Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Summer TBR List

As readers, I think we all know that the To Be Read (or TBR) list never stops growing. I personally wish there was at least one month a year with no new releases, so I can play a little catch up. I think the great Lemony Snickey said it best: "It is most likely that I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read." Truth, Lemony, truth.
Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

So I have chosen my top ten books to read this summer. With a grain of salt, of course, because something shiny may cross my path.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
I've never read anything by this author, but this book seems good. It has a futuristic kind of "Wall-E" thing going on. After abandoning Earth thousands of years ago, the descendants are now returning to the abandoned planet.

Armada by Ernest Cline
I unexpectedly loved Cline's last novel, Ready Player One, and so I am excited for this new book, out in July. I don't even know what it's about, but if it has the same level of nerdiness, I'll be happy.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
A friend recommended this to me, and it sounds really interesting. It is a psychological mystery, with an elderly woman searching for her missing best friend. The twist: she is descending into dementia. It jumps back in her memories of her friend while she's searching for her now.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant
It's no secret I love words, so this book is right up my alley. I'm looking forward to this story about how the iconic word book came to be.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton
Another book recommended to me by a friend. I feel like this one would be a good summer read. It is about five women who have been friends for decades. Starting in the 1960s and moving forward with the women as their lives change, this book promises to be a heartwarming read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lois Lane, Girl Blogger

As residents of NE Ohio, you all probably already know that Superman made his comic book debut in 1938’s Action Comics #1. The man of steel was created by fellow Clevelanders, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. What you may not already know is Lois Lane, girl reporter, also made her debut in that same issue. She wasted no time establishing herself as a go-getter journalist hot on the trail of the latest scoop.

Panel from Action Comics #1

The character of Lois Lane has morphed over the decades as the role of women in society has changed. That plucky girl reporter became an unsatisfied career woman in the ‘50s and ‘60s when women in the workplace were viewed more negatively in a post-WWII America. By the late ‘80s she regained her ‘30s spirit and the partnership between Lois and Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent was emphasized. Their relationship was eventually the focus of the television series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997).

Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in "Lois and Clark," ABC Television

Lois Lane has endured alongside Superman for over 75 years. Currently, she can be found butting heads with Clark at the Daily Planet or interviewing Wonder Woman, but always on the hunt for her next Pulitzer Prize winning story. Because of her lasting legacy, DC Comics has looked for opportunities to include Lois in other ways. Marvel has found some success in publishing novels featuring their female characters (The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch) as a way of targeting an audience that may never find themselves inside a comic shop. Last month, DC stepped into the arena of young adult novels with the publication of Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout.

Lois Lane: Fallout finds our titular hero back in high school. Army brat Lois has just moved with her family to Metropolis, a city where they hope to finally put down some roots. Lois’ only goal is to make it through a year of school without getting into or otherwise causing trouble, but a chance meeting with Daily Planet editor, Perry White, sets her on a perilous path. Given a spot on the news team of Planet’s online sister paper, the Daily Scoop, Lois begins investigating the virtual reality video game, “Worlds War Three” that has swept the student body and the cyber-bullying subculture that goes along with it, but she quickly finds herself running afoul with the school principal. With the help of her new classmates and her mysterious chatroom friend known only as “SmallvilleGuy,” Lois has to use all her wits to unravel this conspiracy.

I feel a little divided about this book. On one hand, I thought the story was a bit of a hot mess. A lot of the conflict involved this virtual world which required clunky descriptions of “holosets” and characters' avatars. The penultimate set piece was a confusing confrontation between Lois and the CEO of a generic sounding corporation called Advanced Research Laboratories. On the other hand, this version of Lois Lane is really excellent. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and not afraid to break a few rules to find the truth. That’s a trait of modern-day Lois I really like. Her stubborn determination leads her to do whatever it takes, even if it means operating outside the lines. It juxtaposes well with Clark Kent’s “Golden Boy” persona.

It’s my understanding that this is actually the first title in a planned series. While I’m not completely fangirling over this book, I enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading a sequel. The inevitable meeting between Lois and her “SmallvilleGuy” has great story potential, so I look forward to future installments.

Interested in learning more about Lois? DC published a collection of Lois Lane centered comics for her 75th Anniversary. Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years includes issues from the ‘30s and ‘40s all the way through the modern iteration of the character and makes for a decent survey of her long history.

Additionally, and this will probably ding my comics cred but, I always liked Erica Durance’s portrayal of Lois Lane in the later seasons of Smallville. Seasons 8, 9, and 10 have some great moments between her and Clark at the Daily Planet that make for a fun watch.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Learning to Swim by Being Tossed into the Pool: A Review of The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy

I’ll admit it, getting into what some call “nerd culture” can be quite intimidating. There’s just so much out there, and it’s hard to step back and take a look at what really interests you. Combine that with decades of movie and comic history to learn, gatekeepers, sexism, and the rising cost of collecting, it can seem overwhelming and like it isn’t worth the hassle. There’s a comic by Lumberjanes' Noelle Stevenson that I feel is a good representation of how it can feel.

It was because of all of this, that I was excited to hear about The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy:A Handbook for Geek Girls by Sam Maggs; a book for fangirls, by fangirls, a book to help guide newcomers through the crazy world of geek culture. It seemed like the perfect book to get girls to dip their toes into geek culture.

But my excitement for the book was crushed about 10 pages in. After defining what it means to be a fangirl, Maggs does little to ease newcomers into the wide world of fandoms, or fan subcultures. Instead she throws readers headfirst into some of the most overzealous and niche fandoms on the internet, using fandom specific terminology. Not exactly what I would call welcoming to people looking to learn more about geek culture.

The book seems somewhat self-congratulatory and doesn’t seem to know its audience. It is caught in between wanting to be an introduction to new geek girls and a handbook for established geek girls, and it lost me along the way.

The book is not without its merit. I found the chapter on convention attendance and etiquette to be incredibly helpful for first time and seasoned convention goers. Conventions can be intimidating and confusing, and Maggs gave a good overview of what to expect and how to prepare. There were also plenty of helpful links throughout the book on everything from cosplay to tech blogs to nerdy recipes. And the audiobook continues with the celebration of all things geek. It is narrated by audiobook veteran Jessica Almsay as well as cosplay queen Holly Conrad, which is a special treat for fangirls like me.

I can’t say that gained much from reading this book, and I don’t know too many geek girls who would have either.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Books Worth Reading: My Favorite YA Summer Stories

YA books are filled with stories of summertime romances, summer vacations, summers that just change your life, and more. So since summer is rapidly approaching, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite YA summer reads. And trust me, grown ups can read them too!

I am a big Sarah Dessen fan, and I've read all of her books. All of them are summery, but this is my favorite. Fifteen year old Colie is spending the summer in a beachside town with an aunt she barely knows while her mom is traveling for work. Colie is an angry teen for a number of reasons, and she really doesn't want to be there. The cast of characters in this town draw her out though: the wild young women next door who show her what friendship should be like, her aunt's renter Norman (not to be confused with Cat Norman), and the bevy of unique people in the town. The book just feels like summer vacation: crappy summer job, riding a bike to and fro, hanging out at the beach, a touch of summer love, and fireworks. It's worth a read, and a great intro to the author if you aren't familiar with her. 

So I love this book (and the series) because it's all about friends. The pants thing is kind of secondary and honestly quite far-fetched to me. What I love about this book is that four friends decide to try and include each other in their summer vacations. All of them are doing very different things, but they keep in touch and try to support each other through what turns out to be a kind of rough summer for some of them. It covers a broad range of life-changing events, including first loves, first sex, first time away from home, first heartbreak, first big loss, first job, etc. So much happens in this one book! If you have discounted this series due to the films, or just didn't get on board with the hype, think again. Read it. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll have so many feels.

"Friendship to the max!" Lumberjanes is a camp for "hardcore lady-types" and our five main characters are vastly different, but excellent friends. This story has adventure, magic, and some really awesome bonding moments. This is the first volume of the comic series, featuring issues 1-4. I love how these friends complement one another and keep themselves so tight. So often, there is girl drama with a group of teenage girls, but this book is all about the girls supporting one another. And banding together to fight a giant kitten god. You know, your average summer camp experience.

Sarah Ockler is another one of those authors who writes great summer stories. This one though, sounds pretty awesome. I haven't read it yet, but I can't wait, so it makes the list! Elyse, the youngest of six girls, was in a boating accident that took her voice and since then, she's been terrified of the ocean. She goes away for the summer to a seaside town where she is pushed to overcome her fears in life and learn to express herself. You guys, she's basically "The Little Mermaid." Isn't that amazing? Oh, I cannot wait!

This one is a little different, since there's not really a romance, and I kind of think grown-ups would like it more than teens. This One Summer tells the story of two friends who meet up every summer while on vacation. This summer is no different than the others, except that they are growing up. The two girls explore the beachside town they are staying in, and eavesdrop on the older kids in town. The reason this summer is pivotal for them is that they seem to grow up more, if only by observing the older people around them. It's kind of sad, funny, and nostalgic. It will make you think of that one summer when you were straddling the line between kid and teen. Also, the artwork is just lovely.

Those are my summer must-reads. What are yours?


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jean Grey on Trial

Did you like Guardians of the Galaxy? I certainly did! I thought it was a fun and energetic entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Did you like X-Men: Days of Future Past? Well, I didn’t see that one for reasons I’m not going to get into here, but I hear it wasn’t as bad as X III: The Last Stand, so there’s that. Unable to (as of yet) have a team up between them on the big screen, Marvel has brought you the second best thing: a comic crossover! Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy meet All-New X-Men in a newly released collected trade, TheTrial of Jean Grey.

Now, I know what you’re going to ask: “Meredith! Who is this Jean Grey you speak of and why is she on trial?” And to that I say, “Wait, if you don’t even know who Jean Grey is, then why are we having this conversation?” Just kidding! But to really get at an answer, we have to go all the way back to the heady days of 1980. A simpler time – Chris Claremont was the longtime writer of Uncanny X-Men and the newest mutant to make their debut was disco singing sensation, Dazzler. Claremont’s writing has since gained the reputation of being overwrought and melodramatic, but you can’t argue that the man has written some of the most well-known comic arcs (the aforementioned Days of Future Past, my personal favorite God Loves, Man Kills, and the one that’s relevant to this conversation The Dark Phoenix Saga). 

Prior to the beginning of The Dark Phoenix Saga Jean Grey, a telepathic member of the X-Men, bonded with the mysterious cosmic specter known as the Phoenix Force. She was able to control the force and it allowed her to tap into the full depths of her psychic powers. However, a rival mutant started loosening Jean’s mental bond with the force and it eventually took her over completely, thus creating the villain Dark Phoenix. Now, Dark Phoenix is not one to be trifled with, in fact, she immediately started soaring through the galaxy, absorbing nuclear star energy and destroying planets inhabited by peaceful alien beings for really no reason at all. It’s awesome actually. Anyway, the series ends when Jean self-sacrifices herself to keep the Phoenix Force from destroying anything else. Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Well, these are comic books so, no, it gets way more confusing.

In All-New X-Men the original X-Men (made up of a young Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman, and of course - Jean Grey) were brought forward in time to help remind the current iteration of the team of Professor Xavier’s vision for mutants. However, the Shi’ar galactic council (no, don’t even ask) caught wind of a Jean Grey in their timeline (the Jean Grey that actually belongs in this world has been dead for some time) and they feel she should stand trial for the crimes she will eventually commit as Dark Phoenix. So the Guardians of the Galaxy team up with the X-Men to rescue Jean Grey.

Phew! Y’all still with me? You are? Great! So, let’s talk about The Trial of Jean Grey. First of all, it finally answers the persistent question I’ve had regarding the relationship between Guardian Peter Quill (Star Lord) and X-Man Kitty Pryde.  Peter Quill has his own solo series Legendary Star-Lord where he’s traveling the galaxy and also somehow dating the very much earthbound Kitty. I could never figure out how they met. Well, Kitty is in charge of the young, time-displaced mutants so is also a part of this crossover. Mystery solved!

The artwork done by Sara Pichelli and Stuart Immonen is really top-notch.  They’ve managed to capture the innocence of the younger X-Men without making them look like totally out of place children. Brian Michael Bendis’ script work is coherent, which is impressive seeing as how he’s juggling four different casts while also being respectful of the source material. He even manages to inject a little bit of well needed humor. Overall, The Trial of Jean Grey makes for a thoughtful companion to The Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean Grey is a character who is perpetually dead, so it’s nice to see at least a version of her back in action. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t have a passing familiarity with The Dark Phoenix Saga or X-Men in general.  There are a few cameos that would make for a confusing read, for example: a pre-Asgard assassin Angela (Girl! What are you even doing here?), Cyclops’ flamboyant space pirate father (who looks like he was plucked directly from the pages of a 1977 issue of Uncanny X-Men), and X-23 (who seems to want nothing to do with anything happening around her). 

If you are interested in getting started with X-Men, the first trade of the All-New X-Men series, Yesterday’s X-Men is not a bad place to jump off from, especially if you want to get up to speed with the current timeline.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Revisiting Harold Fry

My love for Harold Fry has been well-documented. So, when I discovered there was a companion novel coming out, I was understandably excited by the prospect. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I loved Harold so much, but I expected the same kind of magic of Queenie. Yes, I realize that is quite presumptuous of me, and I really put a lot of pressure on this book from the get-go.

Queenie Hennessy wrote to her unrequited love, Harold Fry, to tell him she was dying of cancer. She never expected him to write back, much less set off, on foot, to visit her from the other end of the country. It panics her, because there is so much she never told Harold, and now feels like she must tell him before she dies. Queenie cannot speak any more, but she can write. Queenie takes her own journey, by writing this letter to Harold (the book) in order to tell him everything, even the hard parts.

*Spoiler alert if you didn’t read Harold Fry* Harold’s son David takes up much of his concerns while walking. Similarly, David is on Queenie’s mind the whole time she is writing. David was a troubled young man who committed suicide in his early twenties, and Queenie sees herself as holding some responsibility in that. Slowly, her part in David’s life is revealed.

As the letter progresses, so does Harold’s walk, and it becomes something she and her friends are very much looking forward to. Living in a hospice, Queenie tells of the daily life around her, and the excitement Harold’s impending visit brings to her fellow hospice patients. Some of these patients add a lot of color to her life. It reminded me of the media-frenzy of the first book.

I enjoyed the book, but not nearly as much as the first. The books takes place simultaneously with Harold Fry, but it also jumps to the past quite a bit. That made a lot of sense, and I liked learning more about Queenie, and where she went. In fact, I felt like she could have shared more of her past outside of the Harold years, and I would have enjoyed that. I really wanted to know how she got to Kingsbridge with Harold, but sadly, that part of her life wasn’t mentioned too frequently.

What really bothered me about this book was the fact that Queenie was in love with Harold. I know it probably shouldn’t have bugged me so much, but I felt it kind of tainted what I liked about the first book. I liked the fact that Harold was walking to a woman who had been a very good friend to him, and he felt he let her down. I liked that Harold and Queenie had never had any sort of illicit affair. I just liked the fact that it wasn’t about love, at least not romantic love. Also, Queenie was just so gushy about her attraction to him that it got to be a bit much over the course of the book. So I will never get over that.

I liked the parallel story, and the fact that Queenie goes on her own pilgrimage, not so different from Harold’s. She recalls a lot about her past that is painful, but necessary, the same way Harold does throughout his journey. I don’t think that someone could really read this book first, though. It is a companion novel, but I don’t think it stands alone. The book seems to rely on the reader having knowledge of the first book. Not a bad thing, but nonetheless, something to consider.

~Cailey W.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Modern Tar and Feathering

I hate Twitter. The majority of us aren’t eloquent enough to articulate our thoughts in 140 characters or less, so what we’re left with is an echo chamber of the most racist, sexist, and incoherently spewed vitriol streaming constantly 24 hours a day. Its anonymity gives users the freedom to spout their worst, knee-jerk responses and its public platform encourages the hive mind to viciously pile onto unsuspecting people.

The recent Gamergate controversy represented everything terrible about Twitter and social media. It was a series of misogynistic and violently worded threats directed toward a few women in the video game industry thinly veiled as a fight for “journalistic integrity.” For months, three women in particular (game programmers Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian) faced a constant barrage of disparaging tweets insulting their gender, thousands of rape and death threats, and the exposure of their private information (all were forced to leave their homes for a period of time in order to protect their safety). So, yeah, I hate Twitter.

Recently, Jon Ronson wrote a book examining this modern resurgence of public shaming, appropriately titled, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Gamergate is an extreme (but telling) example of “social media justice,” but these sorts of controversies seem to happen every week. A company sends out a poorly-worded Facebook post or someone’s Instagram photo of their racist Halloween costume goes viral and everyone who sees it gets to, in a manner of speaking, have their turn cracking the whip at a virtual public flogging. But what do we really get out of shaming someone?

In his book, Ronson interviews those who have been the on the receiving end of the internet’s fury and it’s clear that the online mob can destroy lives. Ronson describes it this way, “I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.” All of Ronson’s subjects have lost their jobs whether or not their online malfeasance actually warranted being let go. These days, the court of Twitter plays judge, jury, and executioner. Users can create a cacophony of outrage so pervasive that companies feel like they have no other course of action but to fire those being targeted.

Ronson also attempts to pinpoint what it is about shame that is so powerful – examining the lengths people will go to avoid public shame and the physical and emotional toll a public shaming has on a person long after their infamy has faded. But as we know, the internet never forgets. And, in one of the most interesting parts of his book, Ronson spends time with Michael Fertik, a man who has made a business of wiping away people’s online shame through of system of spamming Google’s search algorithms with mundane, safe posts associated with the shamee’s name.

Ronson’s book is a timely investigation into this phenomenon of modern technology and, as a person who spends a lot of time on the internet, taps into something I’ve had to consider before. What are we gaining as a society from tearing people apart? Ronson’s book doesn’t have any hard conclusions, but it’s definitely worth reading to get a sense of how former internet shamees have managed to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. You start to get a sense that people believe shaming works for the greater good, but to me, they’re just cogs in a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan.

~Meredith T.