Serena’s Review: “Oryx and Crake”

46756Book: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Publishing Info: Anchor, March 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.

Review: Margaret Atwood is a master of dystopian fiction. And that is why I read her books rarely. Want to sink deeply into existential malaise? Wallow in the realization that many of these “dystonian” constructs seem frighteningly close to the truth? Oh boy, get ready! And while this is a glum start to a review, the fact that she is able to tap so directly into these dark themes is simply an example of her expertise in action.

“Oryx and Crake” drops readers off right in the middle of the action…er…inaction. A man who calls himself “Snowman” is seemingly the last human alive on a very clearly climate-impacted earth. Surrounded by bizarre hybrids species such as Rachunks (raccoon/skunks) and Wolvogs (wolf/dogs), he spends his days sleeping in a tree, scrounging for food, and acting as a sort of prophet to the “Children of Crake” a humanoid species that he shares his beach with.

A beginning like this is definitely challenging. Atwood starts her story in the middle and leaves readers to trust that the answer to an overwhelming number of initial questions will come. The story does become clear slowly throughout the book using extended flashback as Snowman thinks of his life before when he was known as Jimmy and had a brilliant friend named Crake and a mysterious lover named Oryx. Through these flashbacks and what seems like the slow decay of Snowman’s sanity given his isolation, important facts and connections can be gleaned and fit together forming a complex puzzle that is incredible once you reach the end. However, while I loved this tactic, some readers may be frustrated with the amount of trust and patience that is required early on in the story.

The main focus of the story is the life of Jimmy/Snowman. Knowing the end result, it is fascinating reading about his life unfolding and spotting the signs that things would not end well. And right here is what I’m talking about! The mad science of this society that comes across as horrific to an omniscient reader who knows the outcome can also be easily seen as a natural progression of a society gone wild with its own power of creation. What’s more, in the moment, lacking this foreknowledge, these advancements would seem as nothing more than the logical next step in society. And it’s terrifying, the ease with which one can imagine these things as all too plausible in the near future! Atwood pulls no punches in her critiques of society, science, and the pitfalls of humanity’s relationship with nature, science, and, perhaps most importantly, with itself.

As a character, Jimmy is the everyman of the story. As the son of two scientists, Jimmy’s life is one of privilege given the state of society. He grows up in a “compound,” one of the elaborate campuses that private companies create to house their most prized goods: the brilliant scientists they hire. Outside these communities lie the “Pleblands” where the average members of society make their living. I wish we had heard more about this outside world. As I said, Jimmy starts life in a very privileged position and this start is enough to successfully carry him through a life inside the more cozy world of these compounds, even though he doesn’t possess the brilliance of his parents or genius best friend, Crake. That being the case, we see very little of this outside world. It seems to still run like current society, with a hierarchy of wealth within its boundaries as well, though more plagued by crime, disease, and, obviously, poverty, than the compounds.

The second member of the three main characters is Oryx, the love interest for Jimmy and Crake, though this is a very small part of the story, as far as I could tell. The book description plays  it up in a way that I don’t think rings true at all. Of the three characters, her life story is the most tragic and she is the most ambiguous. It is clear that Jimmy never fully understands her, so we as readers glimpsing her only through Jimmy’s own perceptions never see a clear picture either. While I enjoyed hearing her story and seeing different aspects of society through her life, as a character she was probably the weakest. Her storyline did not seem as integral to the plot overall.

And Crake. Jimmy has a better understanding of him, but an understanding that is constantly distorted through rose colored glasses of childhood friendship. Again, knowing the outcome and in combination with Snowman’s more cynical thought process in the present, the story of Crake is one of simmering horror.

“Oryx and Crake” is the first in a trilogy, however, it reads well as a stand alone novel. I will most likely continue the series (again, once I’ve given myself a rest from the dread that Atwood so effortlessly dredges up), but I am satisfied with the story as it stands now, as well. Her writing is strong, the characters intricate, and, as always, this book definitely reads as a cautionary tale for humanity.

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Agent Smith had it right, according to this book!

Rating 8: Dark, but great.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Oryx and Crake” is included on the Goodreads list “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction” and “Science Fiction Books by Female Authors”.

Find “Oryx and Crake” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “HEX”

25533076Book: “HEX” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, April 2016; Original Dutch edition published in April, 2013.

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a 17th century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters your homes at will. She stands next to your bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting, but in so doing send the town spiraling into the dark, medieval practices of the past.

Review: It takes a heck of a lot to scare me, guys. I’ve been watching suspense films like “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” since I was a kid, I started watching slasher films when I was in middle school, and my first venture into horror movies in the theater was when a chaperone took me and a friend to “The Blair Witch Project”the summer before freshman year of high school. Suffice to say, I’m a veteran at the horror rodeo, and it now means that the subject of horror I’m consuming needs to really pull out all the stops in very specific ways before I am affected by it. It’s good in that I’m not kept up late at night jumping at every sound, but bad in that I like being scared for funsies every once in awhile.

But “HEX”? “HEX” kept me up at night.

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I don’t know why I thought reading it before bed was a good idea. (source)

I think that it was a combination of multiple things that made “HEX” such a scary read for me. The first is that Katherine van Wyler (aka the Black Rock Witch) just sounds like a really scary entity. She walks in silence, towers over people, just stands in place for hours on end, and has her eyes and mouth sewn shut. I mean jeeze, this is the stuff that my nightmares are made of. While the people in Black Spring are used to her, and while they pretty much know how to handle her, that isn’t to say that they aren’t living every day in fear of her and what she could do, and has done in the past. You do get Katherine’s backstory, but Heuvelt saves that for a little later. The book itself just opens with our protagonist family, Steve, Jocelyn, Tyler, and Matt Grant, going about their business as Katherine stands and blindly stares in their living room. I closed the book after the first chapter and just sat there for a moment, wondering what exactly it was I was getting myself into. There are scenes with her that took my breath away because I was so tense, and scenes where I was nearly shaking. She is absolutely terrifying. But Katherine is tragic as well. She has cursed this town for what it did to her back when Black Spring was still run by Dutch settlers, and as you find out more about what that is, the more sympathy you feel for this creature that everyone lives in fear of. Not to say that the reader isn’t still in fear of her as the book progresses. I mean, the description alone is just scary as hell, and there were moments of characters tromping through the woods at night that took me back to that summer before freshman year when I was practically pissing myself watching “The Blair Witch Project”. That is to say I had to nope the hell out and stop reading.

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Something about witches, man. (source)

But something that sets this book aside from other genre horror is that it is not The Black Rock Witch who should be most feared. The town of Black Spring has evolved in such a way because of this curse that they have turned into something far more unsettling. While I didn’t have as big of a problem with the HEX Group (the surveillance group that keeps tabs on Katherine’s whereabouts through surveillance and the vigilance of the townspeople reporting in on their phones), I most certainly had a problem with the Town Council. Led by a zealous old man named Cotton Mathers, the elders of the Town Council are determined to make sure that everyone in Black Spring keeps this life and Katherine a secret from the outside world, and anyone who goes against those rules are subject to unspeakable punishments. Black Spring is still stuck in an age that is very reminiscent of the Puritans, and their religious fervor and practices of atonement and groupthink were by far the most upsetting moments in this book. The way that the town gets whipped up into a frenzy out of fear of Katherine just reeked of the scariest parts of history, and while I sometimes had to put the book down because of the witch-related suspense, I was far more upset by the absolutist violence and terror that the humans in this book doled out, to their own citizenry and to Katherine alike.

The characters were also very well written. The members of the Grant Family were the main protagonists, with Steve and Tyler at the forefront. Steve and Jocelyn were unlucky enough to move to Black Spring from the outside and realize that they couldn’t leave for longer than a couple weeks, but Steve has since adapted to the ways of the town and believes in keeping the status quo as a way to protect his family. Steve loves his family to a fault, but most of his love is for his oldest, Tyler. Steve really just wants everyone to be safe, and is acquiescent to the life that they have found themselves in, even if that means that they are ultimately prisoners.

Tyler, on the other hand, has grown up in Black Spring, but has also had the Internet his whole life and has seen the outside world, and wants to live in it. Their conflicting views provide the main conflict at the heart of this book: the old ways being pushed against by the younger generation. Tyler is the one who wants to expose the Black Rock Witch Haunting to the world via his website and blog, thinking that if outsiders knew it may break the curse, while the elders of the town think that it would just spread it. I understood both sides of the argument, and what I liked best about it was that neither side was completely right, or wrong. Tyler has a hard lesson to learn in who to trust for such good intentioned (though ultimately selfish) sentiments, as one could argue it’s one of his friends, Jaydon, who sets of the events of this book. Jaydon has his own personal vendetta against Katherine, and that in combination with a childhood of abuse and rage set off a lot of very upsetting events and violence directed at Katherine that made me, as a woman, a bit sick to my stomach to read. Again, it’s the people of Black Spring that are the biggest villains of all in this book.

I also greatly enjoyed the character of Robert Grim, the head of the HEX Group and main tracker of Katherine’s movements. He’s brash and he’s sarcastic, but he’s also one of the few voices of reason in Black Spring. He’s a realist living in a town filled with superstition and fear, and he is noble to a fault when it comes to trying to protect the community he doesn’t really fit into, not at the heart of his being. It would have been so simple to make him just another antagonist, but Grim is quite possibly the most righteous of characters in Black Spring.

“HEX” was a fabulous, very scary read. Fans of horror really need to pick this one up, because it has everything you could ever want. But maybe don’t read it at night. And if you live by a wooded area like me, definitely try not to think about that either…

Rating 9: This book scared the dickens out of me. Definitely recommended but maybe not for those easily scared.

Reader’s Advisory:

“HEX” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads Lists as of yet, but I would put it on “Best Books Featuring Witches”, and “Boil Boil Toil and Trouble”.

Find “HEX” at your library using WorldCat!

 

A Library Ladies Brief History: “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”

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(source)

Last week, the two of us had gotten together at Serena’s house to continue our long and drawn out re-watch of a show that both of us enjoyed in childhood. That show is “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” and it was a formative part in both our childhoods when it came to portrayals of Superman in popular culture. With the new trends of the DC Universe leaning more towards gritty and ‘real’ interpretations of their characters, it’s been very fun going back and watching a more light-hearted version of Clark Kent/Superman, and his best gal-pal Lois Lane. Even though there are a lot of things about this show that are painfully 1990s (see below for one of many fashion statements), the storylines, characters, and themes really hold up for 21st century sensibilities.

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I mean…. My God. (source)

So we thought that it would be fun if we took a fond look back on this show and the ways that it brought Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and all the important characters of Metropolis to life!

History of the Show

“Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” premiered on Sunday nights on ABC in September of 1993. Teri Hatcher was cast to play Lois Lane with Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman.

Before “Lois and Clark,” Hatcher was probably best known for recurring roles on “The Love Boat” and “MacGyver,” though one of her first jobs was as a cheerleader for the 49ers. These days people will probably know her best from the show “Desperate Housewives,” but to us she will always be known as the best damn Lois Lane there’s been. For the part of Clark Kent, the NFL was consulted once again, as they cast Dean Cain, a former player for the Buffalo Bills who remained benched for the entirety of his career due to an injury. He did commercials and guest roles before winning the role of Clark Kent.

The series creator, Deborah Joy Levine, was the show-runner for the first season. Unfortunately, the show’s time slot left it in direct competition with “Murder, She Wrote,” so top performance was not in the cards straight out of the gate. (Angela Lansbury was, and still is, a formidable foe.) But a solid second was the goal, and Levine and her writers knew they had to approach their characters in a way that would be family friendly, but entertaining for adults as well. In a departure from most previous Superman storylines and depictions, “Lois and Clark” refocused its story on the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent rather than the exploits of Superman, with Supes’ dazzling feats of heroics often playing an exciting, but decidedly second, fiddle.

Between season 1 and 2 a number of changes were made. The show completely dropped the character of Cat Grant, the saucy and bawdy gossip columnist at the Daily Planet (played perfectly by cult TV show staple Tracy Scoggins), and replaced their Original Jimmy Olson, Michael Landes, with Justin Whalin to make Jimmy 2.0.

FUN FACT: In the commentary of the pilot episode on the DVD release, it was revealed that this recasting was due to a concern that Landes, also dark haired and eyed, too closely resembled Cain’s Clark Kent.

This also marked the departure of Lex Luthor as the main over-arching antagonist (as John Shea apparently had a falling out with production), whose presence as a corporate villain set the focus for Season 1. Sadly, Deborah Joy Levine also departed the show after Season 1, along with the original writing staff. The network wanted a bit more focus on action and romance, and there is a noticeable tonal shift to a more over-the-top feel starting in Season 2. Instead of focusing on more realistic villains and undercover crime reporting, villains started becoming far more magical, supernatural, and fantastical. At times, this shift also resulted in an increased, and one has to imagine, unintentional, comedic factor with regards to the show’s villains. One remembers (fondly, I might add), re-imaginings of classic Superman villains, such as the Toyman, into gushing fountains of cheesy 90s goodness (this version creates toy rats that spray a goo into people’s faces, reducing them to a greedy, child-like state. This affect even works on Superman. He steals Lois’s candy, and it’s great.)

Season 3 was the most successful of the seasons ratings-wise, though much of the show became about a wedding between Lois and Clark that just couldn’t quite get off the ground. But by Season 4 ratings started to drop, the show got tossed around different time slots, and even though the titular characters did finally get married  “Lois and Clark” was eventually not renewed for a fifth season (though apparently they had been told that they probably would be).

FUN FACT: The wedding episode was timed to air with the release of the comic book “Superman: The Wedding Album” which featured the same marriage for the first time in 60 years; the first “for realsies” marriage that is, as there were several dream sequence type “fake outs” over the many decades previous.

The show ended with Lois and Clark, after being told that they wouldn’t be able to have any biological children together, finding an abandoned baby on their doorstep wrapped in a blanket featuring the Superman symbol. So ultimately, what was meant to be a cliffhanger, oddly helped wrap the show up in a suitably ‘happily ever after’ kind of way. The final episode aired on June 14th, 1997.

Lois/Clark/Superman Character Analysis

The show took a couple of interesting characterization stances when it came to telling the stories of Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman. The first was that it was made clear early on that Clark Kent does not have the usual life balance that Superman had in other comic and movie portrayals. In the show Clark lives in an apartment, acts like Clark when no one is looking, and doesn’t become Superman as we know him until the pilot episode. He is even unaware of his Kryptonian background until several episodes into the first season. In this way, it is firmly established that  Clark Kent IS his identity; Superman is his alter ego.

FUN FACT: To further emphasize this shift in dominant personalities, Clark Kent and Superman’s hair styles are swapped with Superman sporting the slicked back and stylized hair, while Clark Kent features the more natural and laid back floppy style.

Clark’s humanity is further highlighted with the many romantic blunders that he commits throughout the show’s running. We spend much of our re-watches throwing our hands up in frustration and saying “No, Clark! Not again! Lois…you can do better.” “No, she can’t, it’s Clark.” “You’re right, and I’m sorry for saying it, but really…?” Cain plays the role with a sincere but goofy take, always pulling back at the right moment to prevent the character from taking himself too seriously.

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Dean Cain (source)

Cain’s strengths definitely lie in his portrayal of Clark Kent. Due to the show’s focus on Clark as the character and Superman as the role, when Superman is on screen he is often saddled with the cheesier aspects of the show, a fact that isn’t helped by what are now very dated special effects. The character is further weakened by his isolation from the rest of the cast, often working against the aforementioned over-the-top villains for the most part with only dashes of interactions with a Lois who (especially in the first two seasons when she doesn’t know his true identity) is often at her most lovesick and ridiculous. While Cain is still effective in this role, the added layer of playing the character of Clark who is then playing the character of Superman adds a certain strain to his acting that can seem a bit forced at times.

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Teri Hatcher (source)

In the end, it is Hatcher who carries the show with the stronger performance. While Lois plays the usual ‘damsel in distress’ role, she is also written as a very competent and well respected reporter. From the beginning through to the show’s end, Lois is clearly the superior reporter and takes the lead in their professional life. And, let’s be real, their personal life too, once she gets the whole super identity thing figured out. Hatcher wraps up a character who could verge into the realm of overbearing and ridiculous within layers of sweetness, insecurity, and vulnerability that makes Lois completely relatable and endearing.

And ultimately, it is the undeniable chemistry between Cain and Hatcher that carries the show. The progression of their relationship, from strained co-workers, to friends, to dating, to married life, is always peppered with the perfect amount of humor, respect, friendship, and finally love, and is  joy to watch.

Other regular characters included Jimmy Olson, Perry White, and, in another notable difference from many Superman stories, the routine appearance of Jonathan (thankfully living!) and Martha Kent.

Villains

The villains on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” ranged from fairly realistic corporate and crime moguls, to strange and out there time travelers, ghosts, or in the case of Spencer Spencer, a head on a deformed torso that he hides in a box.

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Played by a guy who looks like a Swayze Brother but isn’t a Swayze Brother. (source)

The show’s most recognizable villain, however, is Lex Luthor, played by John Shea.

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John Shea as Lex Luthor. (source)

This interpretation of Luthor follows the John Byrne version of the character, who isn’t so much a mad scientist as he is a corporate villain with lots of money at his disposal. This version is the one that many people think of for Luthor these days, and Shea fits the part to a t. Shea’s Luthor is charismatic and charming, a villain that is pretty fun to hate. Or not hate, in Kate’s case. Shea has good chemistry with Cain in their antagonistic moments, but his chemistry with Hatcher crackles. The viewer can hate him for not only wanting to take down Superman, but also because he effortlessly and, one could argue, realistically romances Lois away from Clark. While it would have been an obvious choice to make him a bad boyfriend, Hatcher’s strong, confident Lane would never have tolerated that. So this Luthor is formidable in all ways, and the ultimate villain for the show.

And then the character was killed off at the end of Season 1.

This gave other villains time to shine. While a few of the comic book villains did show up (perhaps most notably Mr. Mxyzptlk, played by Howie Mandell), quite a large number were original.

FUN FACT: Aside from Lex Luthor, General Zod is likely one of the best known Superman villains. However, the show could not get rights to the character. Instead, they created a nearly identical character named Lord Nor who, alongside a group of Kryptonians, attempts to take over Earth in season 4.

Many times these villains would be B-lister guest stars, or people who made their name in other sci-fi/fantasy television shows or movies. You had Bruce Campbell playing Bill Church Jr., the leader of the nefarious organization Intergang. You had “Star Trek: Next Gen” alums Denise Crosby and Jonathan Frakes playing Lex Luthor’s ex-wife and a wealthy megalomaniac, respectively. Even people who had shows on ABC at the time would make tongue in cheek guest appearances, as was the case with Drew Carey from “The Drew Carey Show” when he played a realtor who accidentally summoned the ghost of a murder victim. Kathy Kinney, who played Drew’s nemesis Mimi on “The Drew Carey Show,” was the ghost, naturally. The villain-of-the-week became the name of the game format of the show, and the more scenery they could chew, the better.

Luthor did return a handful of times for a couple of small arcs (reanimation for the win!) But even he wasn’t unaffected by the new “the bigger the better” bottom line for how villains were portrayed. He went from a suave and chill super-villain with a bank account to a crazed science experiment gone mad with dreams of revenge and reconnecting with his lost love, Lois Lane.

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The new and not so improved Lex. (source)

Shea played both versions well, but it’s safe to say that he was more fun when he was tangling with Superman with an ice cold demeanor, unphased by most things that the Man of Steel could throw at him.

The upside to this carousel approach to villains is that the show really is, at its heart, about Lois Lane and Clark Kent figuring out their relationship, and Clark figuring out how to function both as himself and as Superman. So ultimately, it’s just as well that the villains, Luthor aside, never stuck around too long. The prolonged angst of dark and demented nemeses wouldn’t fit the tone of the show at all. The villains serve their purpose, but at the end of the episodes they are, usually, vanquished, and the status quo is returned for Lois and Clark.

Favorite Episodes

Kate:

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Look how thrilled she is to be working with him.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that my favorite episodes come from the first season, as that was the season that was more grounded in subtleties. I love “Pilot,” as I feel that it perfectly establishes every single one of the characters as the show is writing them. Clark Kent comes to the Daily Planet looking for a job and looking for a normal life, but by the end of the episode he’s taken on the Superman role in hopes of helping others. Lois has the perfect introduction in this, just coming off an undercover case that she has totally nailed. She is ambitious and snide, but clearly has a very good heart along with a good head on her shoulders. Her disdain for boy-scout Clark Kent as her new partner (a partner she does not want nor think she needs) is hilarious. Plus Dean Cain just embodies the persona of Clark Kent with his ‘aw shucks’ demeanor. And an MVP award has to go to Lane Smith, who is the best damn Perry White ever with his blustery attitude and ‘God I hate/love my staff so much’ demeanor. He takes a chance on Clark, but doesn’t let him off easy either. That’s the Perry I know and love.

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Lex wishing he’d just gone to the opera without Lois. (source)

I also have to give a shout out to the episode “Fly Hard,” the nineteenth episode of Season 1. In this one Clark, Perry, Lois, Jimmy, and Lex Luthor are being held hostage at the Planet by a group that is trying to find a large amount of money hidden in the building. This one I really like because it has a good amount of suspense, a very funny scene involving Cat being completely oblivious about her co-workers being held hostage, and one of the best pick up lines that Lex Luthor has given in the history of Lex Luthor pick up lines (“[Money] can’t buy brown eyes.” I’m sorry, I’m kind of a Lois/Lex shipper on this show because of how good Shea is when he’s on screen with Teri Hatcher). “Fly Hard” sticks out in my mind very prominently.

Serena: 

I definitely agree with Kate’s picks and would have listed them as well! For my picks, I’m going to highlight an episode from Season 2 and Season 3.

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Model citizens, these two! (source)

For Season 2, one of my favorite episodes has always been number 7 “That Old Gang of Mine.” It also perfectly illustrates the more nonsensical villains that were introduced in this season by featuring a mad scientist who, after discovering that he knows how to raise people from the dead, decides that the best way to impress people with this power is to bring back famous criminals such as John Dillinger and Al Capone. What is this plan?!? Anyways, Lois and Clark investigate, but while undercover, Clark gets shot. Of course, Clark, not being Superman, must “die.” This episode was a real turning point for Lois’s character with the realization of how deeply she depends on Clark’s friendship. Clark, too, also realizes how important his life in Metropolis is (Clark’s history before the timeline of the show involved him globe-trotting and never laying down roots due to his lack of a secret identity and inability to not help when he sees something going wrong). Their reunion is also very cute!

The second episode that I always love rewatching is in season 3 episode 13 “Tempus, Anyone?” Aside from Lex Luthor, Tempus is the second most-used villain in the show, appearing in 3 out of the 4 seasons. A time traveler from the future, Tempus for some reason doesn’t like good things and wants to prevent the utopian future that was created due to the actions of Lois/Clark/Superman, so whenever he shows up, time tomfoolery is sure to happen! His appearance in season 3 is his second attempt at disruption when he whisks Lois away to a parallel universe where things are very different. In that universe, Lois died years before meeting Clark. More so than almost any other episode, this is a “Lois episode,” not only featuring her as the well and true heroine of the story, but also highlighting how crucial her presence is to those around her, most importantly, to Clark.

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Also, Tempus has some of the funniest lines in the whole show! (source)

So, there you go! A very long winded “brief” history of our love for the 90s classic “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Are there any older tv shows that you consider lost gems? Let us know in the comments below!

(Many sources of information in this post come from the Wikipedia page on “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and the references that can be found at the bottom of it.)

Serena’s Review: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

9591398 Book: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, May 2011

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Book: It’s going to be so hard to talk about this book without gushing. Or crying. Or gushing. Or crying/gushing. (Gushily crying?)

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But remember how I listed the “Oz” books as one of the formative series of my childhood? Along side a similar love for the “Narnia” series and a brief stint as Alice in a children’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I have a special fondness in my heart for books about children traveling to fantastic and nonsensical worlds. But the true joy of this book was its heart, the deeper meanings, feelings, and yes, tragedies, that could be seen sparkling through the ridiculous trappings of a crazy Fairyland world. And I loved every minute of it.

Beyond the gushing, it’s also going to be hard to write about this book given what it is. While there is a plot, and there are great characters, its all wrapped up in the trappings of madness. And the language itself is what makes the story great. How do I really capture that in a review? So, I might try something different here, and pull out some of my favorite quotes and use those to frame my thoughts.

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

September, our 12 year old heroine, is ready for an adventure. As a child who loves to read, she is well accustomed to what it would take to be a great traveler and is only waiting for her invitation.

“One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.”

And one day it comes in the form of a Green Wind riding a leopard ready to whisk her away to Fairyland where she will get in an awful lot of trouble, meet some great friends like a Wyverary (a wyvern/library definitely NOT dragon) and a mysterious boy names Saturday, and be called upon to de-throne a monarch.

“Such lonely, lost things you find on your way. It would be easier, if you were the only one lost. But lost children always find each other, in the dark, in the cold. It is as though they are magnetized and can only attract their like. How I would like to lead you to brave, stalwart friends who would protect you and play games with dice and teach you delightful songs that have no sad endings. If you would only leave cages locked and turn away from unloved Wyverns, you could stay Heartless.”

The beautiful language in this book can not be praised enough. It is difficult enough to write a nice, straight forward story. But to write nonsense, and nonsense that hides deep, dark truths while also just being simply beautiful to read and repeat aloud, that is a unique and rare talent.

“… but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.”

Valente also employs another tricky technique, that of inserting her own authorial voice into the story. I’ve seen this ploy used all too often to super-cheesy effect. But here, like with everything else, Valente captures the perfect balance of whimsy and wit, so instead of being read as intrusive or tonally jarring, these insertions only add depth and further insight to the story.

“It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor.”

So, I have successfully reviewed this book while mostly relying on the author’s own work to speak for itself and done very little myself. But, that too, is a praise of the book and of the author herself. I am proceeding straight to the next book and, if it is as amazing as this one, will likely be equally incoherent in my next review.

“All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again.”

Rating 10: Could have gotten this rating for this quote alone, but the book also completely earned it.

“She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Books that Love Words” and “Girls with Dragons” (but A-Through-L is NOT a dragon!!)

Find “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Don’t You Cry”

27821486Book: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

Publishing Info: MIRA, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew. 

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.  

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end. 

Review: I don’t know about you guys, but I have a guilty pleasure love for the movie “Single White Female”. While it never really scared me so much (the only time I’ve lived with a stranger was in the dorms, and my friend Megan is the bee’s knees), I did enjoy how creepy it was. So when I heard about “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica, and saw it described as “‘Single While Female’ on steroids”, well. I mean, come on. Let’s do this. The fact that it was written by Kubica was just the icing on the cake, as I read her previous novel “Pretty Baby” earlier this year and found it truly addictive. Her first person POVs in that were well done and very unreliable, making it a book filled with unpredictable (but yeah, sometimes predictable) twists and turns. The good news is that “Don’t You Cry” follows a similar structure of expectations, as it was definitely creepy and caught me off guard a number of times. The not as good news is that sometimes in an effort to throw the reader off the scent, it made some characters farfetched and treading into mixed up territory.

There are two different perspectives in this book that alternate between chapters. First there is Quinn, the roommate of the missing Esther, and then there is Alex, a teenager in a small town who leads a lonely life until a mysterious stranger arrives. I’m going to start with Alex, as I found his parts to be the weaker of the two. I understand why he was used, for the most part, and seeing him get close to ‘Pearl’ (as he calls the mysterious stranger) was a unique way to present some of the missing puzzle pieces in the mystery at hand. But at the same time, Alex felt like an odd choice of character to plant in this role. He didn’t really have any connection to the rest of the mystery, he felt more like a hapless bystander who was just there out of convenience for later plot points. While I know I was supposed to feel bad for him, he never really got past a superficial characterization of ‘the loner boy who has no one who loves him and aches for affection’. I like this trope just fine if it is properly explored, but in this case it wasn’t, and he just kind of bored me. His hardships were more just there not because it made his character interesting, but because it made some of the late game choices he made plausible. And that didn’t really fly for me.

But then there is Quinn’s side of the story. This was definitely the stronger of the two perspectives, and the one that I most wanted to be reading. But there is a problem with this side too. I know that the whole point of the thriller genre is to make the reader question what is genuine and who the true threats are. Kubica did a really good job of this in her book “Pretty Baby”, as in that book one of the narrators slowly descended into madness. It was written in such a way that it was like the frog in the slow boil. I’m going to be a little spoilery here, because it doesn’t really take away from the overall mystery, because I need to address this issue. Quinn, to me, seemed a bit unhinged and nuts. There were things that she did that just seemed very off and obsessive, and I was fairly convinced that she was going to be the end game antagonist. But lo and behold, she wasn’t. And I can’t help but feel like she was still just a little too nuts to be someone that we are ultimately supposed to be rooting for. I don’t know if I was just assuming that she was insane and therefore just saw that in everything, or if Kubica did too much in trying to red herring her. I appreciate trying to mislead the reader, but I think that it went a little too far with Quinn.

The mystery itself was pretty well done. I had no idea what was going on and when I thought I’d figured something out, it turned out I hadn’t. I was turning the pages very quickly during the climax, eager to see how it all fell into place, and looking back through the narrative the keys to the mystery were sprinkled throughout expertly.

Rating 7: The mystery was pretty strong and kept me guessing, but the characters were either too flat, or overly suspicious.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t You Cry” is included on these Goodreads lists: “2016 Must Reads”, and “Most Anticipated Mysteries 2016”.

Find “Don’t You Cry” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Every Heart a Doorway”

25526296 Book:“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children:
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review: I highlighted this novella as an upcoming release that I was anxiously looking forward to back in April. I have read some of Seanan McGuires other books and have liked her style. Beyond that, the premises is right up my alley.

When my sister and I were little (or maybe only a few years ago, too), we would discuss what we would do if we suddenly came upon a portal to another world. The conversation was always pretty short: we’d go through of course! Having grown up on stories where children visit places like Oz, Narnia, and Wonderland, this really seems to be the only option.

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Going is never in question and there are millions of stories that share these adventures. But what happens when these children come back? (I am restraining myself from going into a long, drawn out discussion about the existential trauma that the Pevensies children must have gone through after living full adult lives in Narnia only to suddenly topple back to their own world as small children. If you really think about it for a minute, the true horror of that situation really sets in. Ok, mini rant over.)

“Every Heart a Doorway” addresses this very issue.  This novella posits that every child who disappears to these different worlds is also matched to a world that fits an inner part of themselves that cannot be fully expressed here in the human world. And when those children (adults in children’s bodies, many of them) return, it is not by free choice. Nancy is one of these children. After spending the last several years in an Underworld, the “Halls of the Dead” world specifically, she has returned to the “real” world and finds that she’s not too happy about it. Her parents, confused and saddened by the loss of their daughter of before, a past person that Nancy herself does not mourn, do what many such parents have done: carted her off for “treatment.” Luckily for Nancy, this “treatment” consists of a boarding school operated by a woman who knows all too well of Nancy’s unique struggles, having herself traveled between worlds for much of her life.

It’s amazing how much ground McGuire covers in such a short story. The book is only 150 pages long and yet she lays out not only Nancy’s story, but several other unique characters as well. Such as Jack and Jill, twins who spent years and years in a land called “The Moors” which seems to be based on old horror movies such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” There’s Sumi, Nancy’s roommate, who traveled to a nonsense world, and perhaps has the most honest things to stay about these experiences from it. And Kade, a boy who was scooped up by fairies as a child, but who was kicked out when they learned that the little girl they thought they had captured identified as a boy and was much more interested in slaying trolls than in parading as their princess.

Alongside these fantastic characters, McGuire creates a unique system for cataloging these worlds, with axis of Nonsense and Logical with cross beams of Virtue and Wicked and many other offshoots as well. As a longtime reader of fantasy stories where characters world-jump, it was great fun looking at this mapping process and trying to apply it to other magical worlds from stories.

The mystery at the center of the story is also very effective and another huge mark in its favor. Again, the author had half the page count of a typical book to fit in all of these elements. I loved every minute of this book, and while I would love to have spent more time with these characters and this exploration of children traveling to fantasy worlds and their experiences after returning, the best compliment I can give any novella is to say that I felt fully satisfied with it as a short stand-alone.

Rating 9: Really great read! Fun characters, fun mystery, and most importantly, a great exploration of a typical fantasy trope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Heart a Doorway” is included on the Goodreads list “Gender Non-Binary Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “2016 Speculative Fiction New Series And Standalones Books”.

Find “Every Heart a Doorway” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle”

8616116Book: “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” by Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore (Ill.), R.B. Silva (Ill.), and Alexandre Palamaro (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, January 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Gail Simone’s fan-favorite team of rogues and bad guys returns in an all-new collection that pits one team member against the whole group.This volume finds Thomas Blake – a.k.a. Catman – heading to Africa to find the three men who kidnapped his long lost son. Catman leaves a trail of destruction in his wake that threatens to destroy the Secret Six once and for all.

Review: As I am sure it was clear in my previous review of the series “Secret Six”, I was worried that the story was starting to become stagnant and repetitive. I knew that I still liked it enough to keep going, but I was starting to fret that things weren’t going keep my interest. But when I picked up “Cat’s in the Cradle”, I was immediately pulled back into the story, because the focus was, very clearly, going to be on Catman.

The thing about Catman is that of the entire group, he is the one who is the most morally ambiguous. He has been labeled a villain, and tries to wear that label with pride, but there is something in him that makes him tread towards goodness at times. We finally got some more insight into his past, and why he is the way he is. Spoilers: it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Along with being a story about underdogs and misfits, “Cats in the Cradle” explores the story of fathers and sons. The title alone, clearly taken from Harry Chapin’s song about a father and son relationship that is beyond broken, let’s you know what is in store. Catman finds out that his son with Cheshire has been kidnapped, and while he goes looking for the baby, he thinks about his own relationship with his father, who was abusive and violent.

I liked that Catman didn’t all of a sudden become a no fault hero in his son’s time of need. In fact, he was actually willing to sacrifice his son for his team, and then take bloody awful revenge later (perhaps it’s more fair to say he gambled with the baby’s life, as he was almost totally convinced that the kidnappers would balk). It was nice to see that in a moment where betrayal seemed inevitable, Simone made Catman find another way. I also liked seeing his past, and seeing just why it is that he’s so afraid of being a Dad, and knows that he can’t really be one because of the choices he’s made. I got very misty-eyed at the end. Okay fine, I cried.

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Accurate portrayal. (source)

It was also nice to see that while the team split up because of Catman’s decision (with Bane and Jeanette leaving the group), there weren’t any hard feelings between anyone. I was thinking that when the team split there would be a whole lot of drama, and yet they seem to be perfectly amicable and understanding. It was a nice choice, and not the obvious one.

And this volume marked the return of the funny and unique side stories! The first one involved the Six as prey in a ‘most dangerous game’-like situation, where a compound of wealthy men with Presidential aliases think that they can hunt the Six and live to tell about it….. I’m sure you can guess how well that goes. The other story was an alternate universe story of the Six, which took place in the Old West. It had some steamy scenes with Jeanette and Deadshot (yes please!) and some cute and fun moments with Ragdoll as a puppeteer. But then…. Well, it ended very dark. And I’m very worried that the ending is a hint as to what is to come in the last two volumes. It served as a reminder that these guys aren’t heroes, they’re villains. And villains aren’t known for winning in stories like this…

I am very pleased that the Six are going strong. I can’t wait to dig into Volume 5, “The Reptile Brain”. If they can keep up the momentum, I feel like this series is going to stick the landing. We can only hope.

Rating 8: The Secret Six are back on track, with new character development and some very dark themes. But the humor and the heart is always present.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Diverse Heroes in Graphic Novels/Comic Books”, and “Swancon 2013 Reading List”.

Find “Secret Six (Vol.4): Cat’s in the Cradle” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous reviews of “Secret Six”: “Villains United”,  “Unhinged“, “Depths”, “Danse Macabre”.