Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel

It was a foregone conclusion that I would be requesting a book calling itself Anne of Green Gables. I have loved Anne since I was twelve, and I still reread at least this first book, if not the whole series, just about annually, when I need comfort books. So – well, obviously if I see a graphic novel based on AoGG I have no choice — but I do have trepidation.

Actually, I had to work a bit to be able to read this, since I couldn’t see half the pages of the file I received. I had to download it several times, contact Netgalley customer service (and wasn’t that a treat), and finally download a whole new program to read it with. I almost gave up bothering several times, because – really, was it going to be worth all the effort?

First impression: I’m incredibly disturbed that L.M. Montgomery’s name does not appear on the cover of this graphic novel. I don’t know if some designer wanted to keep the front cover “clean”, or … no, I can’t make up any more spurious reasons. But Lucy Maud Montgomery – you know, the woman who wrote the book this graphic novel is based on? – is nowhere. Wait – there’s a dedication. That’s nice. But I don’t care how long a book has been in the public domain, I don’t care whether it’s legally required or not – if you’re using another author’s work her name belongs on the cover. At this point in time, of course, AoGG is in the public domain – but a labor of love, which this very much seems to be, ought to also show the utmost respect for the author.

I find this especially surprising since the text of the graphic novel is very faithful the book, often using original wording. (I’ve read it enough that I can very easily tell.) That’s a definite plus, and very much a reason for as high a rating as I’m giving it.

Second impression: and I don’t like saying this about the work of a young artist, but – my God, some of the artwork is ugly. I should probably say simply that it’s not to my taste, shouldn’t I … anyway. Initially trying to read the book, I found half of the pages to be blank (apparently my slightly ancient laptop’s fault, according to the enchanting “Netgalley concierge” I dealt with). And the artwork I could see was one reason I very nearly didn’t bother with all the calisthenics I had to go through to read the whole thing.

Second impression of the second impression: it’s by no means all ugly. There are some lovely touches; while the coloring is acidic and unsubtle and not very pleasant, the settings are beautifully rendered; figures are expressive and graceful. Anne’s maturation is prettily handled. In the end, really, the main thing that creates an impression of ugliness about the art (besides some of the color choices) is the rendering of characters’ noses. I mean – I get it. Noses are hard, second only to hands (which the artist does rather well). But this – between the shapes used and the choice to frequently make noses a different shade from the rest of the face – no. Maybe this is why the following exchange does not appear:

“And oh Marilla, Jane Andrews told me that Minnie MacPherson told her that she heard Prissy Andrews tell Sara Gillis that I had a very pretty nose. Marilla, that is the first compliment I have ever had in my life and you can’t imagine what a strange feeling it gave me. Marilla, have I really a pretty nose? I know you’ll tell me the truth.”
“Your nose is well enough,” said Marilla shortly. Secretly she thought Anne’s nose was a remarkably pretty one; but she had no intention of telling her so.

That makes the artwork all the more sad to me.

My other complaint about the artwork is … and I mean this as a serious question, not sarcasm … did Brenna Thummler ever read the book? And regardless of whether she did, did no one who knew the book ever review her pages before it was too late? Because while I was pleased with how well the book was boiled down to fit into a 232-page graphic novel and still stay faithful (if nearly uncredited), the depictions bothered me rather often. Matthew sitting around in his stocking feet? Anne barefoot all over the place, and coming down in the morning stretching and yawning? Mrs. Lynde reacting to seeing Matthew heading off at the beginning with a “huh”? No. It’s along the same lines as Peter Jackson’s decision to insert fart jokes throughout his Lord of the Rings movies – I’m pretty sure the person who created the original work would be horrified. I also questioned why Diana was shown as considerably taller than Anne, when the latter is described as being tall several times throughout the book, while Diana’s height is never remarked on as far as I can remember.

But the thing that made me … well, I’ll be honest, it made me very slightly angry (because if you’re going to take someone’s work you ought to at least pretend to pay attention) was this:

And this:

“And isn’t pink the most bewitching colour in the world? I love it, but I can’t wear it. Red-headed people can’t wear pink, not even in imagination.”

Well, they can in graphic novels, I guess.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Beartown – Fredrik Backman

This book wrecked me. It kept me up until three in the morning, and though I dreaded picking it up again the next day I did – thank God I started this on a Saturday – and I finished it a couple of hours later.

At first I thought it was going to be a beautifully written, heartbreaking exploration of all the things a maybe-championship hockey team can to for, and to, a tiny town, and to its people, especially the very young players. And that would have been enough, really. It would have been plenty. But there is a line right at the beginning of the book foretelling a tragedy: before the book is over two of the characters will go into the forest, and one will have a gun, and the other will be a target. So I knew there was more to it than “just” a game. What might otherwise be small things became monumental; a boy is left standing in a hallway, forgotten for the moment by his best, his only friend – nothing to make note of for an outsider, but life-changing for the boy. And I wondered then and at other points of the first part of the book: is this the person who will pull the trigger? Is this why there will be a shot fired?

What I didn’t realize – and I’m unhappy about that – is that a ways in the book takes a sharp turn. The Goodreads book description talks about a girl being traumatized, and I don’t think it’s too strong to say that’s unfair to some readers. I suppose more detail gives away more of the plotline than might be desired, so stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers whatsoever, because I’m not putting this in spoiler tags –I think it’s important that at least some people know this going in: the trauma is rape. A teenage girl is raped. I was rocked by the scene (not explicit, but with enough detail to haunt me), and I can only imagine what it might do to someone who was even more sensitive. So: trigger warnings. Big ones. Flags flying and sirens wailing.

It’s horrible. It’s hard.

And that’s kind of the point.

Up to that turning point, I was enjoying the author’s effortless-seeming brilliant thumbnail descriptions of characters. “…Her dad barely awake and vaguely surprised, as if every morning he wakes up somewhere he’s never been before, and her mom with the body language of a remote-controlled lawn mower whose obstacle-sensor has broken”, and so on. I laughed out loud several times.

And, to my surprise, I laughed out loud toward the end of the book, too – and cried, and ached, and wanted to cheer … and ached. Some of these characters became incredibly dear to me; I was surprised by the depth and fierceness of my affection for Peter and Kira (Kia), Ana and Mia and Leo, most of the people of Beartown and even a few in Hed. And I was taken aback by the depth of my loathing for one man – not who you’d think, given that horrible pivotal event, but a team father whose death, whose slow and painful and meaningful death I longed for. And I also hated most of the people of Beartown and even a few in Hed. And I understood where a lot of the pain came from, in this book and, perhaps, in reality, and the helplessness that brought was impossible. “Right now, [he] has only hurt me. But if I talk, I’ll be letting him hurt everyone I love as well. I can’t handle that.” “The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.” That’s too relevant right now.

“Do you know how to save someone from Hed if they’re drowning?” Benji shook his head. David grinned. “Good.”

There was a moment with Ana and the dogs that brought back a lot of bittersweet memories. I was going to save the quote, but it resulted in ugly crying, and I’d rather not keep that.

And there was another moment when I remembered that line about the gunshot, and thought “crap, I was right” – but I wasn’t. I never saw that moment coming, not the way it happened.

Another surprise in this book was that it almost made me want to go watch hockey. It suddenly dredged up a memory from my childhood, when I watched part of a game with my big brother and he explained things like what a hat trick was. “The sounds.” “The sounds?” “That’s the thing about hockey…”

This book is hard to read – and it’s impossible to stop. It’s about a tiny town losing jobs and losing hope. It’s about hockey. It’s about children, and parents, and marriage. It’s about love, and hate, and deep pain and transcendent joy. It will wring you out, and lift you up.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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The Antique House Murder – Leslie Nagel

I’m often hard on cozy mysteries. They’re so much of fun when they’re done well – which is why, despite all obstacles, I keep reading them – but when one doesn’t live up to expectations, I can’t help but point out why.

Like here.

The good news first: Leslie Nagel writes well, in terms of formation of sentences and structure of story. This was a quick read, and not awful by any means; the setting was good and the two main characters had some life to them. The climax was climactic. It was mildly funny in places. Hence two stars instead of the one I’m tempted to drop.

The bad news … Some of the characters were little more than a collection of characteristics representing a person. I was a bit disappointed in the stereotyping of the main character’s good friend who happens to be gay (also called, by one person, “you know”.)

One of my biggest complaints is that there are just too many characters. If I had lots and lots of leisure time I’d make a chart to see whether there really were more people inhabiting this plot than others I’ve read recently, but I don’t – my point, though, is that at least two or three times in the course of 232 pages people came on the scene who were clearly not being introduced for the first time, and I said “Who?” My memory’s not the best, but I have never had a problem keeping track of what I’m reading. I am generally reading at least a couple of books at the same time, and always have done; right now I’ve got three going on the Kindle, one audiobook at work and one at home. I’ve never had trouble getting back up to speed when returning to a book before – but for whatever reason when this author expected me to recognize characters’ names, I failed. Whether there were indeed too many people in the cast, or whether I just wasn’t paying enough attention, I don’t know; if the latter, though, it was because my attention wasn’t held.

One other reason for my low rating of this book is that it commits several cozy mystery crimes, and in the first degree instead of any lesser felonies. The main character owns her own business, of course – I guess no one wants to read about an office worker or librarian or something who solves crimes? Or is it that no one wants to write about them? Perhaps because an employee of anyone sensible would be fired if they took as much time off to solve those crimes as most cozy heroines do? One of my pet peeves about cozies is their utter divorcement from reality in showing small business owners – usually tiny retail business owners – who somehow manage to have at least one full-time employee. Charley Carpenter somehow has two, though there’s no mention of a customer ever entering her shop in the whole course of the book (unless I wasn’t paying attention). Of course, there’s little chance for such a mention, since in the whole course of the book I think she’s actually in her store for … what, maybe ten pages out of the 232? She is so intent on snooping, on doing all the things she has been specifically told by her cop boyfriend that she should not, cannot do, on breaking and entering (what – it’s not wrong, is it?), that she seems to hardly give her not-exactly-thriving business a thought. (Of course, if she greets every one of her few customers with “What special treasure may I help you find today?” it’s kind of understandable if she has few return visitors. I wouldn’t go back.) Charley’s motivation for pretty much everything she does is weak and silly, and her insistence on proceeding with the stupid things she absolutely should not do is idiotic. And at times it endangers not only her own life, but others’. None of this makes me ever want to spend another minute with her, ever again.

I’ll say again what I usually say: I’m really good at suspending disbelief, if the author provides a strong enough antigravity device. You give me enough grounding in reality, or a complete enough divorce from reality, and – what’s the saying about having a lever and a place to stand? Give me a place to stand, and I’ve got plenty of lever to believe in dragons, or starships, or boy wizards, or caterers who solve mysteries. If the place you give me to stand in is too small or too unstable, my lever doesn’t work, and I will begin to list problems.

And for me Charley’s “business” is a problem. Her friends are a problem – of course she has a cop boyfriend. Of course the gay friend and the black careworker and the Middle-Eastern friend are (at least here in this installment) each a collection of stereotyping descriptors – swish, and huge-but-gentle, and dashiki, respectively – and not a whole lot more. There’s a stereotypical crazy old lady – but despite obvious red flags does anyone think to try to get her some help? Nope. She might be mentally unsound, and scared, and under the thumb of someone who at least mentally abuses her – but she’s got dirty orange hair, and she was kind of nasty, and her house is smelly, and there’s a murder that isn’t any of Charley’s business to solve! She’s forgotten in minutes.

There’s also a demi-villain in the mix who switches personalities so often someone ought to have called an exorcist. A podcast I listen to talks about the “Gumby-fication” of certain television characters, whose personalities depend on what might be needed by a given week’s script: one week misogynistic, one week brilliant, one week kind of dumb or ignorant, etc. This character does that, in one scene grief-stricken and in the next vicious, with no reason at all for the abrupt change. The sequence of emotions makes no sense.

And of course when someone in the cast starts throwing up suddenly and randomly I know exactly what’s going on. It’s the exact same thing as is going on in every other book ever written where someone who is not being poisoned is suddenly and randomly sick. There’s got to be a better way of telegraphing it.

But then, reputation for Nancy-Drew-ing aside, this Charley person and those around her aren’t exactly brilliant detectives.

Something I did not expect was the occasional departure from the cozy format that crops up throughout the book. I didn’t expect (or want) the PG-13-level sexy scenes. They’re far from explicit, but they’re still more than you see in most of this genre. And … did you know that the “f-word” can only be used once in a movie if it wants to avoid an R rating? By that rulebook, this book didn’t stay PG-13 for long.

The f-bombs, if I recall correctly, all come from Mitch, Charley’s cop boyfriend – who, I admit, has reason enough to swear, given his girlfriend. Their relationship is … nauseating. No, I don’t mean the sexytimes – though as mentioned they did feel out of place in this book; I mean the fact that Charley is such an idiot. She lies to Marc – isn’t happy about it, but decides she’s in the right and therefore does it. Twice. And then once the dust is beginning to settle from that, she blithely commits a first-degree felony. And almost gets herself killed. (Almost gets herself killed again, apparently, based on the references to past books.) Ya know, if you’re not a law enforcement official and you keep finding yourself in positions where your life is hanging by a thread, maybe you should a) make an effort to mind your damn business (literally – don’t let those employees I can’t believe you can afford twist in the wind) and avoid such situations, or b) give up your shop and go sign up for the police academy. I wanted to start a “Save Mitch” campaign, except that he’s kind of a jerk himself; at one point he thinks a woman is “pretty enough, but a bit too old and definitely too bossy for Mitch’s taste” – and that is not conducive to making me tolerate him. All is forgiven in the end – that’s hardly a spoiler, since it’s a cozy – but it shouldn’t be. There are some serious problems with this relationship. Again, the disbelief is too big to be suspended.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Cooking with Flavor Bombs

What a great idea. What a perfectly unique and appealing idea. I love to cook, but it’s kind of become a thing of the past for me. I no longer have to feed anyone but myself, and I no longer have a surface for preparation (I honestly didn’t know a kitchen could be put together with this little counter space), and time is even rarer than saffron in my life. But this book seems like it could actually deliver on its promises: put in a bit of time once in a while, and that investment will lead to quick and kind of awesome honest-to-goodness home-cooked meals whenever you want to make them – sort of Blue Apron without the home delivery.

I haven’t tried any of the flavor bombs or their recipes yet, but the instructions are clear and complete, and I don’t foresee any problems. There are several flavor profiles to turn into bombs tucked away in your freezer, and there are several recipes utilizing each flavor profile, along with a smattering of extra tips and tricks and directions on how to substitute ingredients as desired, for example on how to turn a recipe vegetarian. The photographs of each recipe are well done and help in the decision-making process: what’s next? An excellent kitchen companion.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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The Man in Lower Ten

This was kind of an odd one. I love Mary Roberts Rinehart – but this one was not quite up to where I expected it to be. Unfortunately it’s one of those books where the unsolved mystery is more interesting than the solution. It’s a great setup – rather dull lawyer fellow (with vivid best friend – I liked that the kind of boring one was the narrator) goes off to get some very important papers for a very important case, and on the train ride home has them stolen. And also comes in as the best suspect for a murder in his Pullman car. Luckily for him, the train suffers a horrific accident, so he has the chance to avoid immediate investigation, and also to fall in love – with his best friend’s girl.

The writing is entertaining; characterization works, and all the red herrings and wrong suspects that litter the landscape make for a good yarn. Everything eventually pulls together and gets cleared up – and I admit to disappointment at the wrap-up. Sometimes the journey is just more fun than the destination.

One warning: this is very much of its time. In a couple of ways, actually – it startled me when the narrator talks about choosing a hansom cab; the involvement of the train made me think for some reason that it was a Golden Age book, from the forties or so. Then there’s the line “Pittsburg without smoke wouldn’t be Pittsburg, any more than New York without prohibition would be New York.” So – Pittsburgh used to be spelled without the “H”, and it’s during Prohibition. Check.

But just in case you go into this thinking it’s just a very well-written historical mystery that uses some great details to let you know when it’s set – well, reality will hit you like the Ice Bucket Challenge when words are used to refer to non-white races that would probably not be used today, even by the most dedicated anti-anachronistic writer. Yeah. It was first published in 1909. Things were different then. It can be (to use a period-appropriate adjective) delightful – but it can be cringe-worthy as well. Which was also the case with a few remarks about women, too, which – come now, Ms. Rinehart.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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Lockdown – Laurie R. King

In my eyes, Laurie R. King can do no wrong. She has been on my Indispensables List for over two decades, and she is absolutely one of those writers whom I will follow anywhere. I doubt I would normally read a book about a school shooting; there are still too-fresh scars in this neck of the woods for me to choose such a subject for entertainment. (That’s so in lots of necks of lots of woods; here it’s because of Sandy Hook and twenty tiny dead children.)

All the different strands of this story – the students, the parents, the teachers, the custodian, the killer among them – weave a stressfully tense story. The humor and normalcy of early events are deeply overshadowed by what you know is coming, and the fear of how bad it’s going to be. Who among the characters you come to like, to care about, will still be standing at the end? How deep will the scars be?

One of the hallmarks of a good murder mystery is that no stone is left unturned, and no secret is left unexposed. This is a sort of inverted murder mystery, and it comes to the same thing. Checkered pasts, private opinions, other lives – none of that is likely to survive the storm that is about to roll over this town. Scars? No one is getting out of this story without one.

The blurb talks about the plot being ripped from the headlines … I hate that. I do. I had to stop watching “Law & Order” long ago, because it made me queasy to see real people’s pain being used for yet another mediocre drama. But … Laurie R. King. There’s a big difference between a thinly veiled fictionalization of something that just happened, where the people involved are probably still in pain, and this: a tale that is in a way a composite of true horrors without trying to cash in on any specific real grief. It’s all the grief and anger and horror of all those senseless days. It’s catharsis.

I sincerely hope LRK continues to use her power for good. I trust her enough that – well, I read this. I don’t think she’ll ever lead me to a place I’ll regret.

Favorite quote:
By Tuesday, she loved Guadalupe Middle School as ferociously as an elderly cat-lady with 712 runt kittens.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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The Lighthearted Quest

Apropos of nothing, I read this right in the middle of sort-of-accidentally watching a Spanish language series on Netflix called “The Time in Between”, and some of the coincidental echoes, especially in the setting, were a lot of fun.

There was no forward to this book (or if there was, I missed it) to indicate that it was, in fact, not written in the 21st century, but in 1969. (This has happened a few times lately.) I started to twig to it pretty quickly, based on a scattering of clues; the style almost couldn’t be a product of more recent years. It’s very specific to British novels of the time – see also Mary Stewart, D.E. Stevenson, etc. And if the sheer style didn’t give it away, now and then causal tossed-off phrases like “that bunch of pansies” and “the Gyppos” made it pretty clear. So while I enjoyed the writing (except for the pre-PC moments, always surprisingly difficult to stomach), I was a little disoriented for a while. (Let that be your warning if you don’t feel like having to cope with it.)

Oh – Americans aren’t exactly Ms. Bridge’s favorite group, either, if some of the descriptions are anything to go by. Harrumph.

I love the premise. After a sudden death in the family, a family is left without anyone to run an estate. That is, there is someone (a woman! Isn’t it amazing?) but she has her own plans for her life (a career! Will wonders never cease?); she is willing to handle things for a time, but the only solution seems to be for someone to go find the family’s heir, who sailed off with some friends a while back and hasn’t been seen since. So a clever cousin is called in (another woman!!) and recruited to go look for him, armed with very few clues (but, happily, lots of spending money).

Julia is the young woman who is called upon to go hunt down the missing heir, and she embarks on her ‘lighthearted quest” with a confident insouciance most of us can only dream of. Wander Europe with no solid idea where one man might be located? No problem. Make a temporary life in Tangier? No problem.

I’m really surprised, and sad, that I’d never heard of Ann Bridge before. I have been a huge Mary Stewart (no relation) fan for decades, along with Barbara Michaels and D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Cadell and so on – this series (because, I find, this book is the beginning of a series) would have been a terrific addition to that shelf. There’s an intrepid young lady, exotic locales, vibrant background characters, sneaky and resourceful enemies, a dollop of romance, and a dash of archaeology – oh, and a glancing reference or two at Golden Age mystery – it’s almost perfect. I would have loved it back in the day.

And I enjoyed it in the here and now. The writing – do I want to say it sparkles? Sure, why not – the writing sparkles. The story canters along happily to a suspenseful climax and a satisfying conclusion, and inspires a chuckle or two along the way (“storks have a capacity for looking disgusted almost equal to that of camels”). It sent me off down various eBay rabbitholes looking for trunks and other décor like that described in the book (“Moorish stuff—you know, antiques, leather goods and brass and so on.”) “Why do you go hooshing off to find him in this completely wild-cat way?” – I want to start using “hooshing”. And “The same to you, with knobs on!”
And one exchange proved that the more things change the more they stay the same:
“Has it ever struck you how apocalyptic the world is, today?”
“Yes, often,” said Julia.

Me too.

Some notes which might be helpful to other American readers my age or younger:
“Le agradeço mucho su amabildad” is, in Spanish, “I really appreciate your kindness”.
“the Old Lady of Thread-needle Street” is the Bank of England (I don’t know why – I haven’t investigated the story yet)
Tiens! Les petites feuilles – French: Look! Small leaves
Aucunément – French: nothing
Sabe todo – Spanish: (He/she) knows everything
Ah, méfiez-vous de cet homme-là – French: Ah, beware of this man!

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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If You Give a Man a Cookie

(This is my 900th post on this blog! Since February of 2009 I’ve been burbling away on here – someday I should figure out a total word count. I can just hear Carl Sagan’s voice: “Billions and billions…)

Many many moons ago, I worked at a local Barnes & Noble – which was the equivalent of putting a cat in charge of a patch of catnip. Between a 30% employee discount and the occasional availability of stripped books, my personal library redoubled. I had to touch basically every book in the place in any given week as we put shelves back together after a long day of customers tearing them apart – and the section in most need of attention, of course, was the picture book section. (It was not uncommon for the manager of the children’s department to have to call in authorities, as parents would dump their kids off in front of the shelves and go see a movie at the theatre down the road. Of course, even theoretically supervised children did a lot of damage. But I digress.) It was while trying to restore order one evening that I came across [book:If You Give a Mouse a Cookie], and I was instantly completely charmed. I didn’t buy myself a copy, though … I wonder why.

Now, almost thirty years after Mouse was first published, comes a new book from Laura Joffe Numeroff for all those folks who grew up with the mouse, the cookie, and the ramifications of giving one to the other, and who are now married. It’s the same sense of humor, only now aimed squarely at the grown-ups: “If you give a man a cookie, he’ll ask for some milk to go with it … God forbid he should get it himself!”

I’m completely in love with the vivid, adorable illustrations. The cookie-getting man reminds me of a much rounder Greg Proops, shown as exasperating and ridiculous without making him a complete buffoon. And it pays to pay attention to the dog, who appears in every picture with his master. (The man can’t be as big a jerk as all that, introduced as he is playing with the dog. But he is a twit.) My only regret, and it’s on me and not the book, is that for some reason it felt like this would be one of those picture books where close examination of the illustrations would turn up little visual puns or gags or other kinds of hidden surprises. It doesn’t – except for the fact that the dog is the subject of every “photo” shown in the house, framed or hung on the fridge.But that’s a quibble. If you give a woman adorable, she’ll want puzzles too.

I love that this was targeted at adults without resorting to vulgarity or non-G-rated language (except for a non-equine use of “ass”). A child, attracted by the illustrations, could absolutely read it safely – but it would whoosh over his head.

I wonder if there will be a follow-up, like [book:If You Give a Moose a Muffin]. Because if you give a woman a book she likes, she’ll ask for another one. (God forbid she should write one herself.)

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A Memory of Light

Just found this old review which for some reason I never posted. Oops …

I can’t believe it’s over. I’ve said it all before, but there’s no better place to say it again: I first read The Eye of the World while working at a pharmacy, my first job, and saw the chunkster on the limited paperback rack. It was 1991. This series has outlived that job, that pharmacy (and its owner), I hesitate to say how many other jobs, AND its own author and cover artist. Twenty–four years later, I don’t even know how to handle having read the last chapter of this behemoth.

Another thing I will have said before (if I ever finish and post reviews of the other books comprising the finale): it was often fairly obvious to me where Brandon Sanderson had to take on full authorship of a section or chapter. Say what you will about Robert Jordan – and there is plenty to say – in my opinion he was a fine writer, skilled at exposition and description (maybe a little too skilled at that latter), and at dialogue; when things got a bit clunky I suspected Sanderson. (Sorry, BS fans; I haven’t joined those ranks yet.)

So, one might ask, how was it?

Um.

I don’t know how to answer that, entirely.

Twenty–four years. It would have had to be mind–blowing to live up to that kind of lead–in.

I wouldn’t say it was mind–blowing. There was still too much meandering off into random characters’ brains; I’m sorry, but after all those thousands of pages and thousands of characters I object to new characters still being introduced in the final book. There was, as mentioned, an unevenness to the writing, where Sanderson’s writing filled in gaps, like patches mending tears in not–quite matching cloth. There was a coolness to the handling of a few of the main characters that was difficult to take; I’ve spent a long time with these characters, known them longer than I’ve known most actual humans in my life today, and for their personalities to shift, even slightly, was disturbing.

The biggest disappointment to me was not really in how it all ended – that was a little confusing, but how could it not be? – but in how it all ended for certain characters. Again, I’ve known these folks for over twenty years, more than half my life. For some of them – not “NPC’s” but POV characters, characters who have had scores if not hundreds of pages devoted to them – to die not with a bang OR a whimper but just sort of a “poof” offstage and almost unremarked … that hurt. I mean, yes, there are so damned many characters in this saga that to spend time on every death would mean the series would have to outlive (or wear out) young Mr. Sanderson in his turn – but Siuan and Gareth?, for two?? They deserved better, especially the former. The latter got to go out fighting, but the former… poof. There was no grieving for them, not for their compatriots – it felt like they were unremarked; and not for me – I was too angry. And rushed. After a billion and a half pages, suddenly events began to hasten toward the end about halfway through … in spurts, at least. Then they’d go back to a more leisurely pace for a while. Then hurtle onward again. I don’t know.

Writing this, I thought about going back and adjusting my rating. Fresh from the last pages I gave it the full five stars, but putting some of my thoughts on “paper” had me thinking I ought to bump it down. But … no. After all, awful as the film of The Return of the King was, it deserved the Oscars it won as representative of an at times magnificent (and at times downright execrable) movie trilogy; whatever its faults, Memory of Light was the grand finale. And it was kind of grand.

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Colored Pencil Painting Portraits

There is absolutely no denying Alyona Nickelsen’s talent and skill. The drawings – or colored pencil paintings – shown in this book are gorgeous in their photo–realism… my only complaint, I think, is a bit of spot–blindness in some facial expressions. I used to draw, all the time, and always found it both fascinating and frustrating how hugely a single line could affect an expression; I remember spending a very long time on one drawing, and found it amazing how, without ever touching the mouth, I could create the impression of a smile by darkening a line of the eye. Erase that back a bit, and the smile faded. There’s a reason most of the portraits you’re going to see in museums or art books are of solemn sitters, or Mona Lisa smiles: a big toothy grin is very hard to pull off without straying into goofy territory. Teeth are hard.

I’m not sure it’s entirely fair for someone as talented as Ms. Nickelsen to put out a how-to book. The odds against reaching anything remotely close to her level is so remote that it’s almost a book full of fail. But if you go into this with the expectation of learning tips and tricks and tools and techniques (phew, didn’t think I’d get the full alliteration out of that), and of being better than you were before you read it – then you can’t fail. And of course there’s the option of just paging through the incredible artwork on every page and admiring its evolution. Either way, this is highly recommended.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

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