Review: Among Others

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Details: Walton, Jo. (2011). Among Others. New York: Tor Books

Keywords: Faeries, Wales, Diary Style, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Books

Review:

I can’t remember how I originally heard about Among Others, but it was one of those books that started showing up everywhere. I noticed it at bookstores, people I knew reviewed it or mentioned it, so I figured the book gods were trying to tell me something. Never ignore the book gods.

I’m not even sure where to start with this book because it is one that kind of sneaks up on you. It’s very quiet, written in journal form from the point of view of fifteen year old Morwenna, a Welsh girl who loves—LOVES—to read. She can also see faeries and do magic.

Let’s start with the faerie thing since it’s the most obvious selling point of the book (it’s where my mom went “ooh” when I was giving her a summary so, I am guessing other people would be intrigued by that too. Hi, mom). The magic in this world is subtle, more of a nature magic that exists only for those who believe in it. I’m actually surprised this is categorized as a fantasy book because it reads much more like magical realism.

Being able to see faeries and do magic, mostly to protect herself from her evilish mother, is certainly important to Morwenna, but it serves more to shore up other things happening in her life. In this way, the book would be perfect for someone taking tentative steps into fantasy as a genre, especially if they come from reading a lot of literary fiction. (While I love Tolkien, he is a lot to spring on someone new to the genre. Manys the time I have heard the complaint “so much description! Too many landscapes!” Welcome to high fantasy, nerds.)

Another treat this book delivers is the aforementioned love of books. Morwenna mentions hundreds of sci-fi and fantasy books, enough to make any book loving heart go pitter pat. The LOTR references alone are glorious. And since the book is set in 1979-1980, it’s a snapshot of that time in the genre (plus a mandatory Star Wars mention). Someone on Goodreads had enough foresight to make a list of all the books mentioned in the book. I do love a good book list.

As it’s in journal form, the book recounts a lot of everyday, sometimes mundane activities. But rather than slowing the story down, it makes it very rich in character and setting. Morwenna’s life, rather than her struggle with her mother which is what I was expecting to be the main point of the book, is what’s most important. The plot is secondary to Morwenna’s inner experience and it is totally compelling. I happen to like books like this though so be warned: there’s not a lot of action.

My criticisms are that I wanted more details that showed the seventies as the setting. The only real clue is the books that Morwenna reads. In fact, with the boarding school setting and Morwenna’s sometimes old fashioned voice, I sometimes caught myself imagining the story set in the 1930’s or 40’s. I also think that some of the relationships needed more development. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Morwenna’s twin sister is dead from the beginning of the book. I would have liked to have seen more of an emotional tie to her sister as they were obviously close, and her death triggered some important plot points. The same goes for the romantic relationship. It almost felt like it was shoehorned in at the end and I would have liked to see it developed more fully. But this could also be a byproduct of Morwenna’s personality. All of her connections to people seemed a bit standoffish, which makes sense considering her circumstances.

On the whole, this was a great book. I am definitely going to check out Jo Walton’s other books.

Excitement Level: Gorgeous frolick with the faeries

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I checked this book out from the library and reviewed it on my own impetus.

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

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Details: Ahdieh, Renee. (2015). The Wrath and the Dawn. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Keywords: Retellings, Arabian Nights, Young Adult, Fantasy

Review:

I was expecting to like this book based on all that I had heard about it. Not only was it talked up at the bookstore where I currently work, but I had the opportunity to see the author on a panel at ALA about diverse books. The panel was excellent and got me pretty excited about reading all the books featured which I plan to do.

That being said, I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. The writing while beautiful, was not overly purple, but just rich enough to really capture the imagination. The world building was brilliant, evoking a historical Arabia with a hint of the fantastical. And I am a huge sucker for retellings and I liked that although this was inspired by Scheherazade, it was not hemmed in by trying to be ultra-faithful to the original, but truly became its own story. I would also like to give kudos to the author for including a “big misunderstanding” but not drawing out to the point of hair ripping. It was really refreshing to have the answers when they needed to be revealed.

The characters were probably the strongest part of the book. Shahrzad was complex and interesting, and definitely qualifies as a super badass lady. Smart and strong and not willing to take crap from anyone, but also possessing enough faults that I did not find her to be the perfect heroine. Really, all the characters were complex, even ones that don’t appear as often, like Shahrzad’s father (who does have a rather important part, but appears very little).

I also want to mention the relationship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden, Despina. I always like when there is a relationship between women that seems real. Their mix of wanting to be friends and not trusting each other rings true for the situation that they are in, but the friendship that develops between them is awesome and full of hilarious snark.

My only real problems with the book were one, Shahrzad’s overnight acceptance of Queenliness. Like, she starts ordering people around right away. It just seemed a little out of the blue for someone of her personality. I also felt there was a tad bit of insta-love that went on, but it is kind of explained later so I wasn’t as annoyed by it as I usually am. And the romance is pretty steamy is some parts, so I was placated, because damn, do I like a good steamy love story (for further details, see my extensive romance novel reading list).

Excitement Level: Swirling Sands of Awesomesauce

I received a free copy of this book at the American Library Association Conference. I was not asked to do this review, just decided to do it all by my onesie.

Review: Kill My Mother

Details: Feiffer, J. (2014). Kill My Mother. New York, NY: Liveright.

Keywords: 1920s, graphic novel, noir

Review: I had prepared myself to love this graphic novel. I have a longstanding love affair with both mysteries and the noir genre. I took a noir literature course in college and fell in love with Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. Since then, I love a story with good patter, dark deeds, and a protagonist rife with existential angst and who teems with suppressed emotion, seeking purpose in this seemingly empty life….

Anyways, back to this graphic novel: Kill My Mother has an edgy title and a pale blue-gray-white-black color palette — all of which promise noir glory. The premise features primarily a group of women: a widow who lost her cop husband to an unsolved homicide; a daughter who hates her widowed mother; a strange, tall and blonde woman in the alley; and a host of supporting male characters (including the [necessary] verbally abusive, drunk detective). The art is unique and very apropos: The squiggly linework that depicts both character and scene creates a surreal atmosphere that lends itself to a story that features abuse, severe mental health issues, and murder.

But overall? The art, the color choices, and the story just didn’t grab me. If any character stirred me, it was the daughter — a loathesome character with an irrational hatred to her mother that was then too easily resolved at the end. Underwhelmed, I finished the graphic novel with a sense of ‘Meh.’ Jules Feiffer, the artist-author, is an award winner several times over for his work in comics, particularly political cartoons. With such a robust body of work, perhaps in the future I’ll find something else of his that I’ll enjoy. However, Kill My Mother was not my cup of tea.

Excitement Level: Meh.

The Inaugural Post (Drum roll, please)

Welcome to Cardigans & Capes! If you’re new here, don’t worry — so are we. Here are a few thoughts on why we’re here and what we’re doing:

What are we doing here?

Rachel: After looking over our ambitions for this blog, I think the real question is what aren’t we doing? This is basically going to be a place to review awesomeness, to discuss things that we think are important, to take a look at the nerdy and bookish world that we like to inhabit.

Rebecca: In a nutshell… We watch film and television, read novels and comics, and write reviews. However, this blog is a labor of love and excitement. A fangasm for our favorite authors, artists, actors, and activists. An ode, if you will, to that thrill you experience upon seeing a new volume of comics or the latest novel in a wonderful series.

Why are we doing this?

Rachel: I know for me, I have always been the most blissful when geeking out. The nerd gods chose me to be one of their disciples and I have never wanted any other kind of existence. That being said, sometimes it feels like all of that good geeky energy exists in a vacuum, and a blog seems like the best idea to get all of those brilliant (and humble!) ideas that have been percolating in our heads for so long out into the ether.

Rebecca: For me, this blog is a love letter to all of our interests (and perhaps to each other, too, as we’ve been friends for seven years at this point). There are few other areas in my life where I get to revel and celebrate in the ability to read and/or watch good literature, comics, films, television, and various other enthusiasms. Therefore, I’m here to practice unabashed enthusiasm for my interests.

What do we hope to accomplish?

Rachel: Freedom! Justice! Revolution! And lots of awesomesauce content about my favorite stuff. I want to have fun, first and foremost, but I also want to engage in a community of likeminded people, who want to talk not only about the stuff they love, but also the stuff they don’t love—and especially talking about these things in the light of social justice and intellectual freedom. I feel like nerds have a real opportunity of knowing what it feels like to be a marginalized group, but also have a lot of power in terms of moving the market (hello, Marvel movies!), and we can use that to make a real change in the content we want to see. I want to have these kinds of conversations, in addition to the OH MY GOD READ THIS BOOK IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIIIIIIIFFFFEE ones.

Rebecca:

In no particular order of importance, I want…
  • to have fun,
  • to have a thinly veiled justification for the costs associated with my comics and nerd-related habits (i.e., if I have a blog that features reviews, I need to purchase this comic…and that one…and maybe all of them),
  • and share my enthusiasm for these pursuits.

Welcome to Cardigans & Capes!