Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedNo spoilers, I promise! Man, I was so stoked to find this on my doorstep last week. I ALMOST thought about taking an extended lunch break and just reading the whole thing then and there. But I managed to wait until later that night and had an absolute blast.

Compared with the previous two volumes, I’d say this one has amped up the action quite a bit. There were some shocking moments and plenty of the laughs we’ve come to expect. The social commentary still packs a punch, and I am just tickled pink everytime I pick up this story. It puts and leaves a smile on my face which is the kind of thing everyone needs more of in life, am I right?

All gushing aside, I will say that this is perhaps a weaker installment than the first two. I mostly think this is because the story/plot is progressing at a relatively fast pace here so we have less super awesome, silly character bits. But I still gave it 5 stars. Because it’s still more entertaining than almost anything else on this planet or the next.

Volume 4 should have been here, like, yesterday. Boo.

The Walking Dead: “A” and a Season Four Wrap-Up

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Within The Walking Dead community, it’s a widely accepted opinion that seasons 2 and 4 were the slowest. Bitch, bitch, moan, moan. Whatever. These 2 seasons are my favorites. I like the slow storytelling aspect of both, that they allow the characters to breathe and grow and evolve.

“A” was my favorite season finale thus far. It was the perfect ending to an almost perfect season. Rick, Michonne, Carl, and now Daryl – to me – are the absolute best grouping. Carl and Michonne might have the most interesting relationship on the show. Loved that the final episode focused on them. The brutal scene between them and the Claimers was just amazing. No, seriously, AMAZING. Rick using his teeth to save his son’s life grabbed me in the gut. The lengths this man will go to. The monster within he now embraces to keep his people safe is one of the most compelling dynamics on television. And he no longer gives a fuck. Rick Grimes has ascended to a new level of being. And I can’t wait to take that journey with him.

Daryl and Rick’s scene the next morning. ALL OF THE FEELS. Thank God Daryl’s back with his family. I’m so glad Rick’s first instinct is to take Daryl’s guilt away. To claim him as brother. And I’m glad they discussed Beth. Because Beth will play a MAJOR role in season 5. I’m calling it now.

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TERMINUS. Fuck those motherfuckers. Rick is so right. He’s going to jack these sons of bitches up so bad. Team Prison is back together and that’s perhaps the biggest mistake the termites could have made. Because Team Prison reunited and headed by warrior!Rick is an unstoppable force. Not to mention, I think Rick and his group went into Terminus with a plan. Rick leaving those weapons behind – including his signature python – is telling.

So what is Terminus? Are they simply cannibals? We saw the human bones. But we also saw the memorial room that screams religious cult of some sort. I think they might be the cannibals from the comics but with a twist. As for how Team Prison will get out of this scrape, I imagine that Beth will be essential to that. Which is one of the most fantastic twists the show has taken (along with no deaths). Everyone online was clamoring for Beth’s death, expecting it, hoping for it. But not under Scott Gimple’s watch. Too obvious. Too boring. I believe Beth was taken by Father Gabriel (from the comics) and that they’ll form some kind of team to help Rick and the others escape. Am I crazy? Maybe, but in the final Hershel flashback, Rick throws his sheriff’s hat on Beth’s head and proclaims her the ‘new sheriff’. I think that was done on purpose. I believe Beth will become the Andrea of the comics. And I’m so ready for this. The weakest becoming one of the strongest? Yes, please. And then her and Daryl can have their sexy little way with each other and it will be the hottest thing on television EVER.

Speaking of the Hershel flashbacks: I miss him so much!! But I can see how his journey, his story, was very, very done. Hershel wanted something for Rick and Carl that just can’t be. He wanted them to be something they’re not. And as much as Hershel’s morale strengths and lessons really helped both characters, ultimately, they can’t come back from the things they’ve done. They are different people now. They all have a monster within that is undeniable and even necessary. Recognizing, accepting, and embracing this part of themselves is the only way to continue on this journey. Like Carol said, “You can be a farmer, Rick. But you can’t JUST be a farmer.”

Where are Carol and Tyreese and Judith???

I actually really liked little punk ass Gareth as a villain. He has this weird control obsession – this evil genius – this horrific cat and mouse game going that almost makes him more formidable than the Governor. Because this kid thinks things through. He’s well-organized, calm, calculating, and extremely smart. But we all have our weaknesses.

So, kudos, TWD for being awesome. Kudos for making a believer out of my husband. He’s never really watched the show but LOVED this finale. I hope that Melissa McBride earns an Emmy nomination. I hope that season 5 raises the bar, yet again. More than anything, I just hope that the next 7 months hurry the fuck up.

Also, I’m thinking of taking a trip down to the Terminus mill and (hopefully) taking pictures this weekend. First, I’ve got to discover its location, which shouldn’t be too hard between the interwebs and Google maps. Excited!!

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March Movie Madness

Not an entirely accurate post title because I didn’t watch a whole hell of a lot this month. At least, not beyond The Walking Dead. Remember how I was supposed to be embarking on a new cinematic journey? Well, did not happen. Didn’t watch a single one of the four films I had vowed to make time for. Here’s what I did manage to get around to:

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Veronica Mars (The Movie):

Of course I watched this and loved every single stupid second. LoVe for life, bitches.

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Thor: The Dark World:

Jimmy and I just watched this On Demand a few days ago and mostly enjoyed. I love Loki so he steals the show for me EVERY TIME. Jimmy thought the cinematic scope of the film was gorgeous and wishes he’d seen it in IMAX theaters. Wasn’t the biggest fan of Natalie Portman’s character, but loved, loved Kat Dennings.

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House of Cards:

Just started watching season one. Enjoying the Southern campiness of Kevin Spacey. And Robin Wright is fierce.

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Game of Thrones, Season Three:

Squeezed this in just in time for the beginning of season four. The Red Wedding might have been even more brutal on screen than on the page. Of course, I did throw the book across the room during that scene and refused to pick it up again for three days. So both were highly affecting.

What did you watch in March?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319The Litwits met on Sunday to discuss Hannah Kent’s debut novel released last year. Putting this book off for almost a year was next to impossible because so many of my online bookish friends loved, loved this story. And for the first time in a long time, I had to force myself to stop at 50 pages a day because I wanted to savor this gem of a book. I never wanted it to end.

Burial Rites is another novel that I don’t feel needs much introduction. It takes place in Iceland in the 1820s. Two women and one man have been charged and convicted of killing a man. Our protagonist, Agnes, has been sentenced to death by beheading. Kent writes of her final months living with a farm family as she awaits her looming death.

That’s not spoiling anything because this is a historical fiction novel based on the true story of the last beheading in Iceland. So…you know how it ends going in, but damn if you don’t hope and pray Agnes will find someway to beat her murder wrap. Whether or not she even committed the crime becomes almost a non issue as you fall in love with this orphaned, lonely, sad woman. I defy you not to want Agnes’s name cleared!

Beyond the central plot, Kent gives you so much else to love. The Icelandic landscape in all its cinematic glory and rolling hills and biting cold surrounds you and places you firmly within the story. Her writing is GORGEOUS. Her descriptions are lyrical and immersive. Some members did think she could be a bit long-winded at times and a little too dirty with her imagery (she doesn’t shy away from the nasty smells and ugliness of  bodily function), but others adored her language for its realism. Personally, I found myself reading the passages out loud – sometimes over and over again – mesmerized by all the pretty words.

Agnes was my favorite character, but many Litwits loved Margret as well. We discussed how Margret desperately didn’t want Agnes in her house, sleeping right next to her own two daughters. But once Agnes arrives in her pitiful state, Margret can’t help but feel for the doomed woman. What makes that so particularly interesting is how un-motherly Margret seems around her own children. Margret’s daughter, Lauga, quickly grows to resent her mother’s affection for Agnes creating such tension as the story unfolds.

We discussed the novel’s ending at length. Several of us felt the ending to be very abrupt, too rushed in its conclusion. Others thought this was done on purpose to emphasize the death that couldn’t be stopped. But it was just so sad.

So Burial Rites was a winner among the Litwits! We got a lot of good conversation in before our inevitable fall into the descent of television, tumblr, and fanfiction. Until next time ladies!!

The Walking Dead: “Us”

tumblr_n2wqirrlhZ1slwvwgo1_1280Well, Terminus looks like a place that is filled with rainbows, sunshine, and evil fucking clowns that eat people. Seriously, how can this group walk in, guns lowered, and not suspect a damn thing? This place has ZERO fortification.

Glenn and Maggie’s reunion was one of my most favorite moments of this show. EVER. God, I teared up and I’m not even bothered by that. I was just screaming at my tv – it’s Maggie! It’s Maggie!! Jimmy thought I had gone insane. I’m a bit worried about that whole burning the picture scene. It seems to foreshadow imminent death. You can’t ever just be happy on TWD.

I’m glad Glenn loves Tara.

Eugene is weird and odd and I didn’t like him at first but now I do? My feelings for him are confused, but he went back for Glenn and that made me happy. Plus, this show just needs more mullets.

That scene with Rick, Michonne, and Carl was utter perfection and made my heart so happy. I know next episode will be brutal for Rick (see above picture) so I’m glad he’s getting these small moments of familial happiness. Michonne and Carl are just too damn cute.

DARYL, though. Get away from these people, please. I know you saw Michonne’s candy wrapper, and I know you know what her favorite chocolate bar is. So I know you know who they’re tracking. You better just be with them now to protect your family. That line Joe fed him about being an outdoor cat trying to be an indoor cat crushed my spirit. I hope Beth’s words were running through his head louder than that nonsense. Also, when he picked up that sheet to cover Len’s body, he was totally channeling Beth but then he put it back down. I HATED THAT MOMENT.

I don’t know what happens next week. I have ideas and sad panda thoughts. But it’s going to be brutal. I’ll need bourbon. Lots and lots of bourbon.

WHY HAS MAGGIE NOT EVEN MENTIONED BETH ONE TIME?

Moments: Part I (wherein I write TWD fanfiction)

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A Momentary Thing

He runs. And runs. And runs. His lungs burn, aching with the chill of the approaching autumn. His heart pounds with the beat of his feet upon the pavement. Leaves crunch, crawl, and scatter around his steady tread. The darkness eventually gives way to light as the sun rises somewhere to the east. He keeps putting foot in front of foot. Getting nowhere. Falling even further behind the farther he gets. The road continually looms ahead before silently disappearing into the morning fog.

His feet fail him. Slowing. Stopping. Giving up because they can go no further on this journey at the moment. But his head, his heart keep chasing. The crossbow he always keeps at his side falls. It clatters in the morning stillness echoing off the emptiness that surrounds the crossroad he’s found himself at. His trusty fucking crossbow can’t help him now. Traitor.

As his knees tremble, he gives into their shake and collapses, gasping for the breath he’s not even sure he wants anymore. The throb in his lungs subsides allowing his thoughts to drift beyond the physical struggle of continuation. Now he starts to see her face – her messy hair and that stupid, silly braid she was constantly fixing over and over again. He sees her smile through her tears. He sees those earnest, hope-filled blue eyes cutting him deeper and sharper than Michonne’s sword. Again, his breath leaves him.

He shoves her back. Tries to force her into the place he keeps all the things he can’t let himself think about. That pit of bleak despair that he hides away yet remains buried beneath every single day of his miserable life. That fucking sunken chest that is brimming with his failures and his guilt and his weaknesses. One more blonde girl won’t matter. After all, she’s tiny compared with the rest. Small and sweet and bright and gone, gone, gone. He’ll be able to sweep her away with hardly a moment’s notice.

Except, he remembers. She’s heavier than she looks.

He wonders if this is why Merle lost himself beneath the haze of substance abuse. Could pills and powders help him now, too? Was Merle right all this goddamn time? Had he let Rick and Carol and the others…had he let their pretty words tease him, coax him into a false sense of safety, of family? Had he let…her…had he let her push him over that final ledge? The one that leads to the ghosts of smiles and laughter and happiness? The one that leads to the ephemeral mask of love? The one that dangles the shiny, fake, plastic things in front of you until you’ve thrown yourself off a fucking cliff? The one that kills you in the end – a death that you choose willingly, even hopefully, drunk on the haunt of emotions?

Clamping that dark place down, his mind goes hollow. He focuses on the brisk wind that bristles across his neck, drying his sweat-soaked hair with her gentle, biting touch. All the warmth that’s invaded his defenses over the past couple of days folds in upon itself, fluttering against all the places deep inside that he doesn’t ever give name to out loud. The mechanical inflating of his lungs takes hold, and his body returns to its former strength. The memory of her soft little hand and searching fingers disappears with the soft click of a distant lock.

When the men surround him, he stands in the middle and stretches himself inside the body he knows so well. The creak of his knees, the throb of his knuckles, the guarded stance of his shoulders hug him close as he finds himself back at the beginning. He stares across at the man who could be so many others he’s known. Father. Brother. Self. He almost hears Merle’s laughter and goading coming from within this mirror of a man. This he knows. This he understands. This place where there is no time for silly games and the burning of pasts not yet dead. Pasts that find us wherever we go. Even at the end of the goddamn world.

“Name’s Joe.”

But in the pause before his muttered response a glitch bleeds through. Before he can get his own name on the tip of his tongue, another beckons from the hollows of yesterday. He bites his tongue and swallows.

He blinks, “Daryl.”

For just the tiniest faint of a second, his breath held an entirely different thing. A spark. A fire that, once lit, refuses extinguishment.

Beth.

A Moment Claimed

He feels her before he sees her. The men – no – the monsters who took her are splattered all around him. Covered in their own blood. She did this to them. She saved herself. He knows how that can change a person. He’s scared for her, of her. What if he turns around and her light has vanished? What if she’s only the ghost of her former self?

The air inside the warehouse stills, settles, suffocates. He can’t even hear his own breath. He’s not even sure he’s actually still breathing. His fingers close around themselves. His knuckles whiten as he fists his anger and fear into the smallest of knots. The setting sun throws haphazard bursts of dusky light across the broken, shattered glass. Shadows stretch backwards. His reaching out behind him, beyond him, beckoning.

He hears her knife as it clatters on the cemented ground. Startled, he flinches at the sharp and unexpected release. Slowly, his feet turn him around, almost on their own accord. His eyes quickly dart to the dropped weapon – dripping with the heat of her kills, with the liquid of former lives. Her boots, her jeans, her once yellow shirt is covered with the angry red of her captors. Her hands shake under the weight of the things she’s had to do, of how far she’s had to go. Of the choices she’s made to keep surviving – to keep living.

Her sob starts deep in her belly before lashing out at the musty corners of this derelict relic of the before – now a tomb filled with the death of so many things that can no longer exist. Not anymore. Her tears drag paths of dirt down her face. She hits her knees before he can get to her. She’s on all fours bellowing beneath the anguish of the cold, harsh places she never intended to travel. Before he can pull her into his arms. Swallow her in the safety of his embrace.

He sees himself doing these things. Being these things. For her. For him. But he doesn’t move. Instead, he whispers her name.

“Beth?”

Of course, she can’t hear him. Not through her cries and gasps for air. But he needs to know she’s still her. Because if she’s not – if she’s too far gone – it’s his fault. His own damn fault. And there won’t be anything he can do for her. Offer her. Give to her. Because if she’s lost, he is too. And there won’t be any turning back if her fire’s gone out. Because her fire is his fire is their fire.

“Beth?”

His voice is louder now – a cry, a shout, a desperate plea. He almost chokes on the possibility of it all. He’s lost in the confusion of how endings can be beginnings and how death can be life and how beauty can hold such ugliness. In between sobs she settles back on her knees and before he can register what has happened her eyes are on his and her hands are reaching towards him and his heart which surely hasn’t been beating all this time thumps again, hard and fast and terrified within his chest.

“Daryl.”

His name is just a murmur in her breath, but it’s the loudest goddamn thing he’s ever heard and his body reacts on impulse. She is in his arms, his fingers tangled in and around that stupid, silly braid. He buries his head in her neck, in her hair, just in her and inhales the things he lost, the things he’s found. Her sobs turn to tortured laughter as her fingers claw at his chest as if the only place she can ever be safe again is wrapped inside of him, down in the pits of him where the anger, the hurt, and the death can’t reach her. Because he won’t let it find her. Not there. No, not ever there.

“Claimed,” he growls gruffly into her neck, gripping her harder against his chest. “You are claimed.” He promises again and again until she softens around him and her breath evens and her fingers go lax. “I claim you,” he whispers one final time as the sun sinks behind the treeline and the world settles into the darkness of night and she sighs quietly in her sleep.

A Moment Revealed

Maggie is beyond elated to have her sister back. Even if sometimes she no longer resembles the annoying little shit who used to run and tell Daddy every time Maggie secretly called her boyfriends after everyone had fallen asleep. She’s still Beth; she still smiles and laughs and sings lullabies to Judi when Rick can’t calm the ornery toddler. But there’s an edge to her now. There are moments when her bright blue eyes cloud over with a darkness that you might blink and miss. But Maggie knows her too well for that.

She hasn’t asked Beth all the details of her kidnapping and subsequent escape. She knows Beth fought her way out of a desperate situation with four bullets and one hunting knife. She knows Beth tried for days to scrub all the blood out from underneath her fingernails. She hopes that her sister will come to her and purge those heavy things that only Maggie can see are weighing her down.

Well, not only Maggie. Daryl Dixon sees them, too. He’s the one who found her, after all. He’s the one who carried her back to their camp all night while she slept her way through the nightmares and demons that Maggie fears will haunt her until her last breath. Maggie worries about this because she wages war on her own demons night after night. And she never wanted that for her sweet little sister.

But Beth doesn’t come to Maggie. No, Beth goes to Daryl. And at first, Maggie thinks the older man must be annoyed by Beth’s clinginess. But as she watches more closely, she notices the tiny way that Daryl’s shoulders relax when Beth’s around. She notices the softness of Daryl’s voice when he speaks to her, the way her smile manages to take years off his face.

So Maggie doesn’t think anything of this newfound bond her sister has forged with such an unlikely man. These two had been through so much together after the fall of the prison, the nights surviving in the wild, and the brutal events that followed their single peaceful night in that godforsaken funeral home. That’s what survival does to people – at least that’s what survival does to her people. It brings them together. She’s even found herself seeking out the company of Bob or Sasha more than the others. Sometimes even more than Glenn.

But then a stranger thing happens. Maggie wakens one night and can’t find Beth who should be sound asleep right beside her. Panicking, Maggie sweeps her eyes across the rest of her family spread all around in their sleeping bags. She sees Glenn and Rick and Carl and everyone else. But no Beth. And no Daryl. That’s when she remembers that Daryl has first watch.

Quietly getting to her feet, Maggie silently crosses the train tracks moving towards the higher ground just ahead where Daryl should be perched. As she gets closer, she sees that he’s right where he should be, back against a large pine tree. She also sees that he’s not alone. The soft, dying embers of his fire illuminate the all too familiar blonde head of her missing sister. Her baby sister. Who is right now curled up between the legs of a man old enough to be called much too old. Much too old even for Maggie.

Instinctually, anger burns through Maggie as she races towards the two. But just as she’s about to yell and scream and rant and rave, she hears Beth whimper. She watches as Beth shakes and sobs and lets all her hurt wash over Daryl. She watches as Daryl tightens his hold on her, tries to draw her inside of him, tries to take all the bad and the wrong and the evil done to her and soak and absorb it into himself so that Beth can breathe again. So that she can wake up tomorrow and laugh and smile and joke and sing and live for another day. Even if it is just one more day.

Maggie watches as this gruff hunter of a creature soothes and heals and loves her sister under the cover of this black night and the shadows of a half full moon. She sees his lips against Beth’s ear whisper all the things she needs most to hear like Glenn has done for her on so many similar nights when the darkness threatens to swallow everything whole.

Maggie closes her eyes and lifts her chin skyward, silently praying to whomever or whatever might still be listening. She prays for her father. She prays for all those long since gone. She prays for the family she’s found all currently pressed close together in the shabby little camp that is more home than so many houses back before the turn.

And finally she prays for her sister. She thanks the gods above that Beth has found Daryl – has found a sense of safety and love in something, in someone – which is not even a thing that should exist anymore. But for her sister it does. And it’s Daryl that’s done that for her. It’s Daryl that’s managed to be something, to give her something real and tangible to believe in again. It’s Daryl that’s become her reason to fight through the night. And Maggie suspects that Beth might mean even more to him. Because this once shattered man is suddenly looking a hell of a lot more unbroken beneath this revelatory moon.

Making her way back to camp, Maggie finds herself grinning so hard her face hurts. The world as it stands doesn’t offer many such moments so Maggie basks in this small thing that has become so huge as she crawls back into the sleeping bag she shares with Glenn. He shifts towards her and she wraps herself around his body and giggles into his neck feeling the gentle wash of her own warm, happy tears.

“Everything okay?” Glenn mumbles, still half asleep, unconsciously pulling her closer.

“Yeah, it’s just Beth.” Maggie feels her eyes growing heavy again with sleep.

“She okay?”

Maggie nods against his shoulder. “Yeah, she’s fine. She’s safe now. There’s no more need to worry.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

16250900I’m handing this out for World Book Night 2014 and decided that before doing so I should probably give the thing a read, no? It won a Printz Honor when it was released and the sequel has been earning extra heapings of praise for both books. When choosing my WBN selection, I wanted something that lots of people, particularly young readers, could really sink their teeth into. A book with meat, plot, and purpose. Code Name Verity seemed just the thing.

Here’s where a synopsis should go, but I don’t want to reveal too much. How about…two friends are involved in some espionage during WWII that gets one of them captured in occupied France after their plane crashes. Oh, and the two friends (the pilot and the spy) are teenage/college-aged girls. Did that synopsis work at all? Just go read the thing.

SO GOOD. I could not put this down. I’d lowered my expectations going in because so many had warned me the book bored them and was bogged down under dull aviation details that wouldn’t interest anyone who wasn’t a pilot. Wein, herself, is a pilot. But I didn’t find this to be the case at all. The details that were included just made the story feel more authentic and gave the tone of the novel a gripping sense of realism.

The writing is wonderful and smart and emotionally riveting. The girls are well written and believable. The plot is nonstop – full of twisty, turny moments that genuinely shocked me more than once. It is so rare for a plot twist to find me unawares these days, but Code Name Verity pulled it off not once, but twice. The ending was gut-wrenching, and I can understand why so many previous readers were moved to tears. The story manages to be centered around a beautiful female friendship and themes of feminism in the best and most brilliant of ways. This is a book that shows you a thing instead of telling you a thing. And I loved it.

After having read and loved and read and hated a vast plethora of WWII fiction and nonfiction, I really didn’t think it possible for a book set during this time period to feel fresh and to teach me something I didn’t know. But Code Name Verity does this – excels at this – and deserves all its praise and accolades. I can’t wait to hand this book over to people of all ages in April and to get my greedy little hands on the sequel!!