Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beautiful Exiles by Meg Waite Clayton

Beautiful Exiles
by Meg Waite Clayton
Published by Lake Union Publishing • August 1, 2018
384 Pages • ISBN 978-1503900837 • Hardcover

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Book description:
From New York Times bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton comes a riveting novel based on one of the most volatile and intoxicating real-life love affairs of the twentieth century.

Key West, 1936. Headstrong, accomplished journalist Martha Gellhorn is confident with words but less so with men when she meets disheveled literary titan Ernest Hemingway in a dive bar. Their friendship—forged over writing, talk, and family dinners—flourishes into something undeniable in Madrid while they’re covering the Spanish Civil War.

Martha reveres him. The very married Hemingway is taken with Martha—her beauty, her ambition, and her fearless spirit. And as Hemingway tells her, the most powerful love stories are always set against the fury of war. The risks are so much greater. They’re made for each other.

With their romance unfolding as they travel the globe, Martha establishes herself as one of the world’s foremost war correspondents, and Hemingway begins the novel that will win him the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Beautiful Exiles is a stirring story of lovers and rivals, of the breathless attraction to power and fame, and of one woman—ahead of her time—claiming her own identity from the wreckage of love.

My knowledge of Hemingway runs no farther than The Old Man and the Sea, a staple of most high school English classes. I only have a vague memory of slogging thru, his writing clearly not for me. As a result, I've never pursued any more reading, let alone research, on him (or his wives) and therefore honestly had no frame of reference going into Beautiful Exiles, other than having read Meg Waite Clayton's previous books and being a fan of her writing.

Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, this book is not about Hemingway; instead it is about Martha Gellhorn, a writer and eventual prominent war correspondent, who became Hemingway's third wife. Told in the first-person, Gelhorn proves to be just as strong-willed as Hemingway, and more often than not, I found myself wishing she would strike out on her own and leave the self-inflated Hemingway behind. We are given a Gelhorn who is a force unto herself, who is not overshadowed by the sometimes more famous characters around her.

The writing is spot on; whether describing the peaceful, lazy days in Key West or the fast paced, immediate action of being on the front line, I could easily imagine each scene. The detail and descriptions were perfect and really brought the characters, and their situations, to life. Clayton's writing continues to get stronger with each book, and it clearly shows here.

In my admitted non-existent knowledge of Martha Gelhorn, I appreciate Beautiful Exiles all the more; everyone knows Hemingway, but I'm not so sure about Gelhorn. Clayton has given me a perspective on a woman ahead of her time, who was willing to put her life on the line to make sure the world knew what was happening in Europe during Hitler's rise to power. I found Gelhorn fascinating and am sorry that she had become overshadowed by Hemingway, at least in my experience. I want to find out more about her, and I think that a book like Beautiful Exiles, one that sparks that kind of interest in me, is always remarkable.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

by Brenna Thummler
Published by Lion Forge • August 28, 2018
240 Pages • ISBN 978-1941302675 • Paperback

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I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair & honest review.

Book description:
"For days after reading Brenna Thummler's Sheets I have been wandering my neighborhood, haunted, enchanted, and in need of freshly pressed clothing." - Lemony Snicket

Marjorie Glatt feels like a ghost. A practical thirteen-year-old in charge of the family laundry business, her daily routine features unforgiving customers, unbearable P.E. classes, and the fastidious Mr. Saubertuck who is committed to destroying everything she's worked for.

Wendell is a ghost. A boy who lost his life much too young, his daily routine features ineffective death therapy, a sheet-dependent identity, and a dangerous need to seek purpose in the forbidden human world.

When their worlds collide, Marjorie is confronted by unexplainable disasters as Wendell transforms Glatt's Laundry into his midnight playground, appearing as a mere sheet during the day. While Wendell attempts to create a new afterlife for himself, he unknowingly sabotages the life that Marjorie is struggling to maintain.

Sheets illustrates the determination of a young girl to fight, even when all parts of her world seem to be conspiring against her. It proves that second chances are possible whether life feels over or life is over. But above all, it is a story of the forgiveness and unlikely friendship that can only transpire inside a haunted laundromat.

"Brenna Thummler's first original graphic novel is a reason to celebrate. She announced herself as an artist to reckon with when she illustrated Mariah Marsden's adaptation of
Anne of Green Gables. Now she's illustrated her own story of ghosts and family, loneliness and laundromats. I'm sure you'll be captivated, and as eager as I am to see what comes next!"-Brian Selznick, author of Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret
"Sweet, sad, funny, warm, and beautiful. If I can be forgiven for using this word, this is one that will haunt me, in the best way." - Dana Simpson

Brenna Thummler's Sheets attempts to examine many things at once; grief, loss, alienation, forgiveness, and friendship are all addressed in this story, but perhaps not always to the best results.

Marjorie, a young girl who feels out of place in her world, runs the family laundromat after the death of her mother. Her father has more or less abandoned life, lost in his grief. Marjorie tries very hard to hold her family together, but she's realistically too young to carry this responsibility. Wendell, a young ghost, is trying to navigate his afterlife and decide whether his place is there or back among the living. Finding solace among the sheets in the laundromat, Wendell attempts to befriend Marjorie and help her with her job, to more often than not disastrous results. In the end, Marjorie and Wendell find a way to work together to face their fears and save the laundromat.

The first portion of the book, dealing with Marjorie, is a little slow but I feel that it was intentional as it sets her feeling of loneliness and abandonment fairly early in the story. I found this portion of the book moving, how she was dealing with the loss of both of her parents, one by death, the other by grief. However, the abrupt switch to Wendell's introduction left me confused as I actual thought I had missed some pages somehow; one page we're reading about Marjorie, the next we're dropped right in the middle of Wendell's story without the same buildup that Marjorie receives. It's a little jarring. The rest of the book moves along fairly quickly, almost to its detriment in some ways. Marjorie coming to terms with who Wendell is (after the briefest of connections is made earlier in the book; I actually had to flip back to figure out how she made this link), Wendell first accidentally interfering in Marjorie's attempt to save the family business then his coming to the rescue, the final resolution to everyone's problems, it all seemed to happen almost too quickly after such a sparse and spaced beginning to the book. There are solid lessons to be learned here but they seem either heavy handed or too easily glossed over; there is some definite inconsistencies to the storytelling throughout.

Thummler's sparse illustrations and muted pastel palette lend themselves easily to both the tone and seaside setting of the story. There is not much detail per panel, yet her character's emotions are easily read. I feel this is truly where Thummler's strength is, in her art.

I think the problem with Sheets is it tries too hard to be more than it is, ultimately being inconsistent in how it deals with the kid's emotions and how they deal with those emotions. At the end of the day, I enjoyed Sheets for what it is: a book about a lost girl and a ghost boy, and how they help each other find their way.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman, adapted & illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, adaptation script by Rafael Scavone, colored by Dave Stewart

Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald
by Neil Gaiman, adapted & illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, adaptation script by Rafael Scavone, colored by Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Books • July 10, 2018
88 Pages • ISBN 978-1506703930 • Hardcover

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Book description:
This supernatural mystery set in the world of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos features a brilliant detective and his partner as they try to solve a horrific murder.

The complex investigation takes the Baker Street investigators from the slums of Whitechapel all the way to the Queen's Palace as they attempt to find the answers to this bizarre murder of cosmic horror!

From the Hugo, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, Nebula award-winning, and
New York Times bestselling writer Neil Gaiman comes this graphic novel adaptation with art by Eisner award winning artist Rafael Albuquerque!

The latest in Dark Horse Comic's Neil Gaiman Library series, A Study in Emerald adapts the short story of the same name from the short story collection Fragile Things. As with all the Dark Horse adaptations, this has its strong and weak points, but does a more than admiral job of capturing the essence of the story. Without giving much away, this is obviously a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes with Lovecraft's Cthulhu universe and takes A Study in Scarlet as its inspiration, but also contains an unexpected twist at the end.

It has been awhile since I read the original short story, but I feel that they gave away some of the mystery to the story a little too early. I remember a real feeling of surprise when I figured out how everything was coming together and yes, that may have influenced me, but I don't think that someone reading this version will have that same experience as all the pieces of the puzzle start coming together. Or maybe I'm just remembering this wrong and the original did give more away earlier on in the story. Either way, this is a great volume unto itself, but I recommend reading the original as well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks • August 7, 2007 (1990)
400 Pages • ISBN 978-0060853976 • Paperback

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Book description:
The world will end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.

New York Times bestselling authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett together... and all Hell breaks loose.

le sigh

I love this book. I really, really do. It's one that I'll pull off the shelf every couple of years to read and giggle all the way through each and every time, it's just that funny. Realistically, you'd think a story about the Apocalypse really wouldn't be that funny, but in such capable hands as those of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, it's laugh out loud hysterical.

Aziraphale (the angel protecting the Garden of Eden) and Crowley (once known as Crawley, the infamous snake of Eden) have been living comfortably in modern times, having become fast friends after the whole Adam and Eve thing. When it comes time for the Apocalypse to take place, they decide to maybe try to put it off a couple more years, since they rather like living in the human world. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the Antichrist when he was born (Warlock, who is thought to be the Antichrist, is a wildly normal young boy, while the real Antichrist, Adam Young, is living in the English countryside with his wildly normal family, not having any idea as to his true nature), and now there is a race to find the real Antichrist before everything basically goes to hell. The Four Horsemen are trying to find the Antichrist (Pollution has replaced Pestilence since penicillin was discovered), Aziraphale and Crowley are looking for him, and meanwhile all the incredibly accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter are coming true. And what do the Tibetans and aliens have to do with anything?

I think part of what makes the story so funny is that it doesn't try to take itself seriously at all. Gaiman and Pratchett never try to take the story farther that what it is, a comedy, and don't try to make anything really philosophical about it, so regardless of your actual beliefs or feelings about the Apocalypse, this story is still accessible and still funny. It is full of Gaiman and Pratchett's trademark wit and cleverness, even though it was written respectively early on in their careers, so it's not always a polished as it could be, which is also part of its charm.

**a note on my most recent encounter with Good Omens**
Recently needing something a little lighthearted and on the recommendation from a friend, I gave the audio edition of Good Omens a go, and was not disappointed. Martin Jarvis' narration was spot on for every character, and he gave the story an entirely fresh feel. I'm sure it wasn't done intentionally, but his Crowley sounded just like David Tennant and Aziraphale sounded just like Michael Sheen, and that made me all the more excited for the upcoming BBC production. I don't know if it was just that I hadn't read it in a while or it was because I was listening to it as an audio, but I found myself laughing out loud at so many bits... it was just what I needed to put me in a better mood when I was listening to it.