The moral of the story is read more Limony Snicket

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window by Limony Snicket

Genre savvy-ness and word play are some of the coolest things ever. I mean, maybe my inner English nerd does geek out about them a little more often than strictly necessary but they are still awesome.

Which is why Limony Snicket is so wonderful. The story is good, although very dark in a comical kind of way. The characters are lovely. The description is great too but the part that really, really rocks – the genre stavvy-ness and the word play.

Limony Snicket understands that kids don’t know ever single wacky word in our ridiculous language but he’s able to explain words with just the right amount of humor and fallibility that the reader can understand without condescension or limiting their creativity. I feel like that’s probably really hard to do.

The story is about the Baudelaire orphans being moved to the care of yet another eccentric guardian, only to run into the evil Count Olaf again in his endless quest for their fortune.

But I’m still less excited about that than I am Limony Snicket’s discussion of morals or his advice about allergies or his description of  Alexander the Great.

And I can’t think of anything else to say about this book. Well maybe “read it!”

Last TV episode I watched: Something about veterans climbing a mountain to help them recover from their physical injuries and PTSD. Wasn’t that cheerful. The mountains look beautiful though.

Last movie I watched: Priest. Again. ‘Cause I’m dumb. I thought it would get better the second time round. It didn’t.

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Parenting advice from Bruce Wayne: Dress your kid up in a yellow cape and take him crime fighting, don’t tell him anything and get him a puppy

The New 52 Batman and Robin Vol 1 Born to Kill by Peter J Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray

Plot: Bruce is back to being Batman and has decided to keep Dick’s choice of Damian (his biological and accidental son by the daughter of one of his most epic enemies) as Robin. But it’s not going that well. Along with Bruce generally being much more grumpy than Dick, he’s torn between protecting his crazy, assassin trained offspring from further injury and trauma and not trusting said crazy assassin trained offspring to not kill everyone who looks at him funny. To make things more complicated an old buddy of Bruce’s shows up. Nobody, like Batman, fights crime  – only he beats it to death instead of putting it into a laughably ineffective prison system.  Naturally Damian is interested in Nobody, who then tries to recruit him. This more of less gives Bruce heart failure but it all turns out okay in the end.

And Bruce buys a puppy for Damian. In hopes that a puppy will distract him from his other hobbies of killing rodents, breaking faces and drawing people dying in horrible ways.

High points: Pretty much all of it. The plot is quite good but it’s not really the driving force in the story. That is Damian and Bruce’s relationship. And that’s nice. The right amount of screaming, the right amount of forgiving. Each character feeling betrayed by the other. Each character trying to protect the other. You kind of get the impression that Bruce doesn’t know his son (certainly not half as well as Dick) because he’s always just assumed the boy is what Talia made him. You don’t usually get to see Bruce Wayne being completely wrong so that was refreshing.

Also, Batman would  have me believe that all family bounding needs to include concussions for everyone!

Last movie I watched: Probably still James Bond. I gotta get on that

Last TV episode I watched: YOUNG JUSTICE! AHH HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN!? ALSO, IS TIM OKAY? Man it’s going to be a long week.

And there goes Bruce Wayne, dating a crazy person again

Batman and Robin: Dark Knight vs White Knight by Paul Cornell, Scott Mcdaniel, Peter J Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Judd Winink and Greg Tocchini

Okay so the title of this post is a little deceiving. The first story in the graphic novel is driven by a woman Bruce briefly dated. After she ends her relationship with Bruce (because he was too busy being Batman and lying about it) she got shot through the head, but since this is Batman it turned her into a super villain… instead of you know… just killing her the way you’d expect it to. Whatever. She is very upset that Bruce wasn’t at her funeral (he was too busying being not dead) so she decides to attack Batman, Robin and other women Bruce’s dated. ‘Cause that makes sense. Luckily, Dick resents being attacked so he and Damian deal with that.

If anything clever happened in this story (and it might not have) it would be the play between Una and Dick’s Batman. She talks about how Bruce uses people but doesn’t care about them, that the Batmen are all expendable and worthless to him and that he inspires loyalty and self sacrifice but never shows these traits himself. Since Dick was the first of five Robins he kind of relates to the idea that Bruce can always get someone to step up and fill his little green ankle shoes/Batboots and that worries him. Particularly because he’s only had one Robin and he’s pretty fond of Damian. The family interactions (mostly Dick, Damian and Alfred but Bruce gets a phone call too) were genuine and sweet and as usual, my favourite bits.

The second story is the Dark Knights vs White Knights in which a crazy vigilante calling himself the White Knight is murdering the family members of the super-villains in Arkham. This story is much cleverer, more involved and actually sort of makes sense most of the time. It also opens with an awesome scene were Bruce forces all of his (mostly sane) Robins to watch a movie with him and later Alfred tying Dick’s bow tie while driving (seriously is that not the height of awesomeness?). The Dick/Damian banter is wonderful – funny and bickering most of the time with momentary slip ups from both parties were they accidentally show how much the care (Damian getting very grumpy when Man-bat steals Dick and Dick being super supportive, caring and speech-y when Damian expresses his concern that he’ll grow up like his crazy evil ass family).

And because this is a Batman, Dick gets impaled at the end and then shakes it off. ‘Cause gut wounds aren’t really a big thing.

The last one involves Jason Todd. Unlikely the rest of the internet, I’m not that excited about Jason. But this story kind of changed my opinion on him which was fun. For one thing, he’s a ginger (normally he’s got black hair just like EVERY OTHER MALE CHARACTER IN THE BATFAMILY) but there’s some confusion about that, whether in some of his early comics Bruce asked him to dye his hair the same colour as Dick’s or if the hair colour was changed when he got a new back story because the chances of a rich superhero finding two acrobatic circus kids was just getting ridiculous) so his was re-written. Anyway, for this story I’m going to have to assume he was dying it when he worked with Bruce because in the flashbacks he has black hair (all speaking to how amazingly bad Bruce was at parenting him – no wonder he’s crazy). I found that detail made him more sympathetic (and it’s not because all gingers have a secret solidarity pact or anything) because yeah, if the man who raised me asked me to alter my appearance to look more like his other kid I’d feel a little undervalued too. Anyway, Jason gets transferred out of Arkham despite the best efforts of Dick and Bruce and into real prison so he can systematically kill the other prisoners. Eventually even the dumb as posts prison staff put two and two together and try to send him back to Arkham only to have him rescue/kidnapped on the car ride over and forced to work with his kind of siblings Dick and Damian to rescue his sidekick.

They switched drawing styles half way through which I didn’t like, but at least it wasn’t really toothy.

Jason, despite the fact that he’s crazy, a murderer and was put in prison by his sort-of-siblings still hasn’t told anyone his name, presumably to protect Bruce and by extension the Batfamily. Which kind of means he’s awesome and that he still loves his family just a little. Good times. No wonder the internet adores him.

Last movie I watched: James Bond – does it even really matter which one?

Last TV episode I watched: Still Grimm. Still awesome. STILL NEEDS TO STOP EATING PEOPLE.

The Underland is getting better!

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

I liked Gregor the Overlander when I read it over the summer. But I wasn’t that impressed with it.

But like ninety nine percent of superhero trilogies, two is way better than one (hopefully three doesn’t suck though).

The story picks up a few months after the first book. Gregor did rescue his sister and their father and bring them home, but it didn’t really help. Now his poor mother has another dependent because her husband is too sick and traumatized by his time in the Underland to help his family, forcing Gregor to continue taking care of his younger siblings and his grandma. That is until the roaches kidnap Boots one day to protect her from the rats who are afraid of the Prophecy of Bane and believe Boots is the key to stopping it.

One of the great things about the second book in a series is way less time has to be spent in exposition. This book really benefits from the quicker story line and a bit more playfulness in the writing style. As usual Boots’ voice is beautiful and the different species that live in the Underland are fantastic and unique (but not in a Brian Jacques way when your species informs EVERY CHARACTER TRAIT YOU HAVE). Lovable characters return, new ones are introduced and very importantly in the case of Ares, old characters are explored.

The most satisfying relationship was Gregor and Ares as they learn what their bonds means, something that was left to the very end of the previous book. But my favourite moment takes places in the Overland. Lizzie, Gregor’s middle sister selflessly insists that he take Boots to go sledding while she stays home to watch their father and grandmother. Gregor thinks sadly that she’s only seven and it’s unfair that she has to do that – the wonderful part is that he’s only a few years older. I thought that moment really showed his character much clearer than any other. Even fighting sea monsters.

I did find the ending of this one a little too convenient but other than that I have no real criticism. It’s a very genred story, full of archetypes and standard plot arches but the twists that she does slip in are surprising and lovely and it makes for a really pleasant read.

Last movie I watched: Quantum of Solace. I feel like I didn’t pay enough attention ’cause  I have no idea what went on. Bond shot stuff I think.

Last TV episode I watched: Grimm!! People seriously gotta stop eating people on that show.

Wordlessly Wonderful

Owly:  A Time To Be Brave by Andy Runton

So if you Google “Core lists graphic novels” I can almost guarantee that Owly will be on every list you find. If you go to any presentations on great graphic novels for your library, there’s like a ninety eight percent chances that Owly will come up. If you’re looking a lists of series that have won awards for children’s publications, Owly will probably be on there somewhere.

Because Owly is awesome.

And also wordless.

The characters communicate with each other, and the reader, entirely through simple pictures.

This is my first experience reading a wordless graphic novel and it was totally positive.

There are many awesome things about this book. For one thing it teaches narrative literacy so well because kids have to tell the story themselves, using the clues  in the pictures. I mean, it’s a pretty simple, sweet story and there’s definitely characters and character development and a beginning, middle and end but without words the kids have to tell the story just a little more. I also think it teaches them how to read graphic novels, introducing frames and speech bubbles and the left to right concept and the page numbers and all kinds of other things that will be useful for kids who decide to read anything, not just graphic novels, in the future.

But for kids who aren’t reading yet, this is particularly awesome because it’s a novel. I mean, it took me like twenty minutes to read but for kids who’re used to picture books, which have a relatively short emotional connection, to be reading something a little longer, to get to know characters and watch their story for over a hundred pages is an absolutely wonderful experience.

Plus Owly and Wormy are absolutely adorable.

Last movie I watched: The Amazing Spiderman. Again.

Last TV episode I watched: Grimm! Sooo good!!

Pause for Comic Books

Batman Beyond Unlimited #12 by Krul Porter, Lindsay Fridilfs, Nguyen Satples and Beechen Breyfogle. The New 52 Batman Incorporated #7 by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham, The New 52 Batman the Dark Knight Trapped in the Chaos of the Mad Hatter by Greg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver. The New 52 Death of the Family Nightwing # 16 by Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows and Ever Ferreira. The New 52 Batman and Robin A New Dark Knight Rises #1. Young Justice Invasion #4 Reflections of Danger by Greg Weisman and Christopher Jones.

Lesson Number one: Comics are so confusing and require so much effort to understand. Graphic novels are so much less confusing. I mean, they’re hard to follow but nothing like good old staple bound comics.  They are essentially chapters of a larger story that’s being released slightly randomly over months and months and only available in some places. I suppose if you were more devoted than I am, you’d realize that it wasn’t a random schedule, you’d go to DC websites and figure out when the ones you wanted to read were coming out and plan to go to the special stores accordingly. I’m either less devoted, less intelligent or marginally less nerdy because I don’t do those things.

But my decision not to actively pursue the stable bound wonders of the world does somewhat affect how much I get out of the reading experience.

For example the Young Justice Invasion is the fourth out of six. I’ve read one other. It’s a stellar story but it’s got like sixty million characters in it and they’re all of solving the problem from different angles which kind of fragments the story so it doesn’t really feel like you’re reading so much as getting news updates from different camera crews around the world. Fun, but not really  narrative. When they’re published in novel form, things will flow better. The Nightwing is part of the larger story arch Death of the Family (a play off of Death In the Family, the comic series in which Jason Todd was beaten almost to death with a crow bar and then blow up, after his mother betrayed him) but this whole comic was the Joker beating the snot out of Nightwing. One, that’s just upsetting on principle. Two it doesn’t make for a great read. When I can read the whole story, it’ll just seem like a particularly rough chapter for Dick Grayson while other stuff happens, but by itself it just feels kind of…. disappointing. In the Dark Knight, we get Batman trying to figure out whose behind a kidnapping ring, and since he can’t just look at the cover of the comic he’s in he doesn’t know its the Mad Hatter. But it’s too incomplete to feel that awesome because all that happens is Batman makes a list of suspects and then checks them off. He barely even investigates  Not that fun as a stand alone.

Oh, I guess he breaks up with his girlfriend too. Which was probably my favourite bit actually. At least she wasn’t evil. I don’t think.

On the other hand the Batman and Robin was a really cute, really neat stand alone story in which Damian sets up a scavenger hunt across Europe based on places his paternal (not crazy) grandparents had visited to prove to his father that he is clever and also that he loves Bruce. While Bruce is away, believing he’ll catch up with Damian, Damian is in Gotham wearing a tiny Batman suit and punching people. But it was its own story and surprisingly heartwarming and cute. Particularly when Bruce works it all out and comes home to not yell at his son. Also there was some quality Alfred in there. The Batman Incorporated felt like reading the most exciting chapter of a book ever all by itself, which is both super exciting and kind of unsatisfying. On the one hand, Talia has Bruce! Damian’s coming after him and that kid is epic. Also, I like that both Dick and Tim are around but now I have to wait until the next one comes out and I get around to getting somewhere I can buy it. Frustrating! The Batman Beyond is similarly excited. Sort of anyway. The first third is about Superman getting kidnapped by a bounty hunting alien. I wasn’t that impressed ’cause Superman’s kind of useless. The next third was Mircon’s origin story, which was kind of neat but only because it ran parallel to Bruce’s downfall. And the last third mostly involved Terry getting the snot beaten out of him, getting rescued by Dick (favourite part!) and having an epiphany. But there’s got to be so much more to that story coming that isn’t in this flimsy staple bound thing and I won’t get to know what for ages. So unfair.

But that’s what I get for reading comics.

Last movie I watched: The Amazing Spiderman. It was actually kind of really awesome!

Last TV episode I watched: Teen Titans. It had its moments.

“My how pretentious,” I muttered softly to myself as the corners of my mouth turned downwards into a frown

Rangers Apprentice: Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

In this exciting, if … unfortunately written fourth book, we see Will and Evelyn still blundering along where we left them (stranded in a cottage in the mountains) and Horace and Halt making their slow, unnecessarily complicated (courtesy of all fantasy novels ever written) way towards them.

Seriously, if real life was like a fantasy novel you wouldn’t be able to get groceries without having to stop to rescue a country, pretend to be someone you’re not, sleep in a sketchy tavern and answer a dying man’s last wish. It’s ridiculous.

The two parties unite, but before they can get themselves safely home they realized that Skandia, their sworn enemy and the people who kidnapped Evelyn and Will to enslave them, are being invaded by an even bigger, badder enemy so they are forced,  in order to protect their homeland of Arulan, to fight alongside their former enemies.

See, and I know that it’s not an original story but there aren’t that many original stories anyway, so it’s all about the telling of the story.

Which is kind of where this book falls down in my opinion.

There was some luck for anyone who was mostly reading the book for the single moment when Halt and Will finally run into each other. I’m not sure if it’s good luck, because they met up in the first few chapters, or bad luck because then I had to read the whole rest of the book but whatever.

It’s one of the few, well written moments in the book, when the author decides that the reader can infer how excited and happy and frightened and overjoyed Halt is to see Will and vice versa through their actions without spelling it out. Without feeling the need to state it six hundred times. Without really driving it home by reworking the previous sentence and slipping it in two lines later. Because that’s what irritated me most about this book – his need to state everything as many times as possible.

That and his unnecessarily verbose language use.

I like to think that kids can understand when they read and infer meaning.  Subtle clues like stating the character has a dry mouth, that their hands shake, that they exchange nervous glances with their friends, that their heart is beating fast and that they are facing down an army of crazy horse riding bow-and-arrow wielding warriors should really be enough to indicate to the reader that the character is frightened. Even if the reader is a nine year old boy (let’s give them some credit shall we?). Therefore stating that they are frightened is a little redundant and frustrating.  But you know what makes it worse? Having every other character also reflect on each others moods and thoughts. Yes of course he looks nervous! Thank you for that staggering piece of information random secondary character. The author mentioned that. Several times. We don’t need it from the guy standing on the other side of the battle field debating the merits of dropping his weapons and running for the hills.

I also found the language use a really combination of archaic (standard high fantasy rubbish) and modern. I really want examples but I read it on an ereader and I don’t think I can get back to all the pages without going through the whole book again (it’s a pretty old ereader). Anyway, next time I read one I’ll write them down as they come up.

So mostly I found this book frustrating. The story is great. I mean, not original but that’s what genre fiction is for. But the writing just drives me crazy.

It’ll be a while before I read the next one. I need to forget how much I disliked this one.

Last movie I watched: Dark Knight Returns Part 2. EPIC!!!

Last TV episode I watched: Grimm. Which is really, really clever and getting more clever as it goes on.