspect of the plot.  It was understandably a little messy. The more characters in any given story the more complex the story becomes. Each character needs motivation and an end goal and if everyones motivation is the same the story becomes unbelievable. Stiefvater did an excellent job of introducing new characters and giving the reader enough information about them for them to be fully realized being within the story that are motivated, flawed, and human.  She did this without losing site of the story or of the main characters that we’re most invested in. This was an impressive feat because thinking back on the story there are a lot of characters to keep track of. I hope to get to the next book in the series soon to avoid any confusion my feeble twenty five year old mind runs into when confronting memory after an extended period of time. Until then I’ll be contemplating the possible results of the cliffhanger the end of this story drops us on.

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

Saga: Volume Three

I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t you JUST write a post about Saga: Volume One then almost immediately after write a post about Saga: Volume Two?  Maybe take a break from the Saga series?”  And to you I say “Never!”.  Actually this installment, Saga: Volume Three, will probably be the last of the Saga series I read for a little while because I just started up with school again and I’ll be a tad short on time.  I’m anticipating using the readings I do for my classes as part of this blog. So you can still expect a bookish post every Monday but there’s a chance I’ll be exploring the aspects of the reading that we explored in class partly to make sure I fully understand it and partly because professors just talk about the most interesting things.  Why would I stray away from the interesting?  As usual, if you haven’t read Vol. One and Vol. Two anticipate spoilers ahead. Go read them. Now.

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Saga: Vol. Two left us with quite the cliffhanger.  Our favorite little family was stuck in the attic of Mister Oswald Heist’s house where they’d been staying for a week while the Prince Robot IV was waiting for them to show up.  Talk about a cliffhanger right?  Well, hold on to your seat because Volume Three embraces the flashback and tells us what happened during their week stay at Mr. Heist’s house and ends just after Vol. Two ended.  I like this utilization of the flashback.  There were some more down moments with the family that were important characterization moments and gave the plot a direction to point in but it was all up in the air regardless because as a reader I knew they were in for a confrontation.

On the tracking the family down end of things we’re introduced to two new characters.  Upsher and Doff, journalists trying to figure out exactly what happened and determined to tell the truth about it.  This adds a couple of elements to the story that I like.  It puts a lot of moral pressure on the two governments tracking the down and pinpoints exactly what the motivations are for each.  It also is a genius way to get the readers more information on the backgrounds of Alana and Marko.  Upsher and Doff know exactly as much as the reader, if not less, so when they discover new information, we do too.

On the The Will end of things the story gets a bit trippy.  Literally, The Will, Gwendolyn, and the little girl end up on a planet and something is almost immediately off.  I like that a driving force for The Will and Gwendolyn is love.  They aren’t just the bad guys tracking down the good guys and trying to kill them.  They’re in a tangled mess of heartbreak that can be easily manipulated towards revenge.  That’s a relatable feeling.  Forgive and forget is practical advise for people that don’t have the resources for revenge when they’re caught in the wretched task of trying to mend a broken heart.  Many people, given the opportunity for revenge, or even just confrontation, would jump at it.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned much about the artwork in my last posts.  This is mostly because I am no art aficionado.  I’m not able to speak all that eloquently on the style of art in this series but I will say I enjoy it a lot.  I did a little research and from what I understand Fiona Staples, the artist, does not like drawing tech heavy things which has influenced the direction of the story.  The ship that Alana and Marko use, for example, is a tree because she preferred drawing something natural.  I really think this is part of what I love about the story.  I can recognize and relate to nature, I can’t say the same for a great big, techy, metal spaceship.  It’s a point of connection that is subtle and really makes the series whole.

 

The Name of The Wind

The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is one of those books that people have been telling me I should read for ages.  Recently, however, multiple people in a very short period of time told me about it.  That, in addition to seeing Patrick Rothfuss on panels at NerdCon and liking what he had to say, convinced me that it was time to pick up the book and give it a go.  My friends are rarely wrong when they tell me I’ll enjoy a book and this was no exception.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so firmly planted in the fantasy genre and this one filled me the type of nostalgic joy only someone who ate up fantasy books as a child and hasn’t read them in while will understand.

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The Name of the Wind is the story of Kvothe as told by him, many years later.  The book tells the story of present day Kvothe, now an innkeeper and going by Kote, and how a chronicler (think historian/biographer) convinces him to tell the story of how he essentially became a legend.  He’s a hero, a musician, an adventurer, an academic, and, in my mind anyway, he’s dreamy.  What struck me most about The Name of the  Wind is how it revels and thrives in stories.  It’s the story of Kvothe telling his story, which is, a lot of the times, propelled forward by stories told to him.  I was absolutely giddy reading it.

The appreciation of the influence of stories is umbrella’d by a general appreciation of the arts.  Kvothe’s childhood was spent with the Edema Ruth which was a troupe of traveling performers.  Here’s where he begins to learn a little bit of everything via the troupe itself and fellow travelers.  While it’s not harped on, the arts are definitely a powerful presence in this story, which is always such a beautiful thing to see.

The appreciation of the arts is a presence throughout, however there is a period of time where we see tragedy strike and young Kvothe wonders, lost and learning harder lessons and truths.  From this point forward I had to occasionally remind myself of Kvothes age.  It’s mentioned throughout the book several times that he’s very young to be doing most of the things he does.  Without these reminders and sometimes even with them, it would be difficult to remember that he is very young.  I know this is a pet peeve for some people and occasionally I agree.  In this case however, I think it’s important to remember two things: First, he’s telling the story as an adult to other adults.  Because of his background with the Edema Ruth a higher expectation is set for story telling, however I think this is an important context to remember whilst reading. Second, we’re shown over and over again that Kvothe is more intelligent and quicker than your average hero.  Not just by a little, but by a significant amount.  Throughout the story we get indications of this and because of these indications it’s hard to remember how old he is, and his age is important.  The most intelligent and world weary teen in the world is still a teen.  Kvothe as a teen is witty and smart and sometimes snarky and has a lot of pride and a temper and acts on it.  There were moments when I just couldn’t connect why a character that had lived so self sufficiently on the streets was letting such small slights anger him until I remembered, he is a teen.  Honestly this just makes me more excited for the next two books because I’ll get to see him grow into the adult he when we see him at the inn at the beginning of the story.

Another part of this story that made my heart so incredibly happy was the women in it and the conversations that happen because of them.  There is Kvothe’s love interest, Denna, who is a force to be reckoned with, but there is a conversation that sticks in my mind as being very important. Denna makes her living from gifts and money that wealthy men that all want to attach themselves to her give her.  Kvothe mentions to the owner of a tavern that he plays music at that he wishes Denna found better work for herself.  It was a type of put down and the owner, Deoch, reminds Kvothe that the options for Denna are extremely limited.  There were very few positions that let her be an independent person and the ones that did exist were not particularly desirable by anyone’s standards.  This was a revelation for Kvothe and he realized his mistake in thinking ill of Denna’s choices.  This in addition to a few other very impressive female characters made me beam with feminist pride contentment which is far too rare a feeling when reading fantasy fiction.

I could go on and on about how well developed the characters, even seemingly small ones, were, and how beautifully the world was built, and how magical and still gritty it is, but really, most of all, I just want to say this is a great book. There’s a second book out that I just can’t wait to crack open and the third, and from what I understand final, book should be out soon.  If you’ve liked fantasy be it Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, anything by Tamora Pierce, or any other fantastic fantasy that I’ve missed out in my life, you will eat up The Name of the Wind.

Saga Volume One

Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples has been on my radar for some time now.  Navigating the world of comic books and graphic novels has been interesting mostly because it’s all new terrain.  With all the other genres I read I can recognize which reviewers I should carry a grain of salt with me while reading their review. I can make wise decisions about which books to invest time in based off of even the most hyperbolic reviews.  Within the comic book world there are very passionate fans and very passionate haters and I’ve yet to decipher when and to whom I should be listening.  Saga, however, has consistently good reviews and you are about to read another.

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Within the story of Saga there is a moon and a planet that are at war but they realize that destruction of one guarantees destruction of both so they outsource their war throughout the universe to other planets.  Our two main characters are Marko, from the moon, and Alana, from the planet, fall in love and have a child. We encounter them when their daughter is about to be born and follow as both sides of the war chase them down as they try to start their family and live a peaceful non violent life.  Volume One is the first of 6 existing volumes and as far as I can tell it’s an ongoing series.  The first book is a fantastic set up.  Vaughan managed to introduce all the characters amidst quite a bit of action and a lot of humor.

The tone is very Romeo and Juliet meets Star Wars meets Joss Whedon which are two of my favorite stories and one my favorite storytellers, so I’m pretty excited about this story.  The characters are very rooted and relatable in a universe that is magical and futuristic.  I particularly like the dialogue between Marko and Alana.  Yes, they are on the run from each others armies, but they are also newly weds and new parents.  They are still discovering each other and who they’re going to be as a family unit and we get to make the discoveries right along side of them.

There is a narrator that is part of the story and we find out right away that she is Marko and Alana’s daughter, Hazel.  This adds a small amount of comfort to the story, knowing that whatever is happening Hazel, at least, grows old and lives to tell the tale.  It also allows for ominous foreshadowing that keeps me on the very edge of my seat.  All in all I’d say this was a successful adventure into the world of comic books and I am one hundred percent hooked!