Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

"It's a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part..."

Dread Nation invites its readers to imagine an alternate history of the United States. During the terrible years of the Civil War the dead began to rise. They feasted upon the living changing them into zombies, or shamblers, as they prefer here. The war was set aside to focus on the more pressing threat. The slaves were set free, but still weren't given much freedom. Young black men and women were sent to special schools to be trained to fight the undead, as they were thought to have special immunities to the virus.

Our main character, Jane, is attending such a school. The goal is to graduate and be hired as an attendant, protecting your white charge from shamblers and suitors alike. Jane is good at killing shamblers, but not so good with etiquette. Her rival, Katherine (Jane calls her Kate to annoy her), is good at both. The girls attend a lecture at a nearby university that ends in chaos and they end up saving the Mayor's wife. Their heroics lead to an invitation to dinner at the Mayor's house.

There have been a lot of suspicious disappearances near the school. One family, the Spencer's, had been caring for Lilly, the sister of Jane's former paramour Jackson (Red Jack). Some late night snooping leads them to the revelation that the Mayor and his Survivalist party had something to do with the disappearances. They use the dinner invitation as a chance to find out the truth. Jane sees a folder for someplace called Summerland...then she gets caught.

As punishment, Jane, Jackson, and poor Katherine are all thrown on a train and sent west. To add insult to injury, Jane's least favorite teacher gives her a bunch of letters from her mother right before putting her on the train. Jane had been writing faithfully and thought she'd never gotten a response. Now she has two goals: get out of Summerland and make her way back to Rose Hill to see if her mother is alive.

It's easier said than done. Summerland was created as a safe haven against the shamblers. It's surrounded by a massive, impenetrable wall. Unfortunately, it's also controlled by an awful sheriff and his even worse preacher father. Black residents must patrol the wall and make sure no shamblers climb it. They get little to no food and useless weapons to perform this job, and the sheriff is quick to hand out brutal punishments to anyone who steps out of line, as Jane finds out firsthand.

The only bright spot is that Jane manages to convince everyone that light-skinned, fair-haired Katherine is white. She hopes that makes up for dragging her into Jane's mess. Katherine also turns out to be the key to defeating the sheriff: he has a crush on her. With the help of the local inventor and a kindly brothel owner, they set a plan in place. What they don't expect is that Summerland isn't as safe as they thought, and the walls can't keep the dead out forever.

In her intro page, Ireland writes:

"Dread Nation is a book about the American Dream. It's about who gets to lay claim to their humanity and who is seen as little more than a tool that is used to achieve the goals of others. It's about loving a place that doesn't love you back, no matter how much you might be willing to bleed and die for it. It's about understanding that, maybe, the things we're told and the things other people believe aren't enough to keep us safe. And that, for some of us, an equal chance was never even an option..."
It's sort of funny that a young adult novel about zombies set during the Civil War sounds so topical.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

And Then You're Dead by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty

And Then You're Dead was very appealing to me. Each chapter focuses on a specific way a human can and has died, but it cranks everything up to 11. I learned so many fun facts to tell people when I'm invited to parties. Although the fact that I'm interested in this book is probably why nobody invites me to parties.

The chapters detail the many ways you can die, from being sucked out an airplane window (You actually can't get sucked all the way out, you'd just make it halfway and then flop violently against the plane) to being a literal Cookie Monster. Honestly, there are quite a few chapters where you get reduced to atoms (or worse) and I can't really follow the transformation very well. Overall, the sciencey parts aren't too hard to follow though.

So, what fun things did I learn? Well, I learned that banana peels really are the slipperiest fruit. In fact, they are slipperier than the fluid that lubricates human joints. Also, do you know that the number of calories in food is calculated by exploding said food and then measuring the amount of energy it gives off? It's also exciting to know the best way to survive if your elevator cable snaps, and your best chances of survival if a shark bites you. I'm not telling you here,'ll have to invite me to your party.

And Then You're Dead was a fun bit of popular science. It's both educational and made me laugh a couple of times, which you wouldn't expect given the subject matter. I can't wait to show off my new knowledge the next time someone accidentally invites me to a party, or if some apocalyptic event happens, go on a date. Nothing says romance like talking about death.

Thank you to Ms. Amanda/alwaysanswerb for sending me this book for our CBR Book Exchange! I loved getting something so different to read.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Doom Patrol Vol. 1: Brick by Brick by Gerard Way, Nick Derington, and Tamra Bonvillain

"The world is hard and unforgiving, it can change you. Because we're made up of all the things that happen to us. The good things fill your heart. But the bad things, and what we choose to do with them, really make us who we are..."

Okay, so this was a weird one and I'm not sure I grasped everything that went down. I'm not at all familiar with Doom Patrol, so I don't have any prior knowledge coming into this. I liked My Chemical Romance, so the Gerard Way factor was a positive, and it did look intriguingly weird.

Casey is a semi-weird ambulance driver. She lives with her cat Lotion (Which is like both the best and worst name at the same time somehow). Then, one night, a strange new dispatcher sends Casey and her partner to help someone. The person isn't there, but they witness a robot man getting run over by a truck. Casey takes the robot parts back to her apartment. Soon after, her roommate gets exploded by a singing telegraph girl, who becomes Casey's new roommate. Then things get weirder...

The new dispatcher is actually not a dispatcher, but Danny. Who is Danny? Well, Danny is technically a where. Dannyland is this place where a bunch of people live who are also Danny and Danny is also technically in the back of Casey's ambulance. It's complicated. Also, Casey is a comic book character in Dannyland and Danny brought her to life and sent her into the real world. Now, it needs her help because these creepy dudes, the Vectra, want to use Danny to generate more people so they can turn them into meat for their alien/robot/whatever fast food restaurants. (I know, so cliche, right?) Danny needs Casey to gather the Doom Patrol!

The other members of Doom Patrol are the robot man, who is called...Robot Man, Pilot Larry Trainor, who is possessed by a negative spirit and turns into Negative Man, Flex Mentallo, a strongman who Casey meets in Dannyland, and Jane, who is busy forming a cult because one of her personalities has taken over. Oh, there are also these little asides featuring Niles Caulder, AKA the Chief, who originally founded the Doom Patrol. Thank you to the DC Wiki for filling in some of my blanks. Anyways, from what I understood, it was pretty good. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

"The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely..."

It's hard to believe that The Fault in Our Stars came out five years ago! I didn't even realize how much I missed John Green until I started Turtles All the Way Down. Maybe I never mentioned this before, but I love John Green. All of his books are fantastic, as you can see from my reviews of: The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Paper Towns (I have also read Looking for Alaska-actually, that was my first John Green, but I haven't written a review.) I think I say this with every book, but Turtles All the Way Down is the best one yet.

The main story focuses on Aza Holmes. Her best friend Daisy decides that they should team up to find missing local billionaire Russell Pickett after he flees his home to avoid embezzlement charges. There is a $100,000 reward for any information leading to his capture. Daisy wants them to get that reward, and the first step in the plan is for Aza to reconnect with her old friend, Pickett's son, Davis.

Aza and Davis reconnect so well that they begin dating. The entire time, Aza keeps looking for his father, even after Davis gives them money to stop investigating. She made a promise to his preteen brother that she would find their father, and she intends to keep that promise.

The less dominant, but always present, part of the story is Aza's mental illness. She suffers from anxiety and OCD. Her disease causes her to obsess over getting Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, a type of bacterial infection. These intrusive thoughts lead her to constantly opening a callus on her finger, forcing the blood out, changing the Band-Aid, then repeating the whole thing over again.

Rather than romanticizing her mental illness, Green shows how Aza's disease hinders her detective work. He also touches a bit on the subject of drug treatment. Aza is often called out for not taking her prescribed medications. She claims that they make her less like herself. At his lecture, Green stated that he fully believes in medication to treat mental illness, that they can and do help sick people live their lives. In fact, Aza skipping her meds is part of what leads her into a downward spiral. 

What I also liked about Turtles All the Way Down is how the story focuses on Aza. I keep thinking how if it was told from Davis' perspective, it might have been a lot like Green's previous male-narrated stories. She might have been cast as the manic pixie dream girl (Though to be fair, I'm rethinking that term). It's a book that shows one girl's struggles with mental illness. Personally, I have struggled with anxiety and depression, and could definitely relate with Aza. I definitely understand the desire to have a normal brain instead of a malfunctioning one. It's a meaningful story told with Green's signature style and wit, and I loved it.

Here's a picture of my own personal copy of Turtles All the Way Down with all of my favorite parts/quotes marked:
Also, I had the opportunity to attend John Green's promotional tour in October. You can read about it here.

A Night with John and Hank Green Tour 2017

To help promote the release of Turtles All the Way Down, John Green did a tour with his brother Hank. I had to attend, even though the closest venues were over three hours away. I live in Toledo, Ohio, and I bought a ticket to the event in Cincinnati. It was a long drive, especially all by myself, but the show was amazing and I'm glad I got to see it. Here's some pictures I took and highlights of the show:
I was very worried about finding parking. I'm actually constantly stressed about parking every time I go anyplace new. There was a spot open right by the tour bus and it wasn't blocked by an orange cone. I was worried that it was a trap of some kind, and sat in my car for a couple minutes because I thought I would need to move, but it turned out to just be lucky timing, I think.

We started with John Green reading from Turtles All the Way Down. He read the end of chapter five, from pages 45 to 47. It's a good choice for a reading. Then he talked a bit about the book, Aza, and mental illness.

Dr. Lawrence Turtleman gave a scientific lecture. It was pretty silly.

After that, John and Hank sat down and answered audience questions. My picture of this is terrible. This was the part where one audience member had a special question for his girlfriend, who he met at the John Green event for The Fault in Our Stars. I'm so clueless sometimes and was actually wondering what he was going to ask her before my brain turned on and was like, "Ooooh." Anyways, they got engaged and it was fairly adorable.

That's from John Green's Twitter page.

After that, Hank Green played some songs for us. There was a funny one about how the universe sucks. We did a bonding exercise where we sang "Sweet Caroline" but we had to keep completely silent during the "Ba ba ba" parts. The show ended with a singalong that John said is his anthem of 2017, The Mountain Goats' "This Year." It's a lovely song, and very inspiring actually.

"I am going to make it through this year if it kills me"

Here's the swag bag that came with the ticket price.

Contents of the tote: autographed copy of Turtles All the Way Down (My second autographed copy), program, and tour poster. The tickets weren't terribly priced, considering you also got the book and considering how popular the Greens are.

I decided to buy the special limited print poster. It's really cool, though I bent it in half trying to store it in my tote.

So, I'm definitely glad I decided to attend the event. At first I was going to rent a hotel room to stay in after the program, but I decided to just drive home. It was kind of a mistake. I kept drinking bottles of water and singing Fall Out Boy lyrics in my head to keep going. "If I can live through this, I can do anything..." Shut up, it inspires me. My biggest regret is that I wanted to make my famous sugar cookies for John Green, but decided that I probably wouldn't be able to get them to him. There was a table to give them gifts, though...maybe next time? 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie Vol. 1 by Anthony Del Col and Werther Dell'Edera

In the same fashion as Riverdale comes The Big Lie. Here, Joe and Frank Hardy are suspects in the murder of their father, Fenton Hardy. He had been a cop under trial for corruption, and the shame seems to have led him to shoot himself. The comic opens with Joe and Frank under interrogation. They had been at the Bobbsey twins' party during the murder, but there was an hour of time where nobody could place them.

The whole thing is actually a plan masterminded by Nancy Drew. They are trying to make the police suspect the Hardy boys and meanwhile they are trying to find the real killer, who they suspect is another cop. The three teen detectives have to get their hands dirty to catch the real murderer. They cheat in an underground poker game in order to get on the radar of the Rovers, major drug dealers. It becomes even more complicated when it seems like Nancy's father, Carson Drew, was involved in the corruption and may even be the one who killed Fenton Hardy.

It's all incredibly gritty detective stuff. Plus, they all have smart phones now. There are references to other retro children's book characters, the Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins. The whole thing ends with the Hardy Boys and Nancy catching the killer, but hints at even bigger corruption and darker forces orchestrating the murder. Which leads to the second volume of the series.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

"He was tired of everyone believing they knew everything there was to know about him, as if a person never grew, a person never changed, a person was born a weird and dreamy little kid with too-red lips and stayed that way forever just to keep things simple for everyone else..."

Bone Gap is the typical small rural town. The people all know each other, and they know everything going on. They know all the rumors, such as the one about the ghost who eats leftovers at the house it haunts. Most of the rumors in Bone Gap involve the fields of corn. They say that the corn talks. Some even say that the corn walks around on its own.

Brothers Finn and Sean have lived in Bone Gap their entire lives. Their father is dead and their mother ran off to marry an orthodontist. Sean had been planning to go away to medical school and become a doctor. He gave up his dreams to take care of Finn and make sure that his younger brother graduates high school. Where Sean is responsible and serious, Finn is dreamy. He never meets anyone's eye. Everyone talks about how handsome Finn is, but also how strange he is.

Things shifted when the boys found a girl in their barn. Rosa showed up out of the blue...and disappeared the same way. During her brief stay, Sean lightened up, even laughed. Finn also had a bond with Rosa, as did everyone else in Bone Gap. It was a great blow when she left. Finn adamantly insists that she was abducted. Nobody believes him, especially because he can't describe the kidnapper's face. All he can say is that the man looked like a scarecrow. The man who kidnapped Rosa keeps confronting poor Finn, threatening to hurt him and everyone he loves if he doesn't stop looking for Rosa. Unfortunately, no one else ever sees the man.

It turns out that Rosa was abducted. A strange man took her and has been holding her in a series of strange places. Every day, the man asks the same question, "Do you love me yet?" Rosa tries to escape, to break out, find a weapon, even stabs the man. In spite of her efforts, she keeps waking up in a new place, still captive.

Meanwhile, Finn starts to spend time with a girl named Petey, the beekeeper's daughter. She is known for her bad attitude and her unusual face. Finn and Petey have lots of late night adventures riding Finn's mysterious horse (It's a very fancy horse that just showed up in their barn) through cracks and into alternate dimensions, or something equally odd. Because Finn is really pretty and Petey isn't traditionally attractive, the rest of the town thinks that he is using her. She starts to agree, but not in the same way as everyone else.

Bone Gap was such a weirdo of a book, and I was there for it. It's got that whole magical realism thing going for it. It's been a while since I've actually read it, but believe me, it was good.