BookBin2016: DC Bombshells Volume 1: Enlisted

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Not only am I on a bit of a graphic novel kick at the moment, but I’m also still focused on my own books rather than ones from the library. This one is the latest graphic novel I procured from Amazon: the first volume of collected comics for the DC Bombshells story line.

I love the “organic” way that this series came about (I use organic in quotes because I’m pretty sure that this was ultimately DC’s plan right from the start. Because jaded.). What began as a series of one-off variant comic covers depicting DC heroines and villainesses as WWII-era “bombshell” pinups has spun into this special edition series of stories detailing how these characters played a role in the global fight against the Nazis.

I suppose that one could state that this feels a little flippant. It trivializes the bravery of real people. However, when you keep in mind that several comic heroes rose from the turmoil of this particular piece of history, including Wonder Woman (who should remain linked with World War II…but I’ll have more to say about that later), it brings things into better context. Horrific events sometimes require a different lens through which to process truths that we oftentimes do not wish to contemplate. An even better example of a graphic novel that deals with this devastating stain upon humanity would be Art Spiegelman’s Maus. If you haven’t read that one yet, then I highly recommend it.

Does this series deal with WWII with the same level of success as something like Maus? Oh, no. But that’s why Maus is a Pulitzer prize-winning effort and this is…not. It’s just different. It’s sometimes serious but mostly with this first volume, it’s more about introducing us to the various Bombshell variants chosen for this series. I love the characters chosen so far. Of course, my favorite is Kate Kane. I’m still mourning the demise of her solo run at the hands of DC Comics ineptitude (and possible homophobia). Seeing her in this series made that disappointment a little less tender. Also, I love how writer Marguerite Bennett pretty much erased Batman from this particular timeline thanks to Batwoman. Given my increasing apathy toward the Dark Knight (more on that to come as well), I really enjoyed this particular timeline shift. Also, I’m not really giving away any spoilers since this happens on the first page of the graphic novel.

Interestingly, my last encounter with Bennett’s writing style left me feeling a strong sense of meh-laise (yes, I have created a new word; you’re welcome). She wrote some of the final Gail Simone run for Batgirl. This time around, Bennett was much stronger in storytelling. Her words also garnered accompaniment from some beautiful time period-inspired artwork. Heavy line work, appropriate palette, and gorgeous renderings of our lovely ladies of DC in the styles of the times made a great visual impact upon a solid opener to this series.

Final Verdict: Keeping this volume and patiently awaiting the release of the next one this June.

BookBin2016: The Cape: 1969

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Quick review time, denizens. The Cape: 1969 is prequel to The Cape, which I reviewed at the end of last year. Again, we’ve got Jason Ciaramella writing the graphic novel script for Joe Hill’s original story, with Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel handling the artwork.

For this story, we learn how the Marine Corps patch that Eric’s mom had stitched onto Eric’s cape when he was a little boy was able to make it possible for him to actually fly. It’s a…bizarre revelation. It’s also a revelation that carries with it an extra reveal concerning Eric’s behavior as an adult who discovers that the cape can make him fly.

I don’t really have much else to say about this novel. Any more and I run the risk of ruining secrets. It’s a quick enough read, if you’re interested in the story. In fact, if you’re really interested, Amazon sells a deluxe edition of both graphic novels together.

Final Verdict: Even though I could get both together in one edition, I think I’ll pass on this story. It was an interesting enough way to wile away some time while sitting at the service shop getting a tire replaced recently, but it’s not really a story or artwork I feel compelled to revisit.

BookBin2016: Trashed

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A few years ago, I read and reviewed Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. Clearly, I didn’t really think all that much of his offering, based on my review. However, I did find his artwork to be compelling. There’s something about the elongated caricatures that I find visually soothing for some reason.

Therefore, when I saw Backderf’s latest graphic novel, Trashed, at the library, I decided to give him another go. With this novel, he offers another true tale, only this time far less salacious than his exploitative exploits with Jeffrey Dahmer. It was, however, disturbing in its own way. Backderf tells about his time as a trash collector, interspersing his personal vignettes with facts about trash collection in the United States. The true factoids were deeply disturbing. How we handle refuse in this country is appalling and completely unsustainable. Should we pay more attention to our trash levels? Absolutely. Will this book bring light to the subject? Honestly, I doubt it. Not that many people read graphic novels, and those who do typically don’t want to read graphic novels about…trash. That’s a shame, though, because I thought that this was a salient and provocative book.

Final Verdict: I found Backderf’s latest novel also disturbing, but not for the same reasons. I also found this novel worthy not only of reading but also of action. We need to start doing more to address how much trash we produce globally and how we can reduce that, not only through recycling more but also through rethinking how we package products and how we can make products last longer, thus reducing how often we have to replace them. Would I add this to my library? Possibly. I haven’t quite decided yet.

BookBin2016: Batgirl Volume 5: Deadline

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What? Two reviews in an hour? What is this madness?

It’s called quick reviews of lackluster graphic novels. #spoilerz

I finally got around to reading Volume 5 in the New 52 Batgirl reboot. Apparently, Deadline also is the last in this series before they rebooted the character again, moved her to a different location, changed her look, and changed her appeal to be more “youth-centered.” Translation: Batgirl ain’t for my old ass anymore.

Of course, this final Batgirl from the Gail Simone run wasn’t really for me either. I felt totally disconnected and confused by several of the stories in this collection. I’ve either forgotten key plot points from the previous four volumes or DC did to me what Marvel used to do all the time when I read X-Men comics (and that pissed me off just as much then as it did now with this collection).

I hate when comics become part of a story arc that runs across several titles. I mean, it’s okay every now and then, especially if you have a huge story that you know will require more than just one particular superhero and will deserve the wider audience (as I seemed appeased when they pulled this same thing in the third collection). However, I felt as though several themes in this collection were pieces from several different (and mediocre) puzzles that I simply didn’t care enough about to piece together. Also, it strikes me as frustratingly and offensively greedy of comics companies to demand that readers invest so much money into being able to get the whole story when all they might care about is one faction of the comics universe.

[Loba Translation: I don’t give a damn about Batman. Stop trying to make me give a damn.]

Final Verdict: Just as it was with my last Batwoman experience, I’m drawing the line at 5 with Batgirl. I won’t be following Babs and her roomie Alysia to Burnside.

BookBin2016: Blacksad: Amarillo

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Back once more with another graphic novel from the Blacksad series by writer Juan Diaz Canales and artist Juanjo Guarnido. We haven’t had a new novel from this duo since their 2012 offering A Silent Hell. I gave that novel a bit of a lackluster review in comparison to my ebullient review of the first Blacksad collection.

I’m afraid that my review of this latest novel, Amarillo, is going to be even less enthusiastic. Guarnido is still producing stunning artwork for this series, but I feel as though perhaps Canales has reached his creative limit with this character’s story. I honestly found this tale trite and dull. Perhaps it’s because of my ongoing struggle to get into detective stories, but I ultimately think that it’s because there wasn’t really a story worth telling here. Perhaps it’s either time to let our private dick retire or take up residence with a different storyteller. However, I would like for Guarnido to continue being his artist. Guarnido’s art continues to be top shelf.

Final Verdict: I’ll hang on to this one for the artwork (another from my own collection!), but I seriously doubt whether I would give another novel from this series a go.

BookBin2016: The Sociopath Next Door

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According to Dr. Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and author of The Sociopath Next Door, at least 25 percent of the American population comprises people who are utterly devoid of any conscience.

They’re called politicians.

I kid. Kind of. Not really. After reading this book, I’m pretty sure that the majority of our politicians and millionaire business bullies fall within this conscienceless percentile. I’m pretty sure at least half the candidates running for president right now fit the profile. Even beyond the national stage, I’ve unfortunately known a few sociopaths through the years. I just didn’t know at the time that that was what they were. If only I’d learned of this book sooner.

Here, now, rather than re-inventing the wheel as I have been apt to do before, is a satisfying summary of Stout’s treatise, from Publisher’s Weekly:

[Dr.] Stout says that as many as 4% of the population are conscienceless sociopaths who have no empathy or affectionate feelings for humans or animals. As Stout (The Myth of Sanity) explains, a sociopath is defined as someone who displays at least three of seven distinguishing characteristics, such as deceitfulness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse. Such people often have a superficial charm, which they exercise ruthlessly in order to get what they want. Stout argues that the development of sociopathy is due half to genetics and half to nongenetic influences that have not been clearly identified. The author offers three examples of such people, including Skip, the handsome, brilliant, superrich boy who enjoyed stabbing bullfrogs near his family’s summer home, and Doreen, who lied about her credentials to get work at a psychiatric institute, manipulated her colleagues and, most cruelly, a patient. Dramatic as these tales are, they are composites, and while Stout is a good writer and her exploration of sociopaths can be arresting, this book occasionally appeals to readers’ paranoia, as the book’s title and its guidelines for dealing with sociopaths indicate.

I can see why they would feel compelled to add the last sentence to their review. I mean, the book’s title is pretty inflammatory if you were prone to even a smidgen of paranoia. However, 25 percent? Those are pretty solid odds in favor of everyone at some point having a run-in with a person who fits the sociopath profile. Knowing the signs by reading a book like this? That could make all the difference to your protection. Again, I wish I’d encountered this book a long time ago. Could have saved me a whole heap of trouble.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely going to keep the book (that’s right, I’ve finally read one of my own books!), but I also know a couple of people I’m going to lend it to. I’m pretty sure they’ll appreciate the information.

BookBin2016: Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir

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In stark contrast to my last read that focused on life and love affirmation, I then picked up Alan Cumming’s memoir Not My Father’s Son.

Wow.

Okay, my statement isn’t completely correct. Cumming’s memoir is about life and love affirmation, with the people in his life who matter the most. However, it’s also about the brutality and manipulation leveled upon him and his brother by their father, who very clearly suffered from some form of mental illness that never received proper diagnosis or treatment. What a world of difference that might have made for everyone had that occurred.

Instead, Cumming survived as best as he could, which if you know anything about who he has become and what he has done with his life as a performer, is pretty damn well. I love Alan Cumming. Reading this book made me love him all the more.

I don’t really want to say much else about this memoir, other than that it can be a difficult read, but ultimately reveals levels of strength, solidarity, and survival within Cumming and his close circle of friends and family that are beautiful and affirming of the capabilities of the human spirit.

Final Verdict: I think this would be a worthy addition to the biographical section of my library.

BookBin2016: Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves

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I remember reading a few years ago that Maria Bello had come out as being in a relationship with a woman. This announcement intrigued me, but then I moved on with my life, as people tend to do. I mean, it was nice reading this, and I do like her as an actress, but it was one of those things that you kind of absorb throughout the day, file away in your brain, and then quickly let it go for some other tidbit. Needless to say, I didn’t realize that she later went on to write an op-ed for the New York Times or that she then went on to write a book based on that piece.

However, during a recent library visit, that book, Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, was perched there on one of the shelves I was perusing, beckoning me to at least pick it up. I read the jacket blurb, read the reviews, and thumbed through the first chapter (which I now realize is pretty close to the op-ed piece that inspired Bello to write the book), and realized that I wanted to know more about what she had to say.

The book’s concept is pretty straightforward. Bello posits that we are more than the labels that either society or we give ourselves. She also posits that sometimes we give ourselves erroneous titles, either in positive or negative ways, and she proceeds to analyze some of the labels she has taken or received throughout her life. Through a series of questions, she examines what those labels mean to her and why she feels they are either deserved or unwarranted.

I was surprised to find this book quite compelling. I didn’t honestly realize that Bello had an interest in writing. I also didn’t realize that she had recently been quite ill. Thankfully, she’s better in many ways, and this book is a testament to an admirable desire on her part to better understand herself, her surroundings, her support group, and also the world in general and how her actions can help improve that world. I was fairly impressed with all that I read, and I thought it was quite sweet how her son seems to play such an integral part, not only in the writing of this book and the original op-ed but also in Bello’s desire to examine and improve upon herself.

Final Verdict: I could see this becoming a part of my library. I also would recommend it as a quick but fascinating read from an unexpected but ultimately delightful person.

BookBin2016: The Girl on the Train

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I’ve done it again. I’ve gone and bought into hype and found it to be sorely lacking in satisfaction. So it goes with Paula Hawkins’s novel The Girl on the Train, which reviewers and fans led me to believe was a cracking page-turner with surprise twists left and right.

I twigged to the killer in the first quarter of the book, so that wasn’t compelling. Also, the novel lacked any sympathetic characters. There was a character I felt sorry for, but pity does not equal likability. I didn’t like any of the characters in this novel, and honestly found most of them utterly contemptible examples of humanity. Perhaps this is what we could dub Gone Girl syndrome. Talk about a book filled with utterly horrid, valueless people. This book wasn’t quite as bad, but I feel that Hawkins was perhaps striving to give us a similar level of questionable humanity. Guess she’s hoping for a movie deal.

Oh. Oh, look. They’re making a movie out of The Girl on the Train. And, wow, I would never have cast Emily Blunt in that role after having read the book. She is the antithesis of what that character should look like. But we can’t have an unattractive person anchoring a movie, now, can we? I do believe I shall avoid this with the same vigor with which I avoided the movie version of Gone Girl.

Final Verdict: Disappointing story. Satisfactory writing. Nice English flavour. Would never own this though. Back to the library.

BookBin2016: Career of Evil

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And J.K. Rowling has done it to me yet again. It wasn’t enough to lure me on through year after year of eagerly anticipating the next Harry Potter novel. Oh no. That wasn’t enough. Now, she has to do the same to me, this time as Robert Galbraith, spinning the continuing adventures of her latest fictional heroes, Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott.

This time, with Career of Evil, the primary case is far more personal than the previous two, which lends itself to much more personal revelations about and between our protagonist and deuteragonist. I’m not quite sure how I feel about a lot of the backstory we learn for Robin Ellacott, but it wasn’t really all that surprising. Rowling alluded to such revelations throughout the previous two Strike novels, particularly The Silkworm. I think I’m okay with it, simply by how beautifully Rowling handled it. Ultimately, it has made Robin Ellacott that much more multifaceted, that much stronger, that much more able to complement Cormoran Strike’s own complexities and strengths.

Strangely enough, I don’t even really care that these are detective/crime novels. I’m beginning to find that element of the tales secondary to what I believe has always been Rowling’s primary talent: building a compelling world into which her readers can enter and become blissfully, rapturously, exquisitely, holistically lost. Seriously, her books are so long for a few reasons, one of which is the care she gives to making the worlds she invites you to explore actually worth exploring. Also, her Cormoran Strike novels are unabashedly, unapologetically British to their very core, which I admit makes me love them that much more. Whereas I know that many British novels get rewrites for American audiences, if for nothing more than to keep American readers from having to ponder foreign locations or figure out foreign phrasing (because Murhka), I feel as though Rowling set about to root these novels so deeply into the soil of her homeland that no amount of rewriting could deracinate them.

Thank you for that, Ms. Rowling. I love the flavour and feel of Strike and Ellacott’s language and behaviour, their destinations, their locales, their foods, their drinks, and by all things holy under the British crown, I need to find some Doom Bar on this side of the pond soon, so that I can experience the beer that Rowling either must love herself or knows of someone who loves it deeply. Honestly, Cormoran must drink a bottle or pint of it every chapter!

Final Verdict: I love Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott immensely. I love their development, both singularly and together. I love their chemistry. I love their interactions. I love their existence. I even love their cases and the care in which Rowling leads them through investigations. I feel slightly guilty in revealing that I find the actual cases less compelling than the characters, but I also still find the cases at least interesting. And the reveals, while somewhat anticlimactic still, are well-considered and quite well-played. I would expect nothing less from Rowling. Or Galbraith. Or Strike and Ellacott. I can’t wait for the next novel. The question is, when will they release a set of novels so that I can buy them all together?