Review: Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Trip

A. Lee Martinez’s Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Trip has a great title. It’s also a great book.

I have enjoyed all of Martinez’s previous books (seriously, go buy any of them). He seems to prefer stand-alone books which means a person can read which ever one the bookstore has. Sometimes I like a series, but it’s nice to be able to just read the books without having to either buy sixteen of them or have to remember things from three books back.

Our protagonist is Helen, a perfectly normal teenage girl who worries about how her clothes fit, cute boys, and whether her horns will fit through a doorway since she’s a Minotaur. Martinez has put a lot of thought into his world and how having a Minotaur as the main character would affect her progress (and how such a thing might have happened anyway). And Martinez nails a female character (something he’s done well before) and a teenage one at that. It’s not always easy to write as another gender (or species) without resorting to stereotype, but Martinez achieves this wonderfully (I was going to write “easily” but how would I know? 🙂 ).

As you can probably tell from the title, this is a humorous take on mythology (and how it might be updated for modern America). Witty details abound (which I’m not going to share because they are so great).

If you like fast-paced, funny quest books, I recommend this one. Then go read some more Martinez–it’s worth it.

Review: Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn is a terrific book: fast-paced, clever, and, most of all, funny. It stars Evie Tanaka as a personal assistant to a superhero, Aveda Jupiter. As you might expect, Aveda is rather high-maintenance.

The first thing that drew me to the book in the first place was the write-up on the back which mentioned killer, demon possessed cupcakes. What a great, rollicking way to showcase both the tone of the book and the action pieces–which seemed quite well done (note: while I like action movies, I have no experience in this area). The dialogue is snappy and fast-paced. Best of all, the characters can be told apart from the dialogue alone.

The second thing that attracted me was the cover, which features both main characters and the cupcakes in a comic-book inspired way. Since the book covers comic books from a more realistic perspective (how does one get frosting out of a superhero costume?), the cover was perfect.

I did predict a few things before the book revealed them, but that’s not unusual for me. However, even though I had figured them out didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book, which I sped through.

I enjoyed this book and am putting her other book on my shopping list. I’m hoping that this book does well enough that we can spend more time with Evie and the other great characters.

Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lapore is fascinating. I’d known about the…ah…emphasis on bondage in the stories written by Charles Moulton (pen name of William Moulton Marston). I knew that Marston had invented a lie detector. But there are heaps of information that was in this book that I didn’t know.

For instance, Marston was involved with Margret Sanger’s niece, Olive Byrne when he was married to his wife, Elizabeth Holloway. It was a polyamorous relationship before those were called that! Both women were involved in the creation of Wonder Woman, with Olive adding the most, while also caring for all of the children (two by Holloway, two by Olive).

Additionally, how much of the suffragette movement ended up in the comics–even before Marston was involved with Sanger’s niece, he was in favor of equal rights for women. Because it was such an influence, Lapore spends a great deal of time on Sanger and the movement–I became very upset during this part, not just because of the things that the suffragettes endured, but at the idiotic arguments against equal rights for woman.

There’s also the delicious irony of just how much lying and hucksterism the inventor of a lie detector was involved with. It certainly raised my eyebrows. It’s not so much that the family lied about their true makeup (something that was vital at the time!), but practically everything else.

The best part of the book, however, is Lapore’s obvious thoroughness and gorgeous research. I can’t imagine how many hours went into this book. And I’m picky about research and sources. Another wonderful feature are the illustrations and pictures. Each time that Lapore gives an example from Wonder Woman, the panel follows. There are tons of pictures. Also included are political cartoons, the famous cover of Ms magazine with Wonder Woman running for president and really interesting other items (like a still from a film that Marston wrote). There’s an especially interesting afterword, written after the original book was published.

Even if you’re not a fan of Wonder Woman (and how can you not be? 🙂 ), this book is terrific. It’s a fascinating look at an unconventional group of people and a volatile time in American history.

Review–Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris’ autobiography is the cleverest autobiography I’ve ever read. It’s set up like those Chose Your Own Adventure books that were popular when I was in elementary school. The book, therefore, is written in second person (another terrific touch).

Reading it on the Kindle was a bit frustrating. More than once, a stray button push lead to the end (or beginning) of the book. After a while, I just started reading it sequentially–which didn’t hamper my enjoyment in the least. Mainly because Harris has such a breezy, fun, delightful tone throughout and there was so much cleverness (pick well, or you could kill Neal Patrick Harris!)–including three magic tricks (yes, really), two drink recipes, and songs! What was also fascinating were all the behind-the-scenes moments. Not gossip (although there are some moments of that!), but how a Broadway show works, how a TV show is put together, how it feels to host an award show. I think that Harris’ love of the mechanics of things is used well here (it’s part of why he loves magic).

It’s all great fun (and quite funny!). Give it a try.

Review–The Magicians

I watched all of season one of The Magicians on SyFy (it took me three tries to get that right) and after the first episode ordered the e-book from the library. A number of other people had the same idea because I just got a chance to read it.

First, people who’ve read the book and people who’ve seen the show are going to have different ideas about plot and character. The show kept what it liked and discarded what it didn’t (that’s not a criticism–I’m all for adaptation to the medium!). It does make for bad guessing if you’re going from one to the other.

Second, the book (and according to the reviews I read about the show at the AV club) has some odd pacing. The protagonist, Quentin  Coldwater (great name, by the way), gets accepted to a magical school, Brakebills. Now, if you’ve read Harry Potter, each year of Hogwarts gets a full book. Here, the four years are all covered in one book (and WAY more besides). Since I found Brakebills and the world of magic there interesting, I would have liked to have spent more time there, but that’s a matter of taste.

Then the book takes an odd turn after graduation. There’s a largish section that doesn’t seem to have a reason for being (but I was reminded of the Underworld part of the heroic cycle if you’ve read Joseph Campbell). I’m sure that the author had more than one reason to include it, but it was not my favorite part.

Throughout the book (and especially the part in Fillory), Grossman does an excellent job of showing just how difficult learning magic or adventuring in a fantasy world would be. Quentin has blisters and scars from everything he does and, boy, does he earn them. This is something that’s skipped over by a lot of fantasy books, and I really appreciated it–and the REALLY thoughtful world-building that’s on display.

Another thing I appreciated were the frequent touches of humor and the really fine lines throughout–anytime I have to stop and read lines out loud, that indicates some really fine writing.

After reading some other reviews, I can see that some people didn’t pick up on a characteristic of Quentin’s–he’s obviously depressed (and doesn’t become miraculously cured when he gets to Brakebills, thank you Mr. Grossman). He has better days and bad days (and a few awful days) which was all quite realistic. Some of the reviews that I read thought that he was spoiled, self-centered, sullen or overly snarky, but if you’ve never been depressed it might very well come off as one of those things. A depressed person’s brain is not a pleasant place.

Despite the occasional plot pacing issue, I quite enjoyed this book.

There are two more books in the trilogy, and I’m already signed up for the next. Have you read The Magicians? What did you think?

 

Review–Among the Janeites

Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of  Jane Austen Fandom  is an interesting look at the often fervent fans of Jane Austen. According to Yaffe, Austen is interpreted by people differently. She is considered liberal, conservative, radically feminist and completely domestic. Her writing is either artless or carefully constructed, sharp or sweet. She’s all things to all people.

I quite liked Pride and Prejudice, but was in a bad mood when I went to read Sense and Sensibility. However, I also enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Clueless, so I am not the most ardent fan (although her book was the best in the course I read it in).

Although the book follows the pattern of the last one I read of being somewhat journalistic and somewhat memoir-like, here it works. The two tones complement each other. And no section is too long. However, there are sometimes a few too many people per section, some of which are returned to later in the narrative and some of whom aren’t. Yaffe covers academics, movie fans, cosplayers, people who argue on the internet (what an idea!), event organizers, and she even delves into the more kitschy aspects of Austen potholders and thongs (!). She touches on Austen’s brief biography (private person who have their letters burned are naturally more obscure), but I would recommend a good Austen bio before delving in, although it’s not required. It’s also going to be helpful if you’ve read at least one work by Austen (although you’ll get more from this work if you’ve read more).

This is an enjoyable and fair look at the various aspect of a fandom–and may be helpful if you’re an outside attempting to understand any fandom. It’s interesting and zippy, with some delightful writing and moments.

Review: The Heretics

I’ve just finished Will Storr’s The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of ScienceThe book deals, as one might expect from the subtitle, with people who disagree with one or more accepted principles of science. Storr discusses creationists, folks who believe that they’ve been abducted by aliens, Holocaust deniers, proponents of psi powers and others.

Perhaps because at least some of it was published as articles before finding a home in this book, some of the flow is disjointed. Additionally, there are some abrupt style changes, especially in the chapter on David Irving, someone who believes that Hitler was a jolly good chap, friend to the Jewish people, and who would have certainly have been appalled if he had just known what his underlings had been up to (please take as much time to splutter at Irving’s view as you like. I read about it yesterday and I’m still having a difficult time). This chapter is reminiscent of a series of diary entries, while much of the rest reads as longform magazine entries.

However, even beyond that, the book lacks a certain amount of focus. Storr attempts to write journalistically about the people he encounters, scientifically about theories of mind and how people might come to their beliefs, confessionally about his past and difficulties with his own thought processes, and anything else he thinks might be interesting (and most of it, to be fair, is). But these three things don’t necessarily flow together well.

Having said that, however, the book and the people that he encounters are fascinating. Almost all of the explanations he finds for why people believe things that mainstream people would reject are compelling. As I tell my argument students, people have good reasons to disagree with you. Storr is incredibly even-handed with folks that others might dismiss as “nuts.”And while I found the shifts in tone jarring, I also sped through this nearly 400 page book.

If you are interested in how people form beliefs and how those beliefs can contradict the norm, I would recommend this book. But be warned–one of your precious beliefs might be held up for scrutiny (one of mine was!), and you might not like what Storr sees.