Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedGraphic novels and comics are really picking up literary steam and popularity these days. One of the most talked about comic series of the past year has to be Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. So when I was perusing the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble, I picked up the first volume without thinking twice, went home, and inhaled the entire thing like candy.

On the Bookrageous podcast, I think they like to pitch this series as Romeo + Juliet in outer space. I’ve also heard descriptions such as Firefly meets Quentin Tarantino. All are accurate. The first volume tells the story of Hazel’s birth. Her parents are star-crossed lovers from warring worlds who have gone and done the craziest thing possible – falling in love. Now the whole galaxy is out to kill them and take their newborn. In addition to this main plotline, there are ghosts, trees headlining as rocketships, and whole planets that act as brothels.Wackiness ensues.

What does Saga do so well against this backdrop of absurdity? Humanity. I felt something for the characters immediately. And that emotional connection creates a levity to the story that perfectly balances the fantastical elements that could have easily taken center stage. Caring about this outlaw family also keeps you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages quicker than you have in recent memory. They must save Hazel!!

You can’t talk about a graphic novel without talking about the pretty pictures. And let me just tell you, the artwork in Saga might be my favorite of all literary time. LOVED. Sometimes in illustrated characters, I find a sameness that keeps me from connecting to any one person individually. Not the case here. Each drawn being lives and breathes all on their own. Kudos, creators!

When I was speaking with the Barnes and Noble employee as he rang up my order, he told me how much he loved the series and how the fandom was waiting rather impatiently for the third volume to be released (April 2014!). Gladly, I still have the second volume to look forward to and will hold off for a few weeks to lessen the inevitable torture of joining those eagerly anticipating the newest release.

So go read Saga. Right now.

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The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

IMG_20130915_070703Ah, The Bone Season. Probably one of the most anticipated books of 2013 and definitely one of the most marketed. Famously, Samantha Shannon received a 7 book deal with a six figure payout. The movie rights were also snatched up before the book had hit shelves. That’s a lot of hype to live up before you even mention the Harry Potter comparisons.

The novel’s premise is complex. Shannon has created an urban fantasy, dystopian world calling itself an alternative 2059 London. Our supernatural creatures include clairvoyants (a million different classes of them), the Nephaim, and Emim. Clairvoyants are hunted down by a new Scion government and executed or jailed for simply existing. Paige is 19, the most talented kind of clairvoyant – a dreamwalker – and one of the Seven Seals, the leaders of an underground organized crime syndicate. But then she gets captured by the Nephaim and all hell breaks loose.

I can’t even express how simplistic of a plot summary that last paragraph was, but honestly, it hits the high points.

What many have complained about in The Bone Season is the overwhelming amount of info-dump that takes place near the beginning of the story. It’s a whole lotta show and not tell, absolutely, but I didn’t find that to be off-putting whatsoever. I found it fascinating – almost like a nonfiction analysis of this new and complex world. Samantha Shannon has quite the detailed imagination and that’s where I think the Harry Potter comparisons ring true. She knows her world inside and out.

The Bone Season also includes a good amount of 19th Century British street slang that makes a glossary necessary although I didn’t look at it a single time. I didn’t think many of the terms were too difficult to suss out through contextual clues. I did, however, find the map and classes of clairvoyants included in the first few pages highly informative and flipped over to them frequently. But I love that sort of thing.

To put it simply, The Bone Season was a tad underwhelming story-wise. I loved the world building, but the plot progression was entirely derivative and predictable. There’s nothing truly new here. The action is well-done, and I think Shannon could become a great writer, but she needs more experience under her belt. The phrasing and sentence structure were a bit too bland or cheesy and slowed the book’s pacing down quite a bit.

I can’t honestly recommend that y’all go out and buy this book, but if you are looking for something filled with action, superb worldbuilding, and are willing to overlook some flat writing/plotting, then check this one out from the library. I’ll probably wait to see how the series progresses before picking up any additional titles in this series.

Rating: starstarrating_star_half-1cx8y5d

Audiobook reviews: Shadow and Bone & Stardust

10194157Just a couple of short audiobook reviews for y’all on this marvelous Friday morning. First up, I finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo a couple of weeks ago. It’s a YA fantasty novel about a world similar to Imperial Russia where the Shadow Fold and the Black Heretic have incited major fear in the population. The Shadow Fold is this black oceanic void of darkness that separates most of the population from the ability to receive trade goods from the coast. In order to cross the Fold, you have to travel with an army and Grisha to fight the crazy human-hungry birdlike creatures. Grisha are humans who have special powers of sorts – they are able to manipulate matter in various ways. Our heroine, Alina, is a normal girl who turns out to be the most powerful Grisha of all – of course.

The standard YA tropes are all here. Nothing new to write about really. I will say that I enjoyed the Russian setting and thought this book did a decent job being a bit darker and sexier (that’s right, sexier) than other YA. Alina is also not a terrible protagonist, but there’s nothing here to compel me forward. The middle lacked decent pacing and the ending was entirely predictable. Worked fined as an audiobook with a decent narrator – nothing spectacular or terrible, just ‘meh’.

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I also recently finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman which was a superb audio because he narrated it himself. His voice is gorgeous, and I think the listener really gets something extra special from the narration when the author reads his/her own work. Stardust is an adult fairytale about a boy searching for a fallen star to give to the girl he loves. It’s filled with fun, fantastical creatures, haggard witches, and lots of magic. I saw the movie first and enjoy both formats. What impressed me most about the audio was the interview with Gaiman at the end where he described how Stardust came to be – loved hearing how his mind works! I’d definitely recommend Stardust on audio and any other book that Gaiman narrates. A pleasant way to spend any commute. Very tempted to listen to The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

12394100Spoiler alert! I loved every single freakin’ word.

Seraphina is YA fantasy at its best. There’s a whole new world (Aladdin!), dragons, humans, and dragon-human hybrids. The dragons and humans coexist under a tentative peace treaty that is threatening to fall apart. Seraphina looks like just an ordinary, mild-mannered 16 year old music tutor, but she’s harboring a dangerous secret. And…DRAGONS!

Hartman has built a world that was an absolute pleasure to visit. I wanted souvenirs! The two societies have just enough in common to really make their tenuous dealings thrilling and the reasons they are on the brink of war believable. Seraphina herself is the single most delightful teenage protagonist I’ve read this year and might have saved my wavering feelings towards YA. Sometimes I even forgot she was a teenager. That’s not to say she’s really written as an adult masquerading as a kid – not at all. She’s still learning and growing in all the ways teenage girls do, just with additional complexities that allow her some perspective. Loved that.

I’m fairly certain Hartman’s writing doesn’t need any additional gushing from me. She’s won a ton of awards, and I can hardly believe this is her first novel. I read an interview where she stated it took nine years for her to pen Seraphina, and she’s fully admitted to being a writer who can’t write one book a year. Thank goodness. I hate when authors feel so pressured to manufacture subpar works just to satisfy publishers and an audience. I understand that capitalizing on the feedback of the prior book is essential to sales…but it still sucks.

What also pleased me was how the initial main conflicts in Seraphina were mostly resolved by the book’s end leaving me satisfied. I imagine you could read this book as a standalone and be fine. However, her world and Seraphina herself are so engaging that I can’t wait for book two and to see where the dragon/human conflict leads. For once, I’m dying for the sequel. And I’m thrilled to report that Seraphina’s love interest didn’t bother me in the slightest. The love story was a secondary plot line that happened organically and at the slower pace I adore. Kudos!

If you’ve become a bit skeptical of all the formulaic YA out there, pick up Seraphina immediately. It reminded me how amazing literature for youth can be – how inventive, creative, and freeing stories can be. Believe the hype on this one, guys. Don’t be the only one missing out!

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What can I possibly say about The Hobbit that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before?  Literally, nothing except that this little ditty gets my full praise and highest recommendation.  If you’ve been on the fence, hop off onto the side of reading Tolkien’s classic adventure before the movie hits theaters December 14!  Hobbits will be your new best friends.

I’m fairly certain this book needs no synopsis or introduction.  Pretty much a rather ordinary hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, gets sucked into helping some dwarfs steal back their treasure from a dragon named Smaug.  On the way to face the deadly fire breather, many adventures, fantastical creatures, and unexpected heroes are met and made.

Forced to read The Hobbit in high school, I never really fancied re-reading until recently.  While I didn’t hate Bilbo and his hero’s journey, neither was I enamored.  Only recently have I found myself really craving well written high fantasy and The Hobbit began to seem like an obvious choice.  I ordered the Annotated edition which I can’t recommend strongly enough and thoroughly enjoyed learning about Tolkien and his writing process.  Understanding how many literary sources he drew from and where his ideas and inspirations originated was like being at school but way more fun.  I was shocked to learn Tolkien’s first vision of Gandalf came from seeing a postcard depiction of an old man in a red cape.

The Hobbit’s story unfolds at a very naturally swift pace.  You never feel like you can’t keep up or that you might fall asleep – hidden dangers lurk around every tree.  Bilbo can be frustrating at times with his sour attitude and his wishes of being back at home, but wouldn’t we all be a bit reluctant to fight trolls on the first night of a road trip?  Watching his character grow from uncertain follower to unexpected hero is delightful and could be the literary definition of character growth.  You’ll also find yourself absolutely in love with the dwarfs – they kick the Snow White dwarfs’ asses!

Tolkien’s novel is also perfect to share with your children or as a family.  Especially during this holiday season, just cuddle up together around the fireplace and take turns reading aloud.  I know kids can be squirmy, but the trolls, goblins, giant spiders, and elves should have them mesmerized!  Plus, there are pictures.

I’m awaiting the film release with barely bated breath.  Martin Freeman promises to be the best Bilbo and my lovely dwarfs look perfectly cast and costumed.  For further immersion into Middle Earth, I bought the Lord of the Rings films during the Black Friday sales and watched them back-to-back-to-back this weekend.  I’d NEVER seen them before and still haven’t read the books, but wanted to get an idea of Tolkien’s bigger picture before seeing The Hobbit in theaters.  Loved the movies and thought they were properly made epics showcasing so much talent from all the creators involved.

Off to the Shire you go!

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Another book knocked off my Classics Club list!

A Storm of Swords Journal – Part 16 (SPOILERS)

Pages 864 – 924 – THE END!!!

Jon:

Jon has pretty much taken over the position of teaching the newest Watchmen sword skills.  He’s just such a great leader especially for a boy so young.  You know he’s destined for great things.

Stannis summons him one night sending Melisandre to retrieve him.  Jon is very curious but also apprehensive about Melisandra and the Lord of Light.  Stannis believes Jon to be innocent of the crimes Slynt wants him punished for and has a very special offer to make him.

Basically, Stannis wants to partner with Jon – to have Jon give up being a member of the Night’s Watch and return to Winterfell to rule as Lord Jon Stark.  Kings have the ability to legitimize bastards and Stannis is offering Jon that opportunity.  Jon is a bit gobsmacked.  Stannis also wants to partner with the Wildlings – to allow them to live in The Gift – probably so that he can have extra soldiers on his side and to keep one enemy at bay.  To help this partnership, Stannis wants Jon to marry Val – aunt to Mance Rayder’s heir.  Oh, and Jon must give up the old gods to worship the Lord of Light.

Wow – that’s a lot for a boy to take in.  Jon asks for time to consider the offer.  You can tell he’s not entirely thrilled with the notion of betraying the Watch again, but he’s always wanted to shed the bastard baggage.  We shall see!!

Tyrion:

Tyrion’s down in the black cells not so patiently awaiting his death.  These are the same cells that held Ned Stark in his final days.  Suddenly, the door opens and Tyrion knows his life is at an end.

Except that it’s Jaime come to save him!  Jaime explains to Tyrion that he owed him a debt.  Jaime finally admits to Tyrion that Tysha – Tyrion’s first wife – was not a whore at all, but exactly who she claimed to be.  She really loved Tyrion, but good ol’ Tywin made Jaime lie.  Tyrion has no forgiveness for Jaime in this matter and even slaps him!  Tyrion trots off to find Varys on his own.  They are going to smuggle him out of Westeros and across the sea.

Tyrion meets up with Varys and they travel through secret tunnels deep in the castle’s belly.  Varys tells Tyrion they are beneath the tower where the Hand’s chambers are and Tyrion demands directions to the Hand’s chambers – his father’s chambers.  Once there, Tyrion finds Shae in his father’s bed and kills her.  Next, he kills Tywin – his own father.  A bad ass scene if there ever was one.  CAN. NOT. WAIT. FOR. THIS.  HBO better get it right.  I finally feel like the old Tyrion is back and badder than ever.

Samwell:

Stannis wants the new Lord Commander chosen by the end of day.  Sam conjures up enough courage to play the two vote leaders against one another so that Slynt won’t win.  Unfortunately, neither man is willing to bow to the other.  Sam gets discouraged, but puts the idea of a new Commander in their minds – Jon Snow.  Both men seem willing to believe Jon might be a decent leader, not as great as they would be, but close.  Sam seals the deal by lying to both men – stating that Stannis is going to put the other in power if the men don’t choose.  Well played, Tarly.  Well played.  I like this new found confidence in our dear Sam.  Can’t wait to see his character development in future books.

Jon:

This chapter is bittersweet knowing that Jon doesn’t appear in the next novel.  I will miss my husband of the North.

Jon’s still working through his decision and having a bit of internal turmoil over whether to accept Winterfell.  But finally, a divine intervention of sorts makes his decision for him – Ghost returns!!!  Oh Ghost, how we’d missed you.

The final vote goes down for Lord Commander and Jon gets chosen.  YES.  He’s finally arrived at the doorstep of his destiny.  He owns the Wall now and must face Stannis.  Until next time, Jon, until next time.

Sansa:

What a bizarre chapter.  That singer dude is still after Sansa’s body.  Weird.

Sansa wakes to a snow storm and heads out to the garden.  She begins to build a castle and this takes up the rest of the day.  Of course, the snow castle she’s building is Winterfell and before long Littlefinger joins her – helping her finish some of the more difficult sections.  Littlefinger is creepy like a child molester.

Little psycho Robert joins them in the garden and proceeds to destroy the castle.  Sansa gets pissed and Robert has one of his episodes.  Next Littlefinger attacks Sansa with his tongue.  Disgusting.

Lady Lysa calls Sansa to her chambers or whatever.  Sansa is prepared to be punished over the Robert incident, but instead Lysa goes batshit over seeing Sansa kiss Petyr.  Lysa is pretty much trying to kill Sansa, but Littlefinger comes to the rescue and pushes his darling wife out the sky window.  Bye bye, Lysa.  What the hell is Littlefinger up to?  He pushes the blame onto the sleazy singer.  A fun scene, but very odd.

Epilogue:

Nothing much to say here other than:  Zombie!Catelyn.  She’s joined Beric and his men as an undead thing.

A Storm of Swords Journal – Part 15 (SPOILERS)

Pages 803 – 863

Danaerys:

Dany sacks the unsackable city.  How?  By tearing up Illyrio’s ships and making weapons, battering rams, and shields.  She also sends Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan with a group of men through the sewers to free the slaves (causing an uprising/rebellion within the city itself).  She is ruthless – slaying men and hanging their bodies from the walls just as they did the slaves in a greeting to her.  Dany doesn’t play – she keeps shit real.  She sees it as a hard justice.  I do think she questions her actions though – I believe she wants to be merciful, but fears it will make her weak.

Reports from her previously sacked cities are not good.  The same old corrupted systems are being rebuilt.  She’s beginning to feel like she doesn’t actually know what she’s doing.  She doesn’t want the same to happen here in Meereen.  She knows the people have heard of these other cities and will want to follow her.  She has neither the food nor experience to lead this many people.  Dany’s inexperience is beginning to shine through.

Dany summons Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan to come before her and answer for their crimes.  She sort of wishes they had never returned from the sewers because facing them is difficult – especially Jorah.  Ser Barristan is kind, honest, and honorable in his intentions towards her and she forgives him easily.  Jorah is the opposite – cocky, argumentative, and feels like she owes it to him to forgive him.  She banishes him – a hard decision, but one she believes in.

Finally, Dany decides to end her conquering march through these slaver cities.  She wants to rule the city of Meereen and learn how to be a queen.  A good decision, I think.

Jaime:

I think this was one of the best Jaime chapters and honestly, one of the best character development chapters we’ve seen. Jaime sits with the new King Tommen as the young boy signs many parchments and royal decrees.  You can kind of see Jaime’s mind spinning – understanding this whole kingdom and ruling faction as a complete farce.  He’s been out secretly practicing sword fighting with Ser Addam and realizes just how miserably weak he is.  The beating he takes is really more symbolic than physical (even though he’s sore as a son-of-a-bitch).

He discovers that Tywin has found a fake Arya Stark and is sending her off to marry Roose Bolton’s son Ramsay.

Jaime feels like his new sword is a kick in the gut and a mockery of the man he now is.

Tywin is in a bit of a position with Prince Oberyn dead and demands Pycelle save Ser Gregor’s life, but Gregor is near death.

Cersei is waiting in Jaime’s chambers ready for some disgusting lovin’.  Jaime, for the first time, really doesn’t want Cersei and sends her on her way.  I mean, he does want her – badly – but as a wife, not just a whore sister.  She really is convinced now that he’s lost his mind.  He also informs her that Joffrey probably sent the assassin after Bran and that he believes Tyrion is probably not guilty.  Cersei is livid.

Jaime summons Ser Loras to bring him Brienne.  Loras has had a change of heart after speaking with Brienne and believes she could be innocent of killing Renly.  Jaime wants Brienne to hunt down Sansa Stark and take her somewhere safe.  He wants to try to do the honorable thing now.  Not sure how much we can trust this because Jaime is very deceptive – but something really rings true here – he just seems tired of all the scheming and game playing.  He gives Brienne his new sword and sends her on her way.

He pulls out the White Book to update his entry and writes the truth – ugly though it is and I respect him so much even if he is having a whiny pity party.

Jon:

Slynt and his cronies still think Jon a turncloak.  But since Aemon and the other swear to his innocence he’s giving Jon one last chance to prove his loyalty – by going beyond the wall to parlay with Mance Rayder who wants to talk.  Jon thinks this is a bad idea, but he basically has no choice.  Off he goes.

Tormund rides out to meet him and bring him to Rayder.  Can I just say that I love Tormund and his ‘Har’s!  I think he’ll be a super fun character in the show – as long as they cast him properly.  You can tell that Tormund and Jon have a mutual respect for each other which is nice.

Mance Rayder isn’t super happy to see Jon.  Dalla is in the corner giving birth – no big deal.  Rayder shows Jon that they do have that magical horn thing and will use it unless the Watch agrees to his terms.  Basically, this horn possesses the power to bring down the Wall, thus allowing anything and everything into the Realm of Westeros.  Not good.  Rayder wants he and his people to be allowed to cross the Wall peacefully.  Jon knows this will never happen.

Very suddenly, an attack is upon the Wildlings – not from the Wall, but from the north.  Rayder thinks he’s been betrayed, but Jon swears he doesn’ t know what’s happening.  Essentially, Stannis and his men (thank you, Davos!) have come to save the Wall from the Wildlings.  A battle breaks out and Stannis is obviously going to win.  A fun little twist – and one I predicted at the end of Davos’ last chapter.

Like Jon, I miss Ghost.  Hopefully, he’ll reappear soon enough.  I also still like Mance and the Wildlings.  I think everyone should learn to get along and that each group can really learn something from the other.

Janos Slynt is a sleazy bastard.

Oh – and I kind of want the horn to be blown.  Is this wrong?

Arya:

Arya and Sandor find themselves at an Inn and are reacquainted with the likes of Polliver and The Tickler – some of the men are on Arya’s hitlist.  I love that her hitlist is also her prayer list.  They end up fighting.  Arya kills two of them herself and Sandor is seriously wounded.  Arya also reunites with Needle!!

They also discover that Joffrey’s dead – perhaps by Sansa’s hand!

Continuing on their journey, the Hound grows weaker and weaker.  Arya tries to take care of him and even removes his name from her hitlist which surprises her.  Eventually, the Hound is so weak that Arya decides killing him will be best, but when she goes to do it she can’t – despite the fact that he asks her to.  Instead, she just goes off on her horse, leaving him for dead under a tree.

She makes her way to the coast, hoping to pay her way onto a ship that will take her to the Wall.  She sells her horse and then finds a ship.  The ship won’t take her to the Wall because they are sailing for Braavos and the waters around Westeros are too dangerous.  Arya remembers the coin Jaqen gave her, pulls it out, shows the captain, and speaks the magic phrase – Valar morghulis.  The crew stares at her in wonderment and invites her aboard – no questions asked.  AWESOME.

Samwell:

Sam and Gilly make their way to Castle Black after leading Bran and the others through the gate and swearing not to tell anyone they are still alive.  Sam is astonished at how devastated the Castle is but so happy to be back among his friends again.  He is especially happy to see Jon.

Sam is obviously smitten with Gilly.  Jon tells Sam he can’t keep her (what is she, a dog?).  Sam has this idea of writing to his family, asking them to take her in by saying the child is his own.  Jon’s not sure a bastard upbringing is such a good idea.

Jon, despite capturing Mance’s son and the Horn of Winter, is still seen as a traitor by Slynt and his men.  The Brothers are currently voting on the next Lord Commander.  Each night at dinner they vote – the winner has to receive a huge majority and so far none have achieved this feat.  Jon knows that Slynt is destined to win.  Sam is desperate for this not to happen and begins to plot a way around Slynt’s victory.  He’s terrified though.

I love Sam.