Month: August 2014

Review: Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe

rat-queens-vol-01-releasesIn my last review, for Ron Wimberly’s Prince of Cats, I talked about a comic that mashed up Shakespeare, 1980s Brooklyn, Kung Fu, and hip-hop. The comic I want to talk about today is similar in some respects but mashes up hipster culture, magic, feminism, The Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, HP Lovecraft, 1950s gang movies, comedy, horror, sex and extreme violence.

Today I want to talk to you about Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe, or, as it will soon be known, your new favorite comic book.

Rat Queens is set in the fantasy town of Palisade and its surrounding woods. The Rat Queens are a gang of four rambunctious adventurers and hard-partying revelers. The gang is made up of Betty, a hippy Halfling who enjoys drugs and petty theft; Violet, a hipster dwarf trying to escape her bearded roots; Hannah, a foul-mouthed Rockabilly elf; and Dee, an atheist escapee of a Lovecraft-esque creature worshiping cult.

The first book of the series, Sass and Sorcery, tells the story of how the Rat Queens, along with three of the other Palisadian street gangs, are sent on a mission to redeem themselves after causing too much drunken destruction in the town. The gangs take on their quest and hilarity and violence ensues.

rat-queens-1Wiebe infuses his characters with witty, crude dialogue. Each character has a distinct personality that allows them to transcend the usual fantasy clichés of elves being cold, or dwarves being gruff, and lets them be actual people (even if they are people who regularly murder trolls and have sex with orcs).

The artist, Roc Upchurch, does great work giving each character a distinct look, with each of the Queens having different facial features and varied body types. This is especially refreshing considering that most comic book women are usually all tiny waists and big breasts. Upchurch has also done his research when it comes to fashion and modern trends so each character has a distinct style of dress, hair, etc.

Rat Queens is a great gateway comic for people who don’t want to just read about superheroes or zombies. It is also nice to read about female characters who are not put in peril just so a man can rescue them. These characters are a refreshing change from the usual femme fatales or damsels in distress found in comic books. They are loyal, brave, heroic, sexual on their own terms, sneaky, funny and also prone to quiet moments amidst the bloodshed and chaos (something that Wiebe does to great effect).

Not for young age readers but a definite for people looking for something a little new, a little different and a lot awesome.

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Sean Fallon once swallowed a penny for a bet and writes short stories, reviews, articles and advice at www.theequiaticbind.com. He can be tweeted at @Equiatic_Bind or followed on Tumblr here as well.

The Classics Club

[Editor’s Note: Did you see Gabriele’s post on how to read classic literature? Today, Jennifer is here to talk about The Classics Club! Thanks, Jennifer. Get reading, bookworms!]

I’d be willing to bet that when people think about classics, some of the first words that come to mind are “eventually” and “someday.”  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say that they want to read Anna Karenina or Bleak House or One Hundred Years of Solitude – at some point in the future when they have both the time and the inclination.  Which, if you’re like me, is scheduled for the Twelfth of Never.

Last year I found a way to get out of this mindset: joining The Classics Club, an online community of people who read and blog about classics.  Becoming an active member of the Club takes only four steps:

  • Come up with a list of a minimum of 50 classics (no maximum) that you will commit to reading within the next five years.
  • Go to The Classics Club and submit your blog information (see step #4) by clicking on “Join the Club/FAQs” (under “About the Club”).
  • Read the classics on your list in any order you choose.
  • Review each classic you read on your blog. If you don’t currently have a blog, you can create one just for this purpose (I didn’t have a blog before joining).  Your reviews don’t have to be extensive or professional – just post whatever thoughts you have about the books you read.

This whole process might just seem like a lot of extra work, but the key thing is that the CC community provides inspiration to actually wade through your list.  “Spins” are its primary method of support.  Every few months, the Club moderators publish a message to let readers know that a Spin is coming up, and those who feel like participating post a list of 20 classics from their complete list before the Spin Date.  The usual suggestion is to include five books that you’re dreading, five that you’re excited about, five that you’re neutral about, and five free choice.  Then, on the predetermined Spin Date, the moderators post a number between 1 and 20 (using a random number generator, I think), and you read whatever classic falls under that number on your list.

The Classics Spins are often the catalyst necessary to read Moby Dick, or Les Misérables, or anything else that seems too daunting to pick up for no specific reason.  By participating, you now have a specific end date to shoot for (normally several months away), and, when you’re finished reading and writing your review, you can submit your review to the massive Member Review List (side note: this list in itself is a great resource, whether or not you end up participating in the Club).  You can also reply to “Check-in” posts at any time, letting everyone know what you’re reading and how you’re enjoying (or not enjoying) the experience so far.

Basically, the site provides a community setting for an otherwise solitary activity.  It’s inspired me to start a literary blog, Insert Literary Pun Here, gotten me in contact with other passionate readers, and ensured that sometime in the next four and a half years I will have read War and Peace – not a bad deal for someone who lived on “eventually” before.

Jennifer H. is a Comparative Literature major who believes in the subjunctive mood and loves George Eliot in a way that’s probably unhealthy.  She recently lost her battle against mediocrity.  You can follow her book reviews at Insert Literary Pun Here.

Review: Gone by Michael Grant

gonemichaelgrantSam Temple was bored in class, when his history teacher poofed out of existence. Actually – everyone over the age of 15 in the town of Perdido Beach just vanished in an instant. As he and the other remaining kids run outside, they are met with an impenetrable energy barrier surrounding their town, cutting them off from the rest of the world. If the world is still out there.

So begins Gone, the first book in the series of the same name by Michael Grant. Gone is what Lord of the Flies could have been, if there had been girls on the island, and a foundation of modern civilization to wreak havoc in.

The novel was published in 2008, with five sequels in the series. Each deals with a different hurdle the survivors in the FAYZ have to battle. There’s Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear, and Light. The final book was published in 2013.

After the adults disappear, chaos takes over Perdido Beach, which of course, was built around a nuclear power plant. Animals begin mutating. Some of the kids develop supernatural abilities. Power struggles emerge as they ravage the town for resources, for survival. And lurking in the back of their minds, is a terrible darkness whispering to them.

Sam, a California kid who would much rather be surfing, is thrust in charge, along with his brainy crush, Astrid, and his best friend, Quinn. But then there’s arrival of kids from the juvenile delinquent facility, Coates Academy. And cunning Caine, cruel Drake, and femme fatale Diana, aren’t going to let anyone else run the show in Perdido Beach. Even if being divided means total destruction for everyone else.

Fast-paced and intense, the series was gorier than what I normally read. Then again, Michael Grant is one of the authors of the Animorphs series, which also fueled my nightmares as a child. Definitely not a book to read right before bedtime or eating.

The character development in this series is incredible. Everyone reacts completely differently to what the kids nickname the FAYZ. (‘It’s just a FAYZ’ becomes a catchphrase).

Some kids are emboldened by the superpowers they find within themselves. Bullies seize power with fervor. Others embrace the newfound freedom of having no adults around (Junk food for every meal! Video games, all day, everyday! No school!), until their minds inevitably crack. Toddlers wander sadly around, asking for their mommy.

Throughout the series, each major character changes. Some for the better, some for the worse. Some irrevocably and terribly. There is a death toll as unforgiving as George RR Martin. This series is really made by its characters, and they will stay with you long after you close the book.

There is a huge ensemble of characters, each memorable and well-rounded. Michael Grant doesn’t shy away from writing diverse characters – there are autistic characters, foreign ones, other ethnicities, and queer characters as well.

I tore through the series too fast. It will be worth a reread. A world without adults is not a new concept in fiction. There are plenty of books almost entirely devoid of adults. Peter Pan and Where the Wild Things Are come to mind. But the terrors and dangers Michael Grant thrusts his characters into, as well as their inner turmoil, carve a story that is highly memorable.

The Gone series has been picked up to be turned into a television show by Sony Pictures Television. And unless the budget is as big as Game of Thrones, I’m a bit worried if they can pull it off. I’m also hesitant that it might get Disney-fied, due to the characters being children, and there being violence and terrors that makes Lord of the Flies look like a jolly vacation to a tropical island. Fingers crossed.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Kids Rule: Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

I am very, very proud of the youth of today.

I may not like their fashion sense, their newfangled Urban Dictionary vocabulary (remember when all we had to deal with was “LOL?”), or the fact that they never had to suffer through the agony of dial-up internet, but there is one thing I like:

They’re reading. A lot.

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The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is a free, worldwide challenge for children and schools. Between May 5th and September 5th, children can sign up on the Scholastic website (younger children can get help from their parents!) and log the minutes they spend reading. They can also participate in weekly challenges, enter giveaways, and unlock special messages. There are also resources for teachers and parents, including helpful tips and book lists to keep kids motivated.

In the summer of 2013, kids read a total of 176,438,473 minutes. That’s a lot, right?

Top10InfographicWell, this summer, all those young bookworms broke that record by the end of July. On July 28th it was announced that Summer Reading Challenge participants had already logged 200 million minutes! And they’re still going!

This year, the theme of the challenge is “Reading Under the Stars.” When kids log their minutes on the website, they can unlock special constellations to find videos and other surprises. The theme also encourages kids to get out of the house and spend time outside. Between lots of reading and fresh air, who has time for television or the internet?

I remember when I was younger and I participated in my local library’s summer reading program. We would be given printed sheets that we would fill out with the titles of the books we read that summer. For every five or ten books, we’d get a small prize like a pencil or some stickers. These little incentives were a thrill, but what really made me excited was watching the title spaces fill up!

I think that technology and social media are a blessing in this case, because children are able to see how their minutes spent reading really add up. And to know that they’re contributing to a record-breaking statistic? It’s very, very cool.

The Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is in its eighth year. It was originally created to help prevent the effects of “summer slide,” the learning losses that can occur when kids are out of school for the summer months. Parents and teachers – don’t despair – I’d say the kids are doing alright. They’re record-breaking readers now, and the summer’s not even over yet!

Do you remember participating in summer reading programs? Do you have any children in your life who are participating in the Scholastic Summer Challenge or a similar program? I’d love to hear about different experiences.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

My Book Soul Mate: Unteachable

unteachableWhen I requested Leah Raeder’s Unteachable off of NetGalley, I had quite a few thoughts:

1) “Wow, this cover is really beautiful.”

2) “This will be a nice, quick read after slowly making my way through The Beautiful and the Damned.”

3) “I’m pretty sure I will download any book that features a relationship between a student and a teacher, and I totally do not want to analyze what that means right now.”

What didn’t I think? I didn’t think that I would find, what I am now terming, my book soul mate.

Soul mates are something I’ve often imagined as being purely romantic, until that famous quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love garnered a lot of attention and gave the idea a whole new kind of weight:

“A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”

So why do I see Unteachable as my book soul mate? Why has this New Adult title, published by Atria, resonated with me so much?

“You can call it love, or you can call it freefall. They’re pretty much the same thing.”

Maise O’Malley, the newly-eighteen-year-old protagonist of Unteachable, has lived a pretty difficult life. An absent father figure has made her crave male attention (the humor of this is not lost on Maise: “Thanks, Dad, for leaving a huge void in my life that Freud says has to be filled with d*ck.”). An addict mother who can barely take care of herself ensured Maise had to grow up, fast and on her own. Our protagonist is bitingly sarcastic and intelligent, full of sexy confidence and bravado… although as a reader I wanted to know how much of this was truth and how much was a coping mechanism.

When Maise meets and has (well-written, oh-so-steamy) sex with a handsome stranger at a carnival, she finds herself feeling something foreign: Attachment? Attraction? Her fear of these feelings prompts her to run away. She can’t run too far, however; that handsome older stranger, Evan Wilke, is her new high school film teacher.

The chapters that follow detail the undeniable, obsessive attraction between Maise and Evan. Can their relationship be wrong if it started before either one knew of the other’s position? Is love like this true, or is it all based on taboo circumstance? While the romantic relationship is certainly at the forefront of the novel, it’s also a story of personal development. Maise struggles with identity, responsibility, her dreams of being a filmmaker, and her relationships with friends and family.

The protagonist’s humor, her dedication to her art, and her vulnerability make her an incredibly likable character in my eyes. She also seemed familiar to me, and I wasn’t quite sure why. And then I realized.

When I read Maise’s voice, I hear the main character in my own novel-in-progress.

Now, don’t worry: this isn’t some post about stolen ideas or anything like that. Some of the similarities had my head spinning, though: sarcastic narrator, future USC film student, unreliable/absent parental figures….

I was hooked. Aside from being an enjoyable, thought-provoking read in its own right, reading Unteachable was exciting because I was seeing something I wanted to do, something I thought daily about doing, being done well. \

My own main character was poking me in the side as I read, saying, “Look! There are other sarcastic, intelligent girls getting their stories told. When is it my turn?”

I’ve been working on my own novel, which began as a short story for a writing class, about four years ago now. Circumstance and procrastination have kept me from pursuing this writing seriously. Recently I’ve returned to the idea of JUST SITTING DOWN AND WRITING, and it’s scary and exhilarating. Reading a novel like Unteachable, which uses first-person narration with great success, made me realize that the thoughts inside my own character’s head could be interesting and worth a read. Envisioning these supporting characters so fully helped me understand how the little details an author chooses to include can really make a story and its inhabitants come alive. Reading these passages made me appreciate the beauty that can be achieved when humor and poignancy are in perfect balance.

“There are moments, when you’re getting to know someone, when you realize something deep and buried in you is deep and buried in them, too. It feels like meeting a stranger you’ve known your whole life.”

To bring it back to the Gilbert quote about soul mates: I feel like reading Unteachable was the (confusingly pleasant) slap in the face I needed. A shouting “Look! There are books out there that can make you feel so many beautiful things! Now get out there and finish your own, lazybones!”

I read this book hungrily, whenever I found a spare moment. I read it on the subway commute to the office, shifting my eyes to see if anyone was reading over my shoulder when a particularly erotic scene unfolded. I read it on the elliptical at the gym, the prose making my 45-minute workout fly by in an instant. I read it while I was waiting for water to boil for pasta, and while waiting for water to boil for tea, and while waiting for a mud mask to harden on my face. My quick grins at Maise’s sarcastic lines or some devastatingly charming lines by Evan had the mask cracking at the corners like plaster, but I didn’t mind.

And so I will carry Unteachable with me (physically, on my Kindle; emotionally, in my heart) as a reminder that books can be wonderful and addictive and true. So I will sit down when I have spare moments, when I’m waiting for water to boil or when I am commuting on the subway, and I will finish writing my own. And maybe one day, in some fictional universe, my main character and Maise will see each other at a film awards ceremony, and they’ll give each other a little nod of recognition.

So thank you, Leah Raeder, for shaking things up. I’m off to write.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

Help! How to Read Classic Literature

So. Confession. I’m a little worried about hitting all of my summer reading challenge books. Mainly because of one long, arduous, Russian reason. The Brothers Karamazov. I know I told all of you to pick a classic to read too, and that could be anything; the term is subjective. But me picking Tolstoy’s thousand page tome? I might have been overreaching, just a tad.

Still. I am the lady who managed to read a 900 page biography of Henry VII while on my downtime as a camp counselor one summer. So anything is possible!

As the great Beatles sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” and struggling through a mountain of a book doesn’t have to be a solo task. Maybe you’re in the post-grad world and literature is not part of your job. Maybe you’re majoring in Accounting. Or maybe your high school won’t respect your immense need to read Gone With the Wind and get your Scarlett O’Hara on NOW.

It’s okay. We’re going to tackle this together.

Free Online Courses
Who said you had to be physically enrolled in a school to take a course? Online education is booming, and even better – free online education for those who want to dapple in everything from coding to art history to biology. (Disclaimer, please do not dapple in brain surgery after a free online course. That may end poorly). OpenCulture has aggregated a great list from universities like Yale, Berkeley, and Oxford.

Study Guides
Now that you’re not working on seven different classes mashed into one hectic school day, you can actually use cliff notes for more than passing your pop quizzes on Macbeth. SparkNotes especially, now has No Fear Shakespeare, which provides modern English translations side-by-side with the original prose.

Adaptations
Face it, sometimes you have to see it, to get it. I know that watching the BBC America miniseries of Pride and Prejudice greatly helped my understanding when I read it. And I enjoy Twelfth Night so much more when I imagine cross-dressing Amanda Bynes as Viola, like in the modern version, She’s the Man. And hey, there’s always Manga Shakespeare too!

Immerse Yourself
Grab your imaginary time machine and become a tourist in the time your classic was written. Go to Wikipedia. Watch a couple documentaries or videos about the setting or your author’s life. Even if it’s a classic written in your own language, it’s likely to be from a significantly different culture.

When I read the Canterbury Tales it made much more sense when I learned that going on pilgrimages to shrines for Mother Mary, was the English medieval equivalent of going road tripping to a Beatles concert in the 60s. Likewise, while The Hobbit is already an enjoyable story, it’s much more fun when you realize Tolkien wrote it to poke fun at heroic epics like Beowulf.

Book Club
Are you an extrovert? Is going it alone, just not going to work for you? Meetup.com has a good collection of local book clubs, and your library might have more too. If you can’t find one devoted to reading the classics, then maybe start your own. Plus, you’ll make more literary-inclined friends, which is never bad. One of us, one of us!

Or, if leaving your cave seems daunting, there’s the Classic Clubs community. You’ll join an incredible group of motivated readers who make it their mission to choose, read, and blog about 50+ classic works in under five years.

What classics are on your literary bucket list? I want to read EVERYTHING.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Drink Like a Writer: The Fitzgerald

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On Saturday, August 9th, BiblioSmiles celebrated its six month anniversary.

(It was also, coincidentally, National Book Lovers Day!)

Maybe you’ve seen my excited posts on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter; if not, I’ll say it again: I’m so thrilled! I can’t believe the blog I dreamed about six months ago now has over 100 posts and a contributors list of seventeen people!

Naturally, a celebration was in order. And any good celebration, in my opinion, will have some good drinks.

In keeping with the literary theme, I decided we needed to serve a gin drink (Fitzgerald’s favorite). A bit of internet searching unearthed a drink named after the author of The Great Gatsby himself: The Fitzgerald.

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Gunnar, the designer of our adorable logo, was happy to man the bar and make up batches of Fitzgeralds for thirsty bibliophiles. While it looks like I may have had a hand in helping, I mainly just held ice tongs and tried to look cute. Embodying my role as Daisy Buchanan, perhaps?

The Fitzgerald is essentially a sour – a base spirit, lemon juice, and a sweetener. Some sours predate prohibition! According to Cocktail Enthusiast, The Fitzgerald is the more modern creation by Dale Degroff, a man “instrumental in the revival of the American bar scene” in the 1990s. Now here’s how you can make your own. Note that the measurements listed below are good for one cocktail:

The Fitzgerald

1.5 oz. dry gin
0.75 oz. lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best!)
0.75 oz. simple syrup
2 dashes. Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain over new ice into a rocks glass (or a Solo cup, if you’re living classy like the BiblioSmiles crew). Enjoy. And we subscribe to the ideology of Hemingway’s that is so often quoted: “Write drunk; edit sober.”

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For those who wanted something a little darker, Kim whipped up some awesome Whiskey Sours. There was also lots of wine and some bubbly – because it was a celebration, after all!

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Pictured above: Gunnar, Alyson, Gabriele, Danielle (me!), Andrew, Ed, and Kim. Click the links to check out everyone’s posts from the last six months. Leave some feedback, or pressure them into submitting more! (Cough) Ed Collins (Cough)

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So whether you’re toasting with a Fitzgerald or a club soda: cheers! I’m feeling optimistic about the next six months of BiblioSmiles posts. Want to add your voice to the party? Head on over to our Submit page!

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.