Friday, August 7, 2020

KORGI: THE PROBLEM WITH POTIONS

 
Review of KORGI: THE PROBLEM WITH POTIONS by CHRISTIAN SLADE
(fourth in the KORGI series)

The saga of Ivy the molly and her beloved companion, the magical Korgi Sprout, continue in another beautifully illustrated graphic novel. The title foreshadows the main conflict: a magical potion gone wrong. But this installment also includes further revelations regarding the mysterious powers of Korgis.

I adore this precious series and expect it will hold a special place in my memory. The illustrations are masterful, brimming with emotional context. Ivy’s personality doesn’t see much distinct development beyond playful young molly, but she’s a perfect heroine for any reader to project themselves onto, and then into this endearing fantasy world. Sprout won my heart at “woof.” Their relationship is a love letter to dog companions everywhere and Sprout’s Korgi ancestry an imaginative celebration of Corgis specifically. (I have a Corgi.)   

An undefeated villain hints at future books, but to the best of my knowledge fans must content themselves with this open-ended quartet for now. I loved every single installment and certainly hope there will be more in the future!


Friday, July 31, 2020

A MAN CALLED OVE

Review of A MAN CALLED OVE by FREDRIK BACKMAN


I borrowed this book from someone and didn’t particularly expect to like it. (I only buy books I’m confident I’ll enjoy, but when I’m borrowing instead I’ll take a chance of books I’m less sure about.) I’m pleased to say that A MAN CALLED OVE, and I mean both the book and said man called Ove, pleasantly surprised me.

 

Ove is a stereotypical, hyperbolized grumpy old man. At first glance, he seems filled with own self-importance, taking it upon himself to do sweeps of the neighborhood and report (or handle himself) even the smallest of infractions. Between flashbacks into his life leading up to this point and farcical run-ins with intrusively friendly neighbors, the onion of Ove shows us his surprising and affecting layers.


What impressed me first was the voice. Ove feels real and, for me at least, unexpectedly likeable even from the start. His curmudgeonly but distinct voice pulled me into the story easily, making the mundane extremely compelling.


What impressed me the most was the humor. A MAN CALLED OVE is funny, and not enough books are funny. In my opinion, dark and dramatic content is actually easier to write than humor (easier: not to be confused with easy). Heavier books have their place, but like many readers, I crave the palate cleansers of books that make me laugh. A MAN CALLED OVE does make you think, too: the best of both worlds. However, it’s the humor, mostly found in phrasing so specific to Ove’s voice, that singled this novel out for me among many books that make me think.


Let me give you a little taste of each, so you can judge for yourself. Here’s a line that made me think: “All people want to live dignified lives; dignity just means something different to different people.” And here’s one that made me laugh: “Can’t a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore?” 


I foresee how much someone likes this story being a matter of taste, more so than with most I’d argue. I know numerous people who dislike stories focusing on the elderly. Personally, I suspect this has to do with their own fears of aging. However, I love such stories. Our society emphasizes youth like it’s a virtue instead of a phase, and I cherish stories that remind us of the humanity in people of all ages. Certain characters set up camp in my mind long after I finish a book; I can now count Ove among their ranks.

 

 

Friday, July 24, 2020

KORGI: A HOLLOW BEGINNING

Review of KORGI: A HOLLOW BEGINNING by CHRISTIAN SLADE
(third in the KORGI series)

This adorable series of graphic novels follows the young molly Ivy and her magical Korgi companion Sprout. The illustrations are beautiful and powerful, with most of the story conveyed through images rather than words.

The second in this series felt a little darker than the first and that trend continues in this third installment – with new, deeply sinister antagonists.

While each book stands alone, the stories clearly connect with hints at future books and clues from past ones. In A HOLLOW BEGINNING, Ivy and Sprout dip deeper into the mystery behind something they found in the last book. Their efforts uncover answers about the history and purpose of their kind.

Sprout’s magic seemed little more than cuteness in the first book, but each addition reveals further depth to his true power and potential. Arguably more so than the others, this third novel hints at plenty more excitement (and possibly danger) to come.

Friday, July 17, 2020

WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON


Review of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by JOHN GREEN and DAVID LEVITHAN

Both John Green and David Levithan are on my favorite authors short list, so reading their collaborative novel was a no-brainer decision. The title hints at the premise: two boys, each named Will Grayson, who happen to run into each other. That alone doesn’t sound like a story to me. And it’s not. But in their trademark impressive manner, Green and Levithan together add true depth to that barebones concept by crafting relatable, believable, complex, and compelling characters.

Will Grayson #1 would be an easy-to-overlook average teenage boy even if he weren’t friends with Tiny Cooper. With Tiny? Well, forget about it. Will pretty much lives in Tiny’s passionate, dramatic, exuberant shadow.

Will Grayson #2 is gay but not out. Only his online flirtation knows and only that secret lifeline helps a depressed and lonely Will hold it all together.

As suggested by the title, this story is about what happens when these two Will Graysons coincidentally meet. That said, I think the title (and the blurb) is a little misleading. This book isn’t really about either Will Grayson; it’s about Tiny. Reader expectations greatly affect their enjoyment of a novel, and I found that my expectation that this book would be about the Wills left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I kept waiting for the focus to move more towards them and then the book ended before it did so to my satisfaction. Only after the last page did I realize this novel is as much or more about Tiny, told through the unique slant of the Wills.

Both these authors have a distinct knack for authentic voice, realistic and endearing characters, and compelling relationships. Even as I felt confused about the focus, I still loved every page. Everyone’s believable, whether their personality runs more average or unique, and sincerity makes every word—whether dialogue or introspection—utterly gripping.   

In conclusion, two of my favorite authors have teamed up to deliver an expectedly wonderful (if slightly mis-pitched) book about two teenage boys named Will Grayson, and another named Tiny Cooper.  

Friday, July 10, 2020

TALKING HANDS


Review of TALKING HANDS by MARGALIT FOX

In an isolated village in Israel, there’s an unusual percentage of deafness. Given the seclusion, an indigenous sign language has developed. TALKING HANDS follows the linguist who set out to study this unique language.

Although the book focuses on a specific sign language, this is as much a book about linguistics in general as sign language or the village’s particular language. The chapters alternate between focusing on the village versus focusing on the history of sign language linguistic research. I found the discussion of the Forbidden Experiment particularly interesting as I’m intrigued by science’s struggle to obtain new knowledge with as few ethical violations and moral sacrifices as possible.

As one might expect, the content also lends itself to a social history of deafness and sign language. Again my own interest in emotionally complex matters made me most drawn to a particular topic: that of internalized prejudice, such as when deaf people side with the hearing about limiting deaf rights.

The more scientific content is no less fascinating. Fox discusses how studying individuals who have sustained damage to the left side of their brain helps us understand the neurobiology of language. I also appreciated her mention of how the deaf both sign in their sleep and sign to themselves when they’re alone. (I didn’t specifically think one wouldn’t; as a hearing person, those are simply aspects of deafness that I had never considered.)

I will confess that the introduction put me off at first. I didn’t like that “speak” is in quotations when referring to sign language. There are multiple official definitions of speak, but most refer to using any language, not specifically oral language, so it’s society’s hearing bias when people think using sign language isn’t technically speaking. I’ve also encountered several deaf people venting about this phenomenon that hearing writers feel they must use “signed” instead of “said” (or “replied” or “asked,” etc.). There’s a subtext with that attitude that sign language isn’t a real language. Of course, I know we often say (or write) things that don’t across as we mean them and this writer’s overt passion for sign language counterbalances a perhaps misguided use of quotation marks.   

TALKING HANDS is a thoroughly engaging book packed with interesting content about the linguistic and social history of sign language through the lens of a specific, very unique village.

Friday, July 3, 2020

FIRE BRINGER


Review of FIRE BRINGER by DAVID CLEMENT-DAVIES

This book is a re-read for me, and it more than lives up to my memory. I also find it a good example of the weight of execution versus hook in a good book. What I mean is that the premise of an epic fantasy tale starring deer instead of humans doesn’t grab my interest. Until I read it. FIRE BRINGER is considered a fantasy classic for good reason!

As a traditional high fantasy novel, our story opens with the almost obligatory prophecy: foretelling a hero’s dispatch of a villainous leader. Of course, all these characters are deer. Those well-read in high fantasy and/or familiar with the hero’s journey will find the plot of this story very classically familiar. Yet the animal characters do provide a unique spin on a done-to-death formula.

We meet our hero Rannoch from his very birth, starting the story with his brave parents and their tragic fate. In terms of personality, Rannoch is a classic quiet, strong male figure – but that cliché just seems so fitting on a large buck! (Though I do find it humorous reading in depth about Rannoch’s handsome physical appearance when, again, we’re talking about a deer.)

The antagonist is more of a mindset and movement than one single villain. Drail perhaps sets things in motion. Driven by fear, he places increasingly restrictive rules on his herd. But it’s his advisor Sgorr who poses a deeper threat – with his cunning manipulations and drive to push their control much farther than one herd.

As for supporting characters, there’s a huge cast, again typical for an epic fantasy. Rannoch finds himself aligned with an assorted crew of misfit deer not to mention other unexpected creatures.

The story follows a standard hero’s journey formula, but the animal characters do make it more unique. That and Davies’ distinct prose. The novel feels deep and layered and really pulls the reader into this world with lush sensory description and thorough detail about deer behavior. The bones might be predictable but each plot point is fleshed out with unexpected complexity and numerous small twists.

For those who like their epic fantasies a little furry, FIRE BRINGER may be one of the best anthropomorphized novels in the genre.   

Friday, June 26, 2020

THE EDUCATION OF BET


Review of THE EDUCATION OF BET by LAUREN BARATZ-LOGSTED

While fantasy remains my favorite genre, I also have a taste for some historical fiction now and again. I like juxtaposing modern values against historical ones in search for the overlapping commonalities. I admire historical fiction writers who find that ideal balance between historical accuracy and modern relatability. THE EDUCATION OF BET doesn’t break much new ground, but it’s a familiar, enjoyable, endearing read, and a quick one at that.

Will hates his school obligations while Bet wishes she had the educational opportunities that he does. So Bet disguises herself as a boy and takes Will’s place at school, leaving Will free to pursue other opportunities. To no surprise, Bet finds her impulsive plan far more difficult than she anticipated, not to mention learns a few life lessons that weren’t on the curriculum.

EDUCATION is set in the Victorian era. I’m working on a short story in that era as well and have done extensive research – mostly nonfiction but also some fiction written in the era – so it was fun reading a modern novel in the same vein. Personally, I especially enjoy reading a lot of similar-subject-matter historical fiction, because I like seeing how each author handles the same periods or even historical figures differently.

At its root, this story is a Shakespearean retelling. There are familiar tropes and formulas, but the characters feel distinct. As a character-driven reader, I will happily read the same story again and again with different players (and many writers are happy to oblige).