Book Challenge #13 & Movie Challenge #2

Thank God for Christmas break and a new apartment with no internet. No, really. I have done so much reading and movie-watching, and it’s wonderful!

Book Challenge #13: Read a book by an author I love that I haven’t read yet

preludesnocturnesThe Sandman Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is, far and away, one of my favorite authors. I had read the first issue of The Sandman years ago, and I’ve owned the trade paperback of volume 1 but had never gotten around to reading it. Before Gaiman became famous for his novels and works of short fiction and episode-writing for Doctor Who and his marriage to Amanda Palmer, he made his name known in the comic book world with this critically-acclaimed series.

In Vol. 1, a man named Roderick Burgess acquires a grimoire that should enable him to capture Death. Instead, he ensnares Death’s little brother Dream (also known as Morpheus), whom he imprisons for about 70 years. When Dream is captured, he is no longer reigning over the dream and nightmare realms, and of course things go horribly awry.

morpheusWhen Roderick’s son Alex finally releases Dream, he immediately punishes Alex and then goes on a quest for his tools. Dream teams up with John Constantine to find a small, but powerful, bag of sand. He ventures to hell to fight a demon in order to get his helmet back. And, with a little help from old members of the Justice League of America, he finds Doctor Destiny, who has used Dream’s ruby amulet to take control of the dreamworld and attempt to bring about the apocalypse. (Also, Morpheus is kind of attractive in that 80s, early-Neil Gaiman, comic-book sort of way.)

The editor, in the introduction to vol. 1, states that this is the weakest of the collected volumes, that Gaiman was still trying to find his voice. But I still found it wonderful. It’s almost like there’s this band that you’ve loved for years, and you discover their unreleased EP that they recorded in someone’s garage, and you still think it’s wonderful. This volume of the comics is really, really good, and I know Gaiman’s voice well enough to hear it in the voices of Morpheus and his sister Death. And I’m eager to get my hands on the rest of the series now.

Movie Challenge #2: Watch a movie made more than 50 years ago

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)

take me outI found this on sale at B&N a year or so ago, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a musical about baseball! Frank Sinatra plays a young second baseman to Gene Kelly’s veteran shortstop on a championship baseball team in the early 1900s. In the off-season, Sinatra & Kelly do vaudeville acts, and the movie begins when they’re late for spring training in Florida. Shortly after they arrive, the teams learns that the old owner has passed away and left the team to a distant relative who wants to see the team. They immediately assume it will be an old, fat man who thinks he knows more about the game of baseball than they do. Instead, the new owner is a beautiful woman, played by Esther Williams. She immediately clashes with Gene Kelly, and young Frank immediately falls in love with her but has no game, so he doesn’t no how to talk to her about anything other than baseball.

There’s baseball and romance and bad guys betting on the game of baseball and a clambake. It’s really delightful. My friends who love musicals would love it. Also, Frank Sinatra is a skinny, young guy who looks absolutely adorable in his team sweater.

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Best of 2014

I’ve never done a best-of-the-year list before, but I love reading them, and I’ve consumed a lot of really good stories this year. So here’s a list of my favorite things of the year.

Favorite Books Read

As of today, December 20, I’ve read 96 books towards my goal of 100 for the year. Eleven days to read 4 more books? No problem! But of those 96, some were fun, some were mediocre, and some were so shockingly wonderful.

woolWool by Hugh Howey

I honestly don’t know if I have enough words to praise this book! My friend Micah told me a couple of years ago to read it, and since then, two other highly respected book friends have recommended it to me, and I finally got around to it a few weeks ago (and have since read the second book in the trilogy). Howey self-published Wool several years ago, and it gained ground quickly, for good reason.

In the first novel, we’re introduced to the residents of a silo, which is a self-contained civilization. There’s a distinct class system, perfectly delineated by the levels of the silo, and everything seems to run as it should. But in the very first chapter of the book, we’re introduced to a sheriff who elects to go to a “cleaning,” in which he is put into a kind of biohazard suit and sent outside the silo to clean the windows…and then to die. Through his perspective, we learn that all is not well within the silo, but this main character is gone before he really gets to narrate any of the story. In the aftermath of his cleaning, the mayor and deputy must appoint a new sheriff, and I won’t tell you anymore because that would strip away all the joy you’ll get in reading this thought-provoking, fascinating dystopian series. The second book, Shift, isn’t as strong as the first one was, but I’m nonetheless eagerly looking forward to the conclusion to the story, Dust.

fangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Everyone loves Rainbow Rowell. With Eleanor & Park, she (deservedly) made a huge name for herself in the YA world. And as wonderful as Eleanor & Park is, her second YA novel Fangirl is far and above my favorite of all the books she’s written (and I’ve read them all this year!). Fangirl, in fact, is the only book I actually read twice this year, and I’m already itching to read it again.

Fangirl is the book I needed long ago, and probably still need now. Cath is beginning her freshman year at college and trying to balance a class load (including a Serious Writing Class) and writing Harry Potter-esque fanfiction. She struggles to maintain her relationship with her twin sister and her father, but she also struggles to define who she is and what she wants. And there’s a great guy named Levi who loves Cath because of her geeky, fangirl ways, and my gosh, doesn’t every fangirl dream of that?

A lot of my less-geeky friends didn’t enjoy Fangirl as much because Rowell blends the story of Cath with excerpts from the fictional Simon Snow stories as well as excerpts from Cath’s fanfiction. It’s such a great love story–both between Cath and Levi as well as for Cath and the worlds of fiction that she loves so much.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I wrote about this in my last blog post about Interstellar, so I won’t summarize or reflect here. But this science fiction novel about Jesuits traveling to space in search of extraterrestrial life is one of the most profoundly moving explorations of faith I’ve ever encountered in fiction. I love it when science fiction, which is often overlooked as being trivial or unworthy, can so accurately depict issues of the human condition. This is a heavy book to read, but it’s a book that has never left me, that I’ll carry with me always.

hawkeyeThe Hawkeye comics by Matt Fraction

I LOVE HAWKEYE. I loved Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of him in The Avengers, obviously, but Matt Fraction has done incredible things with Marvel Now’s Hawkeye series. I bought a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, which allows me access to comics on my tablet, and I burned through all the Hawkeye comics available very quickly. They are funny and moving and just so wonderful. And the best thing about them is that the Hawkeye name is shared–by both Clint Barton and Kate Bishop, who is part of the Young Avengers. The fact that both a male and female can share the name and the responsibility of working with the Avengers is wonderful. There is just so much right about these stories, and the artwork, relying on lots of purple illustrations, is beautiful!

Favorite Movies Watched

grootbabyFavorite Superhero Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean, really. I saw this four times (as many times as I watched The Avengers in theaters) and had to talk myself out of seeing it at least a dozen more times. It’s funny. And snarky. And super weird and sci-fi. With a great soundtrack. And Chris Pratt. And Groot. My gracious, I love this movie. And as much as I loved X-Men: Days of Future Past and Captain America: Winter Soldier (which were both better than their predecessors), Guardians was definitely my favorite superhero movie released this year.

And everyone needs more dancing baby Groot in her life.

snowpiercerFavorite Dystopian Film: Snowpiercer

All the survivors of the world after a major climate disaster are placed upon a train that continually travels and sustains the life on board. Eighteen years have passed since the disaster, and Chris Evans leads a revolution that reveals the class struggles on board the train. He begins his fight at the end of the train, where he works and lives with all the other lower-class people who must help to power the train. He fights his way through all the classes on board to the very front, where he confronts the leader of the train, played by Ed Harris. It’s violent and gripping and highly revelatory of Marxist class struggles: everything that I look for in a dystopian film. I can’t believe how good this movie is.

grand budapestFavorite Comedy: The Grand Budapest Hotel

To be fair, I don’t watch a lot of comedies, so this one was by far the easiest pick. But this was also one of my favorite movies of the whole year. It’s the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve ever watched (please don’t stone me–I’m a fan now and I’ll make up for it, I promise!), and I laughed out loud through the whole thing. Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H and Zero Moustafa as his Lobby Boy are just the kind of weird characters I wish I could find at hotels. (And the supporting cast: Tilda Swinton and Adrian Brody and Owen Wilson and all the other Wes Anderson regulars!) They fight off Nazis and steal artwork and have grand adventures, and this movie is just so wonderful and wacky and fabulous and lovely.

Favorite Classic Movie that I Should Have Watched Years Ago: 2001: A Space Odyssey2001

I really have no excuse. I’ve even owned this for two or three years. But after Interstellar, which relies heavily on imagery that reflects 2001: A Space Odyssey, I finally watched it–and loved it, of course. The monoliths and Hal 9000 and Dave the Astronaut–it’s such a pivotal, important sci-fi story, and I was riveted through the whole movie. The imagery of space travel is lovely, and the cinematography is astonishing. I mean, the scene of Frank running onboard the round spacecraft! It’s so good! I’m glad I finally watched it, if only to understand jokes about getting shoved out of an airlock.

Favorite Movie About Space: Interstellar

I love Matthew McConaughey. And time travel. And black holes. And this movie.

Favorite Animated MovieThe Lego Movie

An everyman named Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) is summoned to save the world from a terrible dictator. It’s a dystopian movie! And it’s funny! And cute! And, yes, it might have some feminist issues, but I had a lot of fun watching this. And Lego Batman is delightful.

‘Mastery of small, telling gestures’: Tom Hardy as a man who goes awol in Locke.Favorite Movie Starring Tom Hardy: Locke

It was hard to choose between this one and The Drop, but ultimately, Locke has to win on the sheer basis that Tom Hardy is THE ONLY PERSON IN THE MOVIE. I mean, sure, we get the voices on the other end of the phone, but the movie is literally just Tom Hardy driving from one place to another, trying to solve a crisis at work, take responsibility for a personal problem that he has, and fix his family life. It’s hard to watch, and Tom Hardy is stellar at telling a story using his voice and facial expressions and reactions to the people on the phone. I was riveted by a movie that literally involves one guy driving down the road the whole time. Tom Hardy is a freaking genius actor, and I wish more people realized that. (Also, he’s beautiful. There’s that.)

In 2014, I saw almost as many movies as the number of books I read. And, honestly, I saw more great movies than read great books. I read books that disappointed me, or angered me, or were just intended to be light, fluffy reads. But with films, I’m drawn to superhero films, sure, but also well-made dramas and insightful, if violent, movies. And there were so many great films that I watched this year that I had a hard time narrowing it down to just these 6. I’m very eager to see what my reading/viewing habits look like in 2015.

As for reading, I found this great reading challenge on Tumblr this morning that I’m going to try. I’m thinking about revising it for a movie-watching challenge, too, for the first time, so stay tuned for that!

reading challenge

On to 2015! 

Reading Roundup: Zombies, Graveyards, and Superheroes

My last reading roundup post got several comments from people thanking me for my reviews. That’s awesome, so I decided that I would post again about some more of the awesome books I’ve read recently. These three books are the three best I’ve read lately.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I checked out this book from the library after my thesis advisor referenced it in a Twitter discussion about the Miami zombie. Weird, right? Anyway, I found this book to be a fascinating read. The premise of the novel is that it’s actually a documentary history of the zombie war, and honestly, there were times when I forgot that Brooks was writing a novel and not a work of nonfiction. I’d have to remind myself that, oh wait, the zombie war hasn’t actually happened. The book is written in a series of “interviews” with people involved in every phase of the war, from the initial reports of Patient 0, to the confusion and cover-ups, to the military plans designed to stop the zombies, to the recovery efforts. The great thing about this book is that most of the sections are short, sometimes just a page or two, sometimes up to maybe twenty pages. Either way, I could sit down, read one section, and set the book down to do something else. Usually, that’s what I had to do. The story is heavy and violent at times (as befitting the subject matter), and I don’t think I was ever able to read more than about 40 pages at a time. The only drawback I found to this book, though, was that Brooks attempts, and almost succeeds, to write in many different voices. Occasionally, I had to flip back a few pages to the beginning of the section to remind myself who was speaking and what role he/she played in the war. I’d venture to say that it’s impossible for a writer to capture so many voices well, but Brooks almost manages. I’ve heard, too, that the audiobook version is excellent because so many great people provide the voice for the different speakers (people like Alan Alda…I love him!). I have some friends who are listening to the audiobook right now, and if they like it, I might actually purchase it. Obviously, this book is not for everyone, but if you really appreciate the use of the zombie as social commentary, then I highly recommend it. Brooks really plays up the political and social ramifications of fighting a global war against zombies, and I’d argue that the book is really more about societal tension than fictional monsters.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This children’s novel by Gaiman won the Newbery Award several years ago, so it’s a shame that it’s taken me so long to read it. This last year or so, however, has been a year when I’ve really jumped into the world of science fiction and fantasy, so it’s appropriate that I’m reading so much Gaiman now.

I had a friend telling me a story on Wednesday, and she made the comment, “He was beautiful like death is beautiful. Does that make sense?” To Sarah: absolutely! Gaiman’s stories (and many other things in life, actually) are beautiful like death is beautiful. I think there is beauty in darkness just as much as in light, and The Graveyard Book is a dark, beautiful story.

In the beginning of the book, a man breaks into a house and kills a family. The only survivor (accidentally, of course) is an infant whose name is unknown. A mysterious man named Silas rescues the baby and takes him to a graveyard in town, where the baby is raised by a ghost couple, Mr. and Mrs. Owens. The baby is dubbed “Nobody Owens,” but is called “Bod.” Bod grows up in the graveyard, rarely venturing out into the land of the living and learning the ways of the graveyard (such as how to Fade to avoid capture). Silas is Bod’s caregiver when Silas is in town (and it was a lot of fun, for me, at least when I figured out why Silas leaves town so frequently). Eventually, as Bod grows older, Silas knows that Bod cannot stay in the graveyard forever, and Bod learns of his mysterious origins and of the man named Jack who killed Bod’s family and is still hunting for him.

I find the premise of growing up in a graveyard to be delightful. Highly illogical (I bet it’s hard to find food and good internet connection there), but delightful nonetheless. In Gaiman, I find that I’m very willing to suspend my disbelief, and in doing so, his stories become real and alive and bright and beautiful.

Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder (writer), Jock, and Francesco Francavilla (artists)

Two weeks ago today, I attended my first comic book convention, HeroesCon in Charlotte. It was wonderful, and the best part, easily, was attending a panel in which Snyder and Francavilla discussed writing this comic book series. (Insert fangirl moment: I’ve met two of the three creators of this wonderful book!!!) My friend Guy, who met me at the convention, brought his copy of the graphic novel, insisting that I read it. I finished on Thursday.

So many readers have declared this book to be one of the best (if not the best) Batman book. I’m not a connoisseur of Batman, having only just begun to read the series when DC rebooted their entire universe last year. (Side note: Scott Snyder is the writer of the current Batman series, and it’s phenomenal! The first seven issues have just been released in a hardcover edition called Batman: The Court of Owls. Check it out.)

I sort of did things backward with this book: sitting through an hour-long panel about the book before actually reading the book. Still, I think that actually made me appreciate it more. I knew how the story would end, and I knew what the best scenes in the book were, so I read it slowly and savored it. I picked up on a lot of foreshadowing in the book, and I peered closely at panels that I knew were important.

Okay, the premise of the story. Bruce Wayne is not Batman here; Dick Grayson has picked up the suit while Bruce is away from Gotham for a while. Dick is a different kind of Batman than Bruce is, and that distinction makes me appreciate both their characters more. Dick is working side-by-side with Commissioner Gordon on solving the mystery of who is behind an auction house that is selling off artifacts from Gotham’s greatest villains when Gordon’s son James arrives back in town. Something is wrong with James–something has always been wrong with James–but Jim has never been able to figure out exactly what. Through the rest of the events in the book, they finally discover what’s going on with James, but I won’t spoil that for you.

There are so many great things about this book. The idea of a mirror, reflecting duality with both Jim/James and Dick/James. A black mirror, reflecting the darkness of Gotham City, which is basically a character in and of itself. Also, there’s a huge, dead killer whale discovered in a bank, and that’s just crazy and cool.

Anyway, between this graphic novel and Snyder’s current run of Batman, I have become a huge fan of both Batman and Snyder. And this is a really great, literary graphic novel.

Currently:

I’ve read some other books, too, in between all of these. Expect a post soon about the wonderfulness of John Green, who is one of my favorite persons on the planet. I’m in the middle of two books right now: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bagicalupi (the companion to The Ship Breaker, which I previously reviewed) and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), which I’m trying to push through because I feel like I need it to end soon. I also have The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, the follow-up to I Am Number Four, which I need to read soon because A) There’s a long line of holds at the library, and B) the next book comes out in a few weeks. 1Q84 is still standing staunchly on my bookcase, waiting patiently for me. Soon.

May Books

I’m over halfway toward my goal of reading 100 books that I’d never read before this year. Yay!

42. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan. Described as a “post-apocalyptic romance” by Scott Westerfeld, I was sure this would be one I adored. Nope. Not at all.

43. Perfect You, Elizabeth Scott.

44. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity, Mike Carey & Peter Gross. The first five issues of a comic book series. It’s so good and literary and engrossing.

45. The Unwritten Rule, Elizabeth Scott.

46. Coraline, Neil Gaiman. This graphic novel was adapted from Gaiman’s book and illustrated by P. Craig Russell. I was creeped out by it…which was just about perfect. I want to see the film now.

47. Stealing Heaven, Elizabeth Scott. A young adult novel that went slightly against the formula. This one is about a 17-year-old whose mother steals silver from wealthy homes. They move around constantly, living a nomadic, clandestine life, until they arrive in a town called Heaven. While Dani’s mother is planning what house to strike, Dani makes friends in the town for the first time in her life. It’s a good coming-of-age story about how a girl decides her own future.

48. Superman: Red Son, Mark Millar. A graphic novel answering the question, “What if Superman had landed 12 hours later in Russia instead of Metropolis?” It’s really awesome.

49. Bloom, Elizabeth Scott

50. The Scent of Rain and Lightning, Nancy Pickard.

51. Double Fudge, Judy Blume. Published in 2002, this book was written years after the first four books featuring the Hatcher family and their neighbor Sheila Tubman–Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, and Fudge-a-mania. It is just as delightful and funny as the previous tales.

52. Love You Hate You Miss You, Elizabeth Scott.

Grad school has begun, so I’m working on reading for that class, which means my other reading has slacked off a bit. Still, I’ll manage to get in a few first-time reads in June, I’m sure.

Welcome to the Nerd Herd

This week, I started a new hobby.

I now collect comic books.

I mean, I’ve been reading them for awhile. First, the graphic novels. My first one was actually Dave Gibbons’ The Originals in a British Novels class in college. Then Watchmen and V for Vendetta. And the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 comics. And other Joss Whedon spin-offs.

Now, I own some. My collecting began the beginning of this week, when Dr. Washick delivered the 26 issues of various Doctor Who storylines. One of his friends was getting rid of much of his comic book collection, and I purchased those. I have since ordered another shipment from an online comic book distributor out of Texas. And…

Today was Free Comic Book Day. I visited Borderlands and Richard’s Comics and Collectables, and I have added to my collection. Also, Richard’s is AMAZING. They have a subscription service, so I’ll be able to save money and guarantee that I get the newest issues of the comics I want. And…I bought a Lego Angel doll from there. It’s seriously awesome.

When I was paying at Richard’s, the two guys working and I started talking about Buffy. And when I confessed that I had just begun collecting comic books this week, one of them (who was wearing a costume) said, “Welcome to the Nerd Herd.”

Indeed.