Taipei by Tao Lin

Taipei by Tao Lin

Information

Goodreads: Taipei
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2013

SummarY

Lacking meaning and direction, Paul goes through the motions of life, failing at relationships, taking increasingly large amounts of drugs, and filming all his interactions in an attempt to make them real.

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Review

Taipei is a very modern book, the type of modern book that assumes that the current generation can all be lumped together into one disillusioned mass.  Life is meaningless, depression universal, and ennui the only constant.  Writing about these things makes your book deep.  This book is perhaps the quintessential “literary fiction,” if the excruciating (yet experimental) prose style does not disqualify it from that label.

One does not read Taipei for the plot, because it barely has one.  Rather, one reads Taipei to feel part of the cultured avant garde.  Perhaps writing about characters who wander around aimlessly having sex and taking increasingly large amounts of drugs is overdone.  But that apparently does not preclude a book from being “deep” and “edgy.”   If it does, Tao Lin chooses to distinguish his book by writing it in a prose style that can perhaps only politely be called “unique.”

If Lin were not a published author, it would be tempting to call his prose “amateur.”  Like many a new writer, he over-describes everything, adding as many adjectives as possible as he goes into excruciating detail about mundane moments.  This is, however, deliberate.  His adjectives tend to be overly clinical and sometimes a little bizarre; he makes the reader feel the weirdness of life, much like his main character Paul.  He even adds everyone’s age after their name (as in Michelle, 21, walked toward Chelsea”) as if writing a movie script.  This gives the reader a sense of removal, of alienation–they are observing life from afar, trying to piece it all together.

The clinical over-descriptions are paired with sentences that run on for ages, usually with clauses modifying nothing else in the sentence.  Rereading the paragraph does nothing to help the reader make sense of it all, because there is no sense.  Again, this seems to mirror Paul’s understanding of life.  He is trying to communicate, trying to find meaning, but there is no meaning for him to find.  He is going through the motions of life and he does not even know why.

The ending of the book might redeem it for some, as it tries to lift Paul out of his depression and give him something to hope for.  Personally, however, I found this to be cheap after a couple hundred pages of watching Paul get high and sabotage every single one of his relationships.  If a book is going to be about the meaningless of it all, I want it to have the guts to maintain that outlook through the end.

Taipei is your typical modern book about characters lacking direction and meaning in life, and turning to substance abuse in an attempt to escape their terrible reality.  Readers who find that sort of thing deep may want to pick up Taipei.  However, I tend to think joy and wonder are more difficult to write than despair–I’ve read too many college pieces on drug usage to be impressed–and I do not relate or subscribe to the idea that life is meaningless.  As a result, I was mainly frustrated by Paul and bored by the book.  I don’t intend to read another Tao Lin book, if I can help it.

2 star review

10 Must-Have Teen Comics for the Library (Marvel Edition)

Marvel Comics for Teen Readers

My home library has had a scanty selection of superhero graphic novels for years.  I have suggested before that this could be due to a lack of funding, but also to the difficulty involved in figuring out which comics to buy.  So here are my suggestions for where libraries can start building their comics section for teen readers!

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel Alpha Flight

Captain Marvel may not be a teenage hero, but her recent movie has given her additional popularity–as if she needed it.  Carol Danvers is sure to appeal to readers with her bold, no-nonsense attitude, as well as her commitment to helping others, no matter the cost.

Den of Geek has an excellent guide to the reading order for Captain Marvel.  The easiest way to read seems to be to the Earth’s Mightiest Hero volumes.  However, if you have to choose a run, I highly recommend Kelly Sue Deconnick’s 2014 series, which includes Higher, Further, Faster, More (Vol. 1); Stay Fly (Vol. 2), and Alis Volat Propriis (Vol. 3).

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Ironheart

Fifteen-year-old Riri Williams is an engineering student who makes her own iron armor to become a superhero.  With Tony Stark now existing as an A.I., it’s up to her to stop crime!  She’s a bold, confident heroine sure to inspire teen readers.

Riri Williams first appeared in Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart, Volume 1: Riri Williams, followed by Invincible Ironman: Ironheart, Volume 2: Choices.  But if you want to read her solo comic, volume 1: Those with Courage was released in July 2019, while volume 2 is scheduled for a December 2019 release.

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Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

At nine years old, Luna Lafayette is the smartest character in the current Marvel universe.  And, thanks to the terrigen gas, she’s about to get super powers.  Even cooler, however, is her teammate–a dinosaur!  Everyone loves dinosaurs, so clearly this is a great purchase for any comics collection!

Start with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF.

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Ms. Marvel

Sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan loves superheroes, but she never expected to become one herself. Now that she has the ability to change appearance, however, will she find herself trapped in others’ expectations or will she find the strength to be herself?  Kamala’s story is particularly powerful precisely because of who she is. Muslim, and dark-skinned, she finds it difficult to fit in at school, even when others are not consciously drawing attention to her “otherness”–her clothes, her religion, her parents’ rules. She doesn’t want to give up her faith and she loves her family, but she has that desire common to us all–the desire to belong.  But she finds strength in religion, in her family, and in her beliefs–and that makes her truly inspirational.

Start with Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, et al.

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Runaways

Runaways Rowell

Rainbow Rowell’s Runaways is perfect for readers new to comics as it provides all the information necessary for readers to jump right in.  Plus, the colors are bright and bold, the humor is fresh, and the  young characters are sympathetic.  There’s really nothing not to love about Rowell’s take on the comic started by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona!

Start with Rowell’s Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home or find the collected versions of Vaughan’s run.

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Spider-Gwen

Spider-Gwen is secretly college student Gwen Stacy in an alternate universe.  In her reality, Peter Parker died and she became the masked hero known as Spider-Woman.  Gwen’s a little angsty, but young readers may relate to Gwen’s feelings that she has to do it all, but trying is making her fall apart.

There are six collected volumes of Spider-Gwen.  And now there seems to be a new series called Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider.

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Spider-man: Miles Morales

Miles Morales 1

Miles Morales is a relatable teen protagonist concerned with friends, family, and school–but also, of course, with fighting evil.  His adventures will appeal to readers eager to see more diversity in comics and to readers ready for a new, young Spider-Man facing contemporary issues.

Start with Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis, et al.

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Thor

Thor

With Thor Odinson unworthy to wield the hammer, a new (female) Thor steps into the role!  The identity of the new Thor is a mystery, but she is certainly up to the challenge!  This is a fresh new take on Thor, sure to appeal to readers open to expanding the possibilities of what it means to be a hero.

You can begin with Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder and Volume 2: Who Holds the Hammer?  Continue with volumes 1-5 of The Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron, et al.

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Doreen Green is a computer science student, but also secretly the superhero known as the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  Her unfailing belief in the goodness of people is her true secret weapon, however; she prefers to rehabilitate villains when possible, instead of simply punching them.  Her comics have a quirky humor sure to win over readers.

Begin with Volume 1: Squirrel Power.  Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s comics provide all the background information readers need to start with this series and this hero.

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The Unstoppable Wasp

Unstoppable Wasp

Nadia has escaped the Red Room and is eager to meet the father who never knew she existed–Hank Pym.  Unfortunately, Hank is dead.  Still, Nadia wants to live up to his legacy and save the world; she’s recreated his technology and become the Unstoppable Wasp for just that purpose.  But the Red Room is not ready to let her go.  Nadia’s upbeat personality and desire to see the good in everyone makes him a charming protagonist.  Perfect for fans of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Available in two volumes (Unstoppable! and Agents of G.I.R.L).  Or simply buy The Unstopabble Wasp: G. I. R. L. Power, which includes the comics from both those previous volumes.

What Marvel comics do you think the library should stock for teen readers?

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (Series Review) by Naoko Takeuchi

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

Information

Goodreads: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
Series: 12 Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon volumes
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2003

SummarY

When Usagi encounters a mysterious cat with a crescent on her forehead, she learns that she is a guardian, reborn to protect the Earth and the hidden Moon Princess.  But fighting evil is hard and Usagi will need to find her friends and allies if she is to fulfill her mission.

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Review

Sailor Moon seems to one of those stories that everyone recognizes, and even loves, whether through watching the anime or reading the manga.  Such stories often have a lot to live up to when we return to them in later years.  Will they hold up?  Will we love them as much as we remember?  Returning to the manga six years after I first read it, I find that Sailor Moon still has the power to move me with its focus on friendship, celebration of self-sacrifice, and emphasis on girl power.

The manga moves much more quickly than the anime I remember from years ago, giving readers less time to get to know Usagi’s allies (fellow Sailor Guardians) one-on-one.  There is only one arc that focuses on Usagi’s four friends, showing how their dreams and fears can be distorted by the enemy to defeat them.  Even so, their devotion to each other comes across in every story as they decide again and again to stand by each other, to protect each other, even if it means giving up their lives for each other.  They embody self-sacrificial love, holding back nothing.  And they choose to give of themselves repeatedly, knowing that they are not only risking death, but also choosing to forsake careers and romance for the sake of their mission, and each other.

Naoko Takeuchi’s artwork is truly stunning, with each of the girls being beautiful, of course.  And there are fun inserts between volumes with Takeuchi almost presenting fanart of her work, showing what the girls would look like dressed in different styles, with different hair, etc.  But the lines and the movement are also stunning, making Sailor Moon more than a story told with pictures.  It is a work of art.

Returning to Sailor Moon was a truly magical experience, one that inspired me with Takeuchi’s depiction of female friendships and female empowerment.  Sailor Moon is one of those stories that continues to live up the nostalgia, and to last the test of time.

5 stars

Allusions to Other Books: How Much Is Too Much?

Can There Be Too Many Allusions in a Book_

Many readers seem excited to find characters who are bookworms or to notice allusions to other texts in the books they read.  I’ve seen people squeal on social media about the fact that a novel mentioned Harry Potter or (much more rarely) another favorite book, as if the allusion alone were a recommendation for the novel.  The author or the character or both like the same book that the reader does, so there’s some sort of connection.  The entire novel is better for it.  Yet I find myself on the other end of the spectrum.  I often don’t like allusions to other books because they feel forced or overwhelming.

A well-placed allusion that adds something to the novel and does not distract from the main story is fine.  However, many allusions seem like throw-away lines that are simply there, and if a book has too many, they overwhelm the main narrative, and I start wondering if the author is making a weird effort to look well-read themselves.  This is particularly true if the “allusion” is mainly a name drop of a litany of titles, rather than a thoughtful working-in of a quote or other more subtle reference.

In other cases, I frequently feel (perhaps unjustly) that the allusion is there to make a quick connection with the reader without any real work on the part of the author.  Shouting “We’re all Harry Potter fans here!” seems like a short-cut to make readers like the book or the character—and that short-cut rests on the fact that Harry Potter is good, regardless of whether the book alluding to it is also good.  This struck me most recently as I was reading Blastaway by Melissa Landers (a book that has other strong qualities, to be fair).  The story is set 500 years in the future in space, but the protagonist frequently waxes poetic about how the twenty-first century on Earth was a golden age of literature, and he mentions Harry Potter throughout the book.  Furthermore, he has a full conversation with another character about Harry Potter, what Houses they’re in, etc.  Far from immersing me in the story or making me identify with the protagonist as a fellow HP fan, I felt ripped out of it.  Was I reading a story set in space or an ode to Harry Potter?  Worse, the novel then dedicated a lengthy paragraph to a discussion of Percy Jackson, as if the author wanted to be sure she hit two of the biggest fandoms in middle grade.

A couple pages of characters in a book geeking out about other books does not contribute much in my opinion, particularly if the point is simply that the characters like the book and, hey!, you the reader probably do, too!  If the books alluded to were relevant to the plot, or if there were some overlap in themes between the two stories that merited being commented upon, I think a lengthy allusion could be valuable. (Although probably rare in contemporary literature. I wouldn’t blink an eye at characters in a classic novel discussing, say, Wordsworth for reasons that became clear over the course of the story.  Such a thing just generally doesn’t happen in books written today.)

I might be overreacting to such allusions.  Likely the authors are genuine fans of the books and simply think that mentioning them is fun, but I find it distracting, and the allusions are poor substitutes for making me like or care about the characters or the story in other ways.

What do you think? Do you like allusions in books?  Are some allusions better done than others?

Briana

Do You Read Backlist Titles?

Do You Read Backlist Titles

Book bloggers often seem to focus on new releases, working hard to get advanced reader copies (ARCs) for review or blogging primarily about books being published that same year, or the next.  However, the worth of a book cannot be measured by its release date alone.  Plenty of “older” titles (an adjective that can apply to a book released maybe even only three years ago) are still vibrant and compelling stories–ones worth reading.

Reading every book published every year simply is not possible, even for those who read incessantly. Even if readers limit themselves only to categories like “middle-grade books” or “fantasy YA,” they still will not be able to read every book published in a given year.  This means that, every year, there are plenty of exciting stories that I fail to read.  But they still have intriguing summaries, glowing reviews, or provocative premises.  I still want to read them.

I regularly read backlist titles because a good story remains a good story, even after time has passed.  It is not the newness of a book that makes it moving or gripping or memorable.  Rather, it is the characters, the plot, and the prose that combine to make a book the type of story that nestles deep into your heart, that makes you think, that maybe changes your life forever.  I would hate to miss out on something wonderful simply because it is no longer new.

But reading backlist titles has benefits–namely, that I am more likely to find others who have read the book, too.  Discussions of books is difficult when reviewing ARCs or even when reviewing a book only a few weeks old, because not many others have  read or finished the story.  In these cases, comments on reviews are often confined to statements like, “Great review!” or “I’m looking forward to reading this!” In-depth comments on the story and readers’ reactions to it are not yet possible.  But I love hearing what others thought of the book, whether that means they are sharing my enthusiasm or pointing out aspects of the book I may have overlooked or interpreted differently.  Talking about books is half the fun of reading.

Reading backlist titles gives me the opportunity to find gems I may have missed and the opportunity to talk about my new finds with others who have already read and loved them.  I would never want to miss out on a good book simply because it was not published this  year.

Do you read backlist titles?

 

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

Information

GoodreadsThe Lifted Veil
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1859

Official Summary

Horror was my familiar.

Published the same year as her first novel, Adam Bede, this overlooked work displays the gifts for which George Eliot would become famous—gritty realism, psychological insight, and idealistic moralizing. It is unique from all her other writing, however, in that it represents the only time she ever used a first-person narrator, and it is the only time she wrote about the supernatural.

The tale of a man who is incapacitated by visions of the future and the cacophony of overheard thoughts, and yet who can’t help trying to subvert his vividly glimpsed destiny, it is easy to read The Lifted Veil as being autobiographically revealing—of Eliot’s sensitivity to public opinion and her awareness that her days concealed behind a pseudonym were doomed to a tragic unveiling (as indeed came to pass soon after this novella’s publication). But it is easier still to read the story as the exciting and genuine precursor of a moody new form, as well as an absorbing early masterpiece of suspense.

The Art of The Novella Series

Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature’s greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.

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Review

I’ve always admired George Eliot’s ability to write stories that are very different in tone and subject matter and yet be a master of them all, so I was intrigued to discover she had written a novella that veers away from her reputation for realism to explore the supernatural. While psychic powers and unexplained events are not something most readers would associate with Eliot, they were big topics of her time (and, really, still are), so it is interesting to see her weigh in on the discussion and offer her own artistic rendering of such occurrences.  Ultimately, however, I found The Lifted Veil too over-the-top and meandering and was largely disappointed by an author whose work I generally love.

The premise of the story is that a young man, after an illness, sudden acquires the ability to “see the future” in quick bursts of scenes, as well as the ability to discern all the thoughts and feelings of those around him, save for the woman his brother is courting.  This is intriguing, but it is worth noting that Eliot’s focus is not on the plot, not on how these new powers might become important or lead to some exciting event, but rather on the interiority of the protagonist.  The book is largely about how he feels about these powers, what it’s like to anticipate having a sudden burst of insight, the anxiousness of seeing whether it will come true, as well as the downsides of knowing what everyone is thinking—the conclusion is that it’s tiring, in large part because apparently the protagonist does not know a single person who true thoughts are generally kind or agreeable.  He begins to avoid people to escape being bombarded with their thoughts and to avoid being thought mentally unstable lest he give some hint of his supernatural powers.

This is thought-provoking on one level, the idea that seeing the future or essentially reading minds would be a terrible and exhausting personal burden more than anything else, but I also felt as though the story did not really go anywhere.  Many of the plot events were predictable, even for those of us without fortune telling powers, and there did not seem to be any real developments in the interiority of the protagonist either.  The Lifted Veil felt fairly flat and seemed to end in a place quite similar to where it began.

Much of it was also overwrought, though not the supernatural parts.  I can believe in seeing flashes of the future or feeling others’ emotions or even briefly reanimating the dead, great Gothic staples.  However, the characters themselves, usually a strong point of Eliot’s work, feel like caricatures.  The protagonist has a “poetic” nature, going so far as to suggest he can only look at one or two paintings in a single day (say, in a museum) because he is simply so moved by them that looking at more is exhausting and overcomes him.  This is ridiculous, and I feel confident in saying that only a nineteenth-century author would have come up with something like this.

His brother’s fiancée, on whom the protagonist fixates, is on the opposite end of the spectrum, an evil and conniving young woman who seems manipulative and disagreeable just for the sake of it.  She has not a single redeeming quality, except appearing charming to people who do not actually know her.  She seems to exist to be a villain.

George Eliot’s publishers initially rejected The Lifted Veil, and while this has led various readers and scholars to play devil’s advocate and look for its strengths and reasons today’s readers should find it interesting, it didn’t work for me.  I recommend Eliot’s other books without hesitation, but this was somehow both flat and over-the-top, and I don’t feel that I got much out of it.

3 Stars Briana

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn

Information

Goodreads: Spin the Dawn
Series: The Blood of Stars #1
Source: Gift
Published: July 9, 2019

Summary

Maia Tamarin has longed dreamed of becoming the tailor to the emperor.  Unfortunately, the position is not open to women.  But then emperor calls her father to court and Maia, seeing her chance, disguises herself as her brother and goes in his stead.  There she enters a competition to please the emperor’s newly betrothed and become the court tailor.  But she never reckoned on being assigned an impossible task or on falling in love with an enchanter.

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Review

Spin the Dawn is a refreshing fairy tale retelling–refreshing in the sense that it sticks to the classic framework of a fairy tale, rather than trying to add too many twists or subversions in the hopes of becoming original.  The usual feminist messaging of the modern YA fantasy is present, of course, as Maia attempts to earn her place in a man’s profession.  But, by and large, the book follows the expected patterns and hits the expected notes–just right for a fairy tale.  Readers who love tales of enchantments and quests and magical dresses will find everything they love here.

The first half of the book, in which Maia competes to become court tailor, is regrettably much better than the second half–regrettable because the quest to make three dresses of legend (from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars) is ostensibly the focal point of the story.  The first half, however, is the part of the story that introduces us to Maia, her family, and her motivations.  It is the part where we get to see Maia fight to be recognized as a female tailor.  It is the place where we see her beginning to understand that living at court does not mean a life of ease and luxury.  It is the part where Maia shines.

Once Maia is assigned her quest, however, the story flounders a bit.  The quest takes second place to Maia’s budding romance with the Lord Enchanter–a romance that I never fully bought into, as Maia and the enchanter do not really know each other (something Maia herself repeatedly brings up, though it doesn’t stop her from tearing off his clothes).  And Maia ends up taking second place to the enchanter, who is the one who plans the route, orders the supplies, and knows the legends that will allow Maia to collect what she needs.  Oh, the Lord Enchanter says he cannot actually get the sun, the moon, or the stars for Maia.  But he does everything except hold out the container.  The effect is to make it clear that Maia on her own would have failed.  She just does not have the knowledge or the resources to do the quest by herself.

A tale about teamwork and leaning on each other’s strengths would have been fine, a novel twist on the usual fairy tale quest in which the heroine typically has to outwit magical forces herself.  But Maia’s skills largely seem relegated to sewing, knitting, and knotting things, while the Lord Enchanter does most of the rest.  (And Maia has magic scissors that make her do all her work faster and better, which sort of takes away from her talent–something Maia also feels.)  This means that the actual collection of the laughter, the tears, and the blood should be really difficult to prove Maia’s worth.  And they are difficult, theoretically.  But they happen so quickly, it almost feels like anyone could do it, with a bit of perseverance and some magic. Only the third challenge–the blood of stars–receives extended treatment, convincing me that only someone with exceptional strength of will and physical prowess could complete the task.

Spin the Dawn is an enjoyable fairy tale retelling, sure to delight those who like their fairy tales with straightforward quests.  However, uneven pacing and an overemphasis on an half-developed romance weaken the story.

3 Stars