An Announcement

I just wanted to let all my readers know how grateful I am that you’ve read and enjoyed my posts. This will, however, be my last entry on this blog.

As much as I still love books, reading, reviewing and writing about them, I no longer feel like this specific type of project is what I want to invest my limited time and creative energies in.

I’m not going away though. I’m merely taking on a new blog, a new project that will allow me to explore my own writing, and possibly post more often as well. You can check out my new blog at maddwierdpoetry.wordpress.com. I’ll be sharing my writing and poetry on this blog every Tuesday and Friday to start. That blog will have more information about my Instagram and social media I’ll be creating for this project as well.

Thank you so much for the interest in my work. If you decide to look at my new work, I hope you’ll enjoy that too. Either way, thanks for the support.

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The Screen Before the Page

Okay everyone, I must come before you to admit a grievous sin. I willfully and knowingly watched a screen adaptation of a famous book before reading the source material. May the Book Lord forgive me. In this case, I am talking about the Emmy-Winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi dystopian novel that, for some reason, really picked up in popularity in November of 2016, along with many other classic sci-fi dystopia books, like 1984, Brave New World and similar books. Huh, go figure.

I’ve actually read those other two books, and with the sudden uptake in interest in this particular genre, I decided I should eventually read The Handmaid’s Tale too. Then I saw the book would be adapted into a TV series and figured, oh better get a definite leap on that one then, so I can read it before I watch it. Of course, I probably have upwards of fifty books or so still on my to-read list that I “definitely have to read, asap” because of a film or TV adaptation. It’s really not fair at this point. I’d say Hollywood needs to find some original material, but I’ve seen what happens when they try to do that and I’ll just say no thank you.

Anyway, I figured I would just wait to pick up the book if I heard the series was any good. I had plenty of other books to get on reading, and decided not to make Tale my top priority. Then, it turns out the series was very good. Great, now I had the pressure of reading something before tackling a series I also have to watch because it’s turning into it’s own critically acclaimed, award-winning entity.

Then, one day, I got access to a Hulu account, and it was right there, looking at me, judging me from the “Top Shows” queue. Elisabeth Moss’s stupid talented face stared at me from underneath that big white bonnet. Before I knew it, someone had clicked on the show and I accidentally watched the first two episodes. I meant to just check out the first one, honestly.

Then I proved I was willfully sinning by watching as many episodes as I could cram into an evening until I finished the series. I really enjoyed it, and was glad I did watch it by the end, but still. Watching movie/series before I read the book, what was I thinking? You know what’s worse? I still haven’t read the book! Gaaaaah! What am I doing to my bookworm reputation?!

Now, observant readers might remenber that I also only read Game of Thrones after I watched the series, or the seasons that were out by then anyhow. That is true, but even the show and series’s staunchest fans will admit the books are so thick that they shouldn’t necessarily be required reading for any fan.The Handmaid’s Tale is, by contrast, a single and relatively slender book that is ridiculously easy to get your hands on, what with the rise of popularity in dystopian classics. I guess I just have to call it guys, right now. I’m… I’m a bad person, an irredeemable moral reprobate.

Except hold on, that’s exactly what those big bad patriarchal Gilead dudes in Tale would want me to do, blame myself, feel terrible and seek penance. Look guys, the truth is there’s just a whole lot of content; books, shows, movies, you name it, that everyone is made to feel like they have to read. That definitely puts a lot of pressure on anyone trying to remain “in the know.” I was partially motivated to read and/or watch Handmaid’s Tale because I love me some quality sci-fi, but even more so I was pushed by the book’s sudden resurgence in popularity.

So what, am I just blaming everyone else for my Cardinal Book Sin? Well, as much as that technique usually works for me, no I am not, not completely. I think I also put too much pressure on myself sometimes, that bookworms in general do when it comes to this subject. We can’t always read everything first. I mean, should we even want to. We talk about movies ruining the book a lot, but what about when you haven’t read the book, so the movie can’t ruin it for you? If you’re brave enough to pick up a book that a movie you didn’t like was based off of, isn’t it likely that whatever you find will be better than that trainwreck of a film you watched? From my own experience, I gotta say the statistics point to yes. What’s more, with high quality adaptations like The Handmaid’s Tale or Game of Thrones, you’ll often end up getting even more of a great thing.

So maybe watching the movie or show first like some filthy plebeian isn’t the worst thing I could do as a bookworm. Thinking about and flipping the situation around, it could really provide a nice change of perspective.

What Type of Bookstore are You?

I’ve recently gotten a job working downtown, and I got to say there are a lot of things I like about working downtown, things that almost make up for the ungodly traffic I face commuting to and from work. The most important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is how many bookstores are within walking distance of my workplace. I thought I was extremely lucky to have two bookstores in my college town (three including the college bookstores, but you shouldn’t because all they sell are overpriced college merch and text books that cost one human kidney a piece, which gets tricky by your junior year when you run out of kidneys,) but I’m surrounded by even more bookstores now.

I wanted to write a post about the different types of bookstores I’ve noticed downtown, but then I felt that I should do something more exciting. Why talk about what types of bookstores there are when we can figure out what kind of book store you are? I’m fiddling around with some fancy quiz creating engines to bring you one of my rare and special quiz posts!!!!!! Without further ado…

https://www.playbuzz.com/madelinew18/what-type-of-bookstore-are-you

 

Why All the YA Verse Novels?

When I was in high school, a specific set of books was very popular with a wide swath of students, not even students that were especially bookish. Some read nothing else, as far as I could tell, which surprised me. Specifically, Ellen Hopkins was fast turning into the belle of the ball at my school, with books like Crank, Burned and Glass, amongst others. First glance at each of these books will tell you one thing, besides how edgy the covers were trying to be for their teen audience; these books were crazy thick. I’ll admit, I wondered how I was supposed to defend my title as one of the schools biggest bookworms if everyone started reading books as thick as a small town’s phone book. I had to investigate these books, see what was up.

Well, when I got my hands on one of Hopkin’s books I opened it up and found the heft was real, but the pages were relatively bare. Sparse lines of poetry dotted each page. So they were verse novel (or novels in verse, as they are also called.) The extra thickness of each book was only accommodating how few words were on each page. These kids were maybe reading more pages than me, but I could hold my head high still, knowing that I was still bookworm champion of my school, that these books weren’t really as dense as what I was reading every day. I started to think of them as “cheating books,” books you read to seem cool, edgy, and well-read, when really you were ready a dozen or so words per page, tops.

So that was my first impression of YA and children verse novels, for the most part; cheating books built to make kids feel more well read than they are. I wasn’t a fan of the realistic “tough stuff” genre that Hopkins and her books represented, so I didn’t really feel compelled to go deeper than that. YA verse novels remained in my periphery for quite a while after that. Like so many sappy song lyrics might’ve warned me, I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone. Love That Dog, The Crossover, Inside Out and Back Again, I was aware these books existed, and were pretty popular at that, but I never let them enter my circle.

As I migrated out of the Young Adult section and into regular Adult reads (no, not those adult books you pervert,) in library and bookstores, I noticed one particular type of book was not following me. While I could find matured versions of many YA books I loved, from high fantasy to urban fantasy to some sci-fi. Look, I had specific tastes, okay? Novels in verse all but disappeared from the shelves. That’s when I first realized that the popular verse novel was, for the most part, a YA phenomenon, which struck me as odd. There was nothing inherently juvenile about those books. If you went by the content, it was usually quite the opposite, with the books typically aiming for a gritty and serious air.

Perhaps it was this mystery around why I couldn’t have these books, or perhaps it was my general increased interest in poetry as I discovered some poets I’d come to love, like Mary Oliver and Billy Collins (I wouldn’t learn much about the wave of Instagram poets until later.) Either way, I started to read a few more verse novels and try to piece together why they couldn’t break out of the YA genre with any widespread success.

Was my original instinct right? Were these books just trying to trick kids into reading books with more pages and no pictures? Were adults too smart to fall for this trick? Maybe grown ups didn’t need those books because they didn’t need to pick a book of so many pages for a book report. Well, that’s the cynical answer anyway, or the most cynical one I could come up with. Would that really make it the truth, though?

I started to build a kinder answer too, another side that thinks more of the teens that love reading these books, which maybe was not possible while I was actually stuck with them in high school. Are teens and kids the only ones adventurous enough to read these books? Novels in verse remain some sort of alternative, fringe phenomenon for adult readers, even as poetry gets more popular with the rise of Instagram poets getting on the bestseller lists. Adults will dip into poetry in the short little pieces typical of these  internet poets, but they won’t crack open a whole wacky novel in this style. Only teens are adventurous and experimental enough that they managed to turn the verse novel into a booming genre.

Those are the closest things I have to answers on the matter of YA verse novels. Pick from either side of the coin you feel like; the cynical or the hopeful, a trick of the YA publishing industry or a demonstration of literary curiosity and adventurousness. Depending on the day, I sometimes believe in one and sometimes the other.

How Many Books Could I Read in a Lifetime?

Like so many book lovers, I have a huge pile of books that I need to read, and in this digital age, I also have a long list of books I’d like to read listed online. Just looking at my Goodreads account the other day, I saw my “to read” list has a staggering 113 books. I thought the piles of books cluttering up my room were intimidating, until I saw that number. That list, though I update it when I can, is by no means complete. I’m sure I have books waiting to be read somewhere that I forgot about or just didn’t care to add to the list. How long would it take me to actually get through this TBR pile (that’s To Be Read for all you book noobs, try and keep up,) taking into account that I’m definitely going to be adding more books to it even as I diminish it? Would that even be physically possible?

With these questions spinning through my head, I decided to turn to a source English majors would normally never think of trying; math. That’s right, I wanted to calculate how many books I could possibly read in my life time, and compare that to how many I’ll want to read. Could I ever satiate my reading appetite? The cold eye of a calculator might give me the answer, if I could handle it.

First came the morbid part, estimating my remaining lifespan. Just how many years do I have left to cram full of books? Well, a quick internet search told me that women living in Illinois, my home state, have an average life expectancy of 81.57 years. I rounded that up to 82 for my calculations, because whole numbers are easier to handle and I’m much too terrified of my own finite mortality to round that number down or leave it as is.

Of those years, I’ve already lived 23 of them, meaning I can statistically expect another 59 years or so out of my life. At this point, I was trying hard to not get overwhelmed by existential gloom, so let’s talk about my reading rate. Please.

Generally, I’ve been able to read a book a week ever since I was old enough to read stuff denser than picture books. Sometimes that number is longer, and sometimes it’s shorter, given different book lengths and how interested I am in reading this or that book at any given time. I felt like a book per week was a decent average rate to use for this real-life word problem. Even if my eyesight or health starts to fail in my later years, audio books mean I could still keep up that rate, maybe even increase it with all the time I might spend being old and infirm. How many weeks, then, do I have to read? Okay, we’ll have to make one more brief stop in the whole “contemplating my fleeting life on this earth” realm, so let’s make this quick.

With 52 weeks in a year, 59 years translates to 3,068 weeks. That’s 3,068 more books I could probably fit in my lifespan. Well, that’s certainly more than the 113 books I have listed on my to-read page on Goodreads. That number seems puny now, an easy goal. I could technically finish those books in just over two years, if I had to. Here’s the tricky part though. I’m not just reading those books. I’m reading any and every new book that catches my fancy. The books that make up the bulk of my TBR list are books that fail to interest me as much as whatever new text I’m grabbing at. What I really need to figure out is the rate at which I discover new books I want to read.

The problem with this figure is how allusive, how fluid it is. How often I find new books to read depends largely on how often I can get to a bookstore, (which, sadly, is sometimes not very often,) or how often I bother to look at new books online. Not to mention, when does a book go from merely interesting to definitely on my TBR list? I can’t say for sure. While it’s probably not a perfect tool, I think Goodreads will have to come to my aid again. I don’t necessarily put a book on my Goodreads every time I feel like I want to read it, but I do update it regularly enough with books I want to read that I’ll accept it as an accurate enough measuring tool in absence of anything else. Any fans of precise data might want to turn away now, because I’m about to get extremely speculative and vague with your beloved numbers.

Goodreads does allow me to see when I add books I want to read to my list, and the number definitely varies. After the large chunk of books I added when I first joined, making up for lost time by finding and listing all the books I wanted to read, basically transposing my TBR pile online, things started to slow as I added new books as I discovered them. Sometimes I’d add only one book, and sometimes I’d add as over a dozen, usually after I lead a book blog or review that listed multiple books I should try. Averaging out the number of books I added over the months and years I’d been on Goodreads.

Oh boy this is where the math gets murky, because some of those books I added in 2017 I actually read in a previous year, not added them online until I saw them one day in 2017 and added them then. I tried to use my memory to count only books I was sure I’d added to my TBR pile in 2017 and finished in 2017, if at all. I’m sure my memory was far from perfect, but let’s assume I got it close to right for my sanity.

All total I added 63 books to my Goodreads book lists, read and unread alike, in 2017. The year isn’t even over yet, and that’s already more than I could hope to read in a year, given my average reading rate. Apparently I’ve read roughly twenty something books this year. Given how many weeks have passed, that’s below my own set average, but as I said, I sometimes forget to add new books right away, so I figure I’m closer to my average than Goodreads says. Either way, unless I can count on some day becoming a voracious reader while not increasing the number of books I add to my TBR pile, I’ll have an extra dozen or so books each year that I add to my list but will not be able to read in that same year, which will have a snowball effect I won’t be able to catch up to, no matter how big a number 3,068 is.

Really, I always figured that I’d never read all the books I ever wanted to before I died. Taking some statistics from my immediate reading habits and TBR pile made that even more obvious. While using Goodreads to check my reading statistics, I of course found more books I’d read in the past and books I wanted to read, so even now the already vague, nebulous stats I listed here are outdated. I guess I didn’t need math after all, not to learn how much my eyes are bigger than my book stomach, so to speak. I wanted to impress myself, and you fair readers I suppose, with an in depth and thoughtful analysis of my reading abilities, but in the end only added to my insanely big TBR pile and realized how futile trying to read that whole list would be. Thanks a lot, math! Well, time to get back to reading. I’ve got some serious progress to make.

Alice versus Dorothy: Fantasy Protaganist Throw-down!

We all have our own idea of fun summer projects. Me, I started reading some literary children’s classics that I’d never tried before. Just recently, I made what turned out to be the interesting choice of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and following that immediately with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. With Alice originally coming out in 1865 and Oz getting released in 1900, the two are relatively close together on the literary timeline, and make for an interesting comparison when read side by side.

Just to make sure I’m not misleading anyone with that title, which I admit comes close to clickbait territory, I’m not talking about who would win in a fight, Alice or Dorothy. That would be entirely to easy, and a very short entry. Dorothy, the farm girl from Kansas would easily beat Alice, a prim and proper, very likely upper class Victorian girl. Even if Dorothy didn’t have to help out on the farm too much, she’d easily still have more muscle mass than Alice. See? We’re done already. That’s no fun.

Rather, I want to look at their book and see what makes each one a classic, what gives it that unique, immortal flavor.

Alice came first, so we’ll start with her. As I knew beforehand, Non sequitur, dream logic nonsense was the book’s dominating flavor. I remember feeling like either I was on something when I first watched the Disney cartoon Alice, or else the animators had been. That cartoon wasn’t entirely faithful to the book. It mixed elements from the first and second books (Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, respectively,) but they definitely nailed the strange, fever dream atmosphere. If anything, the book came off as just a bit more British, meaning mostly polite and a bit more ponderous, instead of the overwhelming drug trip spectacle that Disney cartoon left in my brain.

That strange, surreal feel seems to be the whole point for Carroll, and it does work This might be one of the few stories that pulls off the whole “It was all just a dream!” ending because that very fact seemed likely, if not obvious, through most of the story, either that or Alice accidentally ate one of her older sister’s LSD doses, thinking it was candy, but LSD wouldn’t be invented for another century, so that seems unlikely. In the end, while I’d never read this book before, I still felt like I knew it because of how much Alice, the Red Queen, mad tea parties and all that have melted into our cultural lexicon.

Dorothy’s world comes off as much less nonsensical, or at least non sequitur, which I realize sounds like a strange thing to say about a book featuring plenty of talking animals, magic, and living scarecrows and robots, but it’s true. Baum wasn’t going for an “all a dream” feel, because in his book it wasn’t. That’s right, unlike in the famous movie, Dorothy’s adventure to Oz was totally real. I wasn’t totally sure why  the film changed this, although I did find a really interesting video discussing how it was a sort of message about how women should be happy to stay home and work once men got home from the war. I do love me some edgy internet theorizing, and it’s an intriguing, well put together argument if you want to take a look.

If you are familiar only with the wizard of Oz movie, the original is a bit stranger, and darker. You can definitely see how Hollywood tidied up the story.

First off, we never get the Tin Woodsman’s amazing origin story. No, he’s not some steampunk robot. He used to be human, but the Wicked Witch of the West cursed his ax, (got wicked reasons involving a girl a family didn’t want married to the non-tin woodsman.) First, his ax cut off his legs, which he replaced with some highly functional tin replicas. Then, his arms were cut off, and he kept up the tin theme there, and then, I kid you not, he got his head cut off but also somehow replaced with a perfect working replica. The story skips over questions of transferring consciousness to cyborg tin heads and ends with his chest getting cut in half and then his whole body finally consisting entirely of tin. Yup, this this some proto-Ghost in the Shell type craziness that I didn’t expect to come across in a century old kid’s book.

There are more bizarre differences between The Wizard of Oz book and film, but I won’t cover those here because I’m trying to keep the Alice/Dorothy coverage even. Maybe I’ll have to dedicate another post to a rant about Hollywood sanitizing a bizarre children’s story that turns to axe murder as a solution a lot more than the movie did. In the mean time, what does this mean for these two books together?

Well, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does blaze new trails in the children’s and fantasy genre, just like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, taking some bizarre turns not included in the movie that make the two books more similar in their love for the whimsical and strange. How the authors treat the strangeness each young girl finds on her adventure leads to two distinct and separate feelings.

While Carroll creates a world where the nonsense of everything is exactly the point, Baum creates something closer to a more modern fairy tale. There’s definitely plenty of fantastical elements, but they adhere to something like a coherent set of rules, aiding in creating a traditional adventure/quest plot, albeit with some twists and turns. Both defined children’s fantasy, and fantasy at large really, because of these bold steps they took to create stories that relied on entertaining whimsy.

Audio Books for Impromptu Road Trips

This weekend, events have conspired to send me off on an impromptu road trip. Sure, I had to figure out last minute concerns like my route, what to bring, where I’ll stay, and that’s all plenty difficult to figure out at the last minute, but that’s not what concerns me first. The question I focus on first and foremost is just what I’m bringing to read on this trip. Well, actually, for a road trip the question is more often just what book I’m bringing to listen to? Audio books are a must for long days when your eyes have to stay on the road. If you’re alone, the disembodied voice telling you a story might be the only thing keeping you company, maybe even the only thing keeping you awake if you need to do some good old late night driving.

Luckily for me, I already consider having a good audio book handy an essential part of driving around everyday. Sure, anyone can have a favorite book, but I’ve got favorite audio books.  Sometimes the narrator truly gives life to a story, sometimes the recordings are very well produced and/or composed in an intriguing way. I’m here to list some of my own favorite audio books as ideas for your next road trip. With these books keeping you company, you definitely won’t go mad with highyway hypnosis.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero

This is actually a pretty recent addition to my list of favorite audio books. It chronicles the making of The Room, perhaps the most famously bad movie of all time. I found out about the movie The Disaster Artist starring James Franco and his boys, (Seth Rogen, Dave Franco, etc.) after seeing the trailer online and I soon also discovered that, like all good movies, it was based off a book. I jumped to find it that book.

Turns out the book was written by Greg Sestero, the actor who played Mark in the Room, (Oh, hai Mark!) and had the closest relationship with Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic disaster artist himself. Sestero reads the story himself, showing off an amazing Tommy Wiseau impression that he probably had time to perfect after know the man for so many years. The story as a whole is so compelling, humorous and strange, and Sestero, contrary to what his performance in The Room might make you believe, is a talented enough actor to make the story come alive in his recording. Check out this audio book not just if you have a road trip coming up, but also if you’re interested in the movie inspired by it.

World War Z by Max Brooks

This audio book is probably one of the most impressive productions of all time. The book itself follows the stories of multiple people across the world as they describe how they survived the zombie apocalypse. Max Brooks has a certain level of access to Hollywood and show business that many other writers do not because his dad is in fact Mel Brooks, the actor.

Many audio books with multiple character POVs hire multiple voice actors to read different parts. No other audio books that I know of, though, got the likes of Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg, Mark Hamill, and even Martin Scorsese to record different character parts. While the terrible Brad Pitt movie almost put me off that story entirely, these names and more drew me towards the audio book. I gave it a try and did not come away disappointed. I actually couldn’t even tell for certain when actors I knew were on or not, because so many people used accents or created personas. This wasn’t some cheap, star-powered grab for attention. This recording showed lots of talented effort in bringing the zombie apocalypse to your ears. If sci-fi and horror are your thing, give this one a try, even if you thought the movie was terrible, especially if you thought the movie was terrible.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Okay, so I kind of want to recommend every single Gaiman audio book ever produced but, because that would take way to long, I’ll recommend one of his more recent ones that makes for a great audio book. Gaiman reads many of his books himself, and his voice alone could be the main selling point for any recording. Listening to him speak, you can tell he’s not merely a masterful writer, but a masterful storyteller as well.

Technically, Gaiman did not originally write any of the material for this book. These are his takes on classic myths from Norse mythology, with Thor, Loki, Odin and the like. Since each of these myths has been told and retold through the ages, Gaiman’s effort definitely doesn’t come off as an appropriation or retreading old ground. Gaiman’s clearly using his own voice to add his own twist to the stories and pass them down in his own special way, an effect that expands when you listen to Gaiman tell the story himself. You’ll feel like a viking reading for story time around the hearth, or whatever vikings had. Bonfires? Cooking pits? iPhones? Well, something warm and glowing anyway.

Well, those are three of my favorite audio books that can keep you company on your next road trip. If you’re looking for more great audio books, check out Audio Publisher’s Association’s Audie Rewards, which highlight some of the best audio books from year to year. You’ll definitely recognize some names from this entry if you look. There’s loads of brilliant listens out there, so don’t ever feel like you have to travel alone again.

Lying About Ruth Ware’s the Lying Game

Alright, so even though I’ve told just about everyone I know how much I love Ruth Ware, even though I’ve already blogged about how she’s one of the most amazing thriller/mystery writers I know, I did not find out that Ruth Ware had a new book coming out, The Lying Game, until I saw it on shelves in the bookstores.

As it stands, I’m scrambling to get a copy and am absolutely unprepared to review a new book by one of my favorite writers. Hold on though, I’m not gonna let that stop me! The very answer to my current dilemma is in the book’s title itself. I’ll have to play the so-called Lying Game.

The book is called the Lying game because, according to blurb on the jacket flap, the group of grown women featured in the story used to play this “Lying Game” when they were younger, specifically it seemed they all just tried to tell ridiculous lies and back each other up until someone’s about to call them on it, then they bail. Sounds like a silly, annoying children’s game that could perhaps echo the novel’s plot with perilous symbolic significance, something reminiscent both of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, the adults embroiled in dark, treacherous plots mirrored by the dangerous mischief young girls can get into. At least, that’s what it sounds like, from the summaries I’ve read. Sounded pretty good though, didn’t I? You thought I read the book for second even, maybe? That’s because I’m playing the Lying Game! Or am I?

Yup, I actually did the book, totally. Of course I knew it was coming out. Ware’s like, my favorite author. What kind of fan would I be, not knowing when her new book’s coming out? My favorite part? Well, not to give away any spoiler or anything, but I really admired the extended chase scene through the circus and carnival fairgrounds. I thought it might come off as too vaudevillian, but concluding it with the discovery of that triple suicide pact on top of that imposing cliff-side definitely saved it. Oh don’t worry, that’s barely a spoiler. This all happens in the first couple chapters or so. What a way to open the book!

The middle bit sagged. I think that  slack was due to all the extended conversations in Russian that the writer refused to translate in the text. Huge chunks of the plot were lost on me that way, because Google translate can only help so much. I suppose you have to admire her commitment to a creative choice, but I did feel the choice was just a bit too avant garde, dare I say even bizarre, compared to Ware’s other books, especially since all her characters were supposed  to be British, and it’s never even  mentioned where they picked up Russian in the first place, or maybe they did, in the Russian bits. Like I said. That part was lost me.

Yeah, I thought naming the main villain Angelina Jolie was a bit presumptuous. We get it, you already have the movie deal all planned out. No need to make it so obvious, Ruth! Still, though, the ending definitely redeemed that character in the most unusual way. Again, no spoilers, but I hope more thrillers incorporate baby pandas escaping perilous situations into their big finales. Such fluffiness!

Is any of what I just wrote true? Maybe… maybe not… I’ll never tell. Looks like you’ll have to read The Lying Game to find out. Then, and only then, will I be victorious because, you see, I was never playing to win the Lying Game at all. No sir, I was playing the Get As Many People as Possible to Read the Brilliant Ruth Ware’s New Book Game. Gotcha!

Or did I?

Heads Up! Turtles All the Way Down

John Green hasn’t published a book since his last bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars, which came out five years ago. Saying that actually makes me feel kind of old. I’m no long the hip, young, YA target audience his books are written for, only a decrepit twenty-something. Still, when I heard Green finally announce his new book, Turtles All the Way Down, would be released on October 10th, my ears perked up and I have to tell you, I have every intention of reading it, regardless of my age.

John Green’s also taking the interesting step, similar to what he’s done for past books, of signing hundreds of thousands of first edition copies before this new book’s release. I don’t know why the man is so determined to kill the market for his autograph, but he’s going at it with all his heart, which I suppose I admire. Signed and unsigned copies are both available for pre-order. Consider this a call to pre-order a signed copy if you like, or else just keep this book on your radar. It looks promising.

Of course, I’ve been a long time John Green fan, so my judgment is far from objective, but, at the same time, I know more of his story.  Whereas some people will see this as a writer coming out of seclusion after many years of inactivity, I don’t. I follow John’s vlogbrothers videos, his podcast, and other online shenanigans. I know full well that John Green was doing plenty during his five year absence from the writing game, including having another kid, starting a podcast, and overseeing the millions of other projects he does yearly. I haven’t strictly missed him, so to speak, but I have missed reading his work.

Green’s discussed the upcoming book in many of his recent vlogbrothers videos, promising a book that deals with mental illness and the strange, terrifying paradox of not being in charge of your own thoughts, something he’s admitted is extremely personal to him, as a sufferer of OCD. You can’t really writing about the big questions you have in your own life, I suppose. Many of John Green’s previous books were informed by his past. His first book, Looking for Alaska, was heavily biographical, and his time as a chaplain at a children’s hospital played a part in inspiring The Fault in Our Stars, in addition to his friendship with Esther Earl, a young girl who died of cancer by the time the book came out. These past influences lead to great books before, so why not this time around to?

If we’re going to talk about autobiographical aspects of stories, I will say myself that I’m interested in the themes and conflict Green features in his book, as I’ve had problems with anxiety disorders before, and been caught in the same, fear induced death spiral trying to figure out what’s taken over my brain, usually in the dead of night when I should’ve been sleeping. A well written story exploring that subject would be at the the top of my recommendation list for many other reasons besides how much I love the writer. I don’t know if I’ll be leaping after one of the thousands of signed copies, but I’m definitely excited to give everyone a heads about this upcoming new release.

Monstress Vol. 2, Not too Late to Start a Brilliant Series

I picked up the first volume of graphic novel series Monstress, written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, while ago and was definitely impressed with the beautiful art and fantastic fantasy world building. I had one of those happy, unexpected catches in my chest when I recently saw the second volume out, and immediately bought it. While I’d forgotten some of the more intricate parts of the storyline, as often happens when I read insanely detailed fantasy world-based series, I still got sucked back into the storyline immediately. Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood is a stellar expansion that left me even further addicted to a series that I already found intriguing.

The Monstress series takes place in a largely matriarchal, steampunk era Asia, with different magically charged societies vying for power. We have the Cumea, witches, human women with great magical prowess and skills leading a purely human society in trying to take over and subjugate Arcanics, human and magical ancient being cross breeds. Arcanics can range from full on animals in humanoid form to humans with, say fox ears and tails, or even no noticeable Arcanic identifiers at all. Protagonist Maika Halfwolf must navigate this richly developed world stuck in the throws of conflict as she tries to figure out what to do with an ancient power her late mother thrust upon her.

That ancient power is actually an ancient being, a strange-eyed tentacle monster that definitely echoes the Lovecraftian ancient ones as well as the Japanese influence informing much of the stories mythology and illustration. Yes, the art incorporates opulent Japanese elements on top of steampunk style and decadent, Lovecraftian horror. Does that sound like too much? Well, for me, it was an excess of all my favorite aesthetics, and reviewers definitely agree the effect is fantastic. Each panel feels rich with a magical, antiquated, and sometimes sinister level of detail. This is a series  you can enjoy by casually flipping through the pages, letting the strange and wonderful atmosphere conjured up by the story wash over you in passing.

Getting into the nitty gritty of the story too, though is just as rewarding as glancing at the amazing art, not something that can be said too often today, mostly thanks to Hollywood movies I suppose. Books lifting the heavy weight again, as per usual. Maika must try and resolve her relationship with an already deceased and far from perfect mother, while also grappling for control over the dark, blood thirsty entity that lives inside her. That intimately explored internal conflict set against the amazing back drop of such a fascinating world makes every part of Monstress feel absolutely full to the brim of something you’d be lucky to find even a sip of elsewhere.

There’s also the amazing diversity of the characters in the story, and I’m not just talking about the variety of furries walking around. Main character Maika Halfwolf has only one arm, (remember when I complained last week about how hard it is to find a story featuring a disabled person just last week?) Numerous people of different skin tones appear, fighting that fantasy trope of monogamous racial cultures, where magic and dragons can be real, but a brown hobbit cannot. Just reminding myself that the society is matriarchal is a sort of giddy feeling, every time I read it. I think in my head, “oh wow, this comic does a great job of including so many different women in positions of power,” then remember “oh, duh, because that’s how they designed the societal structure. It would be weird if they weren’t all female.” Is this what straight white men feel like all the time? Oh wow, it’s amazing, so roomy, liberating! The world is my oyster! I feel compelled to make some immaturely aggressive comments about a man’s place on twitter now!

So yes, I very much want to live in the world Liu and Takeda created for Monstress, even with the wars and ancient tentacle-god monsters. I cannot, unfortunately, so I’ll just wait for the next book to come out, and the next, cherishing every glimpse into this fantastical world and story. I recommend you do the same, my friend.