Monthly Archives: September 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

nimona

2015. HarperTeen. Hardcover. 266 pages.

Review:

In this graphic novel, a shapeshifter girl named Nimona offers herself as a sidekick to Lord Blackheart, supervillain, as he opposes the Institution and its chief champion, Sir Goldenloin.

The world of Nimona is a mash-up of Renaissance Faire fantasy, sci-fi, and modern humor. My mind also kept connecting it tonally to the film Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

The three central characters of Nimona and their interactions are all wonderful. From the banter of Nimona and Lord Blackheart to the whole frenemy dynamic going on between Lord Blackheart and Sir Goldenloin, the story had me invested in these three.

On a more particular note, I realized I’m a fan of when shapeshifters are disguised as animals, especially as animal companions to humans. That particular fondness extends to a whole family of story elements such as people temporarily trapped in animal bodies (Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, various people in Bedknobs & Broomsticks); animals with human intelligence (e.g. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH), and even just super-loyal smart animals who come to their human’s rescue (White Fang). I mean this is not guaranteed to make me like a story (that Kevin Spacey-as-cat movie looks horrific), but when it’s done well, it’s a delight.

Nimona has a surprisingly high body count considering its general comic touch. Respect for human life is espoused but most of those who are killed are anonymous, so there’s not much impact to their deaths. I really enjoyed the novel, but I must admit it is a bit callous.

This is the first work that I’ve read by Noelle Stevenson. I haven’t really plunged into the world of comics, so I don’t know when I’ll get around to Lumberjanes, but it will be fun to see how her career develops.

Excerpts from other reviews:

The BiblioSanctum (Wendy) – “Stevenson crafts a dark but quirky and amusing tale of betrayal and corporate shenigans, forcing the questioning of good versus evil and what it really means to be a hero.”

ComicAlly – “Like shape-shifting Nimona, the book starts off as one thing, morphs into something else, and then something else again. It’s like we’re seeing Stevenson try to figure out what the comic is supposed to be.”

things mean a lot – “I’m more of a Ballister than a Nimona in my approach to supervillany (civilians out of the way first, then explosions), but I’m still thrilled to find a character who occupies the sort of gray area traditionally reserved for men and remains sympathetic.

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Haunting Emma trilogy by Lee Nichols

Deception (2010), Betrayal (2011), Surrender (2011)

Recommended by: bookshelves of doom

Review:

When 17-year-old Emma’s parents do not return from an international trip, a former friend of her brother’s arrives to act as her guardian. He takes Emma to his family’s home in Massachusetts and she begins to attend the private school nearby. Although Emma has never been there before, she can’t deny that the house and school seem strangely familiar. In addition, Emma learns that she can see ghosts, and has certain ghost-keeping abilities.

Lee Nichols’ Haunting Emma trilogy has a lot of the tropes of its genre: love triangle, mean girls, main character’s powers are the most special, etc. The outcome of the love triangle is a foregone conclusion – which suitor is the most forbidden and mysterious? Bingo. Cue much romantic angst in second and third books, that strangely glosses over a highly unethical action taken by the chosen love interest.

Despite the tropes, I did enjoy the first book. I generally like stories where people can interact with ghosts – there is a built-in poignancy about that scenario and it appeals to me. And Emma gets to do a lot of cool ghost-related things in the first book as she explores her newly-realized powers. There was one power in particular involving a ring that was my favorite. And I did like that in the second book, a character who dies in the first book comes back as a ghost and I appreciated the attention paid to the emotional fallout from that transition.

That said, the second and third books were overall disappointing. There was no satisfying build to the climactic confrontation with the main villain. It turns out that the villain’s motivations stem from past events involving Emma’s family but since we hardly get to know Emma’s family, this connection has no real heft to it. The story about Emma’s powerful ancestor and that ancestor’s lover had more sense of real peril than the trilogy’s various battles with the villain.

The storyline of the second and third books gets needlessly and repetitively mired in the friendship/romance entanglements of Emma and her friends. On the one hand, yay for Emma having female friends who are interesting in their own right. I know that’s not a given with YA fiction. But Emma’s constant wondering “is this guy interested in this girl or in this other girl” only seemed to distract from the real stakes of the story.

And though the trilogy was mostly free from making Emma an excepto-girl who is “not like all the other girls”, it still slipped in the third book: “he understood I just wanted to be alone. It was more of a guy reaction to a problem. I’d noticed girls often liked to cry and relive every moment of distress with a friend. I wasn’t that kind of girl.” I probably groaned aloud when I read that. Again, most of the trilogy was free of that kind of statement, but still that sentence represents how I felt like the trilogy became more generic as it went along.

I picked up these books for the R.I.P. Challenge because of the ghosts, and I did like the ghosts, but reading this trilogy also reminds me why I generally steer away from YA fantasy.

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Excerpts from others’ reviews:

bookshelves of doom – “In brief: YAY, FUN. Emma was likable and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny” (from review of the first book)

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf – “I’ve loved seeing her writing grow as the series progressed, and just like Surrender was the best of the series plot and character wise it was just the same with the writing.”

 

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Library Loot: when the holds come in!

Library Loot 2 It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in a Library Loot post. This weekly meme is hosted by Claire of The Captive Reader and Linda of Silly Little Mischief.

I placed a bunch of holds last week and they were all ready for me today. It is a great feeling to have an armful of books.

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Half of the books I checked out are because the authors are going to be at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival later this month. Although I looked at the schedule again recently, and I’m not sure I’ll be seeing all of them. The Festival always pulls in great authors but they may have outdone themselves this year. One day, one event and it includes: Stephen King, Shonda Rhimes, Salman Rushdie, Ken Burns, Shannon Hale, Edwidge Danticat, Patrick Ness, Marilynne Robinson, Yaa Gyasi, Colson Whitehead, Geraldine Brooks, Richard Russo, Justin Cronin, Jacqueline Woodson, Rep. John Lewis, Sarah Vowell, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Mary Roach and many others who are no less important, but you get the idea. I don’t know how I’m going to decide who to see! I guess by whichever room still has space when I get there.

Anyway, the three books I selected due to their authors’ presence at the Festival are:

Journey by Aaron Becker, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

The other three books:

Barbara Vine’s A Fatal Inversion is for the R.I.P. Challenge XI.

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Light Years is one of the books that stood out to me from the Kindle samples I read a couple of weeks ago.

And Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz is one of the books from my Classics Club Challenge list.

 

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The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding

1749. ebook. 642 pages.

Recommended by: Eva

It’s been a while since I’ve read an 18th century novel. Most of my experience with them dates back to high school – Voltaire’s Candide, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. So aside from a few truly old works like the 10th century The Pillow Book, my classics reading has mostly involved 19th century and 20th century books.

Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones seems decidedly different from the later 19th century English novels I have read. It’s a lot more earthy for one. There’s a notable scene where a young woman is jested by the village for wearing a fine dress to church, and her retaliation instigates an all-out brawl where bones from the graveyard are wielded as weapons.

The titular Tom Jones was left as an infant of mysterious origins on the estate of a kind country squire named Allworthy. Allworthy raises Tom almost as a son, and Tom grows into a good-looking rascal who means well most of the time. In particular, Tom is fond of the ladies and the ladies are fond of Tom.

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This lands Tom in trouble when he falls in love with the neighboring squire’s angelic daughter, Sophia. This along with other circumstances causes him to be banished from his home and wander the English countryside, staying in a succession of inns. Sophia herself runs away from home to escape a forced marriage to a man she hates. Along the way, Tom meets a variety of people and a variety of scrapes. In the background, the 1745 Jacobite rebellion is underway.

Tom Jones is definitely a comic novel and Fielding is a playful writer. The ridiculousness and self-centeredness of humanity is on display, though free of misanthropy. The following quote is from a debate among guests at an inn about how much they should fear the success of the Jacobite rebellion and its Catholic supporters:

[The landlady:] “I know a great many papishes that are very honest sort of people, and spend their money very freely; and it is always a maxim with me, that one man’s money is as good as another’s.”

“Very true, mistress,” said the puppet-show man, “I don’t care what religion comes; provided the Presbyterians are not uppermost; for they are enemies to puppet-shows.”

I also enjoyed when Fielding riffed on more formal styles of writing:

Twelve times did the iron register of time beat on the sonorous bell-metal, summoning the ghosts to rise and walk their nightly round. – In plainer language, it was twelve o’clock, and all the family, as we have said, lay buried in drink and sleep…

Not gonna lie, I did find reading Tom Jones to be hard work most of the time. I’m not used to the 18th century prose and it sometimes required an increased concentration to sort out the meaning. Also, each “book” in the novel (of which there are eighteen) starts with an introduction. The introductions are basically mini-essays on topics that may or may not relate to the plot. In one introduction, Fielding rails against his critics, calling them little reptiles. That was entertaining, but not all of the introductions were. Fortunately, we have Fielding’s own permission to skip the introductions if we choose, and I did sometimes skim them, especially toward the end.

So it’s more of an appreciation rather than love that I feel toward Tom Jones, and also I like the expansion it brings to my literary experience. It’s a clever novel, though I would say it went on too long for my tastes.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Eva (The Charm of It) – “The whole book is such a romp, but just when you think Fielding couldn’t be sillier, he busts out some classical allusions to remind you of his credentials.”

intense sensations – “If you’re not sure what a personality looks like when it’s poured into a novel, you could read Tom Jones.”

Teresa (reviewer on Goodreads) – “I’m not saying it’s not well written or interesting BUT there is a lot of useless prattle that kind of drags the thing out in a most annoying fashion.”

 

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