Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: First Phone Call from Heaven

First Phone Call from Heaven First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In small town Michigan, a woman receives a phone call from a dead relative. She isn’t the only one. Soon, we learn that about half a dozen Coldwater residents have gotten calls from heaven. The calls are short and the callers want people to know that death is nothing to fear, that the afterlife is wonderful, and that everyone needs to know about it. Some embrace this knowledge whole-heartedly, some are doubtful, some just want to get a good story out of it. Everyone in Coldwater has their life changed by these phone calls from heaven.
Like most of Mitch Albom’s books, this is a short read, but it packs a whole lot in. We see just how quickly a media circus can grow out of this sort of thing, and how easily people are willing to take such reassuring knowledge at face value. Overall I enjoyed the book.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: As the Crow Flies

As the Crow Flies As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charlie is a black, queer teen about to go on a week-long Christian retreat for girls. All the others are white, and presumably straight (though she learns differently when it comes to Sydney), so Charlie feels really out of place. Also, she’s struggling with her faith and hoping that this retreat will somehow answer her questions about God. As Sydney and Charlie grow closer, Sydney confides that she is trans. Both girls deal with a variety of micro-aggressions from the rest of the group, who are generally well-meaning but often careless with their words. As the group climbs the three mountains, the group leader imparts more and more of the story of the pioneering women of the village who in the 1800s left their men folk behind in order to seek out a retreat for themselves as women.
The first thing you need to know about this book is that all the artwork is done with colored pencils. It’s magnificent. Melanie takes a medium usually reserved for children and turns it into something gorgeous and incredibly layered. I am mesmerized by their artwork. Of course the story is just as layered with various characters revealing more and more of themselves as the story goes along. Your conception of just about every character will be challenged in this book. This book is great for people of all ages, especially for queer teens. It’s wonderful to see trans representation in work for young adults (and created by a non-binary trans author/artist at that!)

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Review: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

V for Vendetta is Moore and Lloyd’s response to the upswing in conservatism in 1980s England, still in the Cold War. They took this idea to the conclusion that after a nuclear war (supposing that England survived, that is), England would turn fascist right quick. The hero (anti-hero?) V serves as a thorn in the side of the government, blowing up buildings and killing off high party officials. He takes in a girl named Evey (so glad they aged her up for the movie, because her story line is a bit less creepy if she’s a young woman rather than a teenager, but only a bit) whom he rescues from attackers on the street. V is no mere anarchist though: he has big plans for Evey and for England. Mr Finch of the Finger (law enforcement) works to discover V’s back story in order to find out who he really is.
Having seen the movie several times before I ever read the book, I can’t help but make a few comparisons. In the movie, V is far more dashing and sympathetic, like an anarchist Errol Flynn (thanks in part to Hugo Weaving’s amazing voice). In the book, he’s far more disturbing. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. I think Moore wanted V to be disturbing. That’s the point: V is not really a hero, but a villain in his own right, who is willing to do terrible things to fight for what he believes is right (don’t all villains?). The fact that he is fighting against something even more terrible than he is, is what casts him as the hero of the story, not his own actions. It’s this exploration of the moral grey area that makes this a great story and one that (mostly) holds up almost 30 years later.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: Killing Time

Killing Time Killing Time by Della Van Hise
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise have been patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone for weeks. Some of the crew have been reporting insomnia and weird dreams. Then, one morning Kirk wakes up as an ensign instead of a captain, and now Spock is the Captain. The Federation ship Enterprise is now the Alliance ship Shi’Kahr. We learn that the Romulans are responsible for this alternate universe, thanks to a bit of meddling in Earth’s past. Can Kirk and Spock figure out what’s going on and return to the true universe before everyone goes mad?
Internet rumor says that this book had so many homoerotic undertones that Gene Roddenberry had the book edited for its second printing and beyond. (Because the utopian future Roddenberry envisioned still includes homophobia? Okay. Whatever.) Having come across this rumor, I couldn’t help but wonder: Really?? So: when a box of old Star Trek books came in as a donation and this book was among them, I snatched it up to see for myself. And you know what? The undertones are definitely there in a few scenes, particularly one where Spock wrestles Kirk to the ground while they’re in the ship’s garden. Whether the book was really edited in later editions, I have no idea, but I can see where the rumor started. Fans for decades have imaged what if scenarios in which Kirk and Spock are romantically involved. While I don’t particularly subscribe the fan pairing of Spock and Kirk as a romantic couple, I also don’t have any issue with it. It’s fun to imagine what ifs.
Fan fiction and internet rumors aside, this is a really fun book. It’s got time travel, awesome Romulan women, all the requisite McCoyisms, and plenty of intrigue and action. If you like Star Trek: The Original Series, you’ll enjoy reading this book.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez

America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez by Gabby Rivera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

America Chavez, formerly of the Young Avengers, currently leader of the Ultimates, is about to go to college. Of course, this isn’t without its difficulties and drama. Her girlfriend breaks up with her, robots try to steal research from the school, and old flame resurfaces, and a mysterious old woman appears. This volume includes the first six issues of the series and gives a good introduction to America, if you haven’t encountered her before. (You should totally read Young Avengers though.) America Chavez is one of my favorite Marvel characters. She takes no crap from anyone and has the ability to punch portals to other dimensions into existence. Seriously. No one is cooler than America Chavez.
I love this character, so I was already sold on the book before it even released. I especially appreciate the fact that Marvel actually hired a queer Latina woman to write a book starring a queer Latina character. That’s not often how things work out in world of comics. Also, Joe Quinones’ art is beautiful. The story here isn’t terribly deep, but elements of it are definitely satisfying. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Kate Bishop (AKA the best Hawkeye) as Kate and America’s friendship is so much fun to watch play out. Volume 2 came out recently, so I’m definitely going to dive into that shortly.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Victorian England, Nancy Astley loved going to the music hall in nearby Canterbury. When a male impersonator called Kitty Butler starts performing there and completely entrances Nancy. Soon Nancy goes backstage to meet Kitty, it seems the attraction is mutual, especially when Kitty asks Nancy to come to London with her to be her dresser. It takes awhile to blossom, but the romance between the two is sweet, until, of course, it isn’t. Nancy finds herself on her own in London and makes some questionable decisions for the sake of survival (and fun) until she finally ends up on the doorstep of an austere socialist.
While I’m sure the history is fudged a bit for the sake of plot, it’s still fun to see all the different aspects of lesbian culture that Nancy encounters throughout the book, from the music halls to the upper classes to the working classes. Sometimes I rooted for Nancy, other times I wanted to shake her and ask why she was being such an idiot, which makes for a compelling character. All the characters came vividly to life in this book and I found myself wanting to know more about each of them. I listened to the audio book, narrated by Juanita McMahon, who does an excellent job giving voice to the wide variety of characters in this book. If you’re looking for a queer historical romance novel, Tipping the Velvet is a great place to start.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Review: Pyramids

Pyramids Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teppic is a student in the Assassin’s Guild who comes from the Old Kingdom, very similar to Ancient Egypt in our world. When his father dies and he returns to his homeland, he wants to bring modernity to the land. He finds himself thwarted by the High Priest Dios, who is very adamant on keeping to the old traditions. One such tradition is building pyramids for dead kings. Funny thing about pyramids though: they sort of store up time, which is why the Old Kingdom always seems stuck in the past. In a very real sense it is in the past. Dios and Teppic have the largest pyramid ever built for the dead king and, well, it causes some problems with the space-time continuum. It’s up to Teppic, a handmaiden named Ptraci, and the dead king (who finds himself resurrected, sort of) to sort out the mess before the Old Kingdom gets destroyed by its own gods.
Pratchett’s writing is full of humor and commentary on tradition vs. progress. He utilizes footnotes like no other author I know and is sure to make the reader laugh. This is the 7th book in Pratchett’s Discworld series. Don’t let that discourage you from reading it though. You don’t need to have read any of the previous books to read this one (though, of course, I recommend the whole series, as it’s one of my favorites).

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