Ex-Patriots-- second verse, same as the first

Ex-Patriots - Peter Clines

Cline lost me with this sequel.  His "Then" and "Now" storytelling from Ex-Heroes continues but it's too many POV, with ultimately irrelevant characters, and not keeping the focus on the actual superheroes and the new characters who continue to matter (I know, some of the chapters told from other characters' POVs feature those characters) is just disjointing. The book was about 75 pages longer than it needed to be and the tension with the ongoing villian sort of erupted out of nowhere without a plausible explanation, given the book's setup-- and then the whole setup kind of dissolved.


There are two more books in the series but I think I will skip them.  The will-they-won't-they between St. George & Stealth is getting annoying, and the intermittent & unresolved pan-in, dissolve focus on Danielle/Cerberus' PTSD annoys me, because I'd like to see that paid real attention.  


Despite theoretically strong female characters, Cline doesn't do as much with them as I'd like as just awesome women.  Danielle fades into the background when she's not in the armor and becomes a career-focused drone. Bee is obsessed with sex with St. George, Stealth is obsessed with people not knowing who she is and on both playing up her sexuality/strength and avoiding St. George's schmooopy/romantic/intellectual attractions. Meh. Feminist fail, Peter Cline.


Downloaded from Google Play shop, on Nook HD+.

Rat Queens: Pro-lady, adult graphic novel for fantasy lovers

Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery - Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch

If you want a SFW graphic novel with kickass lady heroines who are noble as heck, don't read any further.


If you don't mind that your anti-heroines are vulgar, drink, have sex (not on-page in vol. 1) & do recreational drugs in between adventuring quests out of the medieval town of Palisade, not to mention engage in lots of gore-- while always having each other's back while they wreak mayhem and find out who's out to get them and the rest of the adventuring crews in the town, then this is the graphic novel for you.  Really diverse set of characters without any commentary on it (they just are, which is great) and the feel of worlds and worlds to be explored.


Silly, sober, gory, and hinting at fantastic backstories for the main & primary secondary characters as well as some great world building, Rat Queens is a D & D quest set to page (though you don't need to be a D & D player to enjoy the read), with amazing art, epic friendships, family drama, and lots of spatter and gore.  Vol. 1 is a collection of #1-5.  6 & 7 are out, but it'll be a bit before there's another trade edition. 


Trade print edition, borrowed.  Also available as e-book download.  

Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi

I really, really, want to like John Scalzi's fiction better than I do, but he kind of blows hot and cold for me.  I haven't read any of his classics like "Old Man's War" and I need to try them but what I like so much in his non-fiction & blog/twitter writing (his sarcasm, his liberal politics, his glee at sticking it to those who deserve it, his sticking up for the underdog) never seems to make it, wholesale, in all of its mischievous joy, onto the fiction page.  I read Redshirts because I'm a Trek nerd, but I felt like it should have been a 100 pages shorter in places and a lot more coherent, even as parts of it were rip-roaringly funny and the whole idea of it was marvelous fourth-wall-busting meta.


Fuzzy Nation, which has, in principle, a great antihero, a really well-rounded cast of supporting characters, no great romance for the antihero (a huge bonus for me), some really great bits of world-building (without pages and pages of exposition on tech), and some lovely aliens not to mention human-animal and human-xeno relatinoship-building, just didn't grab my attention.  I read it because I felt like I ought to, and that's not what I want from my sci-fi.  The environmental metaphor wasn't overblown, nor was the man's inhumanity to everything metaphor, but I just felt my attention wander.  All the things for a great read are there, they just didn't do it for me.  


Maybe I should start with Old Man's War and see if it puts me in the right mindset.


Read on my Nook HD+, downloaded from the Google Play shop. DRM-free.


Meanwhile, in San Francisco-- a city biography in pictures, some words

Meanwhile, in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words - Wendy MacNaughton

Wendy McNaughton is an artist whose work is being seen increasingly all over mainstream media, and good for her, though I first became familiar with her through the site Brain Pickings and The Toast, as well as I Love Charts, the tumblr.  This is a beautiful, random portrait of the people & parts of San Francisco, along with some words.  It's very stream of consciousness, and the portraits of people, places and things are incredibly humane, from the grand things to the mundane.  It's a book full of love, and beautiful drawings to boot. 


You won't come away with a new trove of facts about San Francisco, but you will have a better feel for its heart.


Paperback, from

Subway: art, explanation, movement, fun!

Subway - Christoph Niemann

Like Daniel Crews' Freight Train, but for the New York Subway.  Kinetic, simple artwork that makes you feel the motion of NYC's metro, and lets you grasp some of the sprawl & up & down of the tunnels & trains that happens on something as exciting as all the lines of the Subway.  Lots of geography names, simplified NYC skylines, and a thoroughly satisfying book for the young reader whose favorite question is "Why?"


Downloaded from Nook Shop on Nook HD+


Thief With No Shadow-- Fantasy with no trope unturned (General meta spoilers)

Thief With No Shadow - Emily Gee

When the most well-drawn & sympathetic character in the book is the magical talking dog & the secondmost interesting character is the villainous magical monster who's cursed the "hero's" family for generations, you've got a characterization problem, big time.  


Traditional magical fantasy tale, misunderstandings & excess pride & hubris between very different magical races, illness & healing as romantic plot devices, unbelievable turnaround by the male "hero" as he sees the title Thief with No Shadow in a new light, and too busy & rushed an ending.  The magical monsters were of far more interest, the arrogant hero didn't get nearly as much comeuppance as he should have, and he got to be too much the hero through his own revelations of everyone else's romantic messes.  The self-hating heroine isn't given enough backstory and we don't know enough why the interesting magical mutt knows she's a good egg when everyone, even she, thinks she's rotten.  Fails the Bechdel test since all the female characters must relate back to the male "hero" in some way and have their storylines resolved by his redemption.


Outright repeated icky use of the past fact and/or future threat of rape of a woman as a plot device even if the author did turn that trope on its head in the present.


Bleh, to infinity & beyond.


From Google Play shop, read in epub, on Nook HD+.

This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol The Silence of Our Friends - Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, Nate Powell Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb - Jonathan Fetter-Vorm Ghost World - Daniel Clowes Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi, Blake Ferris, Mattias Ripa Fun Home - Alison Bechdel Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir - Nicole J. Georges A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York - Liana Finck Bohemians: A Graphic History - Paul Buhle

10 Graphic Novels You Need to Read This Summer

Reblogged from New Books and More:

I'm not a fan of graphic novels, at least not yet. The Mashable presents a marvelous list so I might become. 



Revenge with a twist

The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson

I am neither a mystery nor a Western genre reader, but I never say never, and a friend compared Craig Johnson's writing to Cormac McCarthy, mashed up with Alexander McCall Smith-- I was intrigued, and gave it a try. 


(I imagine) Bleak & realistic portrayals of poor white & Indian life in the west, occasional fights & not quite horrific gore but Johnson doesn't shy from the descriptive death scene. Coupled with flawed, sympathetic, occasionally vulgar, often hilarious & usually vulnerable characters, the writing drew me in, particularly Sheriff Longmire, who is not only an old-fashioned romantic but just a darned well-written hero muddling through.


The story kept me guessing as to the murder until the end-- suffice it to say it was a twist and had me upset (in the good way of good writing) when I found out whodunnit. Johnson's not afraid to make his world awfully grey.  Very strong cast of "secondary" characters and interesting women.  

The ABCs of Information Literacy

Reblogged from Bookish Quotes:

A Creature of Moonlight-- (you had me at dragons...)

A Creature of Moonlight - Rebecca Hahn

I will admit, if the story has a dragon at it, I will seriously consider whether to read it. (Talking animals & misunderstood teens on the cusp of adulthood as well, but a discussion of all my narrative kinks can wait for another day.)  Suffice it to say, this was a dragon story that did not disappoint.


Written in a slight peasant dialogue that doesn't get in the way of the story, the narrative & magic unfolds like a blend of Patricia McKillip (the creepy bits) and Robin McKinley (the floaty, not-quite explained way her magic just happens, along with the creepy/threatening foreshadowing and complicated family relationships) as Marni, our heroine, learns all the different sides of herself and decides what and who she'll be, at least for now. 


YA (depending on how adult your YA is)/teen, themes of offscreen medieval violence, repressed/denied sexuality & some strong male come-ons but nothing graphic, hard choices about self & family, and learning that everyone makes mistakes masquerading as choices that time reveals later to not be that wise.  Not all-evil monsters, an interesting & ambiguous dragon, wonderful magic, not all-noble humans, and if the ending felt a bit rushed in places, I was satisfied with the overall thrust of the story, which includes themes of how to decide (or not) about romantic love, and how to thrash through the decision of whether choosing yourself & who you'll become can really include doing something for somebody else, instead of the instinct screaming inside you.


Passes the Bechdel test for several interesting female side characters along with the heroine, all doing interesting things and having their own life stories.  I would have liked a bit more discussion/drama around the twist at the end & the theme of other people making decisions for the heroine & the way she reacts, because I worry that younger readers won't get the subtle emotional point about forgiveness and sacrifice & the good intentions in trying without it-- thus 4 stars & not 5.


Standalone novel, downloaded from Google Play in epub format to my Nook HD+.

Ex-Heroes: Zombie Apocalypse meets misfit superheroes

Ex-Heroes - Peter Clines

A little uneven in places, but different enough in the mashup of the misfit-superhero genre and the zombie-apocalypse survival genre that I enjoyed it despite the multiple POVs and the "then" & "now" chronology changeups.  First in a series. 


The superheroes' powers come to them without explanation, not long before the zombie epidemic begins, and there's lots of moral greyness & grappling & gore, as one would hope when it's the end of the world.


There's a somewhat detached emotional air to the storytelling, and the author doesn't really pass my Bechdel test because there aren't 1) enough female characters 2) enough non-sexy female characters doing straightforward things that aren't either shoved in your face as BADASS or BITCHY and 3) the one female "superhero" also fails the Hawkeye test for sexy costuming and not objectifying one's self (or others). Too much of her inner narrative is taken up with no one figuring out who she was before she became Stealth, rather than being the supposedly hyper-intelligent person she is, and too much time is given to the hero "St. George" as the unabashed & un-grey good guy whom everyone can't help but admire.  I would have enjoyed a less-clinical, less-using-her-sexuality-against-others, more complex Stealth. 


That said, there's enough of a taste of backstory & variety in the superheroes & enough world-building in the survivalist encampment the heroes have built that between that and the action (kind of brain-dead, heh heh, zombie humor, excuse me) that propels the climax along that at the end of the book you're curious about what happens next, though the book could also have stood along.  It's the first in a trilogy. I'm trying to decide if I'll finish the rest or hold off for a bit while my Walking Dead graphic novel obsession works its way through my system.


Read on my Nook HD+, downloaded from the Google Play bookshop from their 2.99 & under section.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry; perfect use of all the life-changing tropes

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: Free Preview plus Bonus Material - Gabrielle Zevin

Curmudgeonly widowed not-quite-forty bookseller A.J. Fikry receives what at first seems like a magical gift; over the years, the lives of the people he interacts with (grudgingly & then less so) on Alice Island (a stand-in for Martha's Vineyard/Nantucket) unfold, as does his.   Everyone is changed by the magical gift for the better, and if they're not, they get what they deserve. 


The novel is a bookstore book about booksellers, love, family, learning to be a real person, learning to start over again, and learning that while books and words can be magic, they aren't all the magic out there.  Zevin doesn't try to hide the tropes the book is full of; instead, she uses them well & with charm, so that I laughed out loud, cried on cue, and otherwise let my heartstrings be tugged as I wished for my own "magical" bookstore and community of people who would come to know judge me despite my book cover.  


Read on my Nook HD+ from B & N ebook store.


Congratulations, by the way-- meditations on kindness

Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness - George Saunders

This is a short, illustrated hardbound edition (bought online w/coupons from B & N) of a commencement speech George Saunders gave about what he calls "failures of kindness." I admit I'm not familiar with Saunders' novels or stories, so I'm judging this piece without any of that context.


I won't say there aren't places where it isn't a bit trite-- it is a commencement speech, after all-- but the illustrations are lovely & help the text right along, and the general theme, about how we all need to try to not just "do no harm" but go out of our way to learn to be kind, even when there's nothing in it for us, is a theme I've wanted a short, punchy book to bring to work as an illustrative text/assigned reading for some upcoming leadership meetings. 


For that, the book does the job & more, and we could all use all the reminders that we can get, without belaboring the point.

Lost Cat-- art, memoir, unexpected surprises

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology - Caroline Paul, Wendy MacNaughton

I'll admit, I bought the hardcover book from B & N online because I had a coupon & because I am a fan of the illustrator & author's partner, Wendy McNaughton.  I figured it had drawings by Wendy McNaughton about cats & San Francisco, even if I didn't like anything else it would still be money well spent subsidizing an artist I've come to really adore. 


I didn't expect to be drawn so much into the lives of the author, Caroline Paul, or her cats, the tale of the developing relationship with McNaughton as Paul recovers from a bad accident, or the occasionally (to me) silly efforts Paul goes to track her once-lost and now-returned Lost Cat.  


The "twist" at the end, such as it was, was emotionally surprising & more wrenching than what I thought it would be, and turned what I had expected to be a more lighthearted memoir into something more along the lines of Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home, in terms of the depth of emotion & resonance of the themes Paul evokes.  


A little uneven in places, hence the 4 stars, but the art is terrific and overall it's a wonderful story about love of all kinds.

Cold Magic (Too Epic, or why I stopped reading epic fantasy in the first place)

Cold Magic  - Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott wrote a much ballyhooed series called Crown of Stars years ago that I read with hope that it would be a series and new author I would enjoy.  Instead, the story just octopused, growing arms and spreading ink into the water of the story so that there were more and more characters and plot lines to track.  Add to that the fact that her characters' growth was marked by a series of stupid mistakes or mishaps and I just lost interest after the third book (I think the series had 5 books).  


I tried Elliott again with this YA about a young woman who lives in an AU post-Roman Europe with very scattered tribes-- Celts, Phoenicians, Africans of various tribes, Romans, and varying kinds of magic, none of which is really explained.  The setting is 20 years post-war, and the heroine, Catherine, is the niece and elder girl in a househould of information merchants/spies.


And then the plot begins.  Catherine has some kind of spirit world powers and the "cold magicians" (scary, foreboding) have some unexplained interest in her.  They send an unsympathetic person to fetch her and bring her to them, and the action all starts. I didn't dislike Catherine-- objectively she is drawn as knowledgeable and she adapts to her circumstances as best as she can and at times is pretty badass, but the backstory for her skills is pretty tossaway, and it's hard at times to empathize with her.  


There are interesting characters who arise as the action begins to gallop along, but it's the same formula-- mishaps, mistakes, misadventures, friendly & hostile strangers, and the unwinding of something with no explanations or hints and little explanation or inner life of the characters drawn out on the page to give me a reason to continue reading.  


Maybe I just don't like Elliott's writing, and think that she doesn't do enough to make her characters emotionally resonant.  But I've put down other Epic Fantasy series for the same reasons before, which is this-- if you can't even begin to tell me (or hint) where the series is going at least halfway through the first book, you're not going to capture my interest.  I skipped to the end to find out what would happen, thought-- hunh, that's unexpected-- and decided I wouldn't continue because there had been too much else going on in the book for any of the too-many threads in the book to have satisfying led to the ending's cliffhanger.  


I'm going to leave this one unfinished and leave the rest of the series alone.


Nook HD+ ebook purchased from B & N e-shop.

Nicholas St. North (Guardians series, no. 1)

Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King (Audio) - William Joyce, Laura Geringer, Gerard Doyle

This is vol. 1 in the series of books that eventually became Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians-- which I saw first and loved.  This book focuses on how St. Nick became who he was and also sets the back story for the movie's main villain, Pitch, the Nightmare King, as well as lots of great world-building, including lots of interesting things about the man in the moon. Or, the Moon, as the story would have it. 


Great, magical storytelling, amazing illustrations, non-stop action with just enough pauses for world-building details, wonderful, nuanced characters (heroes & villains) & a focus on feelings imaginative children will resonate with (bravery, loneliness, yearning, being scared, doing it anyway, disbelief in success, learning to learn from others). 


Short at 143 pages, but it is a kid's book.  Leaving you wanting more is not a bad thing.


Read on my Nook HD+ in epub format from the B & N ebook shop.