Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: The Losers Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Andy Diggle, Art by Jock

Description: The Company thought that it had taken care of the Losers. After they saw a little too much at the wrong place and time, their chopper went down in flames with no survivors and plenty of deniability—and the Losers went down in the records as just another team of black ops foot soldiers tragically lost to one of the C.I.A.'s shadow wars.

But the Losers were just playing dead—and now that they've seen what the Company is really up to, they're through with games. Now it's time to take the fight back to its source.

This omnibus introduces The Losers, formerly an elite U.S. Special Forces unit that served as the covert bloody hand of America until they stumbled across a C.I.A. secret they couldn't ignore.

Stats: Crime Graphic Novel, 304 pages, First 12 Issues Collection, Published by Vertigo, Fedruary 2010.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Crime is probably one of my favourite genres, if only because it takes a great amount of talent to get it right. I had very high expectations of The Losers, from all the good things I've heard I was pretty sure it wouldn't be nearly what I imagined it might be. However, am I happy with what I got!

Before I can even talk about the story, let us talk about the art. It captures the tone and severity of the characters so perfectly that if it was a single shade darker or lighter it wouldn't have worked at all. There's so much action in a story like this one, it's full to the brim with quick scenes that take pages of expertly planned movements to pull off and yet where so many artists go wrong The Losers never missed a beat. I followed along with each character as they moved through the page, dodging bullets, and running fast to try and pull off the impossible. If not for the art this story would not have worked as well as it did. Also, if not for the vivid colouring it wouldn't look so pretty! There are so many pages that I want to hang on my wall and just look at them all the time.

What made it all this even better was that I wasn't expecting it to look this good. Beautiful is not a word you would expect to use about a book that has such a high body count!

103546The Losers was just amazing all around. The dialogue is fantastic and you can tell that this is a very well thought-out story. Although the characters didn't get a lot of time to get fleshed out with all the action going on you know who they are and what they do within seconds of meeting them. They all have the same mission, but each has their own motivations and that made them interesting. I rooted for them before I even knew what I was rooting for!

But honestly, what I was most worried about was Aisha. She's the only female on the team and that always concerns me, especially in a graphic novel. Graphic novels  Thankfully, she's probably the scariest of the bunch. I'm so use to females being in the role of "femme fatales" in this genre that it is so nice to see a girl who isn't seductive, isn't cautious, and doesn't shy away from unapologetically killing people that get in her way. The guys may talk shit behind her back, but there is no way they'd say anything to her face unless they don't want it any more.

Then there's the plot that brings this bad boy together. When our team gets murdered by one of there own the good don't ever stay dead for long. Now their mission is to get back what's been taken from them.

In American fiction the idea of having to fight a corrupted government is a common concept (I can't imagine why), but I have never seen it done quite like this. The Losers is partly a story about the military and partly a heist story. I absolutely love a thought out, complex heist and this book is one after another. The Losers is so much fun and I'm incredibly excited to see where this takes us in volume two! For right now I'm content to read this book again and again.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: 101 Ways to Dance by Kathy Stinson

Description: In this quirky collection, award-winning author for young people Kathy Stinson offers characters and plotlines that reflect the many ways teens learn about lust and love. From the first stirrings of same-sex desire on a lakeside beach to troubling paternity questions around a teen pregnancy, 101 Ways to Dance reflects the spectrum of teen sexuality from the very sweet to the very scary.

Stats: Young Adult Short Story Collection, Paperback, 150 pages, Published by Second Story Press, March 2007.

My Rating: 2 STARS

Spoiler Alert: Involves no actual dancing. wink.

101 Ways to Dance is a collection of short stories, sometimes as short as two pages long, that follow various teenagers as they first experience love and lust. With a topic as interesting and varied as that I expected a lot more from 101 Ways to Dance than I got.

While trying to come up with exactly what I should say about this book, I came up with only one comparison. It was a lot like taking a museum tour.

We got to walk through a situation, one of incredibly meaning in a young person's life, but you don't care about the characters. You've known this person for two pages and all you've got to work with is that they're horny. I just couldn't connect and one after another I felt like I was being shown something, something of emotional value, but really it's just a lifeless display behind a thick pane of glass with a sign that says: Warning: Teenagers like sex. To make matters worse, each story felt parred down, like the author was trying to teach me something more so than tell an interesting and in-depth story.

I don't want to be presumptuous and say that teen sexuality has changed all that much in six years, but this book felt like it was written for a different time. For a book written in 2007 it felt surprisingly dated. From the practice of "Call this number if you want a good time", to hitchhiking, to passing around a erotic book with all your friends in school. Although I'm sure these things still happen, for a book about relatability, it just wasn't that relatable when sexuality is so intertwined with the internet and practices like sexting.

It was just a very meh experience overall. The only thing that really clicked for me was the final story All You Need is a Song, which followed two teens who have down syndrome and their own experience with first love. I would have loved to see a novel surrounding just them, but as it was it left me wanting more.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

Description: Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie—a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance—mysteriously appears, she has one request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, because Sadie cannot rest without it.

Stats: Contemporary Fiction, 435 pages, First Published by The Dial Press, July 2009.

My Rating: 3 STARS

Twenties Girl is a ghost story about Lara, a young struggling business women who just got dumped by both her boyfriend and her flaky business partner. Enter Sadie, a 1920's loving former 105 year old who just can't rest in peace without her beloved necklace.

Allow me to start by asking: Is there such thing as a reasonable ghost? I know that them being overly demanding is what make plots like this one work, but for once when the all seeing heroine is freaking out I would love to see a super-reasonable ghostie be all, "Don't worry about it and I'll just come back later when I wouldn't be inconveniencing your life. I'm dead so I have a little bit more perspective then I did when I was living, but If you could at some point save my immortal soul then that would be great too. kthxbye"

But I do love this kind of ghost story, so much so that I've been a little over saturated, but what sold this book for me was Kinsella's writing. Her dialogue and creating individual character voices was what kept me interested despite my former experience in this genre.

Unfortunately, this book wasn't all that it could have been for me. For 435 pages, it didn't feel like it's length matched it's content. The story has this comfortable familiarity to it, but sometimes it got to a point where I was just stuck waiting for the next plot point to come, already knowing what it is. I was just waiting for things to get to the punchline and waiting and waiting.

The characters suffered from this as well, even though they were all energetic and fun, it took till well into the third half of the book for me to start really wanting to root for them. I felt very sympathetic for Lara and Sadie, but I never had that moment where I connected with them. I would feel bad for the situation and then one of them would do something and I would just think, "Someone needs to smack this person. Why hasn't that happened yet?"

Twenties GirlThis frustration happened especially when it came to Lara's relationship with Josh. I know it was suppose to be frustrating, that's part of why I can applaud Kinsella's writing, but it was still there after some 200+ pages. Why? I have no idea.

There were a lot of moments like that one that pushed my buttons but still much to my surprise I found myself enjoying the story. I am a sucker for good dialogue and I absolutely loved the way things ended. This may not have been the most smooth introduction to Sophie Kinsella's writing, but I'm intrigued. This book reminded me just how much I love these sort of romance novels with their bold female leads and swoon worthy boys and shitty best friends. I definitely need to get back in the swing of reading these.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut OutDescription: Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it's a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her to go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy's car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend's attention.

Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players' girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won't get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace.

Stats: Young Adult Novel, 273 Pages, First Published by Poppy, 2011.

My Rating: 3 STAR

Shut Out is about sex. And from page one it makes it very clear, this is not about subtlety or masking a message with a pretty package. This is about sex.

More specifically, Shut Out is about the views society has about girls having sex, compared to boys having sex. We've all noticed it at some point in our lives, when it comes to talking about the down and dirty girls are meant to be chaste. Talking about it, thinking about it, and even doing it is not something that most girls are open about. Somehow after centuries of closing the door on the sex-speak we've created our own little set of rules, which can be seen in everything from slut shaming to virgin bashing.

Shut Out takes the story of Lissa trying to end an inner school rivalry by banding together with her fellow girlfriends on a sex-strike (inspired by the Greek play Lysistrata) to question as many sex-based issues as possible. As I stated above, this was not veiled with any sort of subtlety, which for the most part I didn't mind. I could appreciate the message being said, even if it wasn't in the most crafty or clever of ways. However, this is something that I could easily see annoying some people. If you're not interested in the message you're probably not going to be all that thrilled with the story. This book very much has a target audience of younger girls going through the same experiences that the girls in the book are encountering.

Shut OutBut this book isn't just about a message, there's also a plot in there somewhere, and at its core it's very basic. There's a love triangle, there's a family plot line, there's female bonding, and there's the sex strike. That's about it. What sold this for me was the way the characters take this basic plot and try their darndest to add dimensions to it. Our main character Lissa was by far the best part of the book. Her personality and interactions were very entertaining. I could relate to her and actually invest in her plight. The other characters were alright, although they were not very original, each character had some excellent lines! The humor injected dialog was really top-notch. I could have only wished that the characters had more of a something to them because they felt very one-note. I would have liked to have seen more new ideas, instead of the basics tropes I expect from a contemporary YA romance.

What probably ended up making me enjoy this the most was that Shut Out was an easy read. I sat down and was surprised to see that a couple of hours had passed and that I was already finished. The writing was effortless to consume and that's where this really paid off. I could easily see myself reading another of Keplinger's books based off that experience alone.

Shut Out is a book that needs to be shoved in the faces of confused teen girls everywhere. It has ideas that needs to be shared and discussed, if only to balance out the amount of male dominant, slut shaming, virgin bashing, and abusive sexual relationships that are becoming increasingly common in the YA genre. I love this for its message, but can only like it because it lacked a complex story to host all those complex ideas.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Shortcomings (Optic Nerve #9-11) by Adrian Tomine

Description: Ben Tanaka, is a confused, obsessive Japanese American male in his late twenties, and on a cross-country search for contentment (or at least the perfect girl). Along the way, Tomine tackles modern culture, sexual mores, and racial politics with brutal honesty and lacerating, irreverent humor, while deftly bringing to life a cast of painfully real antihero characters. - Source Goodreads

Stats: Adult Graphic Novel, Hardcover, 108 pages, Edition Published by Drawn and Quarterly, October 2007.

My Rating: 1 STAR

I've spent a lot of time thinking about Shortcomings the graphic novel and trying to form a readable review. Turns out, I really didn't enjoy this. I actually wrote a review where I did a reasonably good job at explaining my dislike for what's done in Shortcomings in contrast with what the book was trying to achieve, but then it was accidentally deleted, so here I am back at square one with no interest in explaining myself again.

BUT I'm going to try!

Shortcomings is a character piece where you're not suppose to like any of the characters. You see, they're "painfully real" and that means they go around and act like dicks for the entirety of the story with no redemption or explanation as to their thinking aside from the fact that they're "flawed". There's also a lot of "brutal honesty and lacerating, irreverent humor" which means to say these unlikeable characters are unlikeable because they aren't afraid to push buttons and say things that are disrespectful in a flippant manner. Like that time where the lesbian character is cussing out a girl, who identifies herself as bi, by calling her a "face sitter" and a "dabbler". Wow, how edgy! Totally not afraid to say what they want to say. That's what makes them so real, you know. The fact that there so flawed. Just look at how flawed they are! The main character even calls this one guy he doesn't like "faggoty" in a fit of rage. I mean, wow, it just got REAL! Real and FLAWED! Aren't FLAWS just so REAL?

In the last year I've grown to have a new appreciation for the anti-hero. When characters do have flaws and behave in a way that isn't always likable, it isn't about having a positive or a negative reaction, it's about how their behavior plays into an interesting and engaging plot. Shortcomings isn't interesting. The entire story is formed around the characters insulting each other and whining. This results in a lot of drama, but not a lot of examination of the issues and ideas it's trying to bring to the forefront of the story about racial identity, sexual attraction, and frankly, anger management issues. Anything it was trying to say was overwhelmed by the blatant negativity and boring relationship drama that was the equivalent of something you could see in an edgy episode of Gossip Girl.

Shortcomings was trying to be off-putting and it succeeded, but I don't think I could say it succeeded in communicating any of the other points it was so desperately trying to get across. The only plus side was the art, which was amazing. I would love to see it applied to a less frustrating story.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon

11084825Description: In recent years, male geeks have taken the world by storm. But what about their female counterparts? After all, fangirls are just like fanboys—they put on their Imperial Stormtrooper Lycra pants one leg at a time.

Geek Girls Unite is a call to arms for every girl who has ever obsessed over music, comics, film, comedy, books, crafts, fashion, or anything else under the Death Star. Music geek girl Leslie Simon offers an overview of the geek elite by covering groundbreaking women, hall-of-famers, ultimate love matches, and potential frenemies, along with her top picks for playlists, books, movies, and websites. This smart and hilarious tour through girl geekdom is a must-have for any woman who has ever wondered where her sassy rebel sisters have been hiding.

Stats: Non-fiction, 208 pages, First Published by It Books, October 2011.

My Rating: 1 STAR

This did not go well. It certainly could have gone much worse, but it gets worse the more I think about it. Mildly offensive at best.

I'm sure Ms. Simon meant no harm. I'm sure she wasn't trying to insult me. But someone along the writing path needed to remind her of the sensitivity of her subject. How saying my jeans are "probably second hand or from Target" might be seen as an insult or how her humorous quips might be read more as jabs. How not all girls are the same and one geek is not like the others. We're not all unpopular, we're not all meek, we're not one thing. We don't all want beta boys because some of us don't even want boys to begin with. These obvious flaws could have been rectified by acknowledging the differences.

Part of what makes a geek a geek is that we don't fit a mold, we don't all have the same spots and stripes. Just because we like stuff doesn't mean it completely defines every aspect of who we are. This book makes some pretty bold assumptions and Simon backs them up by saying that she has created a community of geek girls called the "Geek Girl Guild" who she has interacted with.

"Women of all ages, backgrounds, and areas of geek expertise wanted to joined the sisterhood, making the first pledge class over one hundred strong!" - Introduction, page 5

(And yes, "joined" is a spelling mistake found in the book.)

It makes me wonder how many of those 100 women read this book after it was published and went ...Hold on a second. I will say that the most interesting part of the book for me was the quotes in the margins, some of which attributed to the non-famous, which I assume were taken from this group of women. These geek girls were happy, strong, and proud. Another positive were the small biographical paragraphs about various geek girls who have succeeded in there in field, change perceptions, or influenced geek culture. Those small elements were great to read and brought a smile to my face midst the frowning.

With that said however, lets talk about the frowning, and the scoffing, and the sighing, and the raging.

I went into this book going off the title alone. I thought that anything geek girl oriented might be interesting to check out. I was wrong. I could only force myself to read so much and in the end, to be completely upfront, I only read the sections of this book that applied to me and as I identify myself as a geek. I couldn't force myself to read anymore.

I read:
Section 1: Fangirl Geek
Section 2: Literary Geek
Section 7: Miscellaneous Geek (because being called "Miscellaneous" is a confidence boost)
Conclusion: Geek Girls Unite

The other chapters are more in the same and I assure you were skimmed through diligently for the sake of this review. These are the sections that I will be going focusing on in depth.

Brace yourselves.

We are gathered here as the Geek Girls of the world. Those of us focused on in this book are labeled by interest: Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek, Film Geek, Music Geek, Funny-Girl Geek, Domestic Goddess Geek, and Miscellaneous Geeks, which are Tech Geeks, Fashionista Geeks, Political Geek, Retro Geek, and Athletic Geek.

The majority of this book, 99.9%, is about generalizing, quantifying, labeling, judging, assuming, and stereotyping who we are as people based off of a single interest. Now, this narrow-minded focus is bound to be exclusionary but things only get monumentally worse when Ms. Simon tries to apply humour to the situation. Her quips can easily be read as jabs, her silly throwaway pages easily read as insulting. At every turn there is another opportunity to judge and generalize, of course humourously. My glasses, my phone, everything is just another opportunity for a joke. To take one thing and boil it down to what that says about who I am.

Then there's is the FRENEMIES page near end of each and every section. Allow me to explain. Frenemies is a combination between "friend" and "enemy", or "frenemies". These pages are basically a list of people who you shouldn't like, or at least not hang out with, based on your geek cred. Because we're in middle school and these people are clearly not cool enough to be seen with.

Oh, you want some examples? Why, sure! Here some taken word-for-word from every section.

- Athletes.
- House guests who see your Sony PlayStation and ask if you live with a ten-year old.
- Anyone who cheated their way through high school and college English literature classes by relying solely on CliffsNotes.
- Members of the illiterati.
- Simpletons who are only familiar with the term "word-play" because it's the name of a Jason Mraz Song.
- Cheeseballs who still quote Napoleon Dynamite, Borat, or Austin Powers on a regular basis.
- Poseurs who admit to being "really into film" after seeing one Wes Anderson movie.
- Investment bankers, stock brokers, and various other Wall street douche bags.
- Girls who wear leggings instead of pants.
- Women who wear fragrances by celebrities.
- Know-it-alls who immediately launch into a "but is it art?" discussion after walking through a contemporary art exhibit.
- Eccentrics who wear holiday or Cosby sweaters unironically.
- Self-proclaimed artists who use paint-by-number kits.

My word! These people are clearly soooooo beneath us. Let us banish them from our cool table and make them sit with losers at lunch! Suddenly geek girls are exclusionary, mean, would rather judge then share our knowledge, rather jump to conclusions then laugh, and willing to completely shun a person based on a single trait.

This pisses me off! People like what they like! Why is it necessary to be mean to each other? Geek girls know better than anyone that people who don't accept others for who they are aren't worth being around. And the fact that Ms. Simon is encouraging this sort of behavior make me beyond angry.

Let us not forget the previously mentioned Geek Love Checklist section, which tells us traits to look for in the perfect geeky man for each section's assumed tastes. These pages manage to squeak by from my acceptance that I'm reading the same quality that can be found in your average $1.99 teen magazine. Till of course I saw this:

The Perfect Match For a Literary Geek Girl...
"Only reads one book at a time and thinks someone who's 'in the middle' of numerous titles displays commitment issues."

Which made me think this: Screw. You. Asshole.

... Remember how I told you that geek girls can be sensitive? The majority of us grow up being told what is normal, what is cool, what makes a girl desirable. If a guy said that to me, I'd get up and leave. Because I am a geek girl and I don't like elitism.

Then there was a bunch on small things that bugged me, which I will briefly list for your sake.
- The mislabeling of Harry Potter fanatics as "Muggles".
- The 18 Twilight references in the Fangirl section. (I loved Twilight when I was young, but this was a little much)
- The section dedicated to Twilight called "The Twilight Zone", which never even mentions the actual Twilight Zone. You know, the cult classic.
- Reading through the entire Fangirl section and not a single mention of "fandom", online communities, or Firefly.
- Reading through the Literary Geek section and not a single mention of "Young Adult", varying tastes, or a little word called "genre".
- The page title, "TAP THAT SASS". No thank you.
- The fact that the book lacks focus in the audience it is trying to appeal to.
- The way that the Literary Geek section list books/information about only adult fiction and some early juvenile fiction. I found this annoying because these were not the books that geek girls love universally. These books are books everyone should read eventually, but you have to hold an interest for them and they have to be at your reading level. When going through all the adult fiction it was like reading a list of books for a college course.
- And the section on the Political Geek Girl has this lovely little snippet:

"They strive to be advocates and activists; thus they often possess a pretty rigid set of values and ethics. (Some might call them stubborn or obstinate. Not me, of course, but some.) In an ideal world, everyone would see things their way." - page 172.

I'm just going to stop there.

I am a fangirl of epic giggly and badass proportions, fashion is my passion, music and film are my mistresses, and global politics is my dirty Sunday gal. But most importantly I am a literary geek who should warn all other such geeks to keep this book off their to-read lists. Not only is it not worth our time and money, but it is not worth the possible insult. As a girl, I refuse to be generalized. I am proud of who I am and that girl is not the geek that Ms. Simon thinks I should be.

Review: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

12317349Description: Meet Asterios Polyp: middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer, whose life is wholly upended when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a tenacious daze, he leaves the city and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But what is this “escape” really about?

As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, we begin to understand this confounding yet fascinating character, and how he’s gotten to where he is. And isn’t. And we meet Hana: a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist with whom he had made a blissful life. But now she’s gone.

Stats: Graphic Novel, 344 pages, Edition Published by Pantheon, July 2009.

My Rating: 4 STARS

Asterios Polyp is a graphic novel that takes imaginative originality to a new high within the mundane life of a struggling, fifty year old architecture professor.

It's difficult for me to express just what exactly it is that makes this book work so well. David Mazzucchelli has an undeniable way with words and art and when they meld together they create something that is pretty damn fascinating to read.

I'll admit up front that sometimes I could actually hear the whoosh sound as sections of dialogue passed over my head, but as a testament to the book it made me want to understand it. My mind was working the entire time I was reading with gears turning. It was a mental work-out as it consistently and constantly asked me to question both Polyp's world and my own and I loved that.

The art is also so beautiful. The lines, details, shadows, reflections, settings, and colour palette were all wonderful. Part of what makes me praise this book so highly is the nature of how the art and speech design plays into the narrative. In the images above and below we see Polyp and Hana, even though I've taken these two images out of context the story in each moment is expressed through the art. The art isn't just a medium in which a story is told it is an integral part of that story itself. In Asterios Polyp characters personalities are often expressed in their design, which creates interesting visuals and fascinating commentary when characters interact on both a conversational level and a design level.  

I want to come back to Asterios Polyp, and read it again and again, just to see how my perceptions of it change. This is definitely something I would recommend to anyone wanting a new experience in the realm of graphic novels.

I've got to give a big thank you to Anila for bringing this to my attention!