104 in 2014: 13. The Mouse Guard never sleep
Well 2014 is done with, but my reading reviews for the year still linger, filling me with guilt. So I’d best be getting on with finishing them before I can tell you about the fabulous books I’ve been reading this year.
I had a lovely break at the end of September and early October. It was a break from work and a break from reading, although I hadn’t really intended it to be the latter. I had packed a couple of thinnish volumes and loaded up my ereader and set off for the gorgeous South Island of New Zealand. And, of course, once I was there I didn’t want to lose myself in a book – I wanted to lose myself in the place. I think I got eye strain from gazing at the mountains, and the lakes, and the stars, and the ocean, and everything. But, once back, I finished off some lingering non-fiction titles and tried a whole stack of new graphic novels: let’s take a look…
#121 Mouse Guard: The Black Axe GN by David Petersen (Read 19/09/2014) Oh, the art in this series is exceptional! This gorgeous graphic novel tells the story of the recovery of the legendary Black Axe, and while the characters are mostly anthropomorphic mice, it’s not very Beatrix Potter. The threat of death is everywhere when you are that far down the food chain, but these mice are cunning, resourceful, stoic and adventurous. I’m really enjoying their stories.
#122 Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters (Read 27/09/2014) People seem to either love John Waters or hate him, so, obviously, if you are in the latter category just skip this review, because you would hate this book. If you think he’s funny, quirky, camp, neurotic, kitsch, irreverent and tacky then BINGO! that pretty much exactly describes this book, too. Having successfully pitched hitchhiking from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco as a book idea to his publisher, he is faced with actually doing it. He writes more about his imagined best and worst hitchhiking scenarios in consecutive sections (that will make you cringe and laugh in roughly equal measures) than he does in the final brief section that covers what actually happened. Fans of the Pope of Trash should jump in and enjoy the ride.
#123 The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words by Anu Garg (Read 18/10/2014) Ah, weird words and their even weirder etymology. I love this sort of thing, although I wouldn’t recommend this as the best example. It’s a book for dipping into, not reading cover to cover, because it is a little patchy, and the tone will grate on some readers. While interesting, most of the words are not ones that are useful to know, as opposed to, for example, the word book I reviewed last time. The chapter on Proto-Indo-European language development is intriguing.
#124 The Hall of Lost Footsteps by Sara Douglass (Read 19/10/2014) Whether you have read this author’s fantasy series or not, these short stories (some of which tie to the series) are worth discovering. They have exactly the sort of clever, unsettling feel of a newly found fairy tale that I love. And, in addition, the collection also includes a beautifully written, poignant indictment on the way our modern society deals so badly with terminal illness and death.
#125 Lord Sandwich and the Pants Man: Discover the people and places hidden in everyday words by Eamon Evans (Read 22/10/2014) This is not just a book of words, but of eponyms. Being so famous for something that your name becomes also the common noun for that thing is fraught with peril, which the author conveys in these amusing explanations. Flattering or not, these mini-biographies make for a fun sort of etymology.
#126 Five Ghosts, Vol. 1: The Haunting of Fabian Gray GN by Frank J. Barbiere (Read 1/11/2014) I guess I didn’t read the synopsis of this graphic novel carefully enough, before putting a hold on it. I was expecting a sort of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with five ‘ghosts’ of literary characters being involved in investigations…but instead this is basically about one annoying, boy’s-own-hero guy alternately using the ghosts’ abilities to make him super-powered and angsting about how it’s destroying him, but he must persist to save his twin sister that his selfishness imperiled in the first place. Sigh. I won’t be looking for the second.
#127 In Real Life GN by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang (Read 3/11/2014) This graphic novel is about a nerdy girl who gets into a massive multiplayer online role-playing game and discovers some big ethical issues of injustice. It has a lot to like, including the art – which uses a different colour palette for the real world and the online environment – and the bravery of trying to address such a huge range of issues including unfair labour laws, teenage friendships, parental control of teens’ online, global economics, political activism, racism, sexism, and privilege. But, it wasn’t nuanced enough to carry it off in my opinion, and the ending was too happy-ever-after for me to be satisfied with the whole.
#128 Friends with Boys GN by Faith Erin Hicks (Read 4/11/2014) I liked this story, although I couldn’t see how the title had anything to do with the contents. Maggie, the main character, is dreading going to high school after being home-schooled by her mum through junior and middle school. Her mum has abandoned the family, her older brothers are being a pain, and her only friend is a ghost that hangs around the graveyard near their house. I wasn’t worried by the lack of resolution of some storylines (i.e. what’s with the ghost?) because it’s a coming of age story, and life is like that.
#129 Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike GN by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios (Read 5/11/2014) Narrated by an ambulant rabbit skeleton and a butterfly, this is a fantasy/Wild West story that reads like an allegory, or an attempt at some serious myth building. It didn’t quite hit the mark for me – some of the story is confusing and overwrought – but the art is mostly pretty damn impressive.
#130 Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery GN by Kurtis J. Wiebe (Read 5/11/2014) So, tell me if you’ve heard this one before….there’s this group of four mercenaries-for-hire who drink and gamble and swear and brawl and fornicate. One is an Elven mage, one’s a Dwarven fighter, one’s a human cleric (who doesn’t believe in their god, but that’s OK because their god believes in them) and the last one is a Smidgen/Halfling/Goblin/whatever thief, who has a drug habit. If you’re bemused, then you didn’t misspend enough of your youth playing Dungeons & Dragons. Anyway, the punchline is that the characters are all female. So witty, right? Anyway, I’ve been shopping at Curmudgeons’R’Us lately, and somehow I didn’t enjoy this romp through a predictable storyline with a bunch of potty-mouthed stereotypes. Oh, I realise lots of people love it, so maybe it’s just me, and it’s a bit unfair to call them stereotypes when they’re trying to hard to be quirky and different…. but, to me, the diversity felt fake, like the writers had a list they were checking off as they included them.
Hope there’s something here you like the look of – I’d best get cracking to complete my reviews. But, maybe I’ll just read this other book first…