Friday, July 29, 2016

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Genre: YA horror
Pages: 267
Published: 2014


You may think me biased, being murdered myself. But my state of being has nothing to do with the curiosity toward my own species, if we can be called such. We do not go gentle, as your poet encourages, into that good night. 

A dead girl walks the streets.

She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out. 

Review (previously posted on Goodreads):

If you have ever thought to yourself while watching a slightly clichéd but entertaining horror movie, "Wow, I wish I could *read* this slightly clichéd horror movie," then this is surely the book for you. It has many of the qualities of your average horror flick: the dialogue is pretty wooden, the characterization mostly shallow and only what is necessary to tell the story, and the plot is intriguing enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen (er, page) for a few hours.

I liked the character and backstory of Okiku, the titular avenging ghost girl from the well who is determined to punish all those who kill innocent children. But unfortunately the book is actually less about her and more about a couple of American teenagers who I just couldn't bring myself to care about very much. I also was distracted by said teenagers' very unusual names. The guy's name is Tarquin (you know, like the Roman emperor, obviously, 'cause that was one of the top baby names in 2002) and the young woman's name is Calliope Starr. There is a serial killer whose name is Quintilian Saetern, but that turns out to just be an alias... his real name is Quintilian Densmore. Good job with that alias.

There are some interesting scenes with creepy, possessed dolls and again Okiku is OK. I think she had the potential to be more than OK and a downright fascinating character if The Girl from the Well was actually about Okiku, the girl from the well. I also enjoyed learning a little about Japanese folklore. But overall, I kind of wish I'd just rewatched The Ring or The Grudge instead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wytches by Scott Snyder

Genre: graphic novel, horror
Pages: 192
Published: 2015

Everything you thought you knew about witches is wrong. They are much darker, and they are much more horrifying. Wytches takes the mythology of witches to a far creepier, bone-chilling place than readers have dared venture before. When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they're hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient...and hungry.

I had my eye on this graphic novel for a while.  When I finally bought it, after flipping through the first few pages, I had high hopes.  Creepy witches who stalk a family from the shadowy cover of the woods and cover art that reminded me of the art from the 30 Days of Night graphic novels--count me in!

While the concept is indeed a different take on witches, I was disappointed to find that the story is more strange and gory than scary.  As a horror fan, I am always on the hunt for scary, which is quite a different thing from downright disturbing or gory.  On the other hand, I enjoyed the writing and the characters, and grew to care about them enough that I feel certain I will read the next volume when it is released.  Sailor, who has just moved to a new house and a new school after being involved in a mysterious death, immediately drew me in as a character.  Though outwardly cool and hipster-ish, she has anxiety and is struggling with her past along with her fears for the future.

Her father, a goofy and eccentric man who writes and illustrates children's books, is also a great character.  His paternal love for Sailor is the driving force behind all of his actions in the story, and in many ways he is the real hero of the graphic novel as he undergoes a number of trials and tribulations in an attempt to save Sailor from a terrible threat.

The art, on the other hand, turned out to be less than brilliant in my opinion.  Many panels look perfectly decent, especially when it is daytime.  But other parts of the story, particularly the creepier parts which take place at night, look oddly blurred or just weird.  Sometimes I found myself squinting just to try to figure out what I was looking at.  While the style is definitely unique and the colors are striking, I prefer reading graphic novels where I can actually tell what is going on.  Part of that may be purposeful, since for most of the story it is difficult to even guess what exactly is happening, but overall I think the art just wasn't for me.

Scott Snyder also wrote a short piece at the back of the graphic novel that gave me a good shudder.  It turns out that the backstory behind Wytches is just about as creepy as the story itself.  When Scott Snyder was a kid, he and his friend would wander around playing in the woods near their houses.  Snyder, apparently already a story-teller at a young age, would make up these outlandish stories about the horrid witches who roamed the forest.  Years and years later, Snyder returned home and walked through the woods alone, heading towards this old abandoned meat-packing truck where he and his friend used to hang out.  Suddenly, he thought he saw a vaguely human-shaped blur moving from tree to tree.  Though he never found out who (or what) this figure might have been, Snyder developed the concept for Wytches shortly after having this eerie experience.

While the story isn't perfect and the art is not a style that I found appealing, I did enjoy Wytches.  I grew to care a lot about the characters considering the length of the graphic novel, and will definitely be eagerly anticipating the release of the second volume of this horror comic.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Thirteen Books Set Outside the UK and the US

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  I am modifying the topic of "books set outside the US" to "books set outside the UK and the US," because a lot of what I read is set in the UK.  Anyhow, I love this theme because a strong sense of place in a book is something that really appeals to me and I have always enjoyed exploring other countries, cultures, and time periods through books!  I was not able to narrow my list down to ten books, so I have twelve this week.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

One of my absolute favorites!  It has some Gothic elements, along with mystery, romance, and even humor.  It is certainly a book lover's book, set in enchanting Barcelona.  

The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Another Spanish author whose work I really enjoy.  His books are mysteries, cerebral and exciting.  Like The Shadow of the Wind above, this is another book perfect for those who love books.  The Ninth Gate, an excellent movie which stars Johnny Depp as a cutthroat antiquarian bookseller who must acquire a book so rare that only three copies have ever been in existence, is based on this novel.  

Henrik Ibsen's plays

The Norwegian Ibsen is my favorite playwright after Shakespeare.  Some of his best plays are Hedda Gabler, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, and A Doll's House.

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous 

Not a difficult read, and fun and informative for those like me who are obsessed with Norse mythology.

The Iliad by Homer

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Some of the stories in this brilliant collection are set in India, others in the United States with Indian-American characters.

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (trans. by Anne Carson)

Beautiful translations of what remains of Sappho's poetry.  Called the tenth muse, she was highly praised by later Greek writers, but very few of her poems have survived intact.  Anne Carson's translations are haunting and eloquent.

The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

Parts of this memoir take place in New York and other parts in Abu-Jaber's family homeland of Jordan.  I'm not a foodie, but I enjoyed this book (which includes lots of recipes) anyway.  If you are a foodie, then you would probably really enjoy it.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Set in Australia.  This is an older YA novel that I absolutely adore.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

To my shame, this is the only Dumas book I have read!  I found it compulsively readable, funny, and completely deserving of its status as a classic.

A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori

A gorgeously illustrated manga series set in Central Asia, written by a highly accomplished Japanese manga-ka who excels in the genre of historical manga.  Twenty-year-old Amir marries a husband eight years her junior.  Can she learn to get along with her husband and her new family, and become accustomed to their unfamiliar traditions?

Candide by Voltaire

The ultimate world travel adventure story!  Candide would rank high on a list of my top ten favorite books.

Thanks for stopping by this Tuesday!  Leave a link to your top ten list in the comments, and I'll be sure to return the visit!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pride & Prejudice (Manga Classics)

Genre: manga
Pages: 377
Published: 2014

Pride and Prejudice, depicted in gorgeous shojo manga style?!  Being a confirmed Jane fanatic and, as a teenager, an avid admirer of melodramatic manga in which all the characters are mildly anorexic and have enormous eyes, I could hardly resist buying this hefty manga.  Nor was I disappointed.  I devoured this fun, exquisitely-drawn manga in a few hours and enjoyed revisiting the world of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in a new medium.

Devout Pride and Prejudice fans might be a little squeamish at seeing such a complex and verbose story as Austen's original novel simplified for the manga format.  And, yes, despite my enjoyment of it, I cannot deny that this is certainly "Austen-lite."  However, I began the book acknowledging that it would be nearly impossible to capture all of the social intrigue and slights and character complexities of the novel with dialogue bubbles and the occasional narration.  I think this would be an excellent introduction to Jane, or to classic literature in general, for a teenage reader or someone who usually avoids reading classics.  In any case, I was actually impressed with how much of the novel's plot the manga encompasses and how many classic P&P quotations it includes.

I loved the way the artist Po Tse depicted all of the characters!  Elizabeth and Jane were visually just gorgeous, and I think the writer Stacy King captured the strength of their friendship and their characters very well.
Elizabeth and Jane

 Also intact are most of the humorous moments from the original novel.  Mrs. Bennett's match-making antics made me smile!  I loved the scene in which she tries to make Mr. Bennett convince Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, swearing that she will never see Lizzie again if she doesn't marry Collins.  Mr. Bennett replies that Elizabeth is in the unfortunate position of losing one of her parents from this day forward, for he'll never see her again if she does marry Collins!  Speaking of the always-irritating Mr. Collins, I also enjoyed his character and the sort of abbreviated, almost chibi-like way he was drawn compared to the other, more elegant characters.

Mr. Collins' arrival frightens everyone

Most elegant of all was Mr. Darcy, and I think the artist did an excellent job showing his emotions through the lack of emotions visible on his angular, sardonic face... Does that make any sense??  Anyway, I was perfectly satisfied with the way Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship changed (and changed) over the course of the story.  All of the major plot points were covered, unless I'm forgetting something.  A few things seemed out of place or a little anachronistic in the manga, such as the way Kitty constantly flirted with the local soldiers much more openly than she did in the book.  In one scene she yelled, "Hey, boys!" or something like that, across a busy street and I was a little miffed, because that wasn't something any girl in an Austen novel would do.
Elizabeth and Darcy

Nitpicking aside, I would highly recommend this manga to an Austen fan who cannot get enough of Pride and Prejudice (meaning all of them, I guess!)  As a manga reader, I was incredibly pleased with the breathtakingly beautiful art.  There was also something very satisfying about reading a stand-alone story, because many of the manga series I have read consist of dozens of volumes.  I will definitely be checking out the other Manga Classics in this series, and I am particularly eager to get my hands on the manga adaptations of Emma and The Scarlet Letter.

This book is

gorgeously-drawn              faithful                 irresistible        

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ten Facts About Me

This week's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish) asks bloggers to list ten facts about themselves, so here are ten facts about me, my blog, and some of my eccentricities!

1. I started blogging here at A Myriad of Books when I was fifteen (that's six years ago including a long hiatus or two!)  When I reached high school, my fellow book geeks in "real life" seemed to become fewer and fewer.  (I think most of them transformed into band geeks.)  So, I started blogging so that I could share my opinions about books with other people who appreciate books.  

2. I am a first-year doctoral student in the field of women's and gender history.  Historical writing involves lots of agonizing and footnotes, but I love the historiography and research aspects of it. To me, reading through people's old diaries is extraordinarily cool.  When one writes about forgotten people in particular, it is as though one conjures them up from the dead and convince readers to pay attention to them, perhaps for the first time in centuries.  I think that is a kind of magic.   

3. I'm a very picky eater.  My absolute favorite food is peanut butter, and that is also my sister's favorite.  We have about ten jars of peanut butter in our pantry right now.

4. I loove watching "ghost hunter" television shows where paranormal investigators spend the night locked up in a spooky basement or wandering around dark rooms with flashlights, saying, "Ohmygod, did you hear that?"
I have never seen a ghost, and I don't particularly believe in ghosts.  I just like the idea of ghosts and the jump scares--especially the jump scares! My favorite show from this genre is called Paranormal Witness.  

5. I worked for three years as a grocery store cashier.  

6. I am fluent in French as well as English (obviously), so bilingual.  Supposedly Charlemagne said, "Avoir une autre langue, c'est posséder une deuxième âme."  Speaking another language is like possessing a second soul.  

7. I have lived my entire life in the southern United States.  I like fried chicken and sweet tea, and I do have an inescapably strong Southern accent.  I'm terrified of the very idea of driving in the snow and I wave at strangers.  It is pretty humid here in the South right now!    

8. I recently student-taught high school English.  The texts I taught were Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, Night, and All Quiet on the Western Front.  I probably would have chosen different books if the choices had been up to me, but I do like All Quiet on the Western Front.    

9. Bookish fact... So far this year, I have read 147 books and 42, 992 pages.  Last year I only read 164 books and 51,123 pages.  

10. Another bookish fact...I really like Penguin classics, the ones with the black spines.  I cannot resist buying a Penguin edition, even if I have already the book.  It's a problem... it's just that they look so darn nice on my bookshelf and I love the images that Penguin chooses for their covers.        

Thanks so much for stopping by my Top Ten Tuesday.  Please leave me a link to your post when you comment and I will return each and every visit!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

1984 by George Orwell

Genre: dystopia
Pages: 290
Published: 1949

"War is Peace"
"Freedom is Slavery" 
"Ignorance is Strength"

--the motto of the Party

1984 is a 1948 dystopian fiction written by George Orwell about a society ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship. The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. Oceania is ruled by a political party called simply The Party. The individual is always subordinated to the state, and it is in part this philosophy which allows the Party to manipulate and control humanity. In the Ministry of Truth, protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party's propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meager existence disillusions him to the point of seeking rebellion against Big Brother.

Like many readers, I became a fan of the dystopia genre and the recent dystopian trend in YA after reading The Hunger Games a few years ago.  1984 is something like the granddaddy of dystopian fiction and I had heard a lot about it.  Some phrases which Orwell coined in the book, like "Big Brother is watching'' is part of popular culture, and many people know that the society Orwell wrote about was inspired by Stalinism.  However, 1984 is more than the few things about it which have become part of popular culture; I now think that 1984 is an amazing book that everyone should read for themselves.

1984 is different from many YA dystopias I have read, in that while the teenage characters in books like The Giver and The Hunger Games do not usually get to see the inner workings of their dystopian societies, Winston is a part of the Party that seeks to control every aspect of citizens' lives.  Winston's job is basically to eradicate and "edit" information.  For example, if the mysterious Big Brother made a prediction in the newspaper that never came to pass, Winston would go back and change the prediction so that it matches what actually happened.  Though he comes to loathe this job, Winston literally rewrites history.  He reflects that in this society, "all history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary."  History is constantly altered to justify and vindicate the present--a historian's worst nightmare.  While the endless work hours, uniforms, telescreens that watch everyone's every move, and proscriptions against divergent thought were more standard dystopian fare, I was most intrigued by this more psychological aspect of Oceania's control over its citizens.

One of Winston's colleagues is hard at work on furthering the development of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania.  As he tells Winston, this is not so much a process of creating new words as destroying "unnecessary" words to par English down into its simplest form.  The concept is that nobody "needs" words like "exquisite," "extraordinary," "brilliant," "wonderful," "fantastic," when they can simply say "doubleplusgood."  And if there is no word for "liberty," then how can anyone yearn for liberty?  The limits of one's language prescribe the limits of one's mind, after all.  The people of Oceania are warned to never even let themselves think that the Party may be wrong-- doing so would constitute what in Newspeak is called "thoughtcrime."

While Orwell was doubtless inspired by Stalinism, it would be a mistake to write this book off as "political commentary on Stalinism" or other totalitarian governments.  Some of the phenomena which 1984 describes are very relevant to capitalist societies, such as the Lottery system which provides hope to the disadvantaged in the society that they may rise economically and the way governments wage war abroad "on behalf" of the folks at home.  The book also introduced to me the concept of doublethink, "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."  An example of doublethink that came to my mind immediately was, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."  The people who wrote that believed that "all men are created equal," yet they also consciously believed that people of non-European descent were inferior--classic doublethink!

While I was clearly fascinated by the philosophy and the world of 1984, characters aren't really the book's strong suit.  Winston is a rebel, but that doesn't mean he's a particularly exciting rebel.  His co-worker Julia, who also isn't buying what the Party are selling, seemed promising.  Julia initially freaks Winston out, because she seems to be stalking him outside of work and he fears she's an agent of the Thought Police who has discovered his "thoughtcrime" by watching his expressions.  (Even "facecrime," making incriminating expressions which suggest disapproval of the Party, is a no-no in Oceania.)  Instead, Julia abruptly declares her love for Winston and the two of them begin a passionate relationship which they must hide from the eyes of Big Brother and the Thought Police.  However, Julia also wasn't an extremely likable character; the book really isn't character-driven, but more a book about ideas.

I highly recommend 1984 to those who, like me, may have had it on their tbr lists for ages but have hesitated to read it because they think they know the story already.  1984 was actually the oldest book on my Goodreads to-read shelf.  I added it in 2010 and just now got around to reading it, but I'm so glad that I did.

Another favorite quote:

"Perhaps a lunatic is simply a minority of one."

This book is

riveting                                      thought-provoking                  unsettling

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Alcestis by Euripides (trans. by Ted Hughes)

Genre: play, tragedy
First performed: 438 BCE
This version published: 2000
Pages: 96

Alcestis's husband Admetos is the ruler of Pherae and is widely lauded as a great hero who has brought peace and prosperity to the Greek city-state, "a savior of his people, an inspired prince."  Unfortunately, he is also doomed to die young.  The sympathetic god Apollo intervenes and informs Admetos of his fate, which can be avoided only if Admetos finds someone who is willing to die in his place.  The king begs both of his parents to die for him, but only his young wife Alcestis volunteers to perish in her husband's place.  

The play begins on the eve of Alcestis's death, as Apollo provides this backstory.  He is joined in the prologue by none other than Death, who has come to claim Alcestis's life.  Death's words made me shiver and re-read them, then shiver and re-read again.  

"...I am not a god.
I am the magnet of the cosmos.
What you call death
Is simply my natural power,
The pull of my gravity.  And life
Is a brief weightlessness--an aberration
From the status quo--which is me...
[Human] lives are the briefest concession,
My concession, a nod of permission.
As if I dozed off and dreamed a little.
I take a dream--and Admetos calls it his life.   
When I awake in the body of Admetos,
He dies." 

However, Apollo refuses to be cowed (probably because he is immortal and, you know, cannot die).  He acknowledges Death's power, but vows, "Somebody in this universe can pull the darkness over your eyes too.  And today you are going to meet him." 

Following this eerie, fascinating prologue, the play moves on to the human characters.  The whole household is in premature mourning for Alcestis, who is lying on her deathbed.  Her husband Admetos grieves and moans that he would do anything to save her.  He promises her the one thing she requests, that he will not remarry, and also promises to mourn her for the rest of his life.  Alcestis herself is not particularly talkative (admittedly, this is her death scene), but Admetos laments that nothing will ever be able to fill the void made by her approaching death.  Just before Alcestis dies, he dares to think of how he might rescue her from the underworld as Orpheus tried to rescue his dead wife: 

"Thinking about Orpheus--in the thick of all this.
Thinking of the impossible.
How he went down there,
Into the underworld, into the dead land,
With his guitar and his voice--
He rode the dark road
On the thumping of a guitar,
A horse of music.  
He wrapped himself in his voice,
Death-proof, a voice of asbestos,
He went
Down and down and down." 

What with phrases like "a voice of asbestos" and Orpheus having a guitar instead of a lyre, I was reminded that this version of the play was actually "adapted" as well as translated by Ted Hughes.  However, I really have no complaints with that, since the essence of the story is left intact and the modern turns of phrase are striking and lyrical rather than overly intrusive.  While I have not read Euripides' original and cannot truly compare it, I think Ted Hughes' "adaptation" is pretty remarkable in any case.

Scarcely has Alcestis died and Admetos lamented that he is not like the demi-god Orpheus, when a demi-god shows up on Admetos' doorstep!  This is none other than Heracles, who is in the middle of completing his twelve labors.  High on his recent triumphs over a slew of human-devouring monsters, Heracles is ready to dine with his old friend Admetos and have a few drinks.  He does not know that the house is in mourning, and Admetos conceals it from him so as not to be a poor host.  So, Heracles proceeds to get extremely drunk.  He recounts the stories of his labors, forcing the servants to act the parts of the monsters he wrangles (ouch!), and this in a palace where the queen has just died.  However, Heracles finds out what has happened and apologizes to Admetos, who still seems stunned and absolutely defeated by Alcestis' death.

I cannot not comment on the irony of Admetos' reaction, because it annoyed me.  While I understand that his wife volunteered to die in his place, he might as well have just asked her the way he asked his parents, and for all his vocal lamenting he never tried to stop Alcestis from sacrificing herself.  But it gets worse.  When Pheres, Admetos' father (his father is still alive, a "retired" king), comes to mourn Alcestis at her funeral.  He offers funeral gifts and some kind words to Admetos, who in turn absolutely lambastes his father.  He vows that he will throw his father's corpse and that of his mother to the dogs after they die, since they would not give their lives for his instead of Alcestis though they are old.  Admetos' father replies, "My life might not be much in your eyes.  For me it is all I have."  He points out that Admetos is like a cannibal, living thanks to the death of another.  Admetos is hypocritical towards his father and annoying as hell, eaten up with guilt and grief.  

  However, Heracles also feels guilty for having made a drunken scene while Alcestis lies newly dead.  He approaches Admetos in the company of a veiled woman, who he says he won as a prize in an athletic competition(!), and begs Admetos to look after this woman for him.  Admetos refuses, saying he will not dishonor Alcestis by having this woman in his house.  Finally, Heracles tells Admetos to look at the woman's face behind her veil--and it is Alcestis!  It turns out that, to atone for his rudeness, Heracles surprised Death while he bent over Alcestis' body and so saved her from the underworld.  Alcestis must be silent for three days (no big loss, I guess, since Euripides didn't give her much interesting to say in her one scene earlier in the play!), but after that she is free to live out the rest of her natural life.  So Apollo's prophecy has come true!  Someone, Heracles, was able to pull the darkness over Death's eyes.  

I really enjoyed this play.  I began it thinking that it might extol the virtues of Alcestis in supposedly being a good wife and dying for her husband, but to the contrary we see the utter selfishness and cowardliness of Admetos far more than we actually see Alcestis herself.  While the subject matter of the play is dark and it is primarily a meditation on death, it is also a timeless meditation on life and what makes life worth living in spite of the presence of death.    

Although I never thought of Heracles as a characteristically wise figure, I loved the words he used to console Admetos: 

"But any one of us can be killed tomorrow.
We don't ruin today with worrying about it.
Death can come in a twinkling, any second.
Up to that second, every second is precious,
Precious, precious life.
Death has to be ignored.
Then when it comes--mourn.  Acknowledge it.
But not before it comes." 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Top Ten Books That Have Under 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Most of the fiction I read tends to have more than 2,000 ratings on Goodreads, so this list is a pretty eclectic one.  There is a little YA, a little popular culture, a few biographies, and a couple of history books (of the interesting variety!)

The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal (1,563 ratings)

A YA historical fantasy set in medieval Scandinavia (Denmark, I think?), about two young servant girls who unexpectedly become involved in a lot of royal intrigue and deadly political machinations.  I loved this book, and have never read anything quite like it before or since.  It has the feel of a twisted fairy tale, very rich in metaphor, with many shocking plot twists.  I can only compare it to Angela Carter, though that's not quite right...anyway, just read it!  

The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell (and Neil Gaiman) (496 ratings)

If you are, like me, a fan of Gaiman and want to read the story behind every single thing he has ever written from Doctor Who episodes to a very early biography of the band Duran Duran, then you are in luck.  This book is also just right for a coffee table book!

Daughter of Xanadu by Doris Jones Yang (515 ratings)

How does this book only have 515 ratings??  I read and reviewed it a few years ago, and even got to interview the amazing, adventurous author Dori Jones Yang.  It's the story of Emmajin, a talented granddaughter of Kublai Khan who longs to ride in his army as a soldier and also meets a young Marco Polo.

Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion (237 ratings)

I bought this for the section on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my all-time favorite TV series.  It also includes interviews, episode guides, and analytical essays for Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, The Avengers, etc.  The book turned out to be very useful for a class I took on Joss Whedon...I feel like I am always mentioning slightly strange-sounding classes I have taken, so one day soon I will have to post a top ten list of my most unusual university courses!

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish (585 ratings)

Margaret Cavendish wrote one of the earliest works of science-fiction in the year 1666.  I read The Blazing World for a class on British women writers and really enjoyed it.  Margaret was indefatigable in trying to get into the Royal Society (when women were strictly prohibited from joining this elite scientific boys' club) and her imagination was just striking.

The Match Girl and the Heiress by Seth Koven (24 ratings)

This recent double biography is highly readable and one of my favorite reads from last year.  Koven's research and his characteristically empathetic way of writing make the stories of his two philanthropic heroines really compelling.  

For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (1,648 ratings)

I just finished reading this, and found it enlightening as well as fascinating and a little disturbing!  It definitely deserves more ratings.

Cut These Words into My Stone: Ancient Greek Epitaphs (trans. by Michael Wolfe) (16 ratings)

I found this collection of epitaphs fascinating.  If you like Greek lyric poetry, epitaphs, or just want to read something really and truly different, then this is perfect.  It is also fairly short.

Edgar A. Poe: A Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance by Kenneth Silverman (257 ratings)

Do the last two books on this list make me look mildly morbid?  I think they might, but I do love practically everything ever written by Edgar Allan Poe.  There are many incorrect and damaging rumors and "myths" about Poe himself floating around in popular culture today, so it would seem that the directors of some recent films and TV series need to read this interesting biography!

The Irish Princess by Karen Harper (815 ratings)

A few years ago, I read a ridiculous amount of historical fiction and Alison Weir books about the Tudors.  This novel, told from the perspective of "Gera," one of the Irish Fitzgerald family who suffered a lot at the hands of Henry VIII and his crew, is refreshingly different and well-written.

Wow, those were ten very different books!  Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to leave a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post when you comment.

Claymore by Norihiro Yagi, Volumes 10-11

Genre: manga, fantasy

Claymore is the story of Clare, a half-human, half-monster warrior who is sworn along with her sister Claymores, "silver-eyed slayers," to protect humans from the flesh-eating Yoma who roam her world.

Though I have been reviewing this manga three volumes at a time, so much happened in these two volumes that I think reviewing volume twelve here as well would be absolute overkill.

So, volume ten!  First of all, I have to say that I love the cover for this volume even more than any of the previous gorgeous ones.  This volume continues where the ninth left off, with Clare and twenty-three of her fellow Claymores on a suicide mission to defend a northern village from what seems to be dozens of monstrous Awakened Ones (powerful former Claymores who have lost their human side and become Yoma, monsters).  The warriors are divided into teams and must immediately learn to adjust to each other's different fighting styles and techniques, as well as their various personalities.  As usual when Claymores meet, there are hostilities--even when they are fighting for their lives!

Many new Claymores are rapidly introduced, but despite the dominance of fight scenes in this volume, I felt that I was able to get to know and distinguish them very quickly.  We learn some of their traumatic backstories and, before very long, see some of them die fighting the Awakened Ones.  These death scenes are always gut-wrenching in Claymore, which says a lot considering that the series has tons of characters; the characters are such that one immediately becomes invested in their fates and usually strongly likes or despises them (for the latter category, that awful Ophelia comes to mind!)

On the other hand, there are many morally ambiguous characters.  Clare's former companion Raki (reportedly sold into slavery in the north in the last volume) has ended up traveling in the company of Clare's archenemy Priscilla and Isley, one of the most powerful Awakened Ones in this country. 

 Although we last saw Priscilla as a monster and know Isley to be trying to destroy the Claymore Organization, the two of them appear human in front of Raki and behave humanely towards him, taking care of him. Isley even begins teaching Raki to fight with a sword.  While I somehow did not gather from the first few volumes that featured Awakened Ones that they can retain a human appearance (even though Riful appears as a young girl in the last few volumes I reviewed), it seems that she is not the only one who can.  (On the other hand, some Awakened Ones never appear to be humanoid, which is a bit confusing!  Perhaps the mythology changed as the series progressed, or perhaps I just wasn't paying attention and missed something.)  Anyway, Raki is determined to grow stronger so that he help Clare fight and it is revealed that Isley is planning a major attack on the Organization while half of the Claymores are engaged fighting in the north.

The eleventh volume made me gasp and groan aloud more than a few times as I read it.  It is a brutal, brutal continuation of the Claymore epic which honestly I did not at all anticipate.  Here there be climactic last stands and character deaths, the deaths of likable and major characters.  The battle in the north between Claymores and an army of Awakened Ones continues in the village of Pieta, which fortunately has been evacuated.  Clare pushes herself to her absolute limits and alternates between despair and fierce anger as her comrades die in droves around her.

Meanwhile, the Organization have gathered their strongest warriors to defend their base in the south.  This includes Galatea, no. 3, who, despite her privileged position as a powerful fighter, has grown to resent the Organization's abuse of her fellow Claymores.  Galatea learns the extent of the Organization's callousness when one of their leaders explains that the Organization does not expect any of the weaker and "habitually disobedient" Claymores in the north to survive that battle.  She also meets warriors nos. 1 and 2, Alicia and Beth.  The two are actually twins, and are different from any of the other Claymores.  They have been brainwashed to be completely obedient to the Organization and are able to transform into Awakened forms (this generally means monstrous, with predatory animal features such as giant claws, tentacles, teeth, etc) without fully losing their humanity and becoming Yoma.

In yet another part of the country, Isley faces Luciela of the South, one of his rival Awakened Ones, in battle.  This is an awesome fight scene which promises to continue into the next volume.  Isley's Awakened form is extremely cool, and looks like a centaur.
Isley's awesome Awakened form

Once again, the eleventh volume in particular was a slightly soul-crushing read for me.  I didn't realize that I had become attached to so many of these characters until they died!  The fact that the Claymores die fighting because the Organization essentially decided to use them as disposable shock troops while they prepare their obedient, stronger warriors for battle makes their deaths particularly disturbing, and I begin to see certain themes of questioning and rebelling against corrupt power and institutions emerge more strongly and potently in these last two volumes.  This manga has really come a long way as far as complexity since the first volume!

Update for the 2016 Graphic Novel/Manga Challenge: I have now read 17 of 24 of the graphic novels/manga that I had hoped to read for this challenge.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

Genre: play, comedy
Published: 411 BCE
Translated by Douglass Parker

The Peloponnesian War has raged between Athens and Sparta for many years.  Lysistrata, an Athenian woman, becomes fed up with the devastating war and her husband's refusal to even speak with her about the possibility of peace:

Lysistrata: "...When the War began, like the prudent, dutiful wives that we are, we tolerated you men, and endured your actions in silence.  (Small wonder--you wouldn't even let us say boo.) 

Too many times, as we sat in the house, we'd hear that you'd done it again--manhandled another affair of state with your usual staggering incompetence.  Then, masking our worry with a nervous laugh, we'd ask you, brightly, "How was the Assembly today, dear?  Anything in the minutes about Peace?"  And my husband would give his stock reply. 
"What's that to you?  Shut up!"  And I did." 

So Lysistrata comes up with a simple yet ingenious plan.  She summons the war-weary women of Athens and some from Sparta as well and announces that they are going to force their husbands and lovers to end the war by refusing to have sex with them until they call an armistice.  In the meantime, they will dress and perfume themselves as seductively as possible, wearing thin gowns and such, and the older women of Athens will seize and occupy the Acropolis.

I had somewhat high expectations for this play, having known it by reputation for a long time.  When I was younger, I imagined it must be a sort of Grecian "battle between the sexes," which in a way, it kind of is.  As I grew older and became more self-consciously a feminist, I assumed Lysistrata must be a feminist play, since it features women mobilizing together and wielding what power they have over men in a patriarchal society to bring about peace. 

However, Lysistrata is first and foremost a comedy.  It is not at all a feminist (or more accurately, proto-feminist) work.  Although women are the agents of conflict and change in the play, none of Aristophanes' characters are what one might call proto-feminist.  In fact, even the women in the play decry their own gender at times; Lysistrata laments that her comrades in the strike are so weak and useless.  That said, she also does have a few stirring lines which assert her dignity and the dignity of her cause.  "What did you expect?" she asks an Athenian commissioner who comes to try to persuade her and the other women to leave the Acropolis,

"We're not slaves; we're freeborn Women, and when we're scorned, we're full of fury.  Never underestimate the Power of a Woman."

Other than this disappointment, which I perhaps should have been better prepared for (Ancient Greek playwrights are not known for having had a high regard for women), I did somewhat enjoy Lysistrata.  Some scenes were funny, as when Myrrhine teases her husband by pretending to get everything ready for them to sleep together (bed, pillows, blankets, perfume, a better perfume, etc) and then running away.  I also have to commend the translator (Douglass Parker, in the edition I read) for translating all of these sometimes obscure Greek sexual puns and double entendres into English, which cannot have been an easy task.  That said, I avoid sex comedy films like the plague and found some of the humor here to be crude.     

While the play is not itself feminist, I do think it is one that feminists and those who are interested in gender studies, gender and power, etc, should check out.  Lysistrata and the other women are adamant that war affects everyone, not just warriors and not just males but also women and children and communities.  While the story is a myth, the play demonstrates that anyone can change the course of history by promoting peace, even if one works to do so by means of apparently simple or, er, unorthodox methods.  Also, phallic jokes are apparently timeless.

I was excited to see that one of my favorite fin-de-siècle artists Aubrey Beardsley actually created some striking illustrations for this play, but decided not to include any of them in this review because most of them are bordering on pornographic.  I do not really know the age range of this blog's vast audience (haha), but back in the day I did have many younger readers.  Anyway, though, I digress...

I am going to try reading another Aristophanes comedy, possibly The Frogs, which I have heard good things about.

This play is

bawdy         raunchy (yes, I realize that is a synonym for "bawdy," but it bears repeating)    

This play was on my Classics Club list

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