{life} the better read of the family

natalya 2013Natalya’s Top Ten Eleven Books Read in 2014

(in no particular order):

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

City in the City by China Mieville

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Kraken by China Mieville

Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

at only 14, she is quickly becoming the best read person in the household…

She is looking forward to reading:

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

the newest Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley

would love to see another Frances Hardinge book,

and the sequel to Rachel Hart’s Seraphina,

Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man

and return to reading Dune.

and Sean green-lighted Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. (She’s waiting for us to give the nod for Rothfuss’ King Killer Chronicles)

and Michelle highly recommends that Garth Nix series (Sabriel).

Finish Embassytown by Mieville.

{diversity in lit} adding to the shelf

My Little Pocketbooks is hosting the second annual Diversity on the Shelf reading challenge.

“The aim of Diversity on the Shelf 2015 Challenge is add diversity to you bookshelf by reading books by authors of color and/or about a main character of color.”

I wasn’t the best participant last year, but I found some great new-to-me bloggers and reading lists. The host is generous with recommendations and give-aways. The reviewers are eclectic. Diversity on the Shelf is a wonderful year-long challenge.

Check out the Details. and know:

“You do not have to be a book blogger to participate; you can track your progress on Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookLikes, Libib, etc., just as long as you have a dedicated shelf for the Diversity on the Shelf 2015 Challenge and your profile is not private. The point of linking up is to have a place where people can see what you’re reading.”

There are different levels. I am going to be modest and select Shelf 2 (7-12 books) as my goal knowing that I can level up. How many books are you anticipating this year?

{bookishness + comics} cybils shortlists

the finalists for the graphic novel (both the elementary & middle grades and young adult categories) have been announced.

I’ve read about half of them already and look forward to getting my hands on the others. There are some excellent titles. Go ahead and make your own reading lists and anticipate for my own thoughts on the finalists.

{bookishness + life} ending 2014

2014: was a big year for me. I finally finished that Undergraduate Degree in Literature. And now I have a mild-mannered job as a Lead Bookseller in a Children’s Department. Yes, Library/Information Science is still a thought. It just found itself buried in debt is all. In the daily grind of recent months has been the competition of time and energy. For some reason, I’ve not only work and reading and reviewing, but a family who likes to spend time with me. I also desire some in-person friends.

Even with the pinch of time, I’ve managed some good reading. I can’t keep up with the listing and reviewing of picture books and comics read. You’ll be seeing more of the mini-review format in coming months. Christmas brought me a glorious stack of books!! [Juices and Smoothies Encyclopedia from iDrink.com (ThunderBay Press 2014), The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami, and Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball.] So so so good. And I’m rather proud of the breadth in the modest pile of brilliance. I also have a few ARCs to dive into: Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl, The Magician’s Lie by Greer MacAllister, and Spinster by Kate Bolick.

And I hope you’ve experienced some of the marvelous films released in 2014. I’m looking forward to Chappie (Neill Blomkamp), Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon), Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller), Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn), the wrap-up of The Hunger Games, Jupiter Ascending (Wachowski’s), Tomorrowland (Brad Bird), Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro) … The Martian (the book being one I really want to read!).

Looking for a place to read / Buscando un lugar para leer (ilustración de Luis Estenssoro)

DIVERSITY: I began 2014 with a personal challenge to read only authors and/or illustrators of color, comics excluded. Other caveats included reading assignments for school or work. Fortunately, University settings allowed for plenty of reading within my challenge; work, unsurprisingly, less so. As I was collecting books off the shelves for my own (non-corporate dictated) display for January, I frowned at how few books by African American creators comparatively and how few we carry in store. I also began to consider how many of the book reviews shared in Friday links or read this year are authors of color from the United States or even North America.

I am going to continue a challenge to read with diversity in 2015 and continue with a greater consciousness toward not just imported and/or translated works, but those publishing North American authors as well.

In the vein of my challenge, I queried Christian Fiction (a market I tend to avoid, honestly) and their lack of diversity. My primary concern is the Fiction and Empathy relationship. I’ve started a couple of essays, spurred in part by the shrinking and closing of a handful of fiction branches in Christian Publishers. Non-fiction is thriving well enough, but again, that Empathy problem… I plan to return to my thoughts on this, my writing on this, in 2015.

Reading Print by Parada Creations (Etsy)

FAVORITES: I lost count of how many books read in 2014. I would depend on my Goodreads account except I haven’t been keeping up there either. I can easily count to 100 and figure it surpassed, but I read a large quantity of picture books (ala Picture Book Month in June). I do recall favorites, so I’ll have to bypass the Statistics portion of the Year End Wrap-Up this time.

Works of Fiction (non-juvenile):

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Knopf 2014). “Murakami’s genius is in that ending. He draws us out of another one of Tsukuru’s fugue-like states, this one listing among his lovely self-reflections, when he perches us once more on that brink between life and death. Murakami presents us with a character no one should have ever doubted, not even Tsukuru himself. It is quite brutal. It is perfect.” (my review)

The Thing Around Your Neck : a collection of short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf 2009). “The Thing Around Your Neck is not to be dismissed as “women’s fiction” as there is much to realize about social & personal situations that go unobserved, let alone considered and discussed. Much of Adichie’s success in provoking such thinking is in how she works with characters, not caricature, sampling representatives or some such didactic alienating force.” (my review)

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball (Pantheon 2014). “Jesse Ball’s provocation can be both frustrating and an absolute delight; which is how I could describe the conclusion. Ball makes the narrative personal and familiar, investing the reader in a summation that is as tidy as the novel will allow while yet demanding its lingering effect. […] he does compel the reader to ask what it is we wanted to believe happened when the world turned upside down, when the expanding silence entered the room and asked us to wonder why. (my review)

Juvenile/YA Fiction and Non-:

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black (Scholastic 2014), primarily because they were able to excite my interest in the Juvenile Fantasy Adventure story again. They have complicated protagonists royally and threw twists I did not see coming.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen 2014). A biography written in accessible verse and strongly threaded themes.

The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott (Rosetta Press 2014). “The Magic Mirror is the first person narrative of Kamara’s struggle, journey and discovery, but I get the feeling hers is one that can be shared. The Magic Mirror, like the most precious of books, can be a safe, empowering, loving home to inspire one to become hopeful and courageous–to know they are beautiful.” (my review)

More Than This by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 2013). “This isn’t a novel you escape into. There is too much real life, too many ghosts. But Patrick Ness is brilliant, you should know that—you can expect that, but suspend yourself of anything else as Ness’ work is pushing against your usual Teenage fare, asking the question and understanding that there is more than this.” (my review)

Graphic Novels/Comics:

ADULTS

Saga (volumes 1-4) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics 2012) “this is one of those comics to experience to really believe just how excellent it is. The timing of the wit, the dead-pan delivery, the provocative and absolute irreverence… I was sitting alone in a quiet house with a dog staring at me as I laughed like a maniac.” (my review)

Here by Richard McGuire (Hamish Hamilton 2014). enthralling.

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang (First Second 2014). beautiful and humorous; should I expect less when it comes to this creator?

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins (Jonathan Cape 2013). It reminds me of Jeff Lemire’s and Chris Ware’s work, all quiet and subtly crafted. The fable isn’t subtle, but it needn’t be to remain successful when art work is so perfectly finished.

JUVENILE

Battling Boy by Paul Pope (First Second 2013). “Paul Pope has hit the ground running with an Eisner for Battling Boy. Battling Boy and Aurora West promise and fantastic series of adventures to grow up with. Too, the series returns us to the warm fuzzy of old school superhero aesthetics, while being all shiny and new and clever with it.” (my review)

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (First Second 2014). “The Return of Zita the Spacegirl was always going to be bittersweet, and Hatke does not disappoint. He writes in many returns and it is completely satisfying. He also writes a gorgeous twist or two. That ending is fantastic. I may have called Hatke a naughty name, but it was with the utmost affection as I laughed out loud and closed the book.” (my review)

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, and artist Isabelle Arsenault (transl by Christelle Morelli & Susan Ouriou, Groundwood Books, 2013). “Britt and Arsenault achieve so much in 101 pages. Jane, the Fox & Me is a richly textured and engrossing story that tells all too familiar stories of the relationships so many of us find in the world, our home, our selves…and our books.” (my review)

Of course Kazu Kibuishi’s latest installment of the Amulet series makes the cut.

Picture books:

Rules of Summer (Arthur A. Levine 2014). “The dark and the whimsical coincide, the summery tones in the color also have texture, and it opens with a more ominous tone than it closes.[…] We understand how much is left unknown and unspoken and the genius of the book is how much it reflects these notions. There is a very very clever brain behind all the beauty on the page.” (my review)

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, Illus. Rébecca Dautremer (transl from FrenchKathleen Merz, Eerdmans 2013). “Nasreddine is worth picking up just to admire the cover and the artwork inside, but you should go ahead and read the delightful tale Weulersse has recorded inside. This one will go a long way for children and adults alike because no matter what young Nasreddine does, someone in the public sphere has something critical to say. Can such an old figure of wisdom in lore be any more timely?” (my review)

What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (Compendium 2014). Beautiful in rendering, but it is the idea that is the main attraction. What do you do with an idea? You protect and nurture it, even if and when someone tells you its best discarded. … so necessary for young and old alike, for the creative, innovative souls.

The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Little, Brown & Co. 2014). “Santat renders the overlap of the rich inner & outer life beautifully. The sweet hopefulness resides just this side of the melancholic, not yet ready to surrender to the disillusionment of childhood in modern life. Fears of being left out, last-to-be-picked, loneliness are buoyed with the optimism of youth and the experienced voice of a wiser and practiced storyteller.” (my review)

My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde; illus. Øyvind Torseter (transl from Norwegian by Kary Dickson, Enchanted Lion Books 2012) “My Father’s Arms are a Boat is a quietly powerful book. There is impact in the spare images yet intimate details of the exchanges between father and son. There is nothing easy about this picture book constructed of paper cut out and line work, complex dimensions and layers. The tenderness in the language is breathtaking.” (my review)

Film:

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan 2014). an epic love story that calls to mind the brilliance of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a loving father’s fondest wish for his daughter in a world dominated by men. It is a film of chilling precision, incredible scope, and startling warmth in vision.

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix van Groeningen 2012). “While we can write a synopsis in which the two protagonists are typed representational, the narrative is fairly muddied by human complexity nonetheless. The actors carry off self-possessed and memorable characters and they arrive at a decision of what they are able to abide in a relationship that is not only their own, but has their daughter ever in mind. Have those handkerchiefs ready. Listen and watch as they sing hymns amidst a disintegration of faith. The courage in the characters is marvelous. And, of course, there is the blue grass.” (my review)

Her (Spike Jonze 2013). “If you have to watch one film about what it is to be human, Her is it; after all, it is about operating systems.” (my review)

Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson 2014). grittier and better than I’ve ever seen him. The film is exquisite in its attention to detail and in the casting of Ralph Fiennes.

Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong 2013). Incredible…the film houses everything I love about South Korean action films, its unpredictability being first and foremost. A fantastic cast and provocative ending. (subtitles are a must).

The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam 2014). This one is phenomenal, and I’m wondering now how I missed reviewing this one. Its for fans of Gilliam, sure, but also sci-fi fans of the colorful and strange. Christoph Waltz is not to be missed in this role.

Television:

The Fall (Alan Cubitt 2013, w/ Gillian Anderson). “The success is in how disturbing the results are. Whether good-guy or bad-, the characters are terrifying because of such an emphasis on realism.” (my review)

True Detective (Nic Pizzalato 2014). Dark and disturbing and it involves a lot of talking. I think the “true” parts will unsettle and annoy viewers of the traditional crime-drama. Those looking for some grit and philosophy should have this one queued.

BBC’s Top Gear —we’ve been late-coming and binge-watching. We are not “car-people” or “gear-heads” but were do love the comedic.

The Wrong Mans (Jim Fields Smith 2013). “The actors are obviously having a good time with this little comedy, but the camera-work and editing are just as playful. The Wrong Mans is a wild ride, completely silly and wonderful.” (my review) [yes, we’ve begun viewing series 2 on Netflix]

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Series 2. Yay! so glad this was back. (reviewed)

{book} a new(er) Flavia de Luce

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 7

By Alan Bradley

ARC via NetGalley w/ gratitude to Delacorte Press*

Release Date January 6, 2015.

“Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

“No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.”–Publisher’s Comments

I hadn’t expected another Flavia de Luce novel so soon, if at all. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte 2014) closed the overarching mystery of Flavia’s mother and suggested closure for Flavia’s antics in Bishop Lacey, thus relieving the small English village of more dead bodies. I’m not complaining. In fact, I was quite giddy to see As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust show up on NetGalley. While there was no expectation we would get a glimpse of Flavia’s new situation (as suggested in The Dead), there was a curiosity of how life at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy would go. It goes well…that is, the story goes well.

One of the things I appreciate most about Alan Bradley and this series of his is his consistency of character. Sure, Flavia has grown over the course of several books, she is essentially a self that never fails to saturate the narrative in that lovely singularly dark way of hers. As it is, Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust opens with one of the most delicious Prologues ever. Bradley excels at opening a novel. The atmospheric arrives in the first sentence and settles in for the long haul. Where first person narratives splinter into multiple voices for set descriptions and the like, the de Luce novel never shifts from Flavia’s macabre and chemistry-obsessed point of view—which can be frustrating at times. She gets distracted by life-things instead of focusing solely on the case at hand. Neither is her distraction a complaint. The novels are character driven and if you’ve haven’t a fondness for Flavia near the beginning of the series, you are not going to be reading Chimney Sweepers.

We may think we have an inkling of the how the mystery will be solved, tracing the evidence as Flavia observes (straightforwardly or obliquely), Flavia will eventually withhold a conclusion. You’d think I’d tire of this formula, but I’m much too pleased that Bradley only withholds in a believable way and doesn’t cut corners by resolving the mystery in a leap even too imaginative for the clever heroine he’s constructed. No, much of the mystery of how the case will be solved is in the unpredictable nature of those life-things I mentioned. Flavia has a want to like people and belong. She requires sleep and emotions and the personalities of other characters. Bradley creates some interesting characters in Chimney Sweepers, many of whom are of Flavia’s ilk, defining Flavia’s difference in a newer way. We get a novel launching a query into whom Flavia really is and is to become. How much is she like her elder female relatives? What boundaries will she risk?

How much can one year change?

Bradley leaves some loose ends; relationships are still troubled; uncertainties still linger—some, anyway. What Bradley certainly does do is demonstrate an exhilarating ability maintain a good mystery in his heroine and her adventures. You can leave off at The Dead in their Vaulted Arches if you like and imagine the what-comes-next, or you can extend the anticipation another book, because I wasn’t expecting the way the what-comes-next is framed by this new conclusion in the Flavia de Luce series.

I really am curious: How much will one year change?

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*I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair review and nothing more.

 

{bookishness} 2015’s Sci-Fi Experience

(Space, created by Stephan Martiniere, used with permission)

 

It is Days into the 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, I know!! But I’ve been where I have been the last two months–exhausted from the new retail job. Happy holidays all to all, and to all a good night’s rest. Okay, whining aside, since Stainless Steel Droppings’ Carl’s announcement of The 2015 Sci-Fi Experience, which officially began December 1st, it has been on my mind. We will no doubt watch more Sci-Fi than read it, but I am keeping in mind all the glorious short stories available. There is also that intention to read another Scalzi novel, and I keep looking at Weir’s Martian with real interest. Oh, and a friend self-published a novel I promised to read…

If you are also interested in some good Science Fiction, tis really the season. The Experience runs through the end of January and is a great way to kick off the 2015 reading year. You have to, at the very least, schedule in Interstellar (Christopher Nolan 2014) and Big Hero 6 (Don Hall, Chris Williams 2014).*

How the Experience works:

“There are no numbers of things you are required to read or view. Like Andrea’s Vintage event, This is not a challenge, just an opportunity to experience the wonder of science fiction, whether that be through reading, viewing, gaming and/or art appreciation.

“If you are interested, please consider signing up. There will be a review site where you can post any SF book, television, film or game reviews for things you experience during the months of December and January.”

Sign up, join up, and please let me know if you need a host for a review, I can easily lend you a day or ten.

—————

*reviews pending.

{comics} exquisite corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

originally: Cadavre exquis (Gallimard 2010)

ARC via Netgalley w/ free and fairly regarded gratitude to First Second Books. Anticipate their English translation (by Alexis Siegel): May 2015.

Zoe isn’t exactly the intellectual type, which is why she doesn’t recognize world-famous author Thomas Rocher when she stumbles into his apartment…and into his life.

Zoe doesn’t know Balzac from Batman, but she’s going to have to wise up fast…because Rocher has a terrible secret, and now Zoe is sitting on the literary scandal of the century.–Publisher’s copy.

Zoe is an amusing protagonist because she is atypical in literature; which is to say, she is strikingly familiar.

The translation from the French is good—not only of text, but of situation. Zoe is appropriately rendered as the wide-eyed young woman who desires more for her life. She is objectified on the job and lives with a loser of a man/lover. What she lacks in education/sophistication, she makes up for it in fortunate meetings. Two cute-meets later, Zoe finds herself where she couldn’t have imagined, yet proving she has the wiles to pull it off.

The rhythm or lack of artful transitions took some adjustment, but it suits the no-nonsense characterization; melodramatics are foiled. The brief leaps through time and the presence of those life-changing (plot-turning) meetings support the multiple meaning of the title. You’ve corpse (the dead) that is multiply “exquisite” (see OED), and you’ve “exquisite corpse:” a story created collectively. Perhaps you’ve played the game where, say, I would begin the story, the next person would add, and the third, and the fourth around a circle or in a zig-zag… Exquisite corpse is a form that removes the notion of storytelling as being a solitary act. Exquisite Corpse reminds us of the same. The publishing world involves critics and publicists and editors and readers/consumers, cover designers, the muse, etc. A book/story becomes the property of more than one individual person.

Where the “dead” writer is not without ego, Zoe actually is—she cannot afford one. Okay, there is the confidence of her youth and sexuality. Her “not exactly an intellectual type” antics makes her difficult to deal with at first, but her earnestness wins over the end. Yet however sassy and daring she is established as, is she ever more than just a body with its bundle of desires and desirability? A device… and is this a bad thing at all for the protagonist to be (can they be anything else?). I digress into my degree. I was as wonderfully entertained in a lighter reading; Bagieu’s work is capable of a great deal.

The bold color palette and black inked line work is placed in basic panel-layouts. Exquisite Corpse is deceptively simple (not unlike its protagonist and the relationships therein). Cool ghostly tones mark Zoe’s initial interactions with Tom. Is he a ghost? Yet as we learn more about Tom, the cool tones remark upon his characterization in another way.

Exquisite Corpse is accessible comic work. And I had to appreciate the decision to tell this particular tale in the comic medium versus the short story. The novel is a conversation on the high brow versus low (as well as privilege, choice, selfish desire, economics). And it is (all) couched in a humorous story I feel the Europeans really excel in telling. This European novel’s sensibility, sense of humor, and its twist are well suited for American audiences.

Pénélope Bagieu’s Exquisite Corpse is both entertaining and thought-provoking. In the end, I suppose I should just say Exquisite Corpse is quite the provocative graphic novel for readers of comics or no.

—————–

recommendations: Lit majors/literati; it is for those frustrated with the celebration/privilege of the Dead White Guy in Literature; it is also for those interested in a nice female graphic-fiction departure from the memoir.