An update, of sorts!

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Long time no see! I’m not dead, nor have I been particularly busy… I mostly just forgot I had a blog for a while (always a good sign when you make a blog and forget it a couple months later!).

I want to start posting again, but I’m going to restructure a bit… instead of just aiming for a book blog (partly since I haven’t read a novel since March, despite having read 118 graphic novels already this year), I’m going to shift to a more general blog. Hoping to actually do reviews again, but also I’m going to do some photo posts, and some general life posts as well. However, I’m gonna start realistic here: Gonna aim for at least two posts a month, and we’ll see if I can keep that schedule!


The Ancient Magus’ Bride

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride volumes 1-6 by Kore Yamazaki ✦ Translated by Adrienne Beck ✦ Published by Seven Seas, 2015-2016 ✦ ISBN: 9781626921870 (volume 1) | 9781626921924 (volume 2) | 9781626922242 (volume 3) | 9781626922556 (volume 4) | 9781626922846 (volume 5) | 9781626923508 (volume 6)

Series summary:

After an early life of misfortune, teenage Chise Hatori finds herself being sold to a mysterious, skull-faced man who calls himself a magus. He tells her she has special powers related to the ability to see and use magic, and that he will make her his apprentice and his bride. Chise finds herself embracing this new world of fae, creatures, and magic, and wanting to know more about the inhuman Elias Ainsworth as she comes to care for him.

I picked volume one of this series up mostly on a whim from Barnes & Noble. It sounded interesting enough from the concept, although I admit the idea of a teenage girl being sold as a commodity gave me some pause (and I still wish the series hadn’t really opened that way). After reading the first volume, I was hooked.

I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler free as possible, but I also do want to talk about all six volumes so there may be some small spoilers, particularly for characters who don’t show up in the initial volume! Sorry about that.

This is a manga with a slow build. There’s chapters where basically nothing happens, while the characters (mostly Chise and Elias) develop slowly over the six volumes that are currently out in English. They’re guided by other characters, a mishmash of magic users and fae creatures, and they face obstacles of both human and inhuman designs. Yamazaki does a great job of revealing truths about the world she’s developed through Chise, who is obviously new to the world of magic but has a strong curiosity about everything she encounters (a curiosity that often gets her into trouble).

The worldbuilding in this series is excellent. Yamazaki clearly has a long-standing love of fairy stories from the British Isles, and the world of the comic is steeped in it. Her own inventions meld seamlessly with legends of fairies and black dogs, creating a vibrant world full of rules and customs Chise must learn to keep herself and others safe. The divide between humans and non-humans is presented as one that is easy to cross over but difficult to cross back again, which seems to be a theme of the series.

Chise is a compassionate girl, despite her troubled childhood, of which we are shown bits and pieces of over the course of these volumes. She is the type who will risk her own health and safety for the sake of others, something that Elias has difficulty coping with, especially since part of her willingness to risk herself is because she has very little sense of self-worth. Both Chise and Elias have difficulty being honest with their feelings, Chise due to her upbringing and Elias due to a fundamental lack of understanding of human emotions, as he is certainly not human himself. They mystery of what exactly Elias is will likely be drawn out over the entire series, and while we are given hints, we are not really given answers in these six volumes. Still, Elias and Chise clearly have a need for one another, and the other major theme of the series is their growth in relation to one another. Despite the title, it’s hard to call the relationship between them (at least at this point) “romantic,” and there is certainly no physical relationship between them. After the first volume, the idea of Chise being Elias’s bride comes up only occasionally.

Although Elias and Chise are both fascinating characters in their own rights, the secondary characters of this series are really my favorites. The apprentice alchemist Alice, who is first introduced as an antagonist and later sort-of befriends Chise, and her master Renfred; the black dog Chise adopts as a familiar; the free-spirited dragon-keeping magus Lindel; the Silver Lady who looks after Elias’s home… Characters introduced once always seem likely to return again later, and the way each of them contribute to Chise’s understanding of the world adds even more richness to the story. There is also the seeming antagonist to the series, the alchemist who Elias calls Cartaphilus, who is really the only hint that there may be more to the comic than the slice-of-life pacing of the majority of it lets on.

The art of the series is excellent, with expressive characters balanced well with ornate, beautiful backgrounds. The volumes have some bonus material on the inside front and back covers, including the layout and breakdown of various parts of Elias’s home and other places, which I particularly enjoyed seeing. The Neighbors and creatures all have interesting designs as well, making the art as visually rich as the story is. Again, Yamazaki has clearly done her research in portraying the small town in an unspecified part of England where Elias lives, right down to details like the types of trees and flowers growing in Elias’s garden, and the washing machine being in the kitchen.

Overall, The Ancient Magus’ Bride is an innovative and slow-moving fantasy series that’s well worth a read if you enjoy fairy tales and folklore. It’s not a series to read for magical battles and monsters, although it has its share of those, but one to read for the well-crafted worldbuilding and characters and the beautiful art.

Review summary:

Story: 5/5; Slow-paced and slice-of-life interspersed with magic and peril
Art: 5/5; Art that well-suits and enhances the story

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ✦ Narrated by Anne Hathaway ✦ Audible, 2012 ✦ Originally published by George M. Hill Company, 1900

(Cover image is of the copy of the first edition held by the Library of Congress, borrowed from here)

Summary (by me):

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tells the story of a young girl, Dorothy, who is uprooted from Kansas by a sudden tornado and dropped into the strange land of Oz. On her quest to find the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz in order to return home, she makes a few friends and meets many of the odd and wondrous inhabitants of Oz.

I read this for the Wizard of Oz read-along being run by Louise over at Lone Star on a Lark!

Part of why I signed up for this challenge was that I remembered I had a freebie audio version of the book that Audible made with Anne Hathaway in 2012 (which it appears is no longer available!). I figured that would ease me in, since I’m trying to get back to a place where I am not only reading audiobooks, and the books themselves are pretty short. Plus, I’ve kind of wanted to read them for a long time and just had never gotten around to it!

I think a lot of people would have to come at this by comparing it to the film. I will put it out here right now, though: I have never loved the Wizard of Oz film, and I can’t actually remember the last time I saw even so much as a clip of it. My memory of it is not, therefore, real solid, and I’m not going to bother with comparisons as I don’t think it’s fair. I will state the one huge difference between the two, though: Dorothy is much younger in the book.

I’ve heard arguments that this book is meant to be a political allegory, which I think is probably a bunch of hogwash. I think you can, with a little effort, extrapolate political allegories out of just about anything, but this book really just reads as nothing more than a lighthearted story for children. There’s not a lot of tension in the book, in my opinion. Dorothy kind of stumbles along, relying a lot on her friends (who do owe her, to a degree… certainly the Scarecrow would still be stuck in a cornfield if she hadn’t come along, and the Tin Woodman would be rusting in the woods… although she didn’t really do much of anything for the Lion) and the kindness of strangers to make things happen for her. There’s a lot of emphasis on the land of Oz itself, especially the beauty of its scenery and the strangeness of its inhabitants. The inhabitants themselves seem like a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Dr Seuss. A lot of goofy anatomy and goofier personality traits.

In some ways, I felt like this book was kind of a non-story. Not very much actually happens in it. Dorothy’s companions’ personal quests are summed up very much in a “the true brains/heart/courage were the friends we made along the way.” It doesn’t end (spoiler alert for a 116 year old book) with a “it was all just a dream” explanation like the film does, although it also doesn’t leave much room for the many sequels that follow. Still, it’s a classic example of the portal fiction trope, which I have always been extremely fond of, and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to finding out what else does happen next in the Land of Oz.

It’s unfortunate that this audio version no longer seems to be available, because Anne Hathaway does a great job as an engaging, fun narrator. Some of the voices she gives the characters are a little on the grating side (I stopped listening for two days because I couldn’t make it through the Flying Monkey king’s story due to his voice being so awful, and I laughed my way through the Stork’s entire short appearance), but it’s clear she had children in mind when doing the narration, and I think a kid would enjoy listening to it.

Review Summary:

Story: 3/5, really nothing much happens, but I enjoyed it anyway
Narration: 5/5, fun and engaging

Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

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Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu by Junji Ito ✦ Translated by Stephen Paul ✦ Published by Kodansha, 2015 ✦ ISBN: 978-1-63236-197-4

Summary from publisher:

Hell-o-kitty! Master of Japanese horror manga Junji Ito presents a series of hissterical tales chronicling his real-life trials and tribulations of becoming a cat owner. Junji Ito, as J-kun, has recently built a new house and has invited his financée, A-ko, to live with him. Little did he know … his blushing bride-to-be has some unexpected company in tow—Yon, a ghastly-looking family cat, and Mu, an adorable Norwegian forest cat. Despite being a dog person, J-kun finds himself purrsuaded by their odd cuteness and thus begins his comedic struggle to gain the affection of his new feline friends.

Junji Ito is a fan favorite manga artist who is best known for his horror work. The fact that he made a slice-of-life manga about his wife’s cats in the first place is a little goofy, but the fact that it’s absolutely hilarious is perhaps even more unexpected. Ito’s horror manga often has a weird sense of humor underlying some of its more grotesque moments, but in this case there’s more like a sense of horror underlying the day to day life of a man and the two cats he lives with.

The first cat, Yon, is declared by J-kun initially to have a “cursed face,” although he softens that somewhat to the cat just having a “weird face.” On the other hand, Yon has a skull face visible in the spots on his back (the volume includes a bonus page containing actual photos of the cats, which reveals he’s not really exaggerating about the skull face). Mu, the new cat, which A-ko gets to keep Yon company, is sweet and fluffy but apparently a bit of a biter.

As someone who has long loved cats but not always been loved back by them, I can relate a lot to J-kun’s problems trying to get along with the two of them. He comes on a little too strong when the cuteness of the cats starts to really sink in, grabbing them and petting them while being horrified by such realities of life as a cat owner as the litter box, and the floors and walls getting scratched. Yon had apparently been with A-ko for some time before the move, so he is naturally more affectionate with her, even suckling on her finger and sleeping with her every night, so J-kun grows extremely jealous. His antics to win the cats’ affections are hilarious, and again relatable (particularly when A-ko shows off her method of playing with them and they completely ignore him when he tries it). There are a few touching moments, too, where the cats show that, at least for a brief moment, they do have a bond with J-kun as well.

My favorite thing in the book, though, was the moment when Yon started hanging out with J-kun as he worked on his manga, sleeping perilously close to the wheels of his desk chair. I have this problem myself when I actually use my desk (my cat strongly disapproves of me using my desk, so I don’t actually do it very often), although J-kun’s solution to the problem (putting rolls of masking tape around the wheels) isn’t really one I can use since I have carpet and he has wood floors.

Ito does not at all change his style for this manga. His art has always had a creepy bent to it (appropriate, as he is a horror artist), but somehow the seriousness of the illustrations just makes it more hilarious. He portrays normal cat behavior in the same way he might draw a monster attacking someone. That said, I think if someone is reading this who is unfamiliar with Junji Ito’s body of work, they may find the art style a little more off-putting, since it doesn’t really make that much sense that a cute, slice-of-life manga about cats is drawn so un-cute.

The volume also includes a short manga written by Ito’s wife and illustrated by him about the Tohoku Earthquake, which also covers Yon’s death. It was apparently part of an anthology created to raise awareness of the plight of animals after the quake. I thought this was a nice bonus for Kodansha to include, although it is, of course, a bit sad. In addition to this short manga, there’s also a few Q&A bits with the artist, and the aforementioned page of photos of the real-life Yon and Mu.

Review summary:

Story: 5/5; not really a narrative, but episodes most cat owners can relate to
Art: 5/5; Ito’s trademark style, a weirdly appropriate fit for a manga about cats

Howl’s Moving Castle (and Sequels)

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones ✦Recorded Books, 2008 ✦ Originally published by Greenwillow Books, 1989 ✦ ISBN (Recorded Books): 9781436159500; digital 9781456107642

Summary from publisher:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones ✦ Recorded Books, 2009 ✦ Originally published by Greenwillow Books, 1991 ✦ ISBN (Recorded Books): 9781436161183; digital 9781456107710

Summary from publisher:

Young merchant Abdullah leads a humble life. Or he did until a stranger sold him a threadbare—and disagreeable—magic carpet. Now Abdullah is caught in the middle of his grand daydreams. Waking one night in a luxurious garden, he meets and falls instantly in love with the beautiful and clever Flower-in-the-Night. But a wicked djinn sweeps the princess away right before Abdullah’s eyes, leaving the young man no choice but to follow. This is no ordinary quest, however, for Flower-in-the-Night isn’t all the djinn has stolen. Abdullah will have the so-called help of the cantankerous carpet, a cranky genie in a bottle, a dishonest soldier, and a very opinionated black cat. Will this motley crew be able to find the djinn’s mysterious dwelling and rescue a castle full of princesses?

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones ✦ Recorded Books, 2009 ✦ Originally published by Greenwillow Books, 2008 ✦ ISBN (Recorded Books): 9781436161299; digital 9781456107727

Summary from publisher:

When Charmain Baker agreed to look after her great-uncle’s house, she thought she was getting blissful, parent-free time to read. She didn’t realize that the house bent space and time, and she did not expect to become responsible for an extremely magical stray dog and a muddled young apprentice wizard. Now, somehow, she’s been targeted by a terrifying creature called a lubbock, too, and become central to the king’s urgent search for the fabled Elfgift that will save the country. The king is so desperate to find the Elfgift, he’s called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, the great Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer won’t be far behind. How did respectable Charmain end up in such a mess, and how will she get herself out of it?

I’ve got to make up my mind how to denote audiobooks… And how to decide what covers to use when I have multiple choices (in this case, I did not use the audiobook covers because they’re frankly hideous). I used the covers that match the original House of Many Ways cover mostly because they’re the print versions I own.

These are all re-reads, but it’s been years since I read them. I picked up Howl’s in one of Audible’s sales and then grabbed the other two after finishing that one because I didn’t want to stop. Diana Wynne Jones is possibly my favorite writer. She’s so good at characters and worldbuilding both.

These three are considered a trilogy, although there’s not a really good group name for them (you can call them the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy but that’s a mouthful… I often see it shortened to Castle Trilogy” which I think is better, although the castle barely features in the third one. However, reading Howl’s Moving Castle and expecting Castle in the Air to be the further adventures of Sophie and Howl is a mistake. They’re related, but they’re not really sequels to one another.

Howl’s Moving Castle plays with fairy tale tropes, as Sophie chalks most of the boring life situation she finds herself in up to being the eldest child, when everyone knows it’s the youngest child who is the one who is supposed to go out in the world and be successful. The spell she’s put under transforms her into an old woman (she refers to herself as being 90 on a number of occasions), and she decides to leave home as a last resort more than anything else, and ends up more or less stumbling into the titular moving castle. Sophie was a timid girl before the Witch of the Waste put the spell on her, but as an old woman she just doesn’t see the point in worrying about Howl. So she moves in, and she learns over the course of the story that she actually is quite strong-willed, and has basically just never allowed herself to express that before. As with most DWJ books, there’s a lot going on besides that, and a lot of plot threads that seem like a mess until they get nicely tied up at the end. Jones is an indisputable master of the Chekhov’s Gun trope: nothing that comes up at the beginning of the book isn’t relevant somewhere later, from Sophie’s sisters’ changing places to the hat Sophie promises will marry money to the dog she finds in a bush when she first leaves home.

Sophie’s character can be somewhat frustrating, especially on a reread. She’s stubborn to the point of missing a lot of very obvious things, and, as Howl tells her later in the story, she just doesn’t think things through. She acts before she thinks constantly, misunderstands other people’s intentions, and even doesn’t realize she’s doing magic until someone else points it out to her. Howl, on the other hand, knows himself very well, knows exactly what he’s doing, and apparently just doesn’t really care about the impact his actions have on others (this is one of the many, many things the Ghibli film gets wrong… Howl is actually just kind of an asshole in the book, and a blatant coward, whereas in the movie he’s neither of those things). Jones’s characters in general tend to just go along with the situations they find themselves in, and in this book that means an awful lot of chaos is borne by everyone and they just make do.

Castle in the Air shifts its focus to the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a Middle East-inspired country somewhere South of Ingary, where Howl’s Moving Castle takes place. As such, this book has quite a few stereotyped caricatures, some of which are definitely more racist than others. There’s actually a lot of things that bother me in this book on a reread, such as the distant relations Abdullah is nearly forced to marry, two women whose entire characterization is that they’re fat, disgusting, and greedy, with the most emphasis being placed on how fat they are (mild spoiler alert: they are essentially given to the antagonist at the end of the book as a consolation because Abdullah feels sorry for him, and because they’re so desperate to marry anyone, seeing as they are fat and unattractive, they accept this without complaint).

As far as Abdullah’s attempt to rescue the awkwardly named Flower-in-the-Night, it turns out the djinn has been kidnapping princesses all over the world, and these princesses are really the strongest point of the book. They’re making the best of their situation while they try to figure out a way to rescue themselves, having all apparently given up on being rescued by the time Abdullah shows up. While he makes the plan that eventually succeeds, it’s merely because he has a bit of information they don’t have, and is better at bargaining due to having been a merchant most of his life.

Abdullah is presented as the hero of the story, but he’s not really shown as a romantic hero in any sense. He’s mostly just desperate, and most of his flashes of genius come out of that desperation. He knows his strengths and limitations fairly well, but he also knows how to talk people into doing what he wants, and he can be fairly conniving at times. He is, however, like Sophie in that he’s being used by various people for various purposes, except that he realizes it on his own over the course of the book instead of someone needing to tell him. Still, he never really lets it change how he deals with and treats people, and while Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night’s romance is impromptu and sudden, the very fact that his initial reaction to her declaration of love is that he’s literally the first man she’s ever met and she can’t make that kind of decision so hastily is pretty refreshing (as is the way they actually have a serious discussion about their mutual feelings later on in the book instead of just stumbling through misunderstandings the way Sophie is prone to).

Of course Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer all have roles in this story, as well as a few other characters from Howl’s Moving Castle, but explaining them would be spoiling it. Really this book is more fun if you happen to pick it up after reading Howl’s with no knowledge that it’s at all related,  I think, although it’s clearly already too late for that if you’ve read this far in my review. I think if you read this book without having read Howl’s, on the other hand, their inclusion would be a bit mystifying, since they do seem to be tossed in with an expectation that the reader will recognize them.

House of Many Ways takes place in another, entirely different country: High Norland, which is a mountainous somewhere north of Ingary (possibly it doesn’t share a border with Ingary at all, but the geography is left much to the reader’s imagination). Charmain Baker is a somewhat spoiled, book-loving girl who’s never done a day’s work in her life and is suddenly tasked with looking after a magical house. Charmain’s desire to get out from under her very controlling mother’s thumb is what fuels her, and also the chance to get a position as a library assistant in the Royal Mansion, helping the elderly King and only slightly less elderly Princess of High Norland (the princess, of course, was among those kidnapped in Castle in the Air) catalog the Royal Library.

Were she not the focal character, Charmain would likely be insufferable. She doesn’t know how to do much of anything, and has a short temper and a selfish disposition. Since we’re privy to her thoughts, though, we know she doesn’t like the fact that she’s ignorant any more than those around her do, and she at least tries to take advice she is given to heart (such as when Peter informs her she has no tact). Mostly, Charmain just wants to be left alone with some books, a feeling which many of us can relate to. As the course of the story goes on, she gets more used to the concept of working with others towards the greater good (as long as it’s not Peter making her help with the laundry). There’s a really great scene when she’s angry at Peter for tidying up her room for her, not because she didn’t want it to be tidy, but because he’s ruining her personal growth by doing things for her so she doesn’t learn, as she puts it, “that things I leave lying around will stay lying around until I do something about it!”

Sophie and company are a little more integral to the plot in this story than in Castle in the Air, and as such feel less like cameos, although only someone who’s read at least Howl’s will really appreciate what Howl has done to himself in this story (I can’t imagine how Sophie puts up with him). I like how both Abdullah and Charmain find Sophie to be extremely intimidating even now that she’s no longer trapped in her old woman form that so terrified poor Michael and Calcifer in the original book.

Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air are, to me at least, somewhat odd for children’s books (which is what they are typically considered). While Sophie is probably only eighteen in Howl‘s, she’s still an adult with a full time job at the start of the story, and Abdullah is, at the start of the story, a successful businessman. Both of them have fairly adult problems to solve (how many kids can relate to someone wishing their family would stop asking why they aren’t married yet?). Many of Diana Wynne Jones’s books have an all-ages feel to them, though, and these books are included. House of Many Ways, on the other hand, is actually about a child character (well, a teenager, but many middle-grade books focus on pre-teens or early teens), and feels overall more like an actual children’s book. This isn’t anything against any of these books, but as I didn’t really discover DWJ until I was an adult in the first place, I kind of wonder if kids these days (obligatory jokes about shaking a cane, get off my lawn, etc) would find the first two interesting at all, giving the vastness of their choices in reading material targeted at them concerning characters whose life situations probably hit closer to home. I would likely have loved them had I read them as a child, but I also started reading adult books in middle school because of a certain sense that children’s books were beneath me already at that point (my reading has gone rather backwards, since these days I often prefer middle grade over adult and those days I had to be persuaded to read Harry Potter because it was for kids and I was too busy reading Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey novels).

On the audio aspect of these, all three are read by the same narrator, Jenny Sterlin, who has a voice that I find very soothing to listen to. She does not, however, seem to have a much varied arsenal of character voices, which isn’t a huge issue unless you do listen to them one after another like I did (and even then, I guess it’s not a huge issue, just a little disappointing). She also seemed to have forgotten the voice she used for Calcifer between Howl‘s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways. I’m pretty sure she’s given Howl a Welsh accent through which is definitely points to her.

If you haven’t read any of this series, please do. If you’ve never read any Diana Wynne Jones, this series is a good place to start. And if you’ve seen the awful Ghibli adaptation of Howl’s but never read the book, you’re really missing out.

It’s pretty likely I’ll end up reading more DWJ this year (I still haven’t read her final, posthumously-published novel or the last children’s book she published while still alive, and there’s a few others lurking at the periphery of the DWJ canon I haven’t ever actually read) since now I’ve caught the bug again, but it won’t be for a little while because I have writing I want to be doing and whenever I’m reading DWJ books I unconsciously mimic her style, which might not be a problem if I could keep that consistent but I can’t and it is pretty bad.

As a last note to other DWJ fans: I am now entirely convinced these books take place in the same universe as the Magids books (Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy) if only because of delight at the potential havoc Howl could be unleashing on poor Rupert’s life. Also, imagine a Sophie-Maree team-up? I’m not sure either Howl or Rupert would survive that.

Review Summary (for all three!):

Story: 5/5, wonderfully crafted fantasies
Narration: 4/5, smooth narration but limited character voices

2017!

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I wrote a big long 2016 in review post but I don’t think I’m going to post it. Let’s get to know each other over the course of 2017 instead! But since I’m not posting the 2016 review, I want to do sort of a 2017 preview (yes, I know 2017 has already started… I haven’t made any 2017 posts yet, though, so shh, let’s pretend).

This is a review blog, but it’s also a personal blog, because I say so. What am I looking forward to in 2017, and hoping to get out of it?

Travel and Exploring

Come spring I want to see more of this new state I live in. There’s still a lot of places I haven’t visited! But there’s also some other things I want to do out of state as well.

My original 2017 plans toward the beginning of 2016 were to visit Japan in the winter of 2017, but I just don’t think that’s going to be financially feasible. I had started saving for a Japan trip in 2016, but my move wiped out those savings, and I have not been doing a good job of building them up again. I’d rather have a little longer to save and therefore less stress later, so 2018 seems like a better goal.

Instead, there’s a few cons and things I want to do!

I want to do FlameCon again for sure. It’s a small con, and it’s easy enough to go up to NYC for a single day. Next year I’ll bring a bigger backpack, though. Maybe even a rolling bag! Along those lines, I also want to do my best to make SPX in 2017. I had planned to go in 2016, but the friends I was going to go with decided they’d rather visit me instead (which I wasn’t at all upset about!), and the hotel costs and everything were just a little steeper than really fit into my plans. I’d also like to make an attempt to attend BookExpo America, but that may be more of a long shot. Again, I was supposed to go to BEA in Chicago in 2016 with Melissa, but my move made the timing impossible. I’m sad I missed the opportunity to visit Chicago, but BEA’s in NYC again next year which will be easier to manage. It’s on the table, for sure; the only thing really stopping me is wondering whether or not I really want to get a bunch of ARCs and etc when I’m still in such a reading rut.

My parents have floated the idea of coming up here in the spring because my dad wants to visit the famous Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island (my dad is named Clifford Walk, and he’s worried it’s going to erode into the sea in the near future) and I suggested they come here first, and then either drive or take the train up to Rhode Island. I may or may not go with them on that trip!

Reading

My reading has really petered off the past few years. I used to always clear 50 books a year easily, but since around 2014 I’ve barely made it past 25. 2016 I didn’t even make it TO 25. So my lofty goal is to read at least 30 books in 2017.

Part of why my reading has stagnated is because I read a lot more comics now, but I don’t count graphic novels and prose novels (novels only since I don’t read nonfiction!) the same way. I read something like 50 graphic novels/anthologies/trades this year (I say “something like” because I also didn’t keep very good track of anything) and 186 individual comic issues. Which is still down from 2015 (116 GNs/trades/etc and 412 individual issues, yikes!). I’m not setting numerical goals for GNs and individual issues, just the goal of “read these within a month of buying them,” because they really pile up, because I spend the majority of my disposable income on comic books.

I also want to do the two challenges I’ve signed up for (one I haven’t put on my projects page yet), and chip away at my manga reading project and staying caught up on my single issue floppies. I may be setting myself up for failure but I think I can do it if I make an effort to just make time to read. Which leads us to…

Spend Less Time Watching TV

I used to barely watch any TV, ever, but now that I’ve moved out and am living alone I find myself in front of the TV almost all the time I’m at home. And yet, somehow I’m still behind on all the shows I’m actually watching (I just watch hours and hours of Travel Channel, HGTV, and DIY Network). So I want to do less unstructured TV viewing in 2017. The first step for that is going to be buying a second iPod radio for my living room (part of the issue is I can always hear my neighbor’s TV through the wall but out of consideration for one of my other neighbors I don’t want to turn my music in the other room on loud enough to drown that out, and wearing headphones all the time gets uncomfortable for me. I will stay caught up on the shows I’m actually watching (which is really just Elementary and maybe Timeless if I decide to stick with it), and I’ll allow watching TV while I’m working on projects like crocheting, knitting, or embroidery. I’m going to stop eating in the living room as often as an encouragement to keep my kitchen bar clean and so I can read while I eat (although I’ll be honest, it’s more likely I’ll watch YouTube on my computer or iPad while I eat, since that’s what I normally do while I cook).

 

Comics 12/22/16

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In the future, these posts are going to be a weekly thing, but right now, I’m trying to catch up, so I’m just gonna do batch posts until I am caught up (ideally by the end of the year!). Today I read these eight issues. Here’s some short and sweet reviews! Format of these types of posts may change as I play around with things, and hopefully future photos will be better than just comics on the least cat-haired section of my carpet!

Buckle in, because this is gonna be long.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #1-2 ✦ story: Roxanne Gay, Yona Harvey, Ta-Nehisi Coates ✦ art: Alitha E. Martinez, Afua Richardson ✦ inks: Roberto Poggi, Alitha E. Martinez ✦ colors: Rachelle Rosenberg, Tamra Bonvillain ✦ covers: Afua Richardson

Synopsis:

The Dora Milaje are the personal bodyguards of the Wakandan royal family. Aja is a new initiate to the order, and Aneka, her captain, has mixed feelings about this hotheaded new recruit when Aja begins questioning the legitimacy of the Black Panther’s claim to the throne. Meanwhile, Zenzi, a woman from Wakanda’s neighbor of Niganda, is also questioning the foundations of Wakandan society.

After a little bit of a rough start, I’ve been enjoying the current Black Panther series. I admit to being someone who jumped on board after being introduced to the character in Captain America: Civil War earlier this year, so my lack of knowledge of the character’s history and also some of the more far-reaching events affecting things in the Marvel universe meant I was pretty confused at the beginning of the new series. World of Wakanda would have been very welcome then, as it is a prequel to the main series, explaining who Aja, Aneka, Zenzi, and Tetu are and giving more background on their motivations.

I actually had no intention to subscribe to this series, but my comic store threw it in my box since I’m subscribed to the main series, and I figured why not. As it is, I’m not really sure if it’s meant to be a miniseries just to introduce the antagonists from the main series or if it will go off in another direction after that. I can’t help but wonder if this series was created solely due to people being confused at the beginning of the main series as well. Either way, I’m glad to be seeing some real background to these characters.

Future Quest #7 ✦ story: Jeff Parker ✦ art: Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ron Randall, Steve Lieber ✦ colors: Veronica Gandini ✦ cover: Evan “Doc” Shaner

Synopsis:

As the dimensional rifts grow slightly dormant, Falcon 7 addresses the UN and Jonny, Hadji, Race, and Jan meet with Dr. Kim Conroy in the hopes she can shed some light on the situation now that Dr. Quest has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, Birdman helps Ty get a handle on his newfound powers as Mightor, and Archimedes Zim reveals his motives may not match up with those of F.E.A.R. In LA, the Impossibles try to keep the press away from another rift when something surprising comes crashing through.

This is a weird series. The concept of the “Hanna Barbera shared universe” is one thing, but actually trying to keep track of all the myriad storylines is getting increasingly complicated. It probably doesn’t help that I’m unfamiliar with basically all of the properties involved aside from Space Ghost and Jonny Quest. On the other hand, it’s kind of a work of mad genius, and its stayed pretty consistent both story and art-wise. I’m enjoying it and have every plan of seeing it through (I can’t imagine this is going to be a comic that lasts forever). If you’re a closet (or out and proud!) fan of 1960s Hanna Barbera cartoons and have often wondered what would happen if Birdman met Space Ghost, I very much recommend this weird little book.

Giant Days #20-21 ✦ story: John Allison ✦ art: Max Sarin ✦ inks: Liz Fleming ✦ colors: Whitney Cogar ✦ covers: Lissa Treiman

Synopsis:

Our girls are all set and ready to move into their new rental house, only to find that all of the furniture has been hastily repaired with duct tape and glue. After a trip to IKEA, they have created their own personal paradise, until a burglary first brings their spirits down, and then renews them.

John Allison is one of my favorite all-around comics guys. He’s been doing webcomics since the late 90s, creating a whole universe centered around the fictional British town of Tackleford, where things in general are more than a little off-kilter. I was introduced to his work via Kate Beaton’s lengthy list of friends at the bottom of Hark! A Vagrant, got VERY into his ongoing webcomic project Bad Machinery, and haven’t looked back.

Where Giant Days fits into the Tackleford canon isn’t really important. What’s important is that it’s a very good comic, and these two issues continue to be very good. While I do love Allison’s art, Max Sarin really sells the expression and body language in these comics. They’re ostensibly about a trio of college friends doing nothing, but they’re so entertaining to both read and look at. John Allison writes caricatures that feel real, and Max Sarin draws the same. That’s a lot of the charm of Giant Days: even as completely ridiculous things happen around them, I always find something to relate to.

Read Giant Days! And read Bad Machinery! It’s on hiatus for the holidays anyway, so there’s no better time to catch up. If you’re not into webcomics, you can also buy the collected editions of Bad Machinery from Oni Press.

Hawkeye #1 ✦ story: Kelly Thompson ✦ art: Leonardo Romero ✦ colors: Jordie Bellaire ✦ cover: Julian Totino Tedeso

Synopsis:

Hawkeye is back! Kate Bishop is once again trying to establish herself as a part-time superhero, full-time PI in California, but she’s got that other Hawkeye’s reputation working against her, as well as a general misconception that she’s running an optometrist’s office.

Between the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye and the Gillen/McKelvie Young Avengers, I have developed a deep love for Kate Bishop. Sure, Clint Barton’s okay, but Kate is the Hawkeye of my heart, and I was very excited to see her taking center stage on the new Hawkeye book (I have literally no idea what this series is really called. Hawkeye Now? A Marvel mystery I don’t care to solve). Kate’s stint as a PI towards the end of the Fraction run was mostly a disaster, and her new attempt is not honestly shaping up much better. The montage of her baffled would-be clients (all looking for either Clint Barton or an eye doctor) was particularly fun. I’m glad to see Romero is carrying on the Hawkeye “style” that’s basically been established since David Aja.

Kate may not be as unfortunate as Clint, but she’s got the same nose for trouble and this is already shaping up to be an entertaining series. I’m also very excited for the possibility of some Hawkeye/America crossover action with Miss America Chavez’s series starting early next year.

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat #12-13 ✦ story: Kate Leth ✦ art: Brittney L. Williams ✦ colors: Rachelle Rosenberg ✦ covers: Brittney L. Williams

Synopsis:

Patsy, Ian, and Jubilee continue to try to figure out what in the heck Black Cat’s deal is. Meanwhile, Black Cat gets her claws into Bailey, which makes the rescue mission a lot more complicated. Also Ian gets a cool new look!

Hellcat is, like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, part of my monthly dose of pure Comic Fun. Leth’s writing is always entertaining, Williams’s art is stylistic and fun, and everything is colorful and zany and awesome. I love this comic (it is, in fact, the only reason I read a whole eight comics today… I tend to read my comics alphabetically by title, and once I got to the Hs I couldn’t stop until I’d gotten caught up on Hellcat).

Despite how much I love it, though, this whole Black Cat storyline is… long. I have no idea where it’s going, which isn’t a bad thing, but that means there’s also no end in sight. The final page of #13 makes it seem like a turnaround is coming up, which I hope means we’ll be back to the odd jobs and hijinks that make this comic so fun.

 

That wraps up this comics post! I want to keep doing single issue reviews, so I hope you can be patient with me while I figure out how best to format these posts (and expect a few more long ones like this multiple times over the next week, since I have 23 more issues to read before the 31st!

Utahime: the Songstress

Utahime: the Songstress by Aki ✦ Translated by Sachiko Sato ✦ Published by DMP, 2009 ✦ ISBN: 978-1-56970-044-0

Summary from publisher:

For centuries, a far-off kingdom has been protected by the nightly singing of the Utahime. This powerful voice is passed down from one female songstress to another within the Utahime’s bloodline. Then the impossible happens…a male songstress has been born. What follows then is a bitter-sweet and tragic tale revolving around this reluctant Utahime.

I love Aki’s linework more than I love her stories, if I’m going to be honest. Utahime is a simple fantasy tale, and there really isn’t that much to it. It begins in the “present,” moves into a lengthy flashback (which is summarized by one of the characters in the first chapter before the flashback begins, rather than having the flashback framed as one of the characters telling the story), then returns to the present. The only other Aki manga I have read, Olympos, is a prettier manga than Utahime, but Utahime has the more coherent story of the two.

The story starts out with a conflict between there being a male songstress and there being a female sovereign, a circumstance apparently as unheard of as the male songstress. What isn’t clear at the beginning, however, is there are many songstresses “protecting” the kingdom, which makes the fact of a single male one a bit less impactful (it’s not exactly the fate of the kingdom on the line if he is discovered). In fact, the fact of a male songstress existing turns out to be almost completely irrelevant to the story: the story’s real conflict is that Kain, the male songstress in question, believes his sister to be the true songstress and the tragedy that misunderstanding causes.

In the end, nothing really gets resolved. A problem is solved, but it’s not a problem that was really even remotely central to the conflict in the story. Even Kain seems baffled as to why that even came up.

Beyond the somewhat disjointed story, the worldbuilding is practically nonexistent. The setting is some sort of pseudo-European fantasy country, but the only information we are given is that there’s towers with songstresses that have villages near them, and that there’s a large capital city. What the songstresses are protecting the country from is unexplored, as is how their magic works. There are apparently other countries that have their own songstresses, the songstresses are strictly policed except when they’re not, and the heir to the throne being a woman is a shakeup except that it’s not.

The art in this manga is what really stands out. Aki’s lines are beautiful and delicate, and her characters are well-designed and expressive. She doesn’t use a lot of visual tricks or gimmicks, either, nor is there a lot of clutter by way of backgrounds or screentone.

This volume also includes a short one-shot called “Darika,” which tells the story of a young man tasked with making sure his kingdom’s top-secret experiment, a clone of a god, doesn’t discover its true nature. This short suffers from similar vague worldbuilding to Utahime, but is a little bit better executed in my opinion.

I’d recommend picking up this book for the art alone, and I’m sure there’s many people out there who would enjoy the story more than I personally did (or find it more coherent than I did). If you’ve read Olympos and liked that, definitely check out Utahime. Unfortunately, it is out of print, but there are plenty of copies available used from Amazon.

Review summary:

Story: 2/5; poorly established worldbuilding, contradictory plot
Art: 5/5; beautiful lines, clear expressions, no clutter

Are You My Mother?

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Are You My Mother

Summary from the publisher:

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.

I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home way back in 2006 and enjoyed it immensely, but somehow its quasi-sequel passed me by (which is to say I checked it out from the library quite a few times but always ended up taking it back before I read it). While visiting family, my younger brother’s fiancée lent me the book, which I didn’t quite finish while I was in Texas but will be mailing back posthaste.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting so much psychology and philosophy in this book, but Bechdel’s relating of her relationship with her mother to her dreams, her reading, and her sessions with her therapist are woven together in a way that gives the reader a fascinating big-picture look behind the scenes of Bechdel’s mind. It’s a book that is partially about and influenced by its own development, although the writing and publishing of Fun Home is more focused on. As someone who comes from a family with an almost miraculous lack of dysfunction, there’s not a whole lot I can relate to when it comes to the specifics of Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, but her self-doubt, her imposter syndrome, and her relentless search for a way to both process and move past those things are definitely something that resonates with me, as well as the insights into her life as a writer.

The art in this book is solid, although more incidental to the story than anything else. Bechdel’s art is good for a memoir, I think; it complements the story well and adds a layer of warmth and familiarity that would be harder to convey with words alone. She doesn’t exaggerate features for comic effect, just draws from her memories in order to share what I presume to be as accurate a record as possible. The extremely minimal use of color in the book unifies it and makes it an easy read visually.

I think, for some, this could be a painful book to read. Memoirs have the ability to bring up raw feelings in their readers, but unlike the specific childhood trauma brought up in Fun Home, the feelings Bechdel has for her mother that are laid out in this book are considerably more common. Still, I think it’s a book very much worth reading, even if you aren’t a comics reader normally.

Fresh New Blog

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I’ve been meaning to start a book blog for A While, so here we are. It’s a tie-in with my main 2017 project, which is to read more books than I read in 2016. It shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish, since as of today I’ve only read fourteen books in 2016 (I’ll probably get to 16 total). My other goal is to keep caught up on my weekly comics.

This blog will mostly consist of reviews of books and comics, but may have the occasional foray into other things… movie reviews, general life updates, posts about museums and such. Whatever I think is interesting. I am going to try to post at least twice a week beginning in January but I thought I should give myself a bit of a head start. To start with I’m not doing any kind of particular schedule, themed posts, or anything like that. That can come later, if I manage to keep this blog up past the first week.

I’ve also got an Instagram to tie-in with this account (along with my main Instagram if what you really want is cat photos). I’ll be using the Instagram primarily for weekly comics/books haul photos and maybe some “Bookstagram” style posts. I will eventually make a Twitter for this blog to serve as purely an update feed, but for now my main Twitter is, well, my main Twitter.

Expect some comic reviews on the horizon first (currently reading Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel) and I’ll see where this blog takes me!