Knowing that there’s good, trashy teenage vampire fiction out there makes Twilight so much worse

Frostbite: A Vampire Academy Novel by Richelle Mead

Frostbite is the second in the Vampire Academy series and it  is lovely. Rose and Lissa are still at school, making up for the years they were running away and recovering from the kind of scary events of the first book. Everything is going swimmingly. Lissa is in love with her boyfriend Christian and Rose is trying to cope with how in love she is with her fighting instructor Dimitri.

That is until a group of Strigoi slaughter bunch of members of the royal family. Then the relationship drama has to … make room from some other kinds of drama.  Like political drama, parental drama, fighting evil drama and some pretty serious death.

It’s a fun, easy read that I got through pretty quickly and enjoyed a lot. It also made me think that adults are kind of just like teenagers, but with a few more skills at hiding it.

As usual I am more interested in the relationships between friends than I am couples because homosocial live partners are way more important anyway (haven’t you heard?).  Hence my analysis of Rose and Lissa, not Rose and Dimitri or Lissa and Christian. I totally empathized with Rose as she got increasingly frustrated in her relationship with her best friend. I mean, as an adult (and way more as a teen) I definitely lost touch with a lot of people I considered a best friend once,  so I got her frustration, worry and jealousy. She didn’t seem like an over emotionally whiny teenager at all to me (something J.K. couldn’t manage) so much as someone loosing their best friend and hurting because of it. I also understood how badly Rose wanted to tell Lissa about her own issues and insecurities but didn’t feel like she could. I’m also pretty sure that didn’t stop when I magically turned twenty.

Isn’t that depressing? Being a teenager doesn’t end, just gets more controllable. Ugg.

Rose’s relationship with her mother, who wasn’t in the first book, was also really neat to see unfolding. It moved from complete antagonism to potentially becoming almost like cooperation maybe – which seemed realistic and was nice to read. The best parts were moments when Rose starts to understand what motivated her mother and to admire her for them, even though she hated it.

The last, and probably best part is (SPOILER OF EPIC PROPORTION) was Mason’s death. And by best I mean the most emotional part of the whole book, not the most fun. His death was handled so breathtakingly, and realistically (considering he was killed by vampires) and I absolutely didn’t see it coming . Rose’s trauma and guilt are very raw but it brings her closer to her mother particularly  in a very beautiful way.

So yup, there we have it. A discussion of a vampire romance in which I describe neither the vampires, or the romance.

Whatever. It’s how I roll.

Last movie I watched: Good god, it’s still Snow White and the Huntsman. This is ridiculous!

Last TV episode I watched: Downton Abbey. Mr Bates! Why Mr Bates?!

Best Batman Book ever! Or at least high up on the list

Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul by Grant Morrison and Paul Dini

One of the problems with superhero comics is that whenever you try to explain what happens in them it sounds like someone playing Mad Libs at three thirty in the morning.When you read them, its awesome and cool and totally sensible. When you summarize you sound like a six year old.  No wonder no one takes them seriously.

So, just keep that in mind as you read this next paragraph okay?

Ra’s Al Ghul is one of the most epic villains in Batman because he’s like three thousand years old and every time dying pops up to ruin his day he jumps in a Lazarus Pit, goes a little crazy and then gets better. Lazarus pits can do that to people see? So anyway, Ra’s seems to be pretty dead there at the beginning of the story, but obviously that’s not how this ends. It ends in an epic battle that involves the whole Batfamily (which is where the awesomeness comes in) trekking to Asia to save Damian Wayne, stop the Sensi and keep Ra’s from destroying a magical monastery in his attempt to get another body for his soul.

Batman is awesome. I love him. Obviously. But the best Batman books have good stories for the whole family, not just him. Which is why this one is so awesome. Bruce spends most of the story hunting done ultimate evils with his ex-girl friend after making the decision to stop Ra’s instead of protect his son. Dick gets called in to rescue Tim and Damian and ends up taking an unthinkable risk with his little brother. Tim, who’s still heartbroken by the deaths of three people he loves, finds himself fighting to protect Damian, who hates him, and ends up being made a terrible offer. Damian is scared for the first time in his life and he reacts by running to his father, who he barely knows, only to get stuck with his brothers instead. Even Alfred ends up coming on this mission and kicking some butt.

Because it’s a family story.

Of course, it does kind of suffer from a weird mix of mysticism and science and the standard comic book plot holes (how can there be that many ninjas?) but it’s actually surprisingly genre savvy too which is awesome. As Nightwing observes “That’s like the Sam’s club super-sized box of ninjas. Where does Ra’s find these guys?”

Last movie I watched: Snow White and the Huntsman still.

Last TV episode I watched: Grimm!! Which is just… so…. wonderful I’m not sure I’ll bother articulating it

That vague feeling you get after reading a book that was good but you feel like it could be better

Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan and Orpheus Collar

I made the decision not to read Red Pyramid like the moment I saw it, which is probably a little unfair. But as previously discussed, I LOVE PERCY JACKSON. Reading the back of Red Pyramid made me think… Percy Jackson only with Egyptian gods instead of Greek ones and no Percy. Which just seemed like a recipe for disappointment.  So I just didn’t read it.

But then I found this shiny graphic novel version of it and thought well hey, it’s like reading the novel but it’ll take me like a tenth of the time and there are pretty pictures. So I did.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I was right in my initial analysis of the Red Pyramid. It was a good story for sure, totally engaging and fun but it just felt Percy Jacksonesque all the way through. Kids who don’t know their powers, absent parents, guardians in unexpected places, road trips, flying boats, training montages, long lost family members, magical dreams. These are all good things, and normally way over featured in fantasy generally (all things that will not make it into any epic fantasy novel  I ever decide to write) but overlapping with the ancient gods and their weird mythology and all those things just felt…. like the Olympians. Without Percy. This made me sad.

The pictures are quite lovely. Brightly coloured, vivid, exciting but I don’t know, I feel like there was just too much content to fit in a graphic novel so they had to be small and framed in a pretty standard way. I’m starting to noticed a big difference between books that were written to be graphic novels and novels turned into graphic ones afterwards. They’re just never as good picture wise.

So even though I liked the story and was pleased with the pictures when I finished I had an overwhelming sense that “gee that was good…. but it failed to be awesome”. I don’t know, I get why it’s circ stats are fairly low. I’m not sure I would read it if I were a ten year old kid either. Not for any particular reason, just a failure to be awesome.

Last movie I watched: Snow White  and the Huntman. Highlights: Chris Hemsworth and the special effects. Lowlights: EVERYTHING ELSE.

Last TV episode I watched: The The Batman episode with Nightwing in it. I swear I didn’t giggle like a three year old.

I’m lying.

How not to write a best selling novel (unless you’re J.K. Rowling)

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Here there be spoilers. In case anyone’s burning to pick this one up.

My theory about this novel goes like this. J.K. Rowling was sitting at her ridiculously expensive roll top desk one day thinking “I’m a writer. I have to write more. I’ll write another novel. But I don’t want it to be like Harry Potter. So let’s see, what can I do to make it different? I know, I’ll write a list of things I want to avoid!”

This isn’t really a bad idea, in theory. I mean, if I ever decide to write an epic fantasy novel, I’d do the same thing (my hero wouldn’t be a country bumpkin/useless royal they’d be… I don’t know, a foot soldier with some skills, I’d have three mentors one who dies before the action, one who quits (and stays quitted) half way through and one who gets to enjoy retirement with their grandchildren and NO ONE will be walking/riding/using magic/flying on magical beasts for any length of time, everyone will be staying put and the evil will come to them) although my novel might never become a best seller.

Anyway, the point is J.K. Rowling wasn’t completely wrong to write herself a list. When she decided to check off whimsically named secondary characters, light putter outers and extra intelligent animals I was with her (I’ve read loads of books without those things that were all very good). I might have lost faith a little when she decided on adult, serious, political and focused on real issues but again, lots of books have these parts and are certainly readable. I got a little suspicious when she decided that in order to make it adult, serious, political and filled with real issues she decided that she needed to have every single real issue in it (seriously – domestic abuse, incest, pedophilia, rape, drug use, alcoholism, swearing, self harm, suicide, mental illness, failure of the social assistance system, racism, sex, masturbation, infidelity, cyber bullying and toddler death – and I feel like I’m missing a few) but I was willing to stick with it. Where she really lost me was when she decided that likable characters and compelling plot were too Harry Potter like to use in this book.

So ultimately what you get is a bunch of mean people running around and being unkind to each other in a small community where every single action ripples through a dozen families, all of whom kind of deserve it.

The story isn’t really about the characters as much as it’s about Pagford, a small village in the English countryside after the death of one of the local councilmen. There’s a list of characters at least fifteen points long, most of whom are tolerable at best and detestable at worst. Many of them are supposed to been seen as driven to their actions through desperation and unhappiness, and I believe that’s supposed to make them sympathetic, but in most cases it just made me feel like we, as a species, probably need to walk into a volcano and settle down there to wait for the end.

The book makes its incredible slow, meandering, depressing way towards a truly upsetting, heart wrenching ending that’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. I felt like I saw it coming but desperately hoped I was wrong because I find the death of small children upsetting, even in fiction.

Normally I gauge a book by it’s emotional impact on me. If that’s the case then there are really only two places where this book really succeeded. Krystal’s rape was horrifying, her mother’s reaction even more so and Krystal’s desperate move to save herself and her little brother from their situation was just heartbreaking. And in the last fifty pages I was actually engaged in the story and the characters. For once they didn’t all seem to be horrid, just broken. Not sympathetic, with the exception of Sukhvinder (who was probably the only character in the whole book who was consistently likable) just broken. To be pitied, not sympathized with. And at least J.K. Rowling had the decency not to try offering closure or an overly sentimental explanation for these events, just a little bit of hope that maybe one or two of the characters might turn a little more decent after all.

Last movie I watched: The Ghosts and the Darkness. I’m never pissing off a cat EVER AGAIN.

Last TV episode I watched: Probably still Supernatural.

Nightwing: The only Batchild I can read an entire graphic novel about without being disappointed if Bruce doesn’t guest star

Nightwing: Mobbed Up by Devin Grayson, Phil Hester, Cliff Chiang and Andre Parks

Nightwing, fabulous Dick Grayson isn’t on speaking terms with Bruce at the moment,  is on crutches after being shot and doesn’t really have a home. Naturally he does the only thing left to him – joins a mafia family!

I think the general idea is that there should be some ambiguity about Dick’s intentions. Is he actually loyal to this mobster who’s kinder and more affectionate than Bruce every was and whose family has embraced him whole heartedly? Or is it all a complicated uncover ploy? It doesn’t really work, or at least it didn’t for me since, well he’s Dick Grayson. Obviously he’s not really an enforcer.

He’s just depressed and miserable and wants to do something that will make him feel worse. So he does.

Highlights: Dick’s reflection on Tim when he sees Robin fighting some gangsters and the conversation they have directly following them.

I don’t know. There’s not a lot to say about it really. I mean like “That was fun!” and “Nightwing you’re such a darling!” were both said, out loud, to no one, as I sat on my couch but that’s about it. So I’ll just leave that there.

Last movie I watched: Bridesmaids. Which didn’t really make me laugh, confirming my deepest fears. I’m a comedy snob.

Last TV episode I watched: Supernatural. Which … is becoming increasingly like Charmed…. and that’s making it better…. which isn’t a good sign.

Okay, okay so I cracked… but I challenge anyone to get through The Casual Vacancy without needing to stop and read a few comics

Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

This comic is completely unique.

Because it was published in in 1988. In it, Barbara Gordon, AKA Batgirl is shot through the torso by the Joker and was permanently  paralyzed. She didn’t walk again until the New 52 launched in 2011. That means the character of Barbara Gordon took twenty three years to get better. I haven’t read that many non-Batman related comics, but that’s got to be some kind of record. Seriously! Twenty three years. Bruce got over his broken back in less then 23 weeks.

Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that has to do with comics tendency to maim, marginalize or murder awesome lady heroes but we’ll leave that alone for a moment.

Anyway, the story is Joker broke out of Arkham (like he ever does anything else?) to prove a point to Batman. That one bad day can make anyone crazy. And the way he intends to prove it  is by driving Jim Gordon crazy. The story contains a lot of Joker back story, which I guess is okay but I don’t understand exactly why anyone would sympathize with a character who did go crazy because of one very bad day but recently shot Babs through the spine. There’s a lot of the Batman/Joker two sides of the same coin stuff going on too, which is interesting and powerful and all those other compelling things that make people who are not me love them so much.

And the Joker was at his most horrible, his creepiest, his evilest and it was kind of wonderful to see it, even if I don’t really find him that interesting, because sometimes it feels a little laughable that he keeps getting caught and breaking out and getting caught and breaking out in an endless cycle of borderline slapstick.

But I spent too much time being preoccupied with how badly handled Barbara’s shooting was. I mean, I actually love her post-Batgirl (Oracle) personality more than Batgirl. I think her overcoming her physical and emotional trauma to become this incredibly powerful hero is fantastic to read. I think her determination never to think of herself as anything else than a whole person capable of fighting for what’s right makes her an amazingly strong character and is one of the reasons  why I love her so much.

But this is all good stuff coming out of bad.  Because it’s so clear in this particular comic that that they took a great character and broke her to further someone else’s story, which sucks no matter how you look at it.

Last movie I watched: Skyfall I guess.

Last TV episode I watched: Supernatural. You know a show should have ended three years ago when things that are completely ridiculous, don’t make sense and really change the feel of the show are actually making it better. Nazi for example. How often does throwing Nazis into an over extended TV show actually make it better? Apparently it does in Supernatural. Well, maybe not make it better so much as make it suck less.

New addition to my favourite graphic novels ever list

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

The cover of Smile is a big yellow happy face with all its teeth showing and braces running across them. It’s a true story based on the author and illustrators dental trauma. And it’s so true to growing up. Or at least growing up as I remember it.

At the beginning of the book Raina is in grade sixth and she’s dreading getting braces. But after an accident knocks out her front two teeth she starts to wish that braces were the only dental work she needs. Woven in through the story of Raina getting her smile fixed are details about her growing up. The story carries her out of middle school and through her first year of high school, through friend drama, crushes and her finally understanding what she wants to do with her life.

I don’t know. I mean, it was just a really relate-able story for me.  I, like most people my age, experienced the pain and horror of braces and Raina’s visits to the various dentists are exactly like I remember mine being (torture). Her transition from middle school to high school seemed pretty spot on. The way high school smoothed out for her once she started picking friends who she liked, not people she knew totally happened to me.

It’s a really different feel from most of the graphic novels on my best ever list, because the reason it’s on the list is how right it feels.

Everyone should check it out because I’m not sure what else to say about it.

Last movie I watched: Skyfall. I kind of liked it more than a lot of the Bonds actually. I felt like it …. was a better story. It wasn’t just about stuff getting blown up. Although there was a lot of that.

Last TV episode I watched: Downton Abbey. Still. So good.

Why you should never judge the book by the movie trailer (but it’s okay to judge the movie)

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Gracia and Margaret Stohl

And that might be unfair. I haven’t actually seen the movie so it might be better than the trailer is making it out to be.

Okay well enthusiastic movie producers are hoping they’ve found the next Twilight in this YA novel. That’s brutally unfair to this book. For one thing it’s way better than Twilight. For another, they are similar only in the most superficial ways.

Straight up, I’m not putting this book on my list of top five books ever. Probably not even on my list of top 100 books ever. But it wasn’t too bad. Certainly better than I expected. Things I liked about it included a fantastic cast of supporting characters, a first person narrator who was male in a book I have to assume is mostly being throwing at girls and the feeling of being trapped in a small town where nothing ever changes. I can’t even really decide what about it I didn’t like. I mean, other than the fact I had to read it in five days because it was due back to the library. I think it was mostly just that the writing was pretty unremarkable. Which you can get away with if the story is completely astounding (completely astounding writing can make up for a mediocre story) but this story wasn’t. The twists and turns were you know, pleasant and drive the narrative, but they’re hardly shocking. If I had more time and fewer library books I’d probably be able to make a really long check list of tropes that this book plays straight. Combined with a generic writing style it’s just kind of … a good book.

But to continue on a more positive note I return to my list of things I liked. Many of the secondary characters were quite wonderful. My favourites include the typical but lovable idiot sidekick best friend Link, the awesome librarian Marion (not biased! I swear) and Macon the creature of the night uncle. Ethan was also pretty lovable, and an interesting choice of narrator since he’s well, male and it’s a …. (shudder) “girly” book. I think it was a good choice even if I’m not sure the writers really got the teenage male internal dialogue quite right all the time.

I love Buffy, I totally do but Joss Whedon abandoned the “trapped in a small town” thing after the first season. It’s hard to set things in small towns. They’re boring. I understand why Sunnydale grew into a university town in four years. Small towns suck.  I’m definitely not an expert on being a teenager in a small town, but I was one not that long ago and Beautiful Creatures did a fantastic job of looking at what it’s like to be a young person with new ideas and interest in a little place where everyone has lived there forever and thinks you’re absolutely nuts for wanting something else.  That was so well handled. If this book deserves a gold star for anything, it’s that.

So anyway, I probably won’t reread it ever, but I don’t regret my frantic reading over the last week either. Beautiful Creatures – check it out and try to be as genre blind as possible or you’ll be able to see the end before it happens.

Last movie I watched: Still Lawless. Man, I got to get on that

Last TV episode: DOWNTON ABBEY. Still can’t talk about it.

In which Batman dies and gets better for like the two zillionth time

Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison, Tony S. Daniel, Sandu Florea, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott

Seriously, no one takes him dying seriously anymore….

Two points in regards to this comic which is apparently one of the most awesome ever. Seriously, if you Google important Batman comics this one’s on the list.

Don’t ask why I know that.

Point 1) It was awesome.

Point 2) It was super confusing.

Let’s get point two out of the way so everyone can see that I do think objectively about Batman sometimes and not just giggle hysterically. You know, before I giggle write hysterically about how awesome it was.

So, even though I really enjoyed it I feel like if you need to read the Wikipedia article afterwards to make sure you understood the main plot points you’re kind of missing something important from the reading experience. This is mostly relating to Bruce’s “death” at the end, which is pretty clearly suggested at but didn’t really fit with my understanding of how Bruce died. You know, the time it almost stuck. There was also a few hundred layers of Bruce Wayne/ Batman subconscious to sift through before stuff makes sense. Plus there was the Batmite, who turned out to be okay but I was pretty worried about at first. Any character written in the 50s has the potential to be hugely bad. Also, the rest of the not yet dead Batmen of Nations or whatever they were called, turned up. Which was nice. And incredibly racist. Still.

On the awesome note, this book had most of the Batfamily, or at least the Robins (including Damian although he wasn’t Robin yet) popping up which was awesome ’cause I love the Batfamily. The story was actually really wonderful too. Because Bruce is so smart, sometimes it’s hard to make a threat real because you know, he figures it out like twelve seconds in and then spends the next two hours hitting it. The conspiracy of the Black Glove was super engaging.

Although for super-genius villains you’d think they’d be smarter than to hire the Joker. Whatever.

Either way, great story, once you work out what’s flashback, what’s hallucinations, what’s alternative reality and what’s actually real (the pictures help with that).  It’s got some pretty epic Batman moments, Bruce wandering around with no memory and yet still breaking things, Nightwing being completely wonderful, Talia being her wonderfully evil self, Alfred getting abused (which is pretty upsetting), Tim saving the world and Damian. Who I just love.

Last movie I watched: Probably still Lawless.

Last TV episode I watched: DOWNTON ABBEY. I can’t talk about it. It’s too good.

And now we’re back to graphic novels about children’s cartoons

Just in case anyone thought I was getting too grown up.

Young Justice by Art Baltazar, Mike Norton and Christopher Jones

Okay so it’s clearly not a piece of literary genius or a revolutionary comic book or something that’s really going to force children to think about the world in new and interesting ways. Or even think at all.

But I don’t care, because it was really fun.

Young Justice is a (n awesome!!!) cartoon in it’s second season. This comic fits between the first and second episode of the first season. The premise is the sidekicks of the superheroes in the Justice League form a covert team to help out their mentors and save the world. The team consists of Kid Flash (you’re now thinking that’s the lamest sidekick name ever aren’t you? well you’d be wrong), the nephew of Flash, Robin as in Batman and Robin obviously, Aqualad (see, Kid Flash doesn’t seem so stupid any more does it?) the protegee of Aquaman, Superboy (also pretty dumbly named) Superman’s clone and Miss Martian (seriously the last time anyone in DC came up with a good name for a sidekick it was Robin so like… 1940 something) the niece of the Martian Manhunter.

There are a few stories about the team and what they do between deciding they want to be a team and getting their first real mission. For Kid Flash and Superboy that includes having a sleepover, fighting crime and getting in trouble. Superboy also has intense mind control visions and unrequited desires to break Superman’s face (I can relate). Aqualad, Robin and Kid Flash give themselves a mission, which they botch but then recover from only to botch in the end and then everyone goes camping together and end up sharing their origin stories.

Other than Robin. Because Batman told him not to. He’s kind of a jerk about the whole secret identity thing.

There’s lots in there that kids probably understand, like how difficult rules are, how hard it is to have a secret, that sometimes working together is pretty tricky and moving to new places is brutal but mostly its just about kids fighting bad guys and being awesome.

Which is awesome.

Last movie I watched: Lawless.

Last TV episode I watched: Young Justice.