Barkskins by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Though I adore Annie Proulx’s work and count her among my favorite authors, Barkskins did not engage me as much as her previous books.

That’s not to say it’s not worthy of praise.  It’s magnificently written.  It’s also intricately detailed.  To declare it as epic may be an understatement considering it follows several generations of two men’s families from the 1700s to present day.  It pays an astounding amount of attention to historical fact, the trends and science of deforestation and reforestation, as well as various cultural customs spanning several centuries.

Honestly, I felt like I’d lived several lives by the end of this book, and it taught me much about how difficult surviving in this country proved to be for both Native Americans and the various early explorers, invaders, and settlers.  After all, nearly every character meets with a difficult end in this novel.  It also made me think about my own family history, as well as what the future may hold for my descendants.

So why didn’t I like it as much as Proulx’s other work?  I suppose I found it a little dense and slow.  Furthermore, part of what made it brilliant is part of why I didn’t find myself engaged – there are a lot of characters.  Too many characters, actually.  Six or seven of them I found captivating, but many of the rest were difficult to track and I lost interest in their particular stories.

Frankly, I may not have been in the right frame of mind for a book so demanding of my time and attention.  Perhaps I should revisit it in the summer when things are a little slower and I can give it more consideration (and possibly take notes).

As expected, Proulx has delivered a masterfully written book full of such passionate detail and historical authenticity that it’s hard not to appreciate its many positives.  In the end, though, I simply found it too long with too many characters that did not consistently hold my interest.

Image result for barkskins book cover

The Remains Of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – A Book Review

I shouldn’t have enjoyed this book, yet I couldn’t put it down.

The novel details a butler named Stevens nearing the end of his career.  Part of the book revolves around Stevens driving across the countryside in order to reunite with a former fellow servant, Miss Kenton.  He’d like to offer her a position … or is there something more he has in mind?  These are no mere servants, however.  Stevens was once the epitome of perfection as the highest ranking butler in Darlington Hall, a mammoth estate owned by an internationally renowned gentleman.  Though those days are past, Stevens reminisces about them as he travels.

I agree that the plot is not the most enticing, yet trust me when I tell you that as the story unfolds, Stevens becomes a fascinating character.  He is incredibly conscientious, yet emotionally impotent.  His loyalty is unfaltering, but he also lacks critical perspective.  His work ethic is nearly super human; however, he cannot prioritize between his work and his personal life.  And his morality?  Dubious, at best.

These contrasts create a deeply satisfying character study.  Make no mistake, though, it is Ishiguro’s pacing that makes it so captivating.  He knows exactly when to introduce revelations.  Just as things seem to be stagnating, the author embarks upon a relevant piece of information that calls everything prior into question.

Best of all?  The entire book is from Stevens’ perspective, so as these alarming details arise, we must doubt not only the guilty parties, but Stevens himself.  There are moments when the reader suspects Stevens may not be the most reliable narrator …

Because Stevens takes his role so seriously, he is an incredibly well studied, intelligent man.  His vocabulary is complex which results is very high diction throughout the novel.  Consequently, Ishiguro creates beautifully structured sentences that demand both concentration and consideration.  I’m ashamed to admit this is my first Ishiguro book, so I don’t know if this style is a reflection of Stevens’ personality or the author’s typical delivery.

Though I only read the book because a friend recommended it, I’m glad I did.  If you appreciate excellent pacing, engaging vocabulary, and a true character study, I believe you will enjoy The Remains Of the Day.

Aquaman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I happen to really dig Aquaman.  Peter David’s unprecedented run on the title in the early ’90s won me over due to the sheer originality and complexity of character, and I’ve followed the character ever since.  Of course, as he does with everything he touches, Geoff Johns returned Aquaman to his classic greatness while keeping him just as interesting over a decade later.

Since I found myself in the comic book shop anyway, I figured I’d pick up Aquaman: Rebirth #1 to see what new approach DC and Dan Abnett would take with our favorite Sea King.

Unfortunately, of all the Rebirth titles I’ve read so far, Aquaman struck me as the least innovative, revolutionary, or even interesting.  That’s not to say Abnett wrote poorly – he didn’t.  The dialogue flows well and is consistent with the characters.  The art is fine as well.  Both script and art progress the story resulting in a crisp, pleasurable read.

My issue with the, well, issue is that I didn’t notice anything new of consequence added to the character or mythology.  This installment seemed purely intended to catch up someone who has never read Aquaman before.  We’ve sailed these waters before.

So while the writing and art is well executed, the story itself offers nothing new and, consequently, makes this issue irrelevant.

 

Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

Wonder Woman is nothing if not a contradiction.  She is warrior of peace, after all.  She absolutely believes in truth and justice, yet she will fight to the death in pursuit of those things.  This complexity of character, an attribute that has always accompanied Wonder Woman, came especially to the forefront during Brian Azzarello’s masterful time on the title.  Within the last six years, it came to light that she was not only the child of the Amazon queen but also of Zeus himself!  To further add depth to the icon, she eventually became the God of War!

Greg Rucka embraces all of these contradictions and uses them to create a gripping first installment to what appears to be a captivating story line.  In Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, Wonder Woman remembers two distinct pasts, two separate lives, and she wants nothing more than the truth concerning these contradictory recollections.  She uses a unique approach to achieve this desired truth which sets her on a new path, and this new journey will seemingly put her in direct conflict with the entity Wally West is warning of in DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I love that already Batman, Flash, and Wonder Woman know something is amiss, that they are being manipulated and watched, and it’s only a matter of time before they do something about it …

Two artists are featured within this issue.  Matthew Clark handled the Wonder Woman for whom we are familiar, and then, half way through the book, Liam Sharp takes over when Wonder Woman ditches her New 52 costume and adopts more traditional armor befitting an Amazon warrior.  Consequently, this new armor is very similar to what she wore in her big screen debut last March.

Rucka, like Azzarello, delivers a complicated, multifaceted Wonder Woman with a clear mission in mind.  He is treating her with dignity, respect, and as the capable hero she is.  Like The Flash: Rebirth #1, this issue seems integral to the overall story unfolding within the DC Universe.

I left Wonder Woman after Azzarello’s departure because I didn’t care for the way the new creators handled her, but Rucka has definitely brought me back.  I can’t wait to join Wonder Woman as she discovers her truth.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flash: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

You may remember I went a little goo-goo for DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I’m very happy to say that The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a can’t-miss connection to that seminal issue.

The first several pages establish Barry Allen’s character and background in case anyone is new to the title.  But then Wally West appears exactly as it happened in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and it prolongs that moment, makes it even more emotionally resonant, and provides direction for both Wally and Barry.  Then, unbelievably, it goes even a step further and takes Flash into the Batcave to discuss that yellow pin Batman found.  I won’t spoiler any of the actual conversation, but this issue absolutely seems pivotal to the imminent conflict I personally cannot wait to witness.

So from a plot standpoint, this issue is extremely important to where Barry, Wally, and even the DC Universe is headed.  In that regard, I deem it required reading.

I also want to note, though, that The Flash is one of my all-time favorite heroes, and I have to say I much prefer Wally over Barry because I grew up alongside Wally West.  (Again, check out my ecstatic raving …)  However, this issue features the most likable and identifiable Barry Allen I’ve seen since the New 52’s inception.  Joshua Williamson seems to have a great handle on Barry’s persona and, let’s face it, Barry is so much better with Wally by his side.  Like Superman, Barry has always struck me as a father figure, a pure hero.  He is at his best when he is caring for those closest to him, and he needs those closest to him present in order to shine.  I absolutely believe Wally and Barry can share the Flash mantel.  They’ve done it before after Barry’s initial return … they can do it again.

I enjoyed Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art, but it definitely benefited from Ivan Plascencia’s colors.   This is a supreme case of the coloring making the art standout.  They both work together to denote forward movement, fluidity, and ultimately speed.  They are a good team for this character.

Quite honestly, I think this is my favorite Flash comic since the New 52.  It’s got heart, soul, and it seems to be filled with crucial plot points.

Bats Of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson – A Book Review

I should say from the outset that this book warrants a second read.  I’ll explain why in a bit.

If you’re a book lover like me, you need to own this work.  Not because it’s a terrific story, but rather because it is so original in format.  I often discuss with my friends the next steps that book publishing should take, and productions like this may be the answer.

Bats Of the Republic takes place both in the future and in the past.  It is comprised of old letters, field journal drawings, handwritten notes accompanied by sketches, chapters from a fictional book written to exist within this book, technical schematics, as well as electronic messages.  It boasts photographs, a fold-out map, beautiful illustrations, and a very (literally) long letter you can take out of an actual envelope.

Its overall design is exquisite and it is, undoubtedly, a multifaceted work of art.

So, even with all that being said, the story itself did not satisfy.  It’s an interesting read, of that there is no doubt.  But it is somewhat repetitive, the plot seems to serve the design, the characters struck me as inexplicably motivated at times, and, frankly, there were moments when I didn’t quite follow why anything happening proved important to the overall story.

However, because there is so much to digest, because it is so visually interesting and spans so many different eras and formats, it is entirely possible that I missed an important aspect of the plot.  I plan to reread the book this summer with fresh eyes and see if I pick up on things previously missed.

Even so, if the story proves to disappoint on a second reading, I will still unabashedly recommend this work to friends on the strength of its design alone.  This is a step forward in publishing, and it’s one that needs to be experienced.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – A Book Review

When I heard Steven Spielberg planned to direct a film adaptation of this novel, I knew I had to read it first.

The premise is fascinating.  The year is 2044, and America has gone completely down the tubes.  The recession is in its third decade, there isn’t enough food, there’s not enough housing, there aren’t enough jobs – it’s bleak.

Luckily, there exists an open source virtual reality called Oasis.  In it, you can be anyone, and it’s literally a universe of possibilities.  That is where the majority of people spend their time, spend their money, and spend their lives.  It’s an escape from the every day world, a world with which less and less people care to interact.

Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is a teenager who excels in this video game world.  In the real world, well, he doesn’t have much going for him.  But in the VR world of the Oasis, he’s got great skill, even if not great means.

That is, until the Oasis creator, James Halliday, died.  He had no wife, no family, and no heirs, yet he had more money than virtually anyone on the planet.  As a lover of pop culture from his own childhood, especially the ’80s video games, Halliday left a puzzle within the Oasis, and whomever solves this puzzle first wins his entire wealth.  All of it.

Wade Watts knows he can do it.  He knows he can solve this impossible game embedded within thousands of VR worlds.  He knows he can overcome the thousands of other competitors.  The only question is, can he survive when some of these enemies come after him in the real world?  What happens when he deals with real killers?

If you grew up in the ’80s, you will love all the references in this book.  If you grew up as a gamer in the ’80s, this is probably a dream come true for you.  This is one of those rare books where I think the movie will surpass the novel because of the very visual virtual world it’s based within.  In one scene, you may have an X-Wing Fighter flying alongside the Enterprise with Voltron in the background.  It’s that insane because in this VR world of Halliday’s, there is no limit.  (Although I do have to wonder if copyrights will impede the movie at all …)

That’s not to say the book is perfect.  Even though it develops the plot both entertainingly and intricately, it ultimately falls a little flat at the end.  I won’t spoil anything, but it ends on a rather predictable note – it’s an ending we’ve seen before.  It will be perfect for Hollywood, don’t get me wrong, but for such an imaginative work to end on a bit of a cliche, well, I personally felt disappointed.

That’s not to say I don’t recommend the book – I do!  It offers an interesting glimpse into our potential future and doesn’t shy away from how people would probably use such a thing, which, in turn, is offering commentary about our obsession with technology even in the here and now.  It is generally well written, very descriptive, humorous, exciting, and fast-paced.  However, I think those inclined to ’80s pop culture and those passionate about video games will love it most.