Archive

Archive for November, 2011

Book Review: Y: The Last Man: Cycles by Brian K. Vaughan (Series, #2) (Graphic Novel)

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Giant Y with man in front of helicopterSummary:
Yorick and his monkey, Ampersand, (the last males on Earth) continue their reluctant quest to help the government find a way to fix the disease that killed all the other men or at least to clone new men.  Their train trip from Boston to California is caught up in Ohio, though, where they stumble upon an oddly utopian town of women.  Meanwhile, Yorick’s sister, Hero, and the Amazons continue their quest to rid the Earth of the last man.  Plus there’s a mysterious Russian woman who keeps insisting a spaceship with men on it is going to land.

Review:
Now that the premise of the post-apocalyptic world is set up, Vaughan’s story really picks up speed.  There is much less explaining and far more action this time around.  There are now multiple plot lines and mysteries beyond Yorick’s main one going as well, which helped, because let’s be honest, Yorick isn’t that likeable.

About 1/3 of this entry is set in Boston, primarily around Fenway and the train station.  I think having the Amazons duke it out in front of Fenway Park was a pretty nice touch too.

I don’t recall laughing with the first entry, but this one had me laughing out loud on the bus then having to explain to my companions around me what was so funny.  The line?

Killing’s easy. Like….like doing laundry!

It is a random, quirky sense of humor that I really enjoy, although I do expect that it might not strike some people as humorous.

The artwork continues to be bright and easy to follow.  I really appreciated the preliminary sketches featured in the back of the book.  It was most surprising to see that agent 355 originally was white and gradually was changed to black.  I’m glad Vaughan made the move, but I do wonder what brought it on!

Overall, if you like a post-apocalyptic graphic world with biting wit and gender commentary, you’re going to enjoy this book.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
Y: The Last Man: Unmanned (review)

Giveaway: Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard (International!)

November 29, 2011 10 comments

Mountains with water in foreground.I am super-excited to get to offer up my second giveaway here at Opinions of a Wolf, and this time it is INTERNATIONAL.

There is one paperback copy of Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard up for grabs, courtesy of the lovely author herself.  Since she lives in Scotland, she said she is fine with shipping internationally.  That made me very happy, because I know I have a lot of followers from outside the States.

What You’ll Win:  One paperback copy of Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard.

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post with your email address or twitter name so I can contact the winner for his/her mailing address.  ALSO please note if you took part in the MIA Reading Challenge this year.  Those who did get a second entry, since this is relevant to the challenge.

Who Can Enter: Anyone! International! Yay!

Contest Ends: December 13th. Two weeks from today!

This giveaway is now over! Thank you all for entering!

Book Review: Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard

November 29, 2011 7 comments

Mountain in the distance with water in the foreground.Summary:
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.

Review:
A rural island setting combined with art, romance, and mental illness–I knew this book and I would be fast friends before I even started reading it.  What I discovered was a book that addresses multiple universal issues–grief, betrayal, loss, family ties–in a glorious setting that left me dying to visit Scotland, if only to discover what peat smoke smells like.

The style of this book is unique.  Gillard easily transitions between perspectives, points in the time-line of Rose’s life, and even poetry versus prose.  I was astounded to discover that I enjoyed the poetry portions creeping up in the book.  They tend to happen at points of high emotion and exquisitely express the high highs and low lows someone with bipolar disorder goes through.  The changing of perspectives and time-lines could sometimes feel a bit jarring; that could have been smoother done, but I appreciate the style and vibe Gillard is going for.  It almost mimics the jarring highs and lows of bipolar disorder.

More importantly, though, the book exquisitely, gently shows that people with mental illness are just people like everyone else.  They may feel things slightly more strongly or need to work harder to stay balanced, but the mentally healthy have emotions too.  The mentally healthy can be thrown just as badly by life’s experiences.  If I could sum up the book’s point, it would be that we all have scars.

So you see, Rose, if you would just step outside your own fucking head for a few moments, you’d see you’re not the only one with scars. In any case the worst ones, the most disfiguring are never visible to the naked eye.” He zips up his fly. “I can probably live with yours. Can you live with mine?” (location 3816)

This is an emotional, challenging, touching book to read.  I recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

Counts For:

Giveaway Winner: Like One of the Family by Alice Childress

November 28, 2011 2 comments

Black woman in a kitchen.The first giveaway here at Opinions of a Wolf was a success!  (At least there were entrants! Hah!)  The winner via random.org of a gently used copy of Like One of the Family by Alice Childress is *drum-roll*

Hubbit!  He’s been contacted on twitter and provided his mailing address.

Thank you to Hubbit and Rhondareads for entering and supporting black women’s lit!

And a thank you again to Beacon Press for supporting The Real Help Reading Project by providing the book!

Book Review: The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder by Olga Trujillo, JD

November 28, 2011 11 comments

Olga at a young age.Summary:
Olga was a young, successful lawyer in DC when she suddenly started having inexplicable panic attacks and episodes of blank stares or rapidly moving eyes.  She sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with a moderate case on DID.  On the spectrum, she has multiple parts but not exclusive personalities and still has a central core.  These parts have kept the memories of her extraordinarily violent, abusive childhood from her consciousness thereby allowing her to function, but just barely.  In her memoir, Olga tells what she has now remembered of her childhood and how she has now discovered she managed to function and be surprisingly resilient.  She then delves into her long-term therapy and how she has come together into mostly one part and usually no longer dissociates.

Review:
I always find memoirs by those with DID or dissociation completely fascinating.  Even just the ability to write the book and explain the disorder from the insider’s perspective is a remarkable achievement.  I previously read When Rabbit Howls, which is written by a person much further along on the spectrum where completely different personalities wrote the different parts.  Since Olga has a centralized part that has integrated most of the other parts, she writes with much more clarity and awareness of when she dissociated as a child, the process through therapy, and integration and her new life now.  This ability to clearly articulate what was going on and how dissociation was a coping mechanism for her survival makes the book much more accessible for a broader audience.  I also appreciate the fact that someone with a mental illness who is Latina, first generation American, and a lesbian is speaking out.  Too often the picture of a person with a mental illness is whitewashed.

Olga offers up a very precise trigger warning of which chapters could be dangerous for fellow trauma survivors.  That said, I found her reporting of what occurred to her to be respectful of herself as a person.  She never shirks from what happened to her, but is sure to couch it in concise, clinical language.  I respect this decision on her part, and again believe it will make her book more accessible to a wider audience.  People can see the results of the trauma without finding themselves witnesses to the trauma itself.

The book right up through about halfway through her therapy is clear and detailed, but then starts to feel rushed and more vague.  Perhaps this is out of respect for the people currently in her life, but personally I wanted to know more.  For instance, how was she able to make a drastic move from DC to the middle of the country without upsetting her healing process?  How do the phone sessions with her therapist work?  I think many advocates of those with mental illness would appreciate more detail on how she is able to have a healthy, happy relationship now, especially since we witness the dissolution of her first marriage.  Similarly, I wanted to know more about her coming out process.  She states that she knew at 12 she was a lesbian, but pretty much leaves it at that.  I’m sure it was easier to embrace her sexuality the more integrated her parts became, but I am still interested in the process.  She was so brave recounting her early life that I wonder at the exclusion of these details.

Overall this is a well-written memoir of both childhood abuse, therapy for DID, and living with DID.  Olga is an inspirational person, overcoming so much to achieve both acclaim in her career and a happy home life.  I recommend it to a wide range of people from those interested in the immigrant experience to those interested in living with a mental illness.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

Buy It

Counts For:

Friday Fun! (Happy Thanksgiving!)

November 23, 2011 12 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  For once I’m actually writing this a couple of days ahead of time, because it is American Thanksgiving this weekend, and I’m going to be one busy lady.  My dad is coming down from Vermont to spend a few days with me in my lovely city of Boston.  I’m looking forward to the quality time.  It’s something that’s hard to come by when you live in a different state from your parent.  I’m also excited for him to see me looking far healthier than the last time he was here, which was almost a year ago!

There will probably not be anything particularly traditional about our Thanksgiving, since I’m a vegetarian, and there’s only two of us.  We may go out. We may order in. We may make tacos.  Who knows.  We will, however, definitely be drinking beer and watching the game.  We are traditional Americans in THAT regard. ;-)

Once he heads back for home I’ll be doing the laundry, getting in some quality gym time, and finally getting started on editing zombies.  I’m aiming for a release date toward the end of January and am excited about this book.  Whereas the Tova Gallagher series is a just for fun romance novella lite, zombies is all about the feminist scifi and horror writer inside me.  It’s a different kind of excitement.  A more serious one.

I do want to take a moment to ask you all to seriously consider avoiding the crass consumerism that is Black Friday sales this weekend if at all possible.  I understand money is tight, trust me, I do, but all you have to do is youtube some videos of the types of mobs that happen to see how disgusting this obsession with stuff can be.  Spend your long weekend with loved ones, whether related by blood or by choice.  Get outside.  Go for a hike. Read a book. Go to the library!  Just don’t spend your precious hours off obsessed with stuff.  As Tyler Durden says, you don’t own your stuff.  Your stuff owns you.

Happy weekend all!

Book Review: The Burning Sky by Joseph Robert Lewis (Series, #1)

November 23, 2011 2 comments

African woman near gears and airships.Summary:
In an alternate vision of history, the Ice Age has lingered in Europe, slowing down Europeans’ rate of civilization and allowing Ifrica (Africa) to take the lead.  Add to this a disease in the New World that strikes down the invaders instead of vice versa, and suddenly global politics are entirely different.  In this world, steam power has risen as the power of choice, and women are more likely to be the breadwinners.  Taziri is an airship co-pilot whose airfield is attacked in an act of terrorism.  She suddenly finds herself flying investigating marshals and a foreign doctor summoned by the queen herself all over the country.  Soon the societal unrest allowing for a plot against the queen becomes abundantly clear.

Review:
Can I just say, finally someone wrote a steampunk book I actually like, and it’s a fellow indie kindle author to boot!  All of the possibilities innate in steampunk that no other book I’ve read has taken advantage of are used to their fullest possibilities by Lewis.

I love that Lewis used uncontrollable environmental factors to change the political dynamics of the world.  Anybody who has studied History for any length of time is aware how much of conquering and advancement is based on dumb luck.  (The guns, germs, and steel theory).  Lewis eloquently demonstrates how culture is created both by the people and their surroundings and opportunities.  For instance, whereas in reality the Native Americans had to rely on dogs for assistance and transportation against invaders on horseback, Lewis has given the Incans giant cats and eagles that they tame to fight invaders.  Similarly, in Europe the Europeans are constantly fighting a dangerous, cold environment and have dealt with this harsh landscape by becoming highly superstitious, religious people.  This alternate setting allows for Lewis to play with questions of colonization, race, and technology versus tradition in thought-provoking ways.

Women are in positions of power in this world, but instead of making them either perfect or horrible as is often the short-coming of imagined matriarchies, there are good and bad women.  Some of the women in power are brilliant and kind, while others are cruel.  This is as it should be because women are people just like men.  We’re not innately better or worse.  Of course, I couldn’t help but enjoy a story where a soldier is mentioned then a character addresses her as ma’am, without anyone feeling the need to point out that this is a woman soldier.  Her gender is just assumed.  That was fun.

Although Taziri does seem to be the main focus of this book, the story is told by switching around among a few main characters who find themselves swept together in the finale for the ultimate battle to save or assassinate the queen.  This strategy reminded me a bit of Michael Crichton’s Next where seemingly unrelated characters suddenly find how their destinies are all connected together.  Lewis does a good job with this, although personally I found the beginning a bit slow-moving.  It all comes together well in the end, though, with everything resulting in a surprising, yet logical, ending.

What kept me from completely loving the book is that I feel it needs to be slightly more tightly edited and paced.  Some sections were longer than they needed to be, which I can certainly understand, because Lewis has made a fun world to play around in, but as a reader reading what amounts to a thriller, I wanted things to move faster.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the steampunk world Lewis has created after a couple of years of loving the fashions and possibilities but finding no steampunk books I liked.  If someone were to ask me where to start with steampunk, I would point them here since it demonstrates the possibilities for exploring race, colonization, and gender, showing that steampunk is more than just an extended Victorian era.

Overall this is a wonderful book, far better than the traditionally published steampunk I’ve read.  I highly recommend it to fans of alternate history, political intrigue, and steampunk alike.  Plus it’s only 99 cents on the kindle.  You can’t beat prices like that.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Won on LibraryThing from the author in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

Book Review: The Walking Dead, Book 1 by Robert Kirkman (Series, #1) (Graphic Novel)

November 21, 2011 7 comments

Black white and red silhouettes.Summary:
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere.  He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.

Review:
I just want to point out that this review is purely focused on the graphic novel, not the tv series.  I haven’t even seen more than 10 minutes of the tv show, so remember this is about the books not the show.  Thanks!  Moving along….

I almost gave up on this within the first few pages, because COME ON.  Can we PLEASE get over the whole oh I had a coma and then woke up to a zombie apocalypse trope, please?  First, it is so highly statistically unlikely that it was laughable the first few times it was used in my beloved dystopian novels, but at this point it just looks lazy.  Come up with some other way to start the apocalypse, ok?  I don’t care if your main character is out of touch with reality for a few days because he’s on a drug-fueled sex streak.  At least it would be different!  Also, a cop, really?  You want me to root for a cop?  And everyone trusts him because he’s a cop?  A cop is the last person I would put in charge if I was a member of a rag-tag bunch of survivors; I’m just saying.

Once we move on beyond the initial set-up though to the group of survivors caravaning their way across America, the story vastly improves.  The people are real.  They’re scared.  They’re angry.  The snap easily.  They hook up with whoever is convenient (and not necessarily young and hot).  They teach the kids to use guns.  It’s everything we know and love about post-apocalypse stories.

The artwork is good.  Scenes are easy to interpret; characters are easy to tell apart.  The zombies are deliciously grotesque, although I did find myself giggling at them saying “guk.”  Guk?  Really?  Ok….

The best part, though, is the people that in your everyday life you are just like, come on, god, bolt of lighting, right here?  They’re the ones who get eaten by zombies!  It is excellent.  So that really annoying chick in camp?  Totally gets her head bit by a zombie.  It’s cathartic and awesome.

The cast is diverse, and no, the black guy is not the first to be eaten (or the red shirt guy for that matter).  It wouldn’t kill Kirkman to be a little less heteronormative, but he’s still got time and more survivors to add.

Overall, this is a good first entry in a zombie apocalypse series.  Kirkman needs to be more careful to stay away from expected tropes in the genre and bring more of the creativity it is apparent he is capable of.  I recommend it to fans of zombies, obviously. ;-)

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

Buy It

Book Review: Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Ghanaian Lit Week)

November 18, 2011 8 comments

Image of forest with blue bird feather imposed over it.Summary:
When the girlfriend of the minister for roads and highways spots a disgusting red lump of flesh in a hut in the village Sonokrom, what normally would have been ignored and left to the villagers suddenly becomes a matter of national importance.  Inspector Donkor wants a promotion, and he believes that one of the only forensics specialists in Ghana–Kayo–can get it for him.

What Kayo finds in the village is a people still steeped in the culture of the countryside, in touch with Onyame and the ancestors, drinkers of palm wine mixed with aphrodisiacs.  Although he arrives with the mind of a scientist, soon his perceptions begin to change.

Review:
Kinna is one of the international bloggers I discovered through Amy, and she is awesome!  She lives and works in Ghana and is interested in spreading literacy and love of reading in her own country, as well as interest in African lit everywhere.  So when she announced that she was hosting a week in hour of Ghanaian lit, I knew I wanted to participate.  Using the wonderful resource of tags in LibraryThing, I hunted down a book that LibraryThing was “mostly sure” I would like and ordered it from my library.  Yet again, the book blogging world has brought me to a book I never would have read otherwise, but am glad I did.

This book reminds me a lot of The Summoner, only with the distinct bonus that it is a crime mystery set in Africa written by an African instead of a westerner who has visited.  This means our detective hero is distinctly Ghanaian.  Like all detectives, he drinks, but his drink of choice is palm wine enhanced by the village medicine man.  Just typing out that sentence gave me the shivers of delight I got when I was reading the scenes of drinking and eating in the hut, which is the village pub managed by a woman and her adult daughter.  It felt simultaneously familiar and new, which is one of the thrills of reading literature not written by one of your own countrymen.

Unlike western detective stories though, Parkes does not seem to feel a need to give a scientific explanation for every mysterious event that occurs.  In fact, it is actually easier to believe the magical explanation than to wonder about the scientific explanation.  For that reason I would definitely categorize this as “magical realism.”  It is almost as if Sonokrom is a world unto itself, existing in some sort of parallel universe where magic is just an ordinary part of life.

The characters are all richly drawn and well-rounded.  I had no trouble telling them apart in my mind.  The method of switching perspectives from Kayo to the old man in the village works well.  It allows the reader to see both the scientific and traditional perspectives and make up her own mind.

Some people may be bothered by the ambiguous/open-ended ending, but personally I feel that this is what the story needs.  It leaves the reader to ponder upon the values of both tradition and modernity.  Perhaps that is the point of the whole story.

Now, the book does throw in some Twi words here and there, but those are easily decipherable by context.  The more difficult aspect as a non-African reader is the presence of Pidgin.  Since whole sentences are written in Pidgin they were much more challenging for me.  I must admit this small book took me quite a while to finish, compared to my usual reading rate.  The Pidgin is not impossible, though, particularly if you have read widely among the various American dialects.  An English dialect is an English dialect, after all.

Overall, I recommend this to those who enjoy both mystery and magical realism and don’t mind exploring a new dialect.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

Buy It

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 867 other followers