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Joyful Girl

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


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Books Read in September
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1. A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings, by Laurence Sterne
2. Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (poetry), by Adrienne Rich
3. Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
4. Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra
5. Fated, by S.G. Browne
6. The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim C Hines


REVIEWS:

1. A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings, by Laurence Sterne
The first writing in the book was incomplete novel (though I think it's partly autobiographical), A Sentimental Journey, which is Sterne's best known work. (I picked this up, because in the 1999 version of Mansfeild Park, Henry Crawford reads a paragraph from the book out loud to Fanny Price.) The story covers a traveler's journeys through France, in which he meets and interacts with a number of characters, including a mild-tempered monk, a French servant, a wealthy aristocrat, and numerous women of all ages and level of beauty with whom he has varying degrees of amorous feelings for.

The style of writing doesn't carry over well to the modern day. It's filled with strange grammar rules and blocks of text that I had to read multiple times in order to decipher the meaning (a challenge throughout the book), and often it's hard to tell who is talking and when. It made for very slow, very dry reading, for though the book is meant to be humorous, much of the humor was lost on me.

A Sentimental Journey has it's pluses and some of the narrator's adventures are entertaining (I still love the scene with the caged bird), but it's far too challenging for recreational reading (IMO).

Next came The Journal to Eliza, which is also partly autobiographical, partly fictional. The journal is in sense a long extended letter over many weak to Eliza (the author was in love with someone named Elizabeth Draper), in which the narrator bemoans and whines about his loneliness now that his Eliza has been whisked away by her husband to India, and woe is him because he's so damn lovesick. I think it's pretty clear that this piece was not to my taste. I don't have have much patience for that sort of lovesick whinny. I just don't.

A Political Romance was my favorite writing. It involves the story of a con-man who keeps trying to claim rights to a pair of breeches and a watch-coat. I found the writing easier to read in this piece, and while, I didn't understand the politics involved, the story was rather funny regardless. A Political Romance also includes a section in which a group of gentlemen find the slip of paper that contained the story of the breeches and the watch-coat. After reading it, they sit around a table drinking and belabor its meaning, coming up with several possible and outlandish interpretations of the story. This was also quite funny.

The final writing in the book were a selection of Sermons by Sterne. I read them through, but didn't spend much time on them, as they didn't really interest me.


2. Tonight No Poetry Will Serve (poetry), by Adrienne Rich
I connected to Rich's collection of poetry on an intellectual level, rather than an emotional one. I didn't so much melt into her words (as I do with some poetry), and read, re-read, and thought about it, trying to make the connections between one phrase, line, or stanza, to the next.

Her lines a purposefully ragged, using blank space between lines and words more often than punctuation, and the tend to tumble into one another. Intellectual or otherwise, the writing is beautiful, and there are several passages and turns of phrase that linger in my thoughts long after I've read them.


3. Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Discussed elsewhere.


4. Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra
In a matter of minutes, a strange plague sweeps across the globe eliminating any creature with a Y chromozone. All the males in the world are gone, all except for Yorick Brown and his pet monkey. Yorick's only thought is to try to reach his girlfriend in Australia, though that plan is quickly derailed by a litany of bigger problems, not the least of which is to keep his survival a secret.

In the aftermath of the death of the men, the women are left to pick up the pieces of society. Some spend their time in mourning for those they've lost. Some try to keep order by returning to the systems of government already in place. Some find new ways to earn a living in the world (including gathering the bodies of the men for collection and burning). And some women, who call themselves Amazons, choose a more radical path, claiming that the death of men is a sign and a blessing and seek to destroy any potential for returning men to the world.

It's an interesting look at what would happen if the world were to suddenly be devoid of men. I appreciate the multiple and varied reactions of the women in how they handle this. Yorick, as the last man, is a main character, but not the only one. There are a handful of women in the book who are given equal weight; their journey being of equal importance to the story. Even the cultish Amazons, crazy as they seem, have legitimate and logical reasoning behind what they do. While they are not likable, per se, you can almost sympathize with them.

The storyline, which is interesting in and of itself, is supported by some great artwork and a clever structure, with the plot occasionally jumping back and forth through time. The structure manages to both increase tension and allow the reader to connect more deeply with the characters as they experience the events.

This is a well crafted graphic novel on all fronts, and I'm greatly looking forward to plowing through the rest of the volumes in the series.


5. Fated, by S.G. Browne
The thing about Fabio is that he's Fate, and being Fate kinda sucks. Over several thousand years, he's handed out the fortunes to billions of humans (not great fortunes, mind you, as greatness lies on the path of Destiny). More often than not his humans have a habit of screwing everything up, often veering off their mediocre paths into something even more miserable, forcing Fabio to reassign their fortunes on a constant basis.
Watching this happen over and over again leaves apathetic and bored.

His best friends Sloth and Gluttony don't improve things either, not to mention his centuries long feud with Death. But when he meets and falls in love with a human -- a big no-no -- he starts to have a new passion for his work and his life. However, his rule-breaking love could lead to drastic repercussions, such as being stripped of his powers or worse.

When I picked up this book, I did not expect to find myself glued to my chair, unable to put it down, but I found myself quickly absorbed by the flawed and funny Fabio. The writing reflects Fabio's voice perfectly. He's not entirely likable, but I found his wry humor and analysis of human existence engaging and as he grew on me, I found myself hoping everything would turn out alright for him in the end.

I won't give anything away, but speaking of the end, let me just say: wow, omg, unsettling, weird, who the hell comes up with this stuff, and awesome. I have a deep love for zombies, but I definitely enjoyed Fated even more than I loved the wonderful and quirky Breathers.


6. The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim C Hines
If Danielle (a.k.a. Cinderella) thought she would live happily ever after when her prince whisked her off on horseback to the castle, the idea is quickly dispelled when her vile stepsister shows up and tries to kill her. Not only that, but her stepsister has some surprising new powers and informs Danielle that her husband has been kidnapped.

With help from Talia (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty), who is a skilled martial artist thanks to her fairy gifts, and Snow White, a master of mirror magic, Danielle begins a quest to save her prince from her wicked stepsisters.

I love fairy tale retellings, especially ones in which the women, who are normally so passive, are reimagined as kick ass heroines. None of these women have had their happily ever after, each has faced terrible adversity (from violence to, in one case, rape) and has chosen to rise to the occasion, taking back their strength by fighting for their freedom and for those they love.

Hines remains respectful of the women, each of whom is multidimensional with a great emotional range (even if Talia chooses to keep hers hidden behind her gruff exterior). This is a fun and often funny adventure story, and I'm looking forward to seeing what trouble these girls get into in the other books in the series.


7. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Shevek grew up in a society of anarchists, a near utopian society on the moon of Urras in which everyone is equal, there is no monetary system, and all goods are shared equally and fairly. However, it is also a society that has begun to reject new principles and ideas, making life difficult for Shevek, who wishes to explore the new boundaries of physics.

In order to follow the path of physics, Shevek has to turn away from his home to Urras, the planet the anarchist society abandoned hundreds of years before so that they could have their freedom. Urras is a world upon divided by cultures and countries, many at war with each other. Capitalism is king there, where there are drastic differences between the classes and just about anything is for sale.

One might think the focus of this novel is politics, from sexual politics to economic politics, -- and that would be true. Politics, philosophy, and and physics all play large roles here and are the subject of much discussion between the characters, each who have very strong points of view. Nothing is simple, however, and Sevek learns that his anarchist society is not as perfect as he believed, nor is the capitalistic society of Urras nearly as wicked as he imagined. There is good and evil in everything.

But even more story, this is a novel about a man who is lost, who is looking for a place to belong. His deep, deep loneliness and feelings of being disconnected from either world are very true and moving. Without this connection to Shevek, the story would be too tangled in philosophy and politics. Shevek's journey -- physical, intellectual, and emotion -- is really what makes this story come alive.
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