Saga: Volumes One – Four (CBR10 #29-33)

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Other than clocking everyone’s rave reviews I have been staying away from the world of Saga on purpose. I have an inclination to wait for series to be near its conclusion before I pick it up. But I’m not made of stone. My friend Gina hand delivered the first eight volumes to me while we were on vacation last month. It seemed Saga’s time had arrived.

These books are *fantastic*.  I always knew they would be: the swath of Cannonballers who love these and have such varying taste means that they absolutely have to be the best of the best.  These books are viscerally good. Cancel plans, move around to read lists, question all life choices that have kept you from reading them before now GOOD.  They also transcend any entry issues I usually have with comics and graphic novels.  I’m putting it down to two things, the quality of Vaughan’s narrative and the absolute stunning design of Fiona Staples.

Brian K. Vaughan was introduced to Fiona Staples by a mutual friend. Vaughan reportedly chose to work with Staples because her artwork is incredible, that it doesn’t look like anyone else. I can absolutely believe it, have you seen her work? GLORIOUS. I’m so glad to know that Staples is co-owner of Saga, her work in designing the cast, the ships, and all the various races in the story is just as integral to my enjoyment of these books as the story Vaughan has plotted.  Her painted covers, and hand-lettering Hazel’s narration with her own handwriting, make the difference in the quality of the books.

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Volume One introduces us to our family on the run and all of those who are chasing them. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring new life into a dangerous universe. Alana and Marco are dynamic characters in very few panels; we immediately know them and their struggles even if we don’t know details yet.  Their love for each other and their newborn daughter is captured on their faces in Staples’ art.  There isn’t a lot of lumbering info dumps, the universe that is a scary, crazy, fucked up, violent place is easily understood and the peril facing the young family is illuminated: the antagonist characters are quickly made complex, but also frightening.  Even the protagonists’ allies are visually scary, but terribly charming. I really like The Will, I don’t know what that says about me.

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Volume Two is my favorite thus far. It may be a perfect space opera: adventure, romance, and humor. This volume is the story of the coming together of family across planetary divides. Marko has not told his parents that he ran off with a member of the enemy, as one would expect, so he has a lot of explaining to do when they show up at their ships door. Hazel’s narration told from the future is hilarious. Marko and his mother go to find the accidentally exiled babysitter Izabel, and Alana and Marko’s father get to know each other better. Prince Robot IV is searching for the star-crossed family, The Will reluctantly joining forces with someone on the hunt for Marko broadening his character out and we get more delicious sass from The Lying Cat. I should probably tell you more about this one, but I can’t seem to find the words to break it into smaller bites, just know its good, and inextricably linked to the volumes before and after.

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Volume Three has my favorite of the four covers so far. It was so burned in my mind that when Gwendoline shows up in Volume Two I immediately recognized her and then became VERY confused about how we got from where we were to where we were going. Our motley crew travel to a cosmic lighthouse on the planet Quietus searching for their literary hero, the author of the romance novel that their initial courtship hinged on. This book pulls together the themes of the two previous ones and adds some of its own, as you would expect. It explores how to make a life while on the run, what finding love after a loss might look like, and how to feel about it.  There’s also a bit about getting over a breakup and that violence only begets more violence. Plot-wise The Will, Lying Cat, Gwendoline, and Sophie are stuck on an idyllic alien planet while waiting for their spaceship to be repaired and Gwen is impatient to get to Alana and Marko, but the Will seems quite content to stay on the new planet. He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s seeing impossible things and they are all in danger. Meanwhile, a pair of tabloid journalists is trying to figure out exactly what is the story with Marko and Alana: could two enemy combatants actually have deserted, got married and had a child? (Yes) The real threat to Marko and Alana’s family time on Quietus is not that they betrayed their respective people, it’s that their life together might give others ideas about just who the enemies are, and that there are other options than killing them. And we learn that the opposite of war is not peace, because this is that kind of book.

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Volume Four is my sole four star rated volume, the other three are all five stars. I’m sure that the plot it covers was necessary for the narrative that Vaughan is after, but it was both hard to read on an emotional level, and frankly a bit uneven. In order to watch people come back together they have to be separated first, and that is not enjoyable for the characters or the readers. We’ve got toddler Hazel, Alanna and Marko struggling with the reality of life in hiding and the stresses of family, but we also have a secondary plot dealing with the Robot monarchy and rebellion that felt… off. But, even that leads to a great final panel so I can’t hate it too much. But most of all I don’t want Alana and Marko to be fighting anymore. My emotions are fragile and I love them as a team figuring it out together, not sparring with one another, no matter how true it rings.

Overall, I’m in love with this series. It’s rare to have humor, sorrow, wit, action, adventure, and beautiful drawings married in one text, but this is that text. I’m making myself take a break from reading the next four volumes until at least tomorrow. I think I have the strength to hold out.

These books were read as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (CBR10 #29)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)

Science Fiction is one of the genres that grew on me over time.  I find myself drawn more to the space-based versions, books like the Red Rising trilogy, The Martian, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Sparrow, and Children of God have been favorites over the years.  There’s something about the exploration and survival stories that are part of the genre that work for me. I became particularly interested in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet when I heard it described as a contemplative, character driven space opera. My favorite genre books are all character driven. But I still put this book on and off my to read list at least once, but that’s a story for later in the review.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is at its heart a road trip story. We’re introduced to the ship the Wayfarer in the form of a newly added crew member: Rosemary Harper. No one expects much when she joins the crew the captain, Ashby, just needs someone to be their clerk and keep up with the forms so they can get better jobs drilling holes in space, and Rosemary is looking to be anywhere but where she came from. While the hodgepodge ship has seen better days, it offers Rosemary a place to rest her head and some distance from her past.  Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy and populated by a diverse crew of sapients. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job tunneling a wormhole to the titular small, angry planet. While that’s just the type of plot that works for me, in the hands of Becky Chambers it is treated in an episodic way. She spends over 400 pages of her book bouncing from one small adventure to another resulting in character development but not much else. But it doesn’t really need much else; its power is in the small things it accomplishes.

The book is also unabashedly feminist (Chambers used to write for The Mary Sue), sex positive, inclusive, and has an overall optimistic view of the future, even if that future contains our destroying the Earth.  The crew of the Wayfarer lives in a world which intrinsically makes room for multiple ways of being. Chambers isn’t writing a story about overthrowing systems and fighting against injustice. Her story is about the lives we lead in a universe that is stable but still has its problem areas. She’s writing a story about adults for adults that isn’t “adult” in its content. Not all of her characters are loveable, or necessarily likeable, but they all make sense. They may be alien (and Chambers manages to really make her aliens seemingly infinitely diverse) but they are all recognizable and relatable. It makes the minutiae of their lives an interesting read all by itself, and puts the larger plot of the journey take a back seat.

Time to circle back to my almost putting this book off to some indeterminate time: some science fiction books have absolutely beautiful cover art… and some do not. That was honestly part of my entry bias to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, that I absolutely hated its cover. I also couldn’t really get excited about the frequent comparisons to other properties – it didn’t sound like the fun character study I had initially been sold on.  I put it back on my to read list when I read the Read Harder Challenge Tasks late last year, and  its lackluster cover got it its spot on 2018’s to read list.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (CBR10 #21)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Vol. 1: Commencement (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, #1)

This book is another Read Harder Challenge twofer. I don’t read a lot of comics; it’s a style of book that isn’t as natural for me as it so obviously is for others. While I was reading through this year’s tasks I saw there were two that related to comics and I knew that I would have to step out of my comfort zone (which is the entire point) to get them done.

But… it was much easier than anticipated. Either my tastes are broader than I give myself credit for or my sleuthing skills have improved over the years. I’m leaning towards the second of those. Task 18 was to read a book published by a house other than Marvel, DC, or Image. I used to listen to Thought Bubble, I know about Dark Horse, AND that they publish Star Wars books. One problem solved. Next, Task 8 was all about diversity (because really and truly #weneeddiversebooks) I needed to find a book written or illustrated by a person of color. A quick skim of the Star Wars offerings from Dark Horse Comics and a cross check of my library’s holdings, and voila I was off on my first visit to the Old Republic .

Here’s the thing I learned about myself and my Star Wars fandom while reading this: I really and truly do love the world of Star Wars, not just the characters of the original trilogy. Could this book have been improved by adding a Wookie? Of course, Chewbacca is the literal best (but he wasn’t alive yet). What I got here though, was a story of a padawan (or apprentice as his favorite antagonizer is so fond of misremembering) who was betrayed by people who were trying to take too much control of what the visions of the future might have shown them, and he must run to save his life, or perhaps stay and fight for what is right. I am always on the lookout for those who stay and fight for what is right.

The art was a bit dark for me, but it reminded me in all the best ways of the animation on Star Wars Rebels. I wish I had more substantive thoughts on this book, but perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that I am thinking about putting the next book in the series onto my stupid long to read list even though my library doesn’t have it in its holdings. Pretty high praise from me, if we’re being honest.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Kindred (CBR10 #20)

Kindred

I’ve finally made my way to reviewing the #CannonBookClub selection, Kindred.  I was ecstatic that this was the one we chose. Not that I wouldn’t have happily read any of our options for this first of two anniversary reads, but Kindred has been lurking on my to read list a long time and it fulfills two of this year’s Read Harder Challenge tasks (read a genre fiction classic, read a sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author).

My review is probably going to be a bit disjointed, as I wander through my thoughts and our book club discussion questions.  As I mention above, the fact that this book is categorized as science fiction works in my favor, but it never *felt* like science fiction to me. Sometimes I wonder if I have a firm grasp on the definition of the genre itself, or if Octavia Butler’s very obvious care at historical accuracy kept the science fiction of it all out of my main view. But I do know that I am not alone, Kindred gets name dropped in a Tor.com article from last year discussing whether or not time travel stories are science fiction or fantasy.

I was won over by this novel almost immediately. Dana had such a unique voice, that even before the time travelling really got underway I was invested in her. Butler also does great things with emotions in the book. Dana and Rufus’s connection, Kevin being trapped in the past without Dana created dread that pushed my reading along. I read the book in two sittings. But perhaps the most important emotional cores of the book is Alice and Dana’s tumultuous, intertwined relationship but the simplicity and clarity of the understanding that Carrie brought to her world and her relationships pulled at me the most. Carrie’s appraisal of those around her, and her ability to communicate it (especially with Nigel) brought the later chapters of the novel home for me in a way I don’t know that I can describe. So much is happening so quickly, Alice is suffering so greatly, and Carrie has become in her own way the center of the storm.

But if Carrie is the calm center, then Alice is the raging storm front. I always took it on face value that because Dana’s time travel was sparked by grave danger (her own or Rufus’s) that she was being yanked through time to maintain a timeline, as she saw it to make sure her ancestor was born. What we witness is the destruction of one soul, in order to birth another, to preserve a third. Every single choice, experience, and sacrifice carries the weight of each of them. It is heady, and causes the reader to have to side with what we know will be the destruction of Alice at Rufus’s hands. We know, implicitly, that there is no happy ending for her, but we don’t necessarily know just what her end will be, or for that matter, Rufus’s own. Butler asks her reader to consider: was it worth it? Was their suffering worth Dana’s life? Or is it simply what was?

I still don’t know, 10 days after our book club, the answers to my own queries about Octavia Butler’s work. But I do know that it’s the sign of a five star book for me when I am continuing to chew on the book days and weeks later.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

No Matter the Wreckage (CBR10 #18)

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I struggle with poetry. Reading it never has the same effect as listening to it, even when I read it aloud to myself. But, since April is National Poetry Month I thought I’d give it another shot. In an example of past me having current me’s back, one of the books I picked out for last year’s Read Harder challenge that I never got to was No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay and it is a book of poems. I don’t know how I either a) hadn’t noticed or b) forgot that it was, because I was downright surprised when I was going through my shelves prepping April’s reading list to discover that I could knock off two birds with one slim volume.

The other bit of good fortune? I was already familiar with Sarah Kay’s work and didn’t know. I had seen her spoken word performances over the years and loved them. Spoken word is really much more my speed, so reading a collection based out of that practice made these poems so much more accessible to me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. There’s something to the freeform nature of her work, of the way in which it is subject driven, a lot like Neruda’s Odes to Opposites, which helped my brain hold on.

Not that every poem in the collection is a knockout for me. I did dog ear (it’s my copy I purchased from an independent publisher, I can do what I want!) a few poems to come back to because they hit me in my feels. I don’t know that I’m doing a great job of selling you on this book, but in his pre-Hamilton days Lin-Manuel Miranda gave her a pull quote for the back cover (!) which reads in part “In this collection she will give you moments so intimate and beautifully rendered you will come to know them as your own.”

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Not bad at all for a fellow I.B. kid.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Missoula (CBR10 #17)

Rape culture is real.

But that doesn’t make me want to face it any more than I already have to in my life. I have had this book on my to read list since it was published in 2015.However I didn’t read it then, instead I picked up Into Thin Air to get a taste of Krakauer’s style before jumping into the deep end so to speak.  I have comments across many Cannonball Read reviews of this book saying that I’m going to tackle it in the coming months, and each time I found an excuse to put if off a few more months, until three years elapsed and I could no longer justify to myself not picking up Missoula.

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Research shows that the vast majority of rapes will be committed by someone who is known to the victim, and likely someone they trust. On top of that, the person will be trusted because there is no single, reliable way to identify a rapist until they have committed an act of sexual violence. Rapists generally have no sense that their actions do in fact qualify them as a rapist and imagine some other, larger, scarier boogeyman – some “other”- as the true danger without realizing that the behavior they accept as “normal” based on our culture is in fact, not. Our society raises sexually aggressive men and shrouds them in the cover of “boys will be boys”.

In Missoula, Jon Krakauer follows several rape victims and recounts their stories from rape to prosecution in order to illustrate how our justice and educational systems are broken, and how it is affecting rape victims, their families, and ultimately, perpetuating a culture that shelters the rapists, who statistically will almost all go on to assault again. It is upsetting*, rage-inducing stuff. It is also important reading.

*I do not suggest this book for someone who has experienced sexual trauma or is suffering from PTSD. I do suggest it for absolutely everyone else.

Krakauer is an astounding writer; he brings a non-biased accounting that leaves no doubt as to the severe, life-altering consequences for the victims as they pursue their quests for justice. Meticulous research serves as the backbone of this book and Krakauer’s forthright style is the perfect fit for examining the testimony and transcripts that make up the evidence in the highlighted cases. Krakauer does very little editorializing, because the documents speak for themselves. Importantly he chose Missoula because there was a paper trail he could base the book on and held himself to a three person corroboration threshold for including things in the book. There is so much more that didn’t make the book because he didn’t have the third person, and didn’t feel comfortable reporting without it.

Here is the new thing I learned, the thing I did not properly understand and that leaves me infuriated (not that most of the information in this book didn’t leave me infuriated and necessitate that I take a step away from the book every so often) is that across this country prosecutors are declining to prosecute cases referred to them by police departments in staggering numbers. In Missoula during the window in which they were being investigated by the Department of Justice, January 2008 to April 2012, 114 reports of sexual assault of adult women were referred by the Missoula Police Department to the Missoula County Attorney’s office. Of those only 14 were filed by the County Attorney for prosecution. FOURTEEN. The police found probable cause to pursue a case following an investigation for 114 cases and the County Attorney’s office agreed approximately 12% of the time. Twelve percent. The DOJ found 350 reported sexual assaults from January 2008 to May 2012, and the 236 were not referred not because they were found to be false or specious, but rather the vast, vast majority were not pursued because there was too little evidence for the police to determine probable cause. Taken at that level only 4% of all sexual assaults even made it to court.

The story of Missoula is in many ways the story of the average American city, its stats line up with the national average, and all of that should upset us greatly. I don’t know exactly how to end this review, as I am well and truly in my emotions about this book. Perhaps that is the best response I can give it at this time.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (CBR10 #14)

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I was floored by this book. I’m glad that I was able to sit and read it over the course of one day, to really sink into it and give it my full attention. Yesterday my region was hit by our fourth nor’easter of the month (seriously, I’m ready for second winter and March to find the exit) and since my job often makes us come into work in terrible weather conditions, and I live in a pretty inaccessible place, I spend most snow days staying in the guest room of the lovely Ale and her husband. Bonus for me was that I had a true crime book to read about a serial rapist and murderer who has not been caught and I was going to spend daylight hours with people, one of whom is a police officer. Huzzah!

I like true crime, but I usually get my fix via television or podcasts. I did a quick search of my books for the past few years and it looks like I’ve only read one since I started Cannonball Read – The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse. That book, and my enjoyment of it, has a lot in common with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Michelle McNamara took her obsession with the Golden State Killer and made it accessible to the rest of us, in beautifully crisp chapters built on her exquisite prose. Her writing is chock full of detail, but it never feels overwhelming . McNamara crafts the world of the Golden State Killer, and finds the balance between the facts of the case and making meaning from them. The writing is never lurid, but it doesn’t flinch from the truth of the crimes committed. But most of all the entire book I infused with a sense of curiosity, of wanting to know the truth, the answer.

I imagine that Ms. McNamara would have been a great conversationalist, but not necessarily in the way we generally use that term. We usually mean that someone is great at talking about anything, but my favorite kind of conversationalist is someone who is able to weave together several topics to elucidate a larger concept. The raconteurs.  Michelle McNamara was one of those people, and her posthumously published book introduces us to a fantastic writer with an enormous gift for research who was taken from us too soon.

I’m not the most likely candidate for this book: I never read Ms. McNamara’s website, True Crime Diary, and I’m not overly familiar with the Golden State Killer or any other monikered killers.  I did read Ms. McNamara’s article “In the Footsteps of a Killer” for L.A. Magazine, but my memory of it is vague.  I was concerned before I started this book that the unsolved nature of the crimes would leave me feeling empty, or depressed, and while the very nature of GSK’s crimes (over 50 rapes and 10 rather gruesome murders) did affect me greatly McNamara structured her narrative in a way where the not knowing isn’t a detractor it is instead just another facet of the story.

My big take aways from this one? People don’t call the police enough for legitimate issues and we are living during the great changing of the tide for cold cases. May the officers on the case and the amateur sleuths aiding them be successful, and may the victims have healing.

Five unapologetic stars for a book that made me feel why introducing me to a lovely person and a truly terrible one, and all the ones in between.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review them how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.