Thursday, September 26, 2013

Death of a King—Andrew H. Vanderwal

This was another book that I received via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers lottery. Such an awesome program!

This book's synopsis mentioned time travel and William Wallace, so of course I had to request it.

I have to say, I wish that I knew more about the history of Scotland, and specifically the William Wallace period of history. I really know nothing. I haven't even seen Braveheart...Even so, this was an adventurous read.

Although it ended up being a very interesting, engrossing read, there were some things that were difficult to adjust to. The dustjacket and the synopsis both say, "From the Author of The Battle for Duncragglin." Nowhere does it say that this book is, in fact, a sequel of that book. Which would not be  ahuge deal, excpet for there are characters that are not in the synopsis of the book on the dustjacket, and just kind of show up, without any explanation of who they are. Now, if I had read the first book, I would've known. (As the book goes on, some things are made more clear if you read between the lines.) 

Once I got over that, and figured out who these seemingly random characters were, things moved right along. The basic story focuses on a boy called Alex, who is trying to track down his parents. They went back in time in an attempt to save the life of a king (King Alexander) who died and apparently set in motion the events of the Wars for Scottish Independence. Apparently they were never given a lecture about time travel and not interfering with past events. Like with many time travel tales, something went wrong. Of course, they were unable to stop the death of the king, and because they foretold it happening, it was assumed they were involved in the plot to assassinate him so they were sentenced to death.

Alex travels back in time to attempt to find them and save them, and along the way, provides the famed William Wallace with some much-needed information about how battles are meant to go. As you do, when you time travel.

After Alex had been there for a bit (and gone through varying degrees of pretending to be mute so that people would not notice that he spoke differently), he was joined by some fellow children - the ones I mentioned earlier who seemed to pop up out of nowhere - who were apparently some kids that he was staying with in Scotland before he time traveled. They join him in the journey, and the kids run around Scotland trying to find Alex's parents.

I have to say, it was all quite exciting. I wish there had been some more talk about how the time machine worked - it was a bit hokey, with animal heads on the wall of a cave that have to be turned a certain way to indicate where in time you'd like to end up. Perhaps there's more information about the mechanics of it in the first book. I also really appreciated that one of the characters is a girl that Alex meets in past Scotland who has had her hand cut off; I don't appreciate that she got her hand cut off, but I appreciate that there was a fairly main character who was not perfect.

Of course, all's well that ends well. As if there is any other way when time travel is involved. Quite an exciting book. I'll probably go back and read the first one.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Runaways: Pride and Joy—Brian K. Vaughan, Illustrated by Adrian Alphona

I've been trying to get back in touch with my geek self in the recent past, especially having recently moved my entire life to a place where I know very few people; it's given me more time to focus on my interests and hobbies.

This re-awakening has manifested itself in several different ways: my renewed love of board games, my desire to get back into gaming (although they don't really sell many N64 games in the stores nowadays...), and finally my introduction to comics.

I have to say, one of the things that I didn't get a lot of when I was a kid was comic books. I was a ridiculously avid reader, but for some reason I never really got into comic books. Of course, it may have had something to do with my father's influence, who constantly called video games "vidiot" games and was pretty averse to superheroes and comic book type things in general. He was more of a mechanic and beer type guy. Nothing against him, just different interests.

Well, I've been wanting to get into reading comics for a long time, but I would constantly feel overwhelmed about where to start.

I was inspired to figure it out, whatever that would mean, after watching the first season of Comic Book Men on the Netflix. The show is a reality show based around a podcast that Kevin Smith (director, actor, writer, comic book lover) does with his friends/the guys who work in the comic store he owns in New Jersey, Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash. Seeing those guys nerding out about particular 

Anyway, I actually found, on one of my favourite YouTube channels Geek and Sundry, a vlog from Amy Dallen about where to start with comic books. It was great, and one of the books she suggested was Runaways. She mentioned one later in the series that was written by Joss Whedon (who doesn't love Whedon?) but I wanted to start at the beginning, so I could fully understand.

The premise is interesting and I'm excited to read more. I'm especially looking forward to the Whedon-authored volumes.

Basically, it tells the story of six kids who discover that their parents are actually supervillains, and that they themselves have powers. As the title may indicate, they decide to run away from their families, not wanting to be follow in their evil parents footsteps. Of course, it's not that easy, to just "run away" from supervillain parents. In this first volume, 

An exciting thing about starting these series at this point is that many of them have books and books worth of issues to get through. Hurray! It's the same reason that I love the Netflix: because I can move at my own pace with television shows, rather than waiting at the edge of my seat each week for a new episode (or waiting each Wednesday at my local comic book store, as the case may be).

The Last Dragonslayer—Jasper Fforde

I went to Half Price Books during a slight jaunt away from the office the other day. I was looking for the books for the next Vaginal Fantasy, something I'm finally getting more involved with (by reading the books, at the very least) after just watching the videos since the beginning. But I was super distracted by this book. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jasper Fforde. If you haven't heard of him, read his Thursday Next series. It's a great world that he has created, taking some pieces from classic literature - Thursday Next is a detective who solves literary crimes by entering the books. They're fantastic and so well written. And Thursday is such a strong female character. So good.

So I was distracted by the fact that it was a new Fforde book. I thought, "Oh, a Thursday Next book I haven't read." And then I saw the label at the bottom: "The Chronicles of Kazam | Book One." A new series! And from the cover art, probably a young adult book.

Indeed. This is the first in a new series that Fforde is writing specifically for young readers. I'm a big fan of reading young adult and children's books already, and one written by Fforde?! You got me. I bought it and started reading it immediately.

I can't wait for the second one, which apparently came out recently (with a third arriving shortly as well!). Fforde created a great world, that is not incredibly different from other magical fantasy worlds that we have seen before, but that's not important. One of my favourite things about his writing is that he creates these incredibly empowered female characters. It's so enlightening to see that, especially since I've been reading a slew of Vaginal Fantasy books (as I mentioned earlier) where female characters are not always the bad-assest of ladies. Jennifer Strange, the main character in this book, is two weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday. She's been managing a group of previously powerful magic people, although the magic has been dwindling in recent years. They are hired out for jobs that would normally take a lot more time and money: for example, re-piping a house using magic. And making deliveries via magic carpet. Jennifer is part of this group because she was sent there from the orphanage she had been sent to as a foundling. That's part of the system - foundlings are sent out for apprenticeships at age 12, and are basically indentured there until they are eighteen. She manages all of these people, in addition to the new foundling that's sent to the organization, and juggles her new-found role as as the last dragonslayer.

Such a great addition to my Jasper Fforde collection. Looking forward to reading the others.

The Fellowship of the Rings—J.R.R. Tolkien

Although I'm not completely sold on Coursera, and many of my colleagues in the education field are not fans, I decided this course would be interesting. It's entitled Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative. (Notice the Oxford comma, which was not my own addition but the way that the course creators punctuated it! Joy!) Here's the course mini-description:

"Focused on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings Online, this course explores what happens to stories and films when they are turned into online games."

Interesting, right?

This is the first time that I've actually completed the first book. I feel like I lose my nerd cred just by saying that. I haven't even been able to make it through the movies. I've tried the first one three separate times and fallen asleep every time. Which is saying something, because I'm an insomniac. Not for lack of trying. (I believe that later in this course there's the obligation to watch the first film, so I'll try to make it all the way through this time.)

I've also tried to read this first book several times, and all of those times have gotten about 100 pages in and then gotten distracted by something else. I'm not quite sure why I've never been able to get into it, because I LOVE The Hobbit. I've read The Hobbit at least three or four times, have acted in a play version once, and been involved as an assistant choreographer with that same play as well. For some reason, the Lord of the Rings books never seemed to catch me.

But, I determined that I would do so for this course, and try my best to make it all the way through the course as well. (I've tried a couple of other MOOC's and have always faltered around week 2 or 3...)

I can now finally say, I MADE IT!

I can understand now why it's been so difficult for me to get through this first book: it's A LOT of exposition. As far as I understand, the next two books (and movies) have a great deal of action in them. Not so much with this first one. Which makes sense. If you're going on an epic, dangerous journey, there's bound to be some explanation of why you're going, who is going, the initial stages of journeying, etc.

However, now that I've made it through this first one, I might just try to read the other two as well. And perhaps go back and read The Hobbit. And The Silmarillion.