Tag Archives: Supernatural

L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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L: Review of Tim Wynne-Jones’s “The Emperor of Any Place”

My strategy of picking books based on interesting covers has led me in the right direction, again. This book called to me from the shelf, with the yellow map lines, the island in a churning sea, the solitary silhouette, the Japanese symbol, and the very peeved, Einstein-haired bird watching over it all. The whole thing was a giant question mark to me so, upon reading the dust jacket synopsis and finding out it was about WWII, I welcomed it into the family that is my TBR collection.

When Evan’s father dies, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his father had been reading when he passed away. It is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? Who was the American soldier also stranded there? And what could this possibly mean for Evan?

Aside from the interest piqued by the cover and synopsis, I had no expectations going into this novel. I’ve never read anything by Wynne-Jones, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, either. I was pleasantly surprised, though!

This book was a rare treasure: a book about a book. About 1/3 of the book takes place in the present day and 2/3 of the book are the journal entries of a Japanese soldier and an American soldier who find themselves enemies allied in order to survive on a deserted island, self-named Kokoro-Jima. The present day events are tied to the journal entries and, as Evan reads along, we share his surprise as he gains information as to how his own life is tied to the two inhabitants of Kokoro-Jima.

The writing was some of the most fluid and effortless language I’ve ever read. I truly felt as though I was tangled up in the thought process of a teenage boy. The main character, Evan, is a seventeen-year-old who just lost his father and is dealing with the mysterious nature of the book found on his father’s desk, the calls from the author’s son, and the appearance of his hitherto unknown grandfather, as if the overwhelming loss of his father and best friend wasn’t enough. The emotions are raw and real, sometimes surfacing at unwanted times and other times being choked down (as is often the case in real life), while the characters were relatable, pitiable, witty, and sometimes loathsome. All of the main characters were male and the story within the story was about war, an often male-dominated topic, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by man-stuff, adrift in a sea of testosterone. As a female reader, I was just as interested and impacted as any male reader.

The novel does take unexpected turns towards the paranormal, a fact which other readers have found irritating, according to other reviews. I rarely consider the fantastical to be irritating, an in the context of this book, I actually thought it was brave. War is such a difficult topic, as is the idea of being stranded without hope of rescue. Some may think that the including spirits and monsters makes light of a serious situation, but I disagree. I think the paranormal aspects made the soldiers more relatable, in terms of their reactions to the unfamiliar. And even if it did make light of war, so what? When faced with the unknown, is the known still relevant? When stranded on an island, is the enemy still your enemy? When faced with a REAL monster, is the “monster” inside your enemy still fearsome?

In terms of YA readers, this book would be a great supplemental text when learning about WWII (or any war, really). It challenges the idea of “enemy” in a way that is digestible but still potent for young readers. It would also be a good read for kids dealing with the death of a close friend or family member, or someone who might be estranged from extended family. Despite the YA title, the novel felt mature. Despite the serious issues it addresses, it still felt light and fun. Wynne-Jones is undoubtedly a talented writer, whose work I will continue to seek out in the future.

 

 

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L: Review of Maggie Stiefvater’s “Shiver”

Maggie Stiefvater LOVES a female protagonist, and that’s just swell; Maggie is herself a female, so it makes sense that she sees things from a female’s perspective, and I must say that the female protagonists in the other two novels I recently read were strong, intelligent, self-controlled women. They were great. Grace Brisbane, however, is the main character of Stiefvater’s novel, Shiver, and Grace is the worst.

Let me be clear that I read these novels in the opposite order in which they were written, so I started with Puck Connoly (a lovely display of teen wit, wisdom, and feminist determination) and ended with Grace Brisbane (a smart girl who turns into a bumbling fool when interacting with her wolf-boy lover). Grace was written first, so maybe Stiefvater learned from her mistake and upped her game in terms of female characters and their ability to not devolve into to imbeciles when talking to their crushes. Anyway, read this and then we’ll discuss more…

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

First things first: another dumb cover. Heart leaves? Please. Enough.

Secondly, as a reader who read the blurb before reading the novel, I knew this was a werewolf scenario (like I said in my last post, I’m doing an author study; I’m branching out to new genres and it clearly isn’t working), so I knew that the wolf obsessively mentioned in the beginning was going to end up being her boy-lover. But let’s pretend I didn’t know that, just for a second. The first 60-ish pages were wasted on Grace Brisbane admitting that she was in love with “her” yellow-eyed wolf. Now I’m giving her a lot of credit by saying, “ok, maybe she exaggerated. She’s not in love with a wolf,” but the writing sure did make it difficult for me to give that credit. I mean, seriously? Are we just supposed to let this go, as though humans are all too frequently in love with savage animal beasts? No, she was a pure freak. Bestiality much? Also, can I just say that Grace needs to play the lottery or something, because what are the chances that her wolf friend would just turn out to be an age- and species-appropriate, attractive young man? I’m guessing slim.

Otherwise, it was dumb. Once Sam morphs into a semi-appropriate love interest (let’s not forget that Grace’s new bf still spends half the year pooping in the woods and howling at the moon), they both develop an obsession with one another that is unhealthy on all accounts. I’m not just throwing the word “obsession” around all willy nilly; Grace and Sam readily admit that they are obsessed with one another. Their relationship is inadvisable, at best, and although I noticed that pretty much right away, I’m not confident that young, impressionable students would be able to separate the healthy themes from the unhealthy ones. I’m not entirely sure I’d even have this in my classroom library; it does address issues like peer pressure, friendships, and parental issues, but not to an extent that I think readers would learn anything or benefit from this story. In a nutshell, don’t waste your time or it’ll waste it for you.

GUYS, I have no more assigned readings until January!! I’ve forgotten what it feels like to pick my own book! Suggestions are welcome and stay tuned for NON-YA reviews!

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L: Review of “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis

​Now THAT is a darn good novel! Thank goodness I didn’t give up on Tregillis after not loving The Mechanical, because then I would’ve missed out on his captivating novel, Bitter Seeds, the first in the Milkweed Trilogy. I find myself drawn to anything pertaining to World War II, Nazis, the Holocaust, etc. so I wasted no time after reading the blurb in reserving a copy from the library.

Bitter Seeds

Click here for Goodreads

Tregillis’s main protagonist, Raybould Marsh, is a secret agent for the British Navy who uncovers evidence of Nazi experimentation that potentially created a handful of superhuman soldiers who, if perfected and multiplied, could render the German army unbeatable. In an effort to fight these supernatural beings, and thereby protect the Allied Nations from an overwhelming and horrific defeat, Marsh and his friends in Milkweed (the small group founded to try to understand and destruct the power of the superhumans) call upon their own unnatural means of defense, which demands a steep blood price.

Bitter Seeds is a fast-paced novel full of compelling characters, tense action, thought-provoking moral dilemmas, and a fair share of vivid descriptions. One cannot read a WWII novel without anticipating at least some disturbing detail, and Bitter Seeds by no means overdoes it, but it certainly imparts the severity of war and the potential for engineered soldiers to multiply the destruction exponentially. Still, the hypersensitive might take issue with a few parts, but I think letting that overrule the bigger message of this book would be a huge mistake. Unlike in The Mechanical, Tregillis provides plenty of compelling characters, both “good guys” and “bad,” and makes it easier for the reader to connect and feel effected by the chain of events. AND, the best part is that the ending doesn’t grid my gears! He summed everything up nicely, leaving just enough dangling threads that I feel resolved but will still certainly be reserving the next volume, The Coldest War, STAT.

My only gripe is that Tregillis seems to give a bit too much credit to his readers in terms of other cultures or time periods, and especially terminology. Just as The Mechanical was peppered with Dutch and French terms from a long ago monarchy, Bitter Seeds was drowning in terms like “Gotterelektrongruppe” and “Sicherheitshauptamt” without enough context clues for readers, or at least me, to always fully understand the intent of the sentence. I feel like I missed out on a few important moments of intended suspense because I was trying to decipher the German words or military jargon. This could very easily be my problem as a non-German-speaking, non-military-affiliated reader, but then again, I’m not sure that my station in life should factor into my ability to understand and enjoy this novel. What do you think?

Again, the somewhat infrequent and altogether momentary confusion was my only issue. Otherwise, I truly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to any and all readers!

I’m still working on The Grace of Kings and have recently started A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. As always, let me know what you all are thinking and stay tuned!

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