Abbreviated Review: Zeus: King of the Gods (O’Connor)

October 17, 2010

This first volume of what will be a twelve-book series covers a span of time which begins (literally) at the beginning of everything, brings us through the birth of the Titans and other proto-Olympians, then the Olympian gods, ending with Zeus’ war upon and conquerance of his forebears. A wonderful, thorough, and well-researched collection of Greek mythology that can be understood by any age on some level. O’Connor obviously knows what he’s talking about, and presents the gods as they really were– highly flawed characters who stand somewhat apart from concepts of morality. Wonderful, expressive artwork, as well. Highly recommended for interested kids and adults alike.

 

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Book Review: The Lacuna (Kingsolver)

October 17, 2010

Hello, my erudite darlings! I’m sorry for the lack of actual reviews of late– my supply of ARCs has more or less evaporated. I do have one that will be up as soon as I get around to finishing it. Also (possibly) in the works is my honest opinion of Twilight: The Graphic Novel, and reviews of the other Cybils graphic novel nominees. Today, though, I have a review for you of The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, which isn’t new, but did recently blow me away.

This book covers roughly twenty years in the life of Harrison William Shepherd, first his experiences in Mexico as a boy and with Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky as employers, then his life in America during World War II and the Second Red Scare. Kingsolver has said that the foremost question she wanted to examine in writing this book was, why is the relationship between art and politics such an uneasy one in the US? A mere two decades sampled from our history can’t explain this question fully, but in looking at the period she did, Kingsolver revealed much, and strengthened her thesis by indirectly comparing America’s artisto-political climate to Mexico’s, where art and politics mold together in an almost celebratory way. The most standout character in the book, besides Shepherd himself, was Frida– by the end, you cannot think of her as a historical figure; she is incontrovertibly a real person.

The overarching story of this book is how little we actually know about people like Frida (and Harrison) from the way history paints them; it is the parts of the record that are missing (called “lacunas” by historians) that, when filled, reveal the truth. This book, then, a collection of Harrison’s journals, letters, and relevant news clippings from the time, is the massive piece which completes the puzzle of a life misrepresented. It explores the politics of fear, the inconstancy of public opinion, and the subjectivity of truth against the backdrop of American anti-communism, in a time when to dissent was to offer oneself up to a political and cultural witch hunt. All of this Kingsolver handles with deftness and sensitivity, telling a story that, while inescapably relevant to our current national climate, could only be told in the setting she told it in: it is a story of art, communism, family, and history. It is the story of a man isolated from the world by his upbringing and sexuality who nonetheless finds that he must live in it, and that he can make his mark upon it. It is the story of a life.

In a time when America is dealing with a surge of anger and fear, when “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” is still a touted view, Kingsolver’s novel is not only set in the past. It is a call for conscience and against censorship and intolerance. It highlights the dangers of fear politics, and poses the question, How many voices have been silenced?


I’m sorry, what?

September 19, 2010

“…In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. One such book is called ‘Speak’.”

Come again?

This is a quote from an article by one Wesley Scroggins, published recently in the opinion section of the Springfield, Missouri paper The News-Leader. Needless to say, a storm of internet outrage has been launched over his insensitive portrayal of Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK, which tells the story of a teen victim of rape. Now, I’m not sure how Mr. Scroggins feels, but I would certainly hope that most people don’t get off on this book.

I am not a person that believes in many completely objective truths, but one of them is this: rape is not the fault of the victim. Laurie Halse Anderson happens to be in agreement with me. So when I hear “…the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page,” I think there’s some gross misrepresentation going on there. And furthermore, does that sound like porn to you?

Help get the word out about this– don’t let people like Scroggins keep such a beautiful and important book off the shelves and away from youth whom it can help. Declare your support for SPEAK by Tweeting #SpeakLoudly, and check out these other blog posts on this topic:

Laurie Halse Anderson answers the charges herself.

Cheryl Rainfield writes about how she feels about this affair, as a survivor of sexual and ritual abuse, as does C.J. Redwine.

Myra McEntire gives a laudable Christian perspective.


Cybils ’10

September 18, 2010

Hey, all! I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up that I’ll be helping to judge the Cybils this year. I’ll be in the first round of graphic-novel judging, the panelists, which means that it’ll be my job to read at least the first fifty pages of each of “scores of nominated books” (from the Cybils judging FAQ). You guys can start nominating your favorite books on October 1st (only books released this year can be nominated).

Last year’s Cybil books include a few you might know– Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation and  Fire both won, and there are a ton more great books on the finalists’ and winners’ lists that I haven’t reviewed here for one reason or another. All of those are currently up on the Cybils site. Click around after the link I gave you above and see what there is to see.


Book Review: Behemoth (Westerfeld)

September 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld will be released on October 5th, 2010 by Simon Pulse (Hardcover, illustrated, $18.99, 496 pages).

Let me explain the basic concept to you: World War I.  The Allies have Darwinian genetically-engineered monsters for war engines and the Central Powers have mechas. Do you really need to read the rest of the review?

Oh, yeah, wait. One last thing before you rush off. This is the second book, the first is called Leviathan. Alright, go for it. Spoilers after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »


Book Review: Mockingjay

August 26, 2010

In 2008, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel The Hunger Games reached popular and critical acclaim for its compelling portrayal of the intricacies of love and loyalty when set against the human desire to survive. Its sequel, Catching Fire, moved seamlessly into the lengths to which an oppressive ruling power will stretch to maintain their fragile control, and what it takes to forge a revolution. In Mockingjay, the third and final chronicle of the Hunger Games, Collins takes us on a spare-no-glance tour of the cost of war on a nation and on the human soul, and of how far we are willing to go in defense of a fragile conception of moral right.

Katniss Everdeen, the Girl Who was on Fire, has survived two of the infamous death matches known as the Hunger Games and has unintentionally made herself into the symbol of the resistance against the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Peeta, the one person who has been through as much as she has and understands, has been captured by the Capitol. District 12, her home, is a firebombed ruin. All around her war rages– the districts are revolting, and at last President Snow’s regime will be toppled or will crush them all.

Katniss is safe in the hands of the surviving District 13, protected as the face of a revolution must be. Inside, she is terrified by the loss of Peeta, enraged by the abuses of the Capitol, and discomfited by the “allies” who seek to use her standing for their own ends. The only stable thing in her life seems to be Gale, her oldest remaining friend, and even he seems to be someone she doesn’t quite recognize any more. Amidst all of this, Katniss must put aside her misgivings and come to terms with the fact that she is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for a nation, who is responsible for countless lives.

Anyone who has read one or both of the previous Hunger Games books knows that Suzanne Collins pulls no punches with her vivid prose, but even knowing this I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of Mockingjay. This is a book about love, trust, family, and heroism, true, but above all else it is a story of war and what war does to us. You will not necessarily like this book; you may come out of it hating Collins, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, or any other of the numerous characters. But it will resonate with you, and that, combined with your hatred, will be how you know Collins succeeded in what she set out to do– her characters are human. They have human lusts, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. Their every defeat is diluted by hope, and their every victory is tainted by regret. At the end, you will be hard pressed to say who won, exactly, because each side– every individual, in fact–left so indelible a mark on the outcome that the idea of “winning” seems nothing more than a nostalgic fantasy from before everything was set in motion.


Abbreviated Review: Poison (Poole)

August 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Poison by Sara Poole was released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (Paperback, $14.99, 416 pages; also available in Kindle format).

Francesca Giordano knows a little something about working in the world of men– she is a poisoner in the employ of the Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most powerful men in Rome. It is her task not only to arrange deaths for Borgia’s enemies, but to protect the family she serves from the poisoners of others. She does all of this with a single-minded drive which cannot be dispelled even by questions about sin and her stained soul, something quite impressive for a denizen of the Catholic Church’s city. Her ultimate goal? Revenge for the murder of her father, who was Borgia’s poisoner before her. This private goal leads Francesca into a tangled web of very public lies, intrigue, and looming slaughter, a web which she must help to untangle if she has any hope for peace with who and what she is. Five stars.