Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Read: 10 July, 2017

Maya has Cystic Fibrosis, so her family has to move to be closer to a specialist for her. This, of course, makes her older sister Cat feel all sorts of complicated and uncomfortable feels. To make matters worse, they’ve moved to a down where the boundary between the living and the dead isn’t particularly strong…

This is a story primarily about the relationship between the two sisters, complicated by the younger’s illness. Cat feels responsible for her little sister, and understands that her sister’s needs are important, but she also resents her for it. She understands why they had to move, but still feels angry about it. It’s tricky and nuanced and messy and Telgemeier approaches it beautifully.

The titular ghosts themselves are just there to force the two sisters to face their demons, but they do so well. Their reliance on “the essence of the world breathing around them” mirrors Maya’s own shortness of breath. And the fact that they are ghosts obviously works with Maya’s shortened life expectancy.

I see some people complaining about the authenticity of using Hispanic culture – particularly the Dia de los Muertos – as a backdrop for the story, but that’s really out of my area of expertise. It’s clear, however, that it’s done with reverence. And while the Dia details are a little fudged, I read that as having to do with the particular nature of the setting – the celebration takes place at the mission because the mission is where contact is strongest.

In all, I found it to be a sweet story that has a surprising amount of depth for such a quick read.

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The Dresden Files #10: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Read: 21 December, 2014

The Summer Court is sending Gruffs (remember the billy goats? Yeah, those gruffs) after Harry, the Winter Court is sending Hobs, and Marcone has been kidnapped. All this results in a rather complicated (and dangerous!) affair that reveals a lot more about the Fallen and the Heaven/Hell conflict.

The last couple books seem to have been setting up the character pasts, with little more than vague hints about the overarching plot. Here, the characters are established and we appear to be moving into the big reveal.

I like Sanya quite a bit, and was glad to see him make an appearance. I also liked getting a bit more backstory about him – particularly with regards to being a black man growing up in Russia.

Fidelacchius finally became important again, as Harry tries to find a new owner for it. (SPOILERS: I was concerned that Dresden was going to end up becoming a Knight, in addition to being a Warden and everything else. It would have just been so Mary Sue-ish. I kept hoping that Murphy would take it up instead, and was very glad when she was chosen. I was even more glad when she refused it, and gave a perfectly character-consistent reason. I’m still hoping that she’ll become the new Knight eventually (particularly given how Fidelacchius seems to match Murphy’s style of sword), but I’m glad that she didn’t just take it up right away. That would have been very un-Murphy.)

Overall, a solid addition to the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next!

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Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Read: 15 May, 2013

Anya is a Russian immigrant. She’s also an awkward teenager trying desperately to fit in with her fellow high school students. One day, while out for a walk and completely caught up in her troubles, Anya accidentally falls into a well and meets a ghost – a ghost who seems really desperate to hang around.

Like most good stories, there’s a lot more going on than the basic premise would indicate, and Brosgol navigates her different themes very well. There’s the ghost story, of course, which follows a somewhat predictable pattern (and I found the ending a little weak), but there’s also the immigrant experience story and the divide between parents who are still very much steeped in their culture and kids who have, for the most part, blended into their adopted one. Since my husband is an “off the boat” Russian immigrant, it was particularly interesting to see so much of his experience reflected in Anya’s Ghost.

Most of the graphic novels I’ve been reading lately have opted for a more “realistic” art style, but Anya’s Ghost is more cartoonish. I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit more, and it certainly fit the story very well (in a way that it wouldn’t have fit, say, The Walking Dead).

I really enjoyed this one, and it’s refreshing to read a graphic novel that isn’t part of a series! I highly recommend it.

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Read: 13 December, 2012

When the widow Mrs Alice Drablow dies, Arthur Kipps is sent to her home – Eel Marsh House – to sort through her papers for anything of legal relevance. But before he even reaches the house, he encounters the woman in black, and everything is changed.

I watched the 1989 film with Adrian Rawlins a few years ago and very much enjoyed it. It’s a psychological horror that focuses more on the creepy atmosphere than showing gross stuff or having things that go “boo!” So when I found out recently that there was a book, I decided that I just had to give it a read!

And I am so glad I did!

The book is everything I loved about the movie, dialed up. Right from the start, the atmosphere is so creepy that I had several moments in my reading when I was too scared to put the book down and get out of bed. Hill uses very subtle things (a noise, a woman just standing at a window, a thick fog, an open door), but weaves them together in a terrifying (and relentless) way.

My main complaint with a lot of horror is that it seems to confused “frightening” with “gross.” This is never more clear than in most of the torture porn/horror flicks that Hollywood keeps churning out. I like to be frightened, I find it thrilling! But I do not like to be grossed out. The Woman in Black is the first horror I’ve seen in a long while – in any medium – that sets grossness aside completely. And that makes me so very very happy.

As all my Facebook and book club friends will attest, I have been absolutely raving about this book. It’s super short – just 150 page in my copy – and a very easy read, so there’s no excuse not to give it a go.

P.S.: The final line (“They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.”) is so absolutely perfect that it deserves it’s own separate mention.

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The Men Who Stare At Goats by Jon Ronson

Read: 7 July, 2011

I really want to categorize this book as fiction; and, in a sane world, I would. Unfortunately…

It begins in 1983,  when Major General Albert Stubblebine III (a truly Dickensian name), upon realizing that both his body and the wall are made up of atoms and that atoms are mostly made up of empty space, tries to walk through a wall.

Starting from Stubblebine’s sore nose, Ronson takes the reader through a brief history of the US military’s more insane moments. He lulled me into a sense of “oh, that happened in ’70s, but it would never happen today” with stories of men staring at goats to make their hearts stop (and, when goats aren’t available, the odd hamster would do) and a First Earth Battalion that could end conflict with their “sparkling eyes.”

But then he gets into the ‘War on Terror’ and the horrific acts at Abu Ghraib.

The most difficult part of reading The Men Who Stare At Goats is to remember that this is only, as the subtitle says, about a “small group of men” who happen to be placed in some key positions. It isn’t representative of the army as a whole. The problem is that each of these “highly placed” men have subordinates in a culture that does not tolerate dissent – even when the orders are quite obviously insane.

Throughout, Ronson remains very objective. He allows his subjects, and their beliefs, to speak for themselves. This is an amazing feat when writing a book about men who believe that they can walk through walls or stare goats to deaths.

The tone of the book seems somewhat rambly – jumping back and forth through time and skipping from subject to subject – but it all makes sense by the end, when the whole is tied together and the influence of Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion Operations Manual is made clear. And, really, this is the story of that book – of its history and its legacy.

Men Who Stare At Goats appears to be meticulously researched. Certainly, it comes through in Ronson’s writing just how difficult certain people and facts were to find. And, although some of the connections he draws are speculative (or based on “wink wink” statements from his informants), he does make the case that it’s all at least plausible if not factual. I found it to be a very interesting and thought-provoking read, even if my faith in humanity requires that I remain somewhat provisional in my trust of Ronson’s depictions.

Assuming that it is all (or mostly) true, though, I’d be very interested in a follow up in coming years as to the effect of the book on military policies and strategies. Has Men Who Stare At Goats embarrassed the leadership sufficiently to cause a change? Will it spell the end of First Earth Battalion‘s influence? Or will it increase its popularity?

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