Book Review: “Nimona” (2015) by Noelle Stevenson

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I first became aware of Noelle Stevenson through Tumblr, about five years ago. At the time, she had gained an online following for the comics she drew about movies she’d watched (Thor, The Lord of the Rings, X-Men) and general fandom experiences, like this one. She was funny and relatable, but what kept me coming back were her comments on the depiction of female characters and general misogyny in the comics industry. For example, she drew this comic about her experiences with “self-appointed gatekeepers” who make many would-be comic readers feel unwelcome. Stevenson also started the Hawkey Initiative, where she pointed out the trend of unrealistic and sexist “strong female character” poses in superhero comics and suggested that they could be fixed by replacing the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing. She invited artists to send in their creations, and the results were both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable,

At twenty-five years old, Stevenson is now working as an industry professional, and in 2015 her popular web comic Nimona was published by HarperTeen.

I’m very pleased to say that there is not a single boobs-and-butt panel to be found.

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Book Review: “NW” (2012) by Zadie Smith

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Willesden is the setting of both this book and Smith’s debut novel, “White Teeth.”

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(I wish my rating system allowed for a more nuanced rating, like 3.5 stars. This book is flawed, but still really great. More on that later.)

 

A couple of chapters into NW, I had a revelation. “Mrs Dalloway! If On Beauty was a modern take on Howards End, then this must be Zadie Smith’s spin on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway! I’ve got the ‘hook’ for my review!” One quick Google search later, I sank back into my seat. Turns out the rest of the world had had that same idea when the book first came out in 2012, and that Smith had actually discussed Woolf as a direct influence on her book:

I was just trying to find a way to be adventurous and do something new in the writing while still holding on to the things that I can do well, [...] So [Virginia Woolf is] just a good example of a forward-thinking and yet consistently humane writer, and just a great female modernist. An old inspiration returned to me at the right moment.

Well. So much for my spark of brilliance.

…Anyway.

Major plot spoiler towards the end of the review.

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Book Review: “The Night Circus” (2011) by Erin Morgenstern

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Cover art.

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Now that National Novel Writing Month has officially kicked off, I thought it might be nice to take a look at a novel that started out as a NaNoWriMo project and later became an international bestseller. In 2011 Erin Morgenstern wrote in her NaNo pep talk:

The circus was my variation on the wise and ancient NaNo wisdom: when in doubt, just add ninjas. I had this plodding, Edward Gorey-esque thing with mysterious figures in fur coats being mysterious and doing very little else. I got tremendously bored with it because nothing was happening so I sent the otherwise boring characters to a circus. And it worked. I ended up tossing that beginning and focusing purely on the circus. An imaginary location I created out of desperation expanded and changed and became its own story over many non-November months of revisions and more revisions and now it is all grown-up and book-shaped and published and bestselling. And it all started with NaNoWriMo.

Brilliant. Bring on the metaphorical ninjas! Read more

Book Review: “Where Am I Now?” (2016) by Mara Wilson

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Picture Credit: Huffington Post.

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When I was a little girl, Matilda was my hero. I read the book until it started to fall apart, I had listened to the audio book so many times that I could recite entire paragraphs with the exact intonation the narrator used, and I would watch the movie any time I caught it on TV. Mara Wilson, the girl who played Matilda, was not as scruffy as I had always imagined the character to look when I read the book (too sweet, especially with that ribbon in her perfectly combed hair), but I still sighed with relief every time she got her happy ending.

(I also cried a lot when I listened to the West End cast recording of the Matilda musical for the first time, but that’s a story for another time.)

Years later, Mara Wilson rushed back into my world. She had a hilarious cameo on The Nostalgia Critic’s review of A Simple Wish, became a recurring guest star on Welcome to Night Vale as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, and before I knew it I was scrolling through her Facebook feed, laughing at her posts. She’s funny! I’m so glad she’s funny! I found myself wondering why she had disappeared from the public eye all those years ago. One minute she was a star, and the next she was gone. What happened?

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Book Review: “Grief Is The Thing With Feathers” by Max Porter

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Artwork by Kelly Blevins.

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“Grief is the thing with feathers,” eh? I see what you did there.

Read me, he said.

Just because the title grabbed me? I don’t think so. Have you seen my list of books to read? Who wrote you?

Max Porter.

I’ve never heard that name before.

I’m his first book.

Crow is an immaculate conception, a virgin birth (not that Max Porter is a virgin, although he might be, you never know).

I’ve never heard of you and I have no idea what you are. I bought three books this week that I want to read – forget it.

Rat-a-tat-tat.

I can’t. I am crushed by the weight of all the books I haven’t read. Go away.

Rat-a-tat-tat. Knock. Knock.

No.

But I’m really short. Look at me. You could finish me this afternoon if you wanted to.

Stop.

Rat-a-tat-tat. BANG. BANG.

FINE. (I throw my twenty-euro bill on the counter like it has personally offended me.)

No need for that kind of violence.

Shut up.

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Book Review: “Slade House” (2015) by David Mitchell

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Slade House initially seems like a typical horror story: an old house that is located in a place it cannot possibly be, strange disappearances, and a pair of mysterious twins with a horrible secret. However, since this is a horror story written by David Mitchell, there is more to Slade House than meets the eye at first. If you are at all familiar with his work, you know that all of his novels are connected in some way. There is an overlapping mythology, including recurring characters and concepts. Slade House takes place in this shared universe as well; you could even say that it is a missing intermezzo to 2014′s The Bone Clocks. As some of you may remember, I had some issues with that one; it was too long, too baggy, too confusing. Thankfully, it seems that Mitchell has learned from these mistakes; Slade House shines exactly where The Bone Clocks struggled – but it’s not quite there yet.

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Book Review: “The Raven King” (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater

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(Well, 3.5 stars.)

Note: It’s been a while since I actually read this book (yes, I had preordered it and was eagerly waiting for the mailman the day it came out), but hadn’t been able to put together a review until now – and I felt that I should still write down my thoughts, since some of you have been asking for my opinion on the final installment in the Raven Cycle series.

I will be back to posting book reviews on a more regular basis from now on, hopefully. I have read about thirty books since my last review (as you can see on my Goodreads page) and there is no way I can possibly catch up, but I hope to at least make a dent of sorts.

That said, on to the review!

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Book Review: “Alexander Hamilton” (2004) by Ron Chernow

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I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of American history is spotty at best – only the bare minimum is covered in Dutch schools – so if you had asked me one year ago who Alexander Hamilton was, I probably would have said something along the lines of: “That name does ring a bell… One of the founding fathers, I think? Maybe. I don’t know.” One little Broadway cast recording later, I found myself diving headfirst into Thomas Paine and picking up the 800-page biography that started it all. The combined popularity of Chernow’s book and the juggernaut of a musical it inspired has brought Alexander Hamilton right back into popular consciousness in a major way, and I have been watching this development with great interest. What happens when a controversial historical figure gets dusted off and put back into the general public’s spotlight two hundred years after his death?

Memes, of course.

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

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Book Review: “Welcome To Night Vale” (2015) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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In the summer of 2013, Tumblr was briefly taken over by a curious little fandom – a podcast by the name of Welcome To Night Vale. Up to that point, no one had ever heard of it and those in the know had trouble explaining it to newcomers. “It’s like if Twin Peaks had a local radio show. And there were angels. And an entire civilisation of tiny people hidden underneath the bowling alley. …You kind of have to find out for yourself – just listen.” After a few days of scrolling past pictures of mysterious desert landscapes and fanart of the stars above a glowing Arby’s sign, curiosity got the best of me and I downloaded the first few episodes. An hour later, I was hooked.

Over the next couple of weeks, the smooth voice of Cecil Baldwin became my constant companion as I did my grocery shopping, folded laundry, and waited for the bus (bus not here why the bus so late). For me, this story could not have come at a better time; after my obsession with the TV show Hannibal and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves earlier that summer, Night Vale‘s strange combination of horror and comedy fit right in. As time went on, I dusted off my rarely-used credit card to buy the crossover episode with The Thrilling Adventure Hour, got a ticket to one of the live shows, and started exploring other podcasts like Serial and The Infinite Monkey Cage. Night Vale ended up being much more than a summer obsession – it was an eye-opener.

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Book Review: “H Is For Hawk” (2014) by Helen Macdonald

Original photograph by MJ Springer.

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The first time I tried to write a review for this book, I was going to stick to the facts. I was going to marvel at what a coincidence it was that I’d read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King only a few weeks before this (review here) and comment on my mixed feelings towards its author. I was going to draw comparisons to Moby-Dick and the daemons in His Dark Materials. I’d planned to wax philosophically about how the hawk functions as a mirror in the narrative, reflecting Macdonald’s own emotions back at her, cutting her hands with its razor sharp edges.

The second time I was going to comment on how, even though my own father survived his heart attack earlier this year (which I touched upon in my review of Pyramids), I still felt that I could relate to her story of loss and bewilderment in a way that I would not have been able to before. I would have brought in other memoirs of loss, including personal favourite Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty, and knowing me, there probably would have been a reference to the Book of Job at some point.

But the picture still felt incomplete. It felt dishonest. The truth is that I could not have picked up this book at a better (or worse) time; as I was reading about Macdonald’s mourning process and her struggle to train a goshawk, I was sinking deeper and deeper into a hole of my own, clawing at the walls, unable to find my way out.

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