Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: Angel Catbird, Vol. 1 – Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

Angel Catbird, Vol. 1 – Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas

On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure—with a lot of cat puns.

Review: So . . . I’m confused.

I’ve never been a fan of superheroes or comic books. It seems like most kids go through a phase where they’re obsessed with Spiderman or Wonder Woman, but that never happened with me. I’ve always thought superheroes were lame.

Then, my favorite author wrote a superhero comic book. If anyone could make me care about a superhero, it’s Margaret Atwood. I decided to give Volume 1 of Angel Catbird a try.

And, now I’m confused. This book feels like a joke that I didn’t completely understand.

The story follows a genetic engineer, Strig Feleedus, who accidently merges his DNA with the DNA of a cat and an owl. He becomes part of a community of human/animal hybrid creatures, but everything is not peaceful in the hybrid world. The rat-people are trying to destroy the cat-people. It’s up to Angel Catbird (Strig’s superhero persona) to stop them.

I really like the introduction to the comic. Margaret Atwood writes about her childhood and how she became interested in art and comic books. She also talks about what inspired Angel Catbird and how she worked with artists to bring her vision to life. And, I learned a new word! Manqué.

Who knew that my entire life could be summed up perfectly with one word?

Another part of Angel Catbird that I like is the last section. It explains how comic book art is created and shows how the colorist adds layers of color to each picture. It was interesting to see all the “behind the scenes” stuff. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style, but I enjoyed learning about it, and the cats are cute. There are cat facts at the bottoms of the pages, so I learned a few things about cats, too.

The story itself is a disappointment. I don’t feel like I totally understood it. Is it supposed to be a meta superhero story that pokes fun at real superhero stories? Was the writing intentionally bad? The plot is simplistic and full of tropes. There’s no character development. The dialogue is cringe-worthy. I never felt invested in what was happening. Everything is just very . . . silly. I have a feeling I would have appreciated it more if I was familiar with other superhero stories. It seems like it’s making fun of the genre.

Maybe cat-loving kids would like this book? There are a few sexual innuendos, but they’d probably go over kids’ heads. The plot is simple enough for kids to follow, and there’s a lot of action. It’s not bloody, though. Everything is very PG.

Oh, I thought of something else I like! The sexy love-interest character, Cate Leone, has a similar haircut to me. That’s cool. I guess.

Luckily for you, I never wear my fur bikini out of the house.

Margaret Atwood will probably always be my favorite author, but I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of this series. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Sunday Post #86

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood & Johnnie Christmas.
  • On Wednesday I review Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman.
  • On Thursday I wrap up February.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I read The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I’m currently reading Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Playing with kittens. They had horrible sharp teeth, and they bit me a lot, but YOLO, right? (YOLO probably wasn’t intended to be applied to kittens. I’ve just always wanted to say YOLO about something.)
  2. Girl Scout cookies. I’m on a diet, but YOLO, right? (YOLO probably also doesn’t apply to cookies.)
  3. I joined a writing workshop. Now I need to write stuff.
  4. I went to several bookstores, and I didn’t buy any books! Winning at self-control.
  5. NASA discovered seven new planets.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere! 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Rapid-Fire Book Tag

I’ve seen this giant tag around the blogosphere and thought I’d give it a try.

The Rapid-Fire Book Tag

1. E-books or physical books?

Physical books. I spend all day staring at screens. I’d rather not do it in my leisure time, too.

2. Paperback or hardback?

Hardback. Paperbacks fall apart too easily.

3. Online or in-store book shopping?

I prefer in-store shopping, but I usually can’t afford it. The Internet has cheaper books.

4. Trilogies or series?

Neither? Trilogies because they’re less overwhelming if you come in late, and it’s easier to keep up with new releases.

5. Heroes or villains?

Villains. Bad guys have more fun.

6. A book you want everyone to read?

This is hard because I don’t know “everyone’s” tastes. Maybe The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood?

7. Recommend an underrated book?

Cold City by Cathy McSporran. Bizarre, remote, Scottish, LGBT+, cultish, literary dystopian fiction.

8. The last book you finished?

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. I liked it.

9. The last book you bought?

I haven’t bought books since November, so I don’t remember. The last one I traded for was The Poet’s Handbook by Judson Jerome. Fascinating, I know.

10. Weirdest thing you’ve used as a bookmark?

My Kindle.

11. Used books? Yes or no?

Yes! Almost all the books I acquire are used.

12. Top three favorite genres?

Only three? I have so many favorites! Literary/contemporary, historical, dystopia.

13. Borrow or buy?

Buy. If I like a book, I want to keep it forever. I want my corpse to be buried with it. If I don’t like it, I can almost always trade it.

14. Characters or plot?

Characters. I can get past a boring plot if the characters are interesting. If the characters suck, I’ll probably hate the book.

15. Long or short books?

Short. Long books are usually unnecessarily long. *Glares furiously at the ghost of Charles Dickens.*

16. Long or short chapters?

Short, I guess? I really don’t care. I stop reading in the middle of chapters all the time.

17. Name the first three books you think of?

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. (New releases that I need in my life.)

18. Books that make you laugh or cry?

Laugh, but it’s hard to impress me. I’ve never had much luck with humor books. Most of them aren’t funny.

19. Our world or fictional worlds?

Our world. Most of the fictional worlds I read about are dystopias.

20. Audiobooks? Yes or no?

No. Just like with TV and movies, I have a hard time staying focused on them.

21. Do you ever judge a book by its cover?

Constantly. A nice cover will make me read the synopsis. I tend to scroll past ugly books on Goodreads.

22. Book-to-movie or book-to-TV adaptations?

Book-to-TV. I like the anticipation of looking forward to a TV show each week. TV series are longer than movies, so more stuff from the book can be crammed into them.

23. A movie or TV show you preferred to its book?

All The Hunger Games movies. *Ducks flying garbage.* The movies proved my theory that the books would have been better in third person. We needed to see more of the world.

24. Series or standalones?

Standalones. Series add too many books to my TBR list. Also, it’s rare that I’ll love every book in a series. I don’t have enough patience for saggy middle books.

If you want to do this tag, consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: The Unintentional Time Traveler – Everett Maroon

The Unintentional Time Traveler – Everett Maroon

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era. Since his seizures usually give him spazzed out visions, Jack presumes this is a hallucination. Feeling fearless, he steals a horse, expecting that at any moment he’ll wake back up in the clinical trial lab. When that doesn't happen, Jacqueline falls unexpectedly in love, even as the town in the past becomes swallowed in a fight for its survival. Jack/Jacqueline is caught between two lives and epochs, and must find a way to save everyone around him as well as himself. And all the while, he is losing time, even if he is getting out of algebra class.

Review: The concept of this book is amazing. I really wish the execution had been better.

When teenager Jack Bishop agrees to participate in a medical study, he hopes that it will help with his epilepsy. He does not expect that the study will send him back in time, but that’s exactly what happens. During the study, the doctors induce a seizure, and Jack wakes up in 1926. To make things more bizarre, Jack isn’t in his own body. He’s in the body of a girl named Jacqueline. Can Jack/Jacqueline use their newfound time travel skills to save Jacqueline’s town and navigate the tricky relationships in both of their lives?

This book puts a unique spin on a time travel story. When Jack travels, he doesn’t take his body with him. He has to adapt to whatever body he finds himself inhabiting. This raises a lot of interesting questions. How much does a person’s body influence their personality? Could you still be yourself if your body was suddenly different? Would you be more comfortable in a different body? I love that the author doesn’t moralize or try to give concrete answers to these questions. He just allows Jack/Jacqueline to be themselves and explore their identity. Whatever happens happens.

The plot takes a while to get going, but once it does, I was totally hooked. There are so many twists that I didn’t see coming. The ending is nuts.

I enjoyed the action and the body-swapping, but I had a ton of issues with this book.

First, I was frustrated by how uncurious the characters are. If I woke up in 1926 inside someone else’s body, I’d have a lot of questions. I kept waiting for Jack/Jacqueline to ask my questions. When they finally got around to asking the important ones, the questions weren’t answered. I know that this book is the first in a series, but I think more answers could have been given. It’s frustrating to not fully understand what’s going on. I mostly want to know who is in Jack’s body when he isn’t using it. I spent the whole book waiting to find out, and I never did. There were a zillion opportunities for Jack to ask that question.

Also, Jacqueline disappears for a few years and then suddenly shows up again. Some people (including her mother) thought she was dead. When she unexpectedly comes home, nobody bothers asking where she was. Wouldn’t they be curious about this? I was.

Next, the instalove is strong in this one. Jack meets Jacqueline’s friend, Lucas, and immediately becomes obsessed. I don’t understand why. They kiss a few times, and then they’re in love. That must have been a mind-blowing kiss.

I think a few more rounds of editing would have done this book a lot of good. I sometimes had a hard time picturing the blocking of the scenes. There were a few times where I got confused about something and had to back up and reread. For example, there is a scene where Jack is in a tunnel and wishes he had a screwdriver. A few scenes later, he has a screwdriver. (I think?) Where did it come from? There’s another scene where part of a conversation is missing. In another scene, a horse disappears from one place and appears somewhere else. Editing could have fixed these inconsistencies.

Finally, I questioned the representation of mental illness. Jack’s doctor is sent to a mental hospital after he claims that he has sent his patients back in time. The hospital gives him medication that turns him from a highly educated person to a gameshow-obsessed man-child. Can medication do that? Would doctors allow that to happen to a patient? I’m not sure.

I don’t think I’m going to pick up the sequels, but the plot and exploration of gender were interesting to read.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Hyped Books That I (Surprisingly) Didn’t Hate

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is books I liked more than I thought I would.

I have a complicated relationship with hyped books. Some of them totally deserve the hype, but I have two reasons for avoiding them:

1. I overhype them in my head and then get disappointed. 
2. I feel weird about throwing my book money at an author who is already rich. Authors deserve all the money they make, but there are many talented authors whose books get no hype. This is often because the publisher doesn’t promote the book heavily. I’d rather support talented, lesser-known authors. Hyped authors get enough attention without me.

That being said, here are some hyped books that I enjoyed.

Hyped Books That I (Surprisingly) Didn’t Hate

Why I was skeptical: Jenny Lawson has a strange sense of humor.
Why I liked it: Turns out, I also have a strange sense of humor.

Why I was skeptical: Romance and questionable mental illness representation.
Why I liked it: “Liked” might be the wrong word. “Was unnerved by it” might be better. An acquaintance of mine committed suicide shortly before I started reading this book. His relationship with his girlfriend was very similar to the characters’ relationship in the book. It was eerie.

Why I was skeptical: Vague synopsis. Is it a contemporary? Sci-fi? A love story? Also, it’s set in a city. I hate cities.
Why I liked it: That ending . . .

Why I was skeptical: It was described to me as “An amazing book where nothing really happens.”
Why I liked it: Interesting insight into Korean culture and how society pressures us to conform.

Why I was skeptical: Fantasy is not my thing.
Why I liked it: It’s fantasy, but it’s not dense fantasy. I didn’t have to wade through 500 pages of elf history to get to the plot.

Why I was skeptical: Hard sci-fi isn’t my thing.
Why I liked it: I’m not as rabid about these books as everyone else seems to be, but they all have a lot of action, which is fun.

Why I was skeptical: Romance-heavy books are not my thing.
Why I liked it: Quirky characters, compelling plots, hopeful endings.

Why I was skeptical: They sound fluffy. I don’t do fluffy.
Why I liked it: Brilliant dialogue, lots of humor, relatable characters.

Why I was skeptical: Oprah likes it. I haven’t had much luck with books that Oprah likes.
Why I liked it: I love hiking.

What’s your favorite hyped book? 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: The Vegetarian – Han Kang

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether.

Review: This review is for the English translation of a Korean book.

First, a public service announcement: If you’re on a diet, this book will make you crave food like crazy. There is so much food in this story! Someday, a raging hungry lady is going to commit homicide to get her hands on some Korean BBQ after reading this thing. Do not read while hungry.

Anyway, I put off reading The Vegetarian for a long time because of the hype. Then it won the Man Booker International award, and I was like, fine, I’ll read it. I’m glad I did. It’s a quiet, slow-paced, strange, well-written little novel.

The book focuses on a young woman called Yeong-hye, but she doesn’t get much of a point-of-view. The story is told from the points-of-view of her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister. After a series of violent dreams, Yeong-hye turns vegetarian. When the dreams don’t stop, she becomes determined to make herself more plant-like. She rarely speaks, stops eating, and tries to live on sunlight alone. Finally, her behavior gets so bizarre that she is committed to a hospital.

“There's nothing wrong with keeping quiet, after all, hadn't women traditionally been expected to be demure and restrained?” – The Vegetarian

Almost all of the characters are jerks. That’s what made them so endlessly fascinating to me. This story isn’t about Yeong-hye’s mental illness; it’s about how her behavior affects other people. Her husband has no patience for an “unusual” wife. He wants a wife who takes care of him and doesn’t complain. When Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism causes a minor inconvenience at a dinner party, he considers divorcing her. Since she won’t conform to society, she’s an embarrassment to him.

Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law is a pervert. He romanticizes her “otherness.” She becomes a childlike sex-object in his imagination. It’s weird.

The sister is the least overtly selfish. She takes care of Yeong-hye, but she’s also jealous. Yeong-hye’s hospitalization gives Yeong-hye an excuse not to participate in traditional Korean culture. No one expects Yeong-hye to be a supportive wife, or a perfect mother, or to keep a job. Yeong-hye just sits in a mental hospital all day, pretending to be a tree. She’s free.

“She was no longer able to cope with all that her sister reminded her of. She'd been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she'd never even known they were there.” – The Vegetarian

I went into this book knowing that it was slow-paced, but sometimes it was too slow for me. The characters spend a lot of time thinking and not much time doing things. (Other than rape. They do rape each other occasionally.) The sexual obsession parts especially bogged down the story. I understand that the guy is obsessed, but it gets repetitive. The sister’s chapter is also very slow.

This story did force me to think, though, which I always appreciate. The Vegetarian shows that people can never truly understand one another, and often they don’t even try. The story is about happiness and conformity. Society tells us that we need to have a “perfect” life to be happy. Yeong-hye’s sister has a “perfect” life. She has a husband, a son, an apartment, and a successful career. But, she’s miserable. She’s envious of Yeong-hye because Yeong-hye doesn’t have to meet society’s expectations. Yeong-hye is finding her own path to happiness instead of following the one that society lays out for everyone.

The book is also about narrowmindedness. Maybe Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism wouldn’t have become a mental illness if her family had accepted it. When she announces that she’s becoming vegetarian, her family forces meat into her mouth so that she’d conform to society. They humiliate her. Maybe the pressure to conform makes people sick.

Despite its slowness, The Vegetarian lived up to the hype for me. I probably need to be less of a hipster and give popular books a chance.