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blythe025


Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in April
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blythe025
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, by various authors
2. Horror Vacui: Poems, by Thomas Heise
3. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
4. The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories, by Susi Wyss
5. From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback, by Robyn Davidson, with photography by Rick Smolan
6. Life of Pi (audio book), by Yann Martel
7. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
8. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, Vol. 1, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Monster Island, by David Wellington

Reviews:

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Omnibus, by various authors
A collection of graphic short stories, which were written by a variety of comic authors, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on television. My favorite was "Dawn and Hoopy the Bear," which was quite funny and had some of the best art in the collection. I also really liked "Viva las Buffy" (which fills in the gap from when the movie ended and the TV show began and letting us know what happened to Pike) and "Slayer, Interrupted" (which shows Buffy's stay in a mental institution as an attempt to avoid her fate).

However, I was thoroughly bored by the first two stories in the collection. In "Spike and Dru: All's Fair," in which the duo cause havoc at the 1933 World's Fair. The art is just okay and the lettering is awful, and frankly I'm not a Spike and Dru fan anyway.

"The Origin" was equally dull for me. It presents Joss Whedon's original screenplay of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as he intended it to be shown. To me, it ended up reading as a bad version of the movie, which I still quite love for all its camp. It was silly and ridiculous, but it was also fun. "The Origin" looses its fun when translated to comic format, not even capturing the punch of the TV show. It should have been given more space. Instead it seems to rush through the story and end up falling flat in so many ways.


2. Horror Vacui: Poems, by Thomas Heise
I picked this collection of poems up because I liked the title, more specifically that it had the word "horror" in the title, as I'm a fan of the genre. It's not really about horror, of course, rather the title (I've just learned) is from the latin, meaning "fear of empty space", referring to works of art in which every available space is filled in with minute detail.

It's a beautiful title for the book (which makes me like the title even more) and suits the poems within, which look at how the empty spaces of our life are filled or cannot be filled. Many of my favorite poems in the collection are obviously haunted, not just in emotional content, but in the way some unknown force seems to be communicating with the narrator. It could be a ghostly presence, or god, or the narrator's conscience -- it's never clear, but it doesn't matter, for sometimes the narrator is actively interacting with this presence, and sometimes the narrator continues as though not hearing it at all.

Other poems touch upon other forms of supernatural or the mythological, while never leaving the mundane or everyday. Some are strange collisions of imagery that leave one slightly intellectually befuddled but smiling. All in all this is a wonderfully odd and pleasing collection of poetry. I would definitely recommend it.


3. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Discussed elsewhere.


4. The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories, by Susi Wyss
Shifting from the Ivory Coast to Ethiopia to Ghana to America, this novel presents the lives of five very different women. At the heart are Adjoa, who hopes to open the cleanest, friendliest beauty parlor in Ghanna, and Janice, an American aid worker. Both women, though they may not realize it, are bound by singular event of violence and tragedy. Other women include Comfort, a strong, no nonsense African matriarc, who must make what peace she can with her American daughter-in-law Linda, and another woman (whose name I can't remember), who feels lost and unsteady following her husband embassy post to embassy post throughout Africa.

These stories present Africa without the sensationalism, offering stories of daily living. Even the writing itself is understated, attempting to simply describe what is, rather than over-dramatize, and allowing the reader to fill in the empty spaces. These women feel very real, and I can imagine them now, living their lives in Africa.


5. From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback, by Robyn Davidson, with photography by Rick Smolan
Discussed elsewhere.


6. Life of Pi (audio book), by Yann Martel
A sixteen year old India boy, nicknamed Pi, is shipwrecked at sea and left to survive in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a Bengal tiger. Pi unfolds his story of survival like a fable, which is full of horror and beautiful, constant terror of inevitable death while maintaining gratitude for these moments in which life remains.

The first few chapters were a bit slow for me as Pi went through the necessary process of building up to the moment of shipwreck. He also has more of a tendency to lecture during the beginning, but as the story went one and I learned about his absolute devotion to many faiths (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), I became more and more engrossed in the story. Before long, I found myself sitting in my car outside of my apartment just so I could keep listening to the story unfold to its conclusion.


7. 13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson
Following the death her beloved, eccentric, runaway, aunt, Ginny receives a package of 13 envelopes. Each envelope has a letter with instructions in it, instructions that will take her over the big blue ocean to a stranger's house in London, in search of a starving artist, and across Europe. Along the way, she may just find some romance, too, if she can just let her guard down long enough to allow it.

Ginny is pretty damn brave to follow these instructions as she does, jumping into a foreign country fairly blind and trusting to the letters of an aunt who was often unreliable. But the result is an adventure, the kind of traveling adventure where there is more uncertainty and boredom and hungry reality than the glossy idea of adventure you get from travel books. I definitely sympathize with Ginny. I'm somewhat shy and I've felt the lonely, lost boredom of being in a foreign country. It's an amazing, unsettling experience that always ends up being worth the effort, even if only in hindsight.

Maureen Johnson presents a story that is both funny and touching, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, which is coming out this Spring.


8. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, Vol. 1, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
When their husband/father is murdered by one of his students, the Locke family moves to their uncle's large old house in Lovecraft, Massachusetts to make a new start. The mother is trying to hold it together, the eldest son is racked with guilt, the daughter (who already saved her younger brother once) is trying to disappear into the crowd, while the youngest, Bode, explores the ghostly world of their new home. The house they move to is full of doors and hidden keys, which do all sorts of strange things, as Bode discovers. Each character is emotionally complex, and the art is beautifully dark and eerie, fitting the story perfectly. There's plenty of blood, but there's even more humanity as this family faces down the horrors that await them.


9. Monster Island, by David Wellington
In a zombie infested world, only third world countries, those who have suffered constant military insurgencies, have been able to sustain themselves, the heavily armed population able to hold the undead back. Somalia is one of these countries, but the warlord in charge has aids and medicines are in short supply. Dekalb, a UN official and his daughter have been promised safety within Somolia if he can bring the warlord the medicine she needs.

In desperation, he leads a troop of school girl soldiers to the UN building in New York, where he is sure the medicine can still be found. But the tiny island of Manhattan is swarming with the undead and something else, something even more dangerous, waits as well.

Despite my huge love for zombies, this one didn't catch me or draw me in like I had hoped. The concept of the militarized school girls is rather cool, but because this is written from Dekalb's point of view, the girls themselves become little more than backdrop. Dekalb is a complex enough character (though kind of a weakling and not all that interesting to me), but the girls are indoctrinated cardboard cutouts without much personality themselves. Something I find to be highly disappointing.

And while the writing is good, I'm not all that thrilled with the "twist", nor with the direction the plot ultimately took. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, but the concept just didn't appeal to me. The result was that I occasionally found myself bored with the novel and switching to other books on my tbr list.
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