Sunday, February 21, 2010

RAview: Blankets

Craig Thompson's Blankets is a graphic novel that follows Craig from boyhood to adulthood, and focuses on his first love.

I don't know how applicable pacing is to graphic novels, but despite being a shockingly fat book, this was a quick read. It has a higher proportion of images to words, which I prefer in GN. It's a character-driven story; the protagonist is sympathetic and likable. The girlfriend is complex but appealing, and the secondary characters are understandable tropes.

Story line themes include religion, faith, the pain of childhood, bullies, teenage sexual frustration, love, desire, abuse, teens shouldering excess responsibility, divorce, family, changing perspectives, drawing.

The wintry setting is meaningful as a symbol of change and innocence. Details illustrate Craig's love for Raina and his self-doubt/inner struggles with his faith. The tone, to me, was quite sad, but that could be unique to me as a reader. Other more common feelings are probably awe, wonder, longing, frustration, warmth, nostalgia.

The only book I've read that comes close to a readalike is Skim, which is a similarly quiet GN story of coming of age, contemplation of love, youthful angst. But it is slight compared to this book, and more visual and impressionistic. Weather and seasons also play a role. Blankets is more directly about a love relationship.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

RAview: Last Journey: A Father & Son in Wartime

Last Journey by Darrell Griffin Sr. and Darrell "Skip" Griffin Jr. is a nonfiction book about Skip's two tours in Iraq before he was killed in action in 2007. He had planned to write a book about his experiences, his take on war, and how to resolve the conflict, but his father finished the book by compiling his emails, journal entries, photos, and a blog post.

The pacing is fast, because of the organization of emails set amongst the father's narrative about Skip's tour and because battle scenes make readers anxious to find out what will happen and if Skip's men will survive. Skip is a philosopher, and he often discusses philosophies, although they aren't explained in detail in the book, so readers seeking a leg up learning philosophy should look elsewhere. Rather, these details help us get to know Skip and understand his beliefs and feelings.

Anyone who has thought about our troops, has conflicting feelings about the war, or wondered what it was like to be there will appreciate this honest, ungarnished firsthand account. Specific U.S. political views are nearly absent even though Skip does discuss reasons for going to war, the absence of WMDs, the opposing Iraqi factions and the corruption of their police and military, and what could or should have been done instead.

There is violence and gore, but it is described as Skip experienced--a horrifying fact of his life that caused him to question his faith and made him nearly unable to come back to the U.S. and live within our sheltered world for his time off. The tone is searching, fearful, proud, deep, sad, and honorable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rose of No Man's Land

I just went on a one-hour, seemingly hopeless online search for a coming-of-age novel I read a couple of years ago. When I was reading Every Secret Thing, I made a note in the margin: "look up novel. teenage girls. friendship. drugs. putt putt. neon. elephant." That's all I remembered about it, but the girl friendship psychological stuff in Lippman's book and how it's so easy to tip into very bad territory reminded me of this primarily forgotten book that somehow stuck with me.

LibraryThing saved the day! Michelle Tea's Rose of No Man's Land came up when I searched a tag mashup of coming of age, drugs, fiction. Prior to that, I had spent a long time trying to find a site on which I could search plot synopses or browse by BISAC codes. I also came across Whichbook, which was fun, but not fruitful. I read on the fiction_l listserv that FictionDB is good for finding books that are escaping you, but I couldn't access a lot of the site since I don't subscribe.

I was on the edge of giving up, but I'm glad I didn't. Now I want to find more books like it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

RAview: Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing

Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing is psychological suspense--I think it would qualify as my first thriller! I was anticipating something a bit more suspenseful, but I was intrigued by questionable characters and slowly revealed details from multiple perspectives.

I feel like I'm looking at this book as representative of all thrillers and I was looking for differences in this book and the mysteries I read. I think that's a flawed approach, though, so I'll try here to consider strictly the appeal of this book alone, not as a genre.

The pacing feels moderately fast, especially as vignettes of crimes (kidnappings) are occasionally rattled off. The characters were either not too complex or very mysterious--those working the case and the victims were fairly straightforward, and the suspects were obviously very confusing. I think I would call this a character-centered novel, though I did find myself eager to find out what would happen next.

Story line themes include child criminals, kidnapping, parental guilt, paranoia, one's story and perspective versus another's, preteen girl friendship, race. The narrative is told chronologically but from various characters' perspectives. However, we don't get everything from everyone--and the suspects' sections are short and their perspectives seemingly unremarkable.

Details help characterize the mother of one of the suspects as well as the psyches of the police detective and the suspect's lawyer. There are also details of working as a journalist and police as well as of what it's like to be poor or black in Baltimore and a young girl with a past that won't go away. The tone is eery, sad, absorbing, fearful, speculative.

At the end of the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, I hope to have a better understanding of characteristics of the genre as well as an ability to do readalikes. For now, I'm glad I'm not too scared of thrillers so far, and what interests me about Law & Order was definitely satisfied with this book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Knitted aubergine

The first of three veggies I'm knitting for a foodie friend. Wish I could get them done in time for Valentine's Day, but, although small, they require a lot of attention to make and are harder to do while doing other things.

When I started knitting the purple body onto the leaves and stem, my outside was in and my inside was out. However, I just started purling in the round, instead of knitting as the instructions advised. I was worried the make-one increases would look weird but I followed directions for those exactly, and I guess the wrong side looks nearly as good as the right side! This was also my first experience with picking up stitches, but it wasn't too bad at all. Pattern is from Amigurami Knits, a fun book!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RAview: This Is Where I Leave You

Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You is a character-centered novel that packs an emotional punch. The tone is humorous and profoundly sad at the same time. The narrator's voice (a thirtysomething man who recently caught his wife cheating on him and is back at his parents' old home to sit shiva for his recently deceased father) is so authentic, this reads almost like a memoir, save the occasional too-well-timed-to-be-real irony.

Story line: I would classify this as the male equivalent of chick lit, if such a pigeonholed classification existed. Themes include family, sex, loss, nostalgia, becoming an adult, parenthood, adultery, love. The book is organized chronologically, following the seven days the four adult siblings and mother are sitting shiva. In addition to the present storyline, Judd, the narrator, has dreams and recalls childhood events and times before his marriage fell apart. The pacing is leisurely, mirroring the time the family is meant to be reflecting on the dead but sometimes feel trapped together and forced to face serious drama.

Details primarily help promote characterization--from Judd's mother's too-short skirts to his younger brother's somewhat pathetic habit of quoting pop cultural references at inappropriate times. Language isn't hugely important, but Tropper uses similes--e.g., "the girls are vacant and beautiful and wield their budding sexuality with a certain lack of control, like a toddler with a power tool" and "But this being late August, we get our fair share of men in shorts, showing off pale, hairless legs with withered calves and thick, raised veins like earthworms trapped beneath their flesh who died burrowing their way out"--to help establish characterization. Setting doesn't largely contribute to the appeal of this book, which readers will seek out for its realism, tone, and characterization.