Reading – A Glimpse into My Past

Richard Sugden Library

I love to read. Growing up in a small town, much of my youth was spent in the library, devouring first the children and young adult sections. By the time I was 8 I was a veteran user of the card catalog, spending hours in the adult half of the building. The library was my baby sitter – I loved the solitude, the silence, and, most of all, the access to so much information. When I wasn’t in the library or at school, I was at home, either in front of a computer or buried nose-first in a book. This carried into High School, when I spent long hours in the library at Copley Square, one of the oldest public libraries in the country, while waiting for my train home. While in High School, where community service was promoted to such a degree that we spent every Friday for half our senior year volunteering, I worked at my city’s library. My love for books – particularly good fiction – was the reason I always romanticized being a writer.

The new home of the Worcester Public Library, finished only a few months before I began working there. I actually really liked the old factory that was it's temporary home during construction.

That was one of the reasons I started this blog – to push my reading into writing. It was 2008, and my efforts with creative writing had waned as I progressed through college. I still read quite voraciously, it just wasn’t triggering the urge to create like it had in my youth. So I challenged myself to read and review 100 books in a year. Unless you include graphic novels, which I didn’t, I didn’t even get close. I could make excuses –  I had started late in the year (Around April) and it was also the first time I attempted NaNoWriMo – but the truth was that it’s actually a pretty tough goal.

And there was one massive side effect – I burned out. I’m a bit ashamed of the fact that I didn’t really touch another book till mid-2010. Sure, I kept reading, but 2008-9 marked my return to comics and graphic novels, left untouched since I was a child. I read 3 books in 2010 – 2 of them in airports waiting for connecting flights. It wasn’t until recently, as my interest in graphic novels began to wane and I sought inspiration for the upcoming fustuarium that is NaNoWriMo, that I was really able to pick up a book and lose myself in the pages (in large part thanks to a book gifted by a friend).

BPL Central Branch, where I spent many evenings during High School

 

Honestly, it was a bit like coming home.

So even though NaNoWriMo starts next week, I hope to once again post reviews here. I’ve got A LOT of catching up to do, so there are going to be quite a  few titles you’ve already come across elsewhere. The first two will hopefully go up this weekend. And as NaNoWriMo progresses, in an effort to refrain from distractions like music and television, I’ll probably once again return to my old refuge and friend, the Library, hoping that the embrace of it’s musty scent and yellowed light catches a spark of creativity where only vexing emptiness sat before.

Advertisements

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

GN 29. Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way. Illustrated by Gabriel Ba and Dave Stewart. 192 p. Published July 2008.

12302008-umbrella-academy1 The introduction probably puts it best: “It begins, in the best way possible, with an atomic flying elbow…” In an unprecedented wrestling match, “Tuslin’ Tom” Gurney knocks out the space squid from Rigel x-9 and 43 children are simaltaneously born around the world. Reginald Hargreeves, an inventor and millioniare, does his best to collect these children, and adopts seven of them in order to save the world.

Raising them in the Umbrella Academy, these children grow to show extraordinary abilities, and work toward protecting the world from evil. Their first mission: stop the Eiffel Tower as it rampages across Paris.

Twenty years later, long after the Academy had disbanded due to the death of Number 6, these heroes return for the funeral of their adopted father. Spaceboy, formerly the leader of the children, exiled himself to the moon after a terrible accident left him with the body of a large monkey. Allison, known as The Rumor, is now a mother herself. The Kraken – Diego – works in espionage while Seance does little but pamper himself. Vanya, Number 7, known for her complete lack of a gift outside of the violin, finds she is still not welcome, while Number 5, recently returned after disappearing into the future, warns of a great disaster.

These siblings, despite their derision for one another, are drawn into battle when the funeral is confused for the reunion of The Umbrella Academy. Meanwhile, Vanya, upset at the lack of welcome, decides to join an orchestra composed of musicians bent on destroying the world. But this effort to find a purpose seals her fate, and possibly that of the world.

Written by Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, The Umbrella Academy was heralded as one of the premier series of 2008, even winning an Eisner. While the story begins in a rather strange manner, the characters soon begin to draw the reader in while the artwork offers a colorful backdrop. As such, this reads more like one of the old comics – where the reality of the story is so far from our own that it must begin with certain base assumptions and work from there to explain the rest. Despite this, Way pens a writhing monster of a story, capturing the reader in his vision.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Batman: The Long Halloween

GN 28. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb. Illustrated by Tim Sale and Gregory Wright. 368 p. Published November 1999.

12302008-batman-long-halloween The Long Halloween poses a fascinating question: what ever happened to all those gangsters from Batman: Year One (the origin tale by Frank Miller)? In a breathtaking noir fashion, Long Halloween sets about telling the story of Batman and the end of mobster-controlled Gotham.

Confronted by a rising mob problem, Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent bind together in a secret pact to rid Gotham of its Dons – Roman Falcone and Salvatore Maroni. But it appears someone else has the same idea, as a new serial killer begins to strike against mobsters, marking his crime by striking only on Holidays.

Faced with deciphering who Holiday is, Batman must investigate while dealing with the repercussions of Holiday’s attacks. Cofnronted by gangsters with grudges, freaks jealous of Holiday’s popularity, and even the loss of one of Gotham’s finest, Batman is soon overwhelmed. Will he be able to contain the theat and stop Holiday in time to save what is most precious or will Gotham be lost in the growing violence.

In true noir style, appearances by some of the more famous characters and villians tie Long Halloween together in an intriguing glimpse of Batman’s humanity. This was a truly inspired project, originally published in 13 issues, this tale began on Halloween and commemorates each subsequent holiday’s theme until the following October – a truly long Halloween. With a driving story and fantastically vivid illustrations, this version of Batman is one of the greatest – glimpsing a world of moral ambiguity, where there is no right decision – not even for the hero.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Preacher: Until the End of the World

GN 27. Preacher vol. 2: Until the End of  the World by Garth Ennis. Illustrated by Steve Dillon. 264 p. Published January 1997.

12302008-preacher2 In this second volume of Preacher, we come to uncover the backstories for both Custer and Tulip. The two are caught by a pair of men from Custer’s past and the Preacher is shocked to find that his powers don’t work on them. Forced to return to where he was raised, Custer must confront his gandmother, the evil head of his family, or else end up like his parents.

Yet even when Custer and Tulip manage to escape, they find bigger enemies to worry about. Hunted by an ancient orginization bent on controlling the world through Custer, the pair meet up with Cassidy and together try finding a way out of trouble. But they won’t escape unscathed.

I found the most interesting partsof Until the End of the World to be the ones without any of the main characters. The story of Custer’s parents and the motivations of the secret organization serve as the real meat of this volume, providing a captivating image of how dark yet human this world can be. With subject matter not for the faint of heart, Until the End of the World succinctly ties up the past while propelling the series toward a greater plot.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Sky Doll

GN 26. Sky Doll by Barbera Canepa and Alessandro Barbucci. 144 p. Published November 2008.

12012008-skydoll Sky Doll is the flagship in Marvel’s new line of comics imported from Soliel, a premier European publisher.

Noa is a life-like android, known casually as a “Sky Doll.” With no rights or freedom, Sky Dolls serve the needs of the state – no matter how lascivious or depraved. Knowing nothing but a life of such service, most dolls comply. But not Noa; she dreams of more. And the arrival of two missionaries, Roy and Jahu, proves to be her ticket out.

Hoping to escape her slavery, Noa stows away on their ship. But these agents of Lodovica, the Holy Mother, are not all they appear to be, and Noa is taken across the stars, an unwitting participant in a war between religions.

Sky Doll is a masterpiece. Beautifully detailed artwork and fantastic coloring are perfectly partnered with a thrilling plot line and a truly immersive world. Each chapter reveals something new about the characters and how their hidden pasts all weave together. Ending with a real promising hook (and stunning state-side sales), Sky Doll promises that its eventual continuation is well worth the wait.

Please note that both the artwork and material of Sky Doll is for mature readers only.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Seeing Redd

57. Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars) by Frank Beddor. 371 p. Published August 2007.

11302008-seeing-redd1

This second novel follows immediately after The Looking Glass Wars. Alyss has taken her place as Queen of Wonderland but still worries after her aunt Redd, whose daring dive into the Heart Crystal – the source of all imaginative power – provided a last minute escape. Doing what they can to piece the queendom back together after Redd’s disastrous rule, Alyss and her advisers often end the day in exhaustion, a fact that King Arch of the neighboring Borderlands is willing to exploit. Sending an attack of Glass Eyes, a weapon salvaged from Redd’s army, Arch inflames fears of Redd’s return and uses the Diamond family to get Molly, Alyss’ bodyguard, to unwittingly trigger a devastating explosion in Wonderland’s primary transportation system, the Looking Glass.

Meanwhile, Hatter Maddigan, who has taken a short vacation to mourn the passing of his beloved, stumbles upon proof that Molly is, in fact, his own daughter. He rushes back to Wonderland in hopes of finding her, but is too late, the young girl taken back to King Arch under the guise of a third party’s kidnapping. Hatter follows her into the Borderlands, neglecting a direct order from Alyss.

Redd, who had spent the intervening months on earth to gather an army, finally returns to Wonderland in hopes of navigating her long-neglected Maze and gain full control over her own powers of Dark Imagination. Alyss is hard pressed on all sides, knowing that her country cannot survive a fight on two fronts, and is forced to make a decision that will change the face of Wonderland forever.

From the start it was obvious that, unlike the first book, Seeing Redd couldn’t rely on the novelty of retelling Alice in Wonderland. Instead, Beddor begins to build upon the story, making it his own. On the one hand, he does a marvelous job, developing a sense of realism in the characters. At the same time, much of Seeing Redd came across as monotonous, spending too much time delving into motivations and machination and the story only begins to pick up towards the rear of the book. Ending with a cliffhanger, Seeing Redd leaves a lot for the third and final novel.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Foundation

56. Foundation (Valdemar: The Collegium Chronicles) by Mercedes Lackey. 340 p. Published October 2008.

11302008-foundation

This is the latest book in Lackey’s Valdemar Series and starts to catalogue how the Collegium is founded (hence the title) through one of its earliest pupils, Mags. An orphan, Mags is raised to work in a mine, digging jewels out of the rock from dawn till dusk and fed the meagerest of meals. He and the other orphans do their best to keep their heads down and out of trouble, knowing that there is little hope outside of simple survival. But when a Companion appears, accompanied by a Herald, things change in ways Mags never imagined.

Taken to Haven, Valdemar’s capital, astride his very own Companion, Mags is enrolled in the newly founded Collegium to train his gift of Mindspeech. But the college is so new that all of its buildings are still in construction and the housing shortage places Mags in the stables. As he adjusts to life as a Herald-trainee, Mags makes friends among the trainees from the other colleges (Healers and Bards) and in the city. Soon enough, thanks to his particulawr gift, Mags is buried in intrigue and political subterfuge. But when a overwhelming blizzard burries the campus, one of his friends goes missing, and Mags must do all he can to save the life he’s grown to love.

Lackey is an amazing wordsmith, her descriptions of the world as vivid as the characters she populates it with. But Foundation, while starting a new chapter in the Valdemar universe, fails to provide anything of real substance. This growing-up-with-magic tale, while engrossing, just doesn’t compare to the vivid and inspiring books that compose the rest of the world. Frankly, it comes off as an attempt at hooking some of the growing young adult audience.

The books of Valdemar are some of my favorite from High School, and while Foundation doesn’t do them justice, hopefully the following novels in the Collegium Chronicles will rise to the challenge.

Rating: 3 out of 5