Warren 13: L’Oeil-qui-voit-tout/The All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio

Warren

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, children’s lit

Medium: French hardback

Synopsis: Warren the 13th is 12 years old, an orphan, the heir to a hotel, and strangely optimistic, given how unlucky he is.  He lives with his uncle Raoul, aunt Anaconda, and the few hotel workers.  The hotel hasn’t seen a patron in years, leaving Warren to be tormented by his evil aunt and ignored by his lovesick uncle.  But, one day, a patron arrives.  He doesn’t speak, and he’s covered in bandages like a mummy.  Aunt Anaconda immediately knows that this curious patron is after the All-Seeing Eye, a hidden hotel relic that’s only rumored to exist.  Warren must fend for himself and forge new alliances when the hotel is threatened, but how can he possibly do so?

Review: There are so many things that I loved about this book.  I bought it at first because a) I’m really into children’s literature (this is perfect for fifth or sixth graders), and b) this is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books I’ve ever seen.  So therefore, I had to have it.

Let’s talk plot and structure first–wow.  This book probably has one of the best uses of Chekhov’s Gun in it.  For those who don’t know, Chekhov’s Gun is a literary device that basically says “don’t introduce a gun in chapter one if you’re not going to fire it in chapter three.”  So, this means that everything in Warren 13 has a purpose, and things that are important to the plot and structure of this book are referenced to early on.  This makes for a more solid and steady storyline.  In addition to this, Chekhov’s Gun can be found in the book’s illustrations, too–so pay attention!

And, in terms of plot, some things did really surprise me!  Since it’s a children’s book, there are some things that are “obvious” (to me, at least–to be fair, I’m an adult reading this children’s book), such as a scary creature actually being very friendly.  But, there were some other “obvious” things that really weren’t so obvious or straight-forward at all.  And that’s really nice.  It’s not a predictable book–some things are good for teaching foreshadowing and inference, and some things are good for showing how to purposefully mislead your readers.  All in all, it’s great fun.

Now, for style.  If you took the pictures and typography out of this book, it would no longer hold.  Take a look at these two pictures:

Warren 2Warren 3

Already, there’s a huge difference.  The white pages are from Warren 13’s perspective, and the black are from Anaconda’s.  Each page, at the very top, has a short description of what’s on that page.  They can be anything from “Warren makes a friend” to “Anaconda punishes Warren.”  But, on the black pages, those headers are reversed, and you are forced to read them backwards or with the aid of a mirror.  These kinds of details really make the book, in my opinion.  It’s fun, it’s artsy, it’s interesting, and most importantly–it’s engaging.

And finally, the art.  Oh my god, the art.  It’s so good.  Good job, Will Staehle, if you’re reading this.  Here’s my favorite illustration from the whole book:

Warren 4

I mean, first of all, #goals.  Basically this illustration is who I want to be when I’m older.  Second of all, look at that contrast.  Those details!  These illustrations are so unique and beautiful that I think you should buy the book just for them.

All in all, I was astounded by the artistry–both written and drawn–of this book.  It was fun, engaging, and I can tell you all right now that I am so excited for the second one to be released in some months’ time.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction

Medium: Kindle ebook

Content warnings: Racism

Synopsis: Tom Sawyer is a mischievous boy who would rather torment bugs than go to school or church.  He’s a hero to his classmates, but his aunt stresses over all the trouble he gets into.  Alongside Huckleberry Finn, the son of the town drunk, Tom goes on all sorts of adventures, including romancing the new girl, becoming a pirate, and faking his own death.

Review: The last time I read Mark Twain was when I was in high school, and I’d only read a few snippets from Tom Sawyer.  Now that I’m older and have more of an appreciation of the classics, I have to say that I really enjoyed this.  It was a fun, quick read for me, and this book made me laugh out loud at times.

The reason why this book was so enjoyable is because I really felt like I was reading about a young boy–I think it can be difficult to encompass the voice of childhood, but Twain knows just how to do it.  Tom hates doing chores, schoolwork, and anything that involves not having fun: as an adult, this behavior would get on my nerves, but the child in me was laughing right alongside him.  In addition to this, Tom Sawyer is just so…relateable.  I think my favorite quote is this: “Ah, if he could only die TEMPORARILY!”  Like, same, dude.

In all honesty, when I first read this, I thought it was just going to be a bunch of short stories about Tom and his escapades.  So naturally, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that there was indeed an overarching plot…and boy, it was a plot I didn’t expect.  Murder?  Treasure?  Death???  Wow.  That’s something I expected from Huckleberry Finn, not Tom Sawyer.

All in all, this book makes for a very good story that makes me want to reminisce about my childhood, or what I can remember from it.  Reading this made me feel like a child again.

Women of Will: The Remarkable Evolution of Shakespeare’s Female Characters by Tina Packer

Women of Will

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: In this book, Tina Packer unpacks the women of Shakespeare’s most well-known and lesser-known plays.  She discusses women’s will, religion, sexuality, daughterhood, fatherhood, creativity, and of course: Shakespeare’s relationship to women with respect to his plays and his real life.

Review: This was probably one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read.  In fact, I read her chapter on Measure for Measure a couple years back before I even got my hands on this book.  I recently graduated from college, and right now I’m currently in a gap year before I go get my masters.  I decided that this year, I was only going to read fun books that were already on my shelves, because next year, I’d be thrown back into a world of syllabi and required reading.  Last year, I wrote two major theses on a variety of books, so once I was done with those, I think it was safe to say that I didn’t want to read anything non-fiction for a long, long time.

And then I saw this book.  I mean, look at that title: Women of Will?  Sign me up.  I figured, well, it looks good, and I like feminism, women, and Shakespeare, so I may as well give it a whirl.  I’m glad I did.

Reading this book makes you feel like you’re getting a cup of coffee with Packer.  While she does talk a lot about Shakespeare and her thoughts on his female characters, she also offers positionality: she founded Shakespeare and Company, she’s directed and acted many of his plays, and she works closely with a man named Nigel, who frequently plays the foil to her female roles.  While these anecdotes can be a little distracting, I find that they are necessary when reading her analysis.

However, I do feel the need to pause and say that in terms of literary analysis like this, where it’s discussing an author’s work more frequently than the author’s life, it’s important to remember that the thesis or main points of the analysis are literally just headcanons.  For those unfamiliar with this term, a headcanon is an idea or belief about a character that is not directly supported by the text.  And so, with literary analyses like this one, it’s safe to say that Packer is simply offering evidence for her Shakespeare headcanons–so, that being said, I still find that her book is still worth reading even if you don’t agree with what she’s saying.  After all, Shakespeare only gives us part of the story: it’s up to the actors and readers to interpret it.

Back to the book.  Another one of my favorite things about this book is how explanatory Packer is.  There’s no need to worry if you haven’t read everything in Shakespeare’s canon, or don’t know all the characters.  Of course, my favorite parts were when Packer discussed the plays that I already knew, but she made it easy to understand the plays that I didn’t.  That way, her analysis wasn’t lost on me.

Ultimately, the only reason that this book gets a 4.5 star rating is because Packer hardly mentions Lavinia from Titus and Andronicus.  Granted, Titus is a difficult play, filled to the brim with horrors, and therefore probably one of the hardest plays to understand, but I still felt that Lavinia should have earned at least a page or two.  There’s a lot going on with her and her relationship to love, sexuality, and daughterhood.  But, the fact still remains that Packer’s book is insightful and thought-provoking.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

Twin Peaks

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction (“non-fiction”), supernatural, policier, mystery

Medium: Hardback

Synopsis: The FBI has found a small box, and inside contains a rather large file–The Secret History of Twin Peaks, written by somebody who calls themselves The Archivist.  The Archivist takes us from the beginning of the United States, to the adventures of Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, to the founding of Twin Peaks, right up until the death of the town’s mayor, Dwayne Milford.  The Archivist analyzes government reports, interviews, Twin Peaks Post articles, and even notes written by the townsfolk of Twin Peaks themselves.  Tamara Preston is assigned to find out who the Archivist is by Gordon Cole, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.  After all, why write about the history of Twin Peaks, why is The Archivist mentioning UFOs and non-human beings on earth, who is The Archivist, and why are owls so important?

Review: While I try to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, this one may prove to be a little difficult.  Because this book was released between the first two seasons and the upcoming third season of Twin Peaks, it’s clearly meant to bridge the 25-year gap.  I must confess that I only recently watched Twin Peaks, so revisiting the characters that we all know and love is likely to be more special to those who have known these characters for a longer time.  That being said, I still believe that this clue in the mystery that is Twin Peaks is endearing and clever.

Why is it endearing?  The closer we arrive to contemporary times in this novel, the more we learn about the characters.  While most of what we learn has been mentioned in passing in the series, this novel allows us to really understand the backstories of the adult characters, such as how the Packards came to be the biggest industry for Twin Peaks, who Josie really is (or isn’t), and why Norma and Ed never got married.  We even have the opportunity to read about some of the older characters in their primes, such as Dwayne Milford and The Log Lady, which provides us not only insight into the characters, but to the town of Twin Peaks itself.  No character in the show is without their purpose, and I’m sure you’ll find the same with respect to this book.  Additionally, this novel covers just a little past the season 2 finale–while we don’t know much about what happened after the bank explosion, or what happened to Dale Cooper after being possessed by Crazy Bob, the novel does give us just enough closure for us to hang on until the next season.

Why is it clever?  Oh, for many reasons.  Firstly, because of the “real” documents shown in the novel–there are journal entries from Lewis and Clark’s books, discussions between Doug Milford and President Nixon, and FBI reports on UFOs.  This in itself brings a sort of authenticity to the book.  We as an audience know that this book is fictional, but the use of real-looking documents make us wonder whether the documents themselves are fictional or not, and whether Mark Frost has just twisted the statements to become something meaningful for this fictional town.  Secondly,  because we want to know who The Archivist is.  We can all guess that The Archivist is somebody who we’ve seen on the show.  But who is it, exactly?  It’s this mystery that keeps us reading–it’s obvious that The Archivist is personally invested and knows the others that he mentions, but just about every character is mentioned, so it’s difficult to deduce who it is.

And thirdly–this warrants its own paragraph–the book in itself is something that I love seeing done with media.  I love media that isn’t one type or another: I love things that are television shows, radio shows, books, youtube videos, so on and so forth.  When stories can cross genres and medium, I smile at the ingenuity of it all.  I mean, yes, books can be turned into movies and vice versa, but this type of worldbuilding is unreal.  I’ve only really seen it once before with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events: he has released the books, there’s been a movie, and a series, and all of his advertising is within the realm of the fictional world.  But the advertising and supplementary worldbuilding is what crosses genres and medium–it’s both fictional and nonfictional–think back to the first Netflix commercial for ASOUE, and how the day after Netflix released a statement that it wasn’t really them.  Think back to how the “author” of this article was actually a journalist for The Daily Punctilio (a fictional newspaper in our world, but a real one in the ASOUE world).  This worldbuilding crosses the line of fiction and nonfiction.  And even so, Lemony Snicket released The Unauthorized Biography, which is similar to The Secret History of Twin Peaks in that it presumes the fact that Lemony Snicket is a real man (that Twin Peaks is a real place), and that Lemony Snicket didn’t want his biography to come to light (that Twin Peaks has a history that has been documented by an unknown source), and that now we have the option to read about it, and delve ourselves even further into the fictional world the creators have created for us.  This is made possible because the story is able to work between many different mediums.  The fact that these different mediums work so well with stories like these doesn’t cheapen the whole experience: it enriches it.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction, superhero, action

Medium: Kindle ebook

Content warnings: Anti-semitism

Synopsis: It’s 1792, in the midst of the French Revolution.  Marguerite Blakeney is a French socialite living in England with her husband, Sir Percy Blakeney.  She has the best dresses, the cutest smile, and the wittiest remarks (which are usually reserved for her spouse).  Sir Percy is a foolish man who used to be madly in love with Marguerite, until she told him about how she condemned a man and his family to Madame La Guillotine.  Since then, he has fulfilled the duties of a husband out of necessity, not endearment.

Marguerite wants to win Percy’s heart back–but Chauvelin gets in the way.  Chauvelin is searching for the dastardly Scarlet Pimpernel, who has been smuggling those condemned to the guillotine to England.  He ensnares Marguerite in a plan to discover who the Scarlet Pimpernel is in return for her brother’s safety.  What’s a socialite to do?  Condemn her brother, or condemn the one person with whom Percy so agrees?

Review: Holy cow!!!  I gotta say right off the bat: I LOVED IT.  When I first heard of this AMAZING book, I discovered two things–first, this book was the beginning of the superhero genre; and second, this book was written by a woman.  So, already, it sounded great.  The only thing I was wary about was the language, since it was written over 100 years ago.  Not to worry though, it’s a little stuffy, but very easy to understand!

Orczy takes her time settling into the plot: we begin at the Chat Gris, where our main characters (and some minor ones) take the scene.  We learn that The Scarlet Pimpernel has once again saved members of the French aristocracy, and that the French people want him to be stopped at whatever cost.  Being respectful Englishmen, of course, they don’t understand why the revolution is happening–it’s totally barbaric, and the poor should just respect the upper class, of course, that’s the order of things.  Marguerite, the main character and token French person in this novel agrees, but she’s also upper-class, and is therefore biased.  This lays the bare bones of her characterization: she’s upper-class, she likes being adored, and she’d rather not get dirty if she doesn’t have to.

We’re immediately thrust afterwards into Marguerite’s world full of dinners, parties, and balls.  And, of course, the cold demeanor of her foolish husband.  It’s fascinating, it’s interesting, and it sounds fun.  The way Orczy writes these scenes is absolutely perfect.  In my opinion, she writes neither too quickly nor too slowly, and gives us just enough time to process the twists and turns she throws at us.  Because we’re following Marguerite, who is just doing her best to rectify her actions, we’re faced with the same amount of heightened love and fear.

There is some anti-semitism though, and that would have to be my only complaint.  However, I’m not Jewish myself, so my criticism can only go so far.  While I’m sure most of it is due to the time period in which this novel was written (read: the anti-semitism was overt, and not some culturally ingrained stereotype that hasn’t been deconstructed yet), it was still quite shocking to read.  There was a lot of mentions of how French folks hated Jewish folks, but I personally don’t know enough of the history to really go into it and state how historically accurate I thought it was.  So, just a word of warning–it begins in a chapter titled ‘The Jew,’ so you can’t really miss it.

Despite this, I would still have to recommend this book.  There were some things that I did expect, and many things that I didn’t, which makes this a very well-balanced book, and the perfect novel to begin this genre.  I think the things that I expected are cliches and tropes which originated from this novel or novels of the like, so it was truly fascinating to see how Marguerite would do certain things (and in a skirt, nonetheless), and how she takes charge of her brother’s fate, The Scarlet Pimpernel’s fate, and her own fate all at once.  I probably read this in 3 days or so, so it’s well worth it to just curl up with it whenever you have free time.  All in all, I found this to be one of the most entertaining books that I’ve read in a very long time.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

no plot no problem

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: From the creator of NaNoWriMo itself, Chris Baty offers valuable tips, pep talks, and suggestions in his guide to writing a book in 30 days.  NaNoWriMo, as some may know, is a month-long event held in November in which contestants struggle to write 50,000 words.  These words appear on word processors in the middle of the night, before work, and sometimes, whoops, during work.  But, writing 50,000 words in 30 day is tough, so Baty is here to offer you some good advice.

Review: I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, and I’m glad I finally did!  I’m sure this would have helped more when I was writing for NaNoWriMo, but alas, now I have lots of tips for next year.  Baty’s voice throughout this book is so great.  This is probably the third or fourth book about writing that I’ve read in the past two years, and most of those books tended to be very dry.  There was a lot about structure, grammar, revising–the really fine-tuned aspects of writing that we should all learn to become better writers.  But Baty is here to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t know that stuff, and don’t know your plot, and hey, it’s even okay if you don’t know your main character!

What Baty wants you to do is throw out your inner-editor, and let yourself just have at it.  Write what comes to mind, even the bad stuff.  Even the really bad stuff.  Editing and revising can come later.  What matters right now is that you do your hardest to get 50,000 words down on that page.  And the best part about it is that he truly believes you can do it.  He gives you some really helpful tips on how to structure your time, offers you advice given from NaNoWriMo winners, and gives you pep talks.  What’s even better is that he tells you the way to cheat your way to the top of his own contest: make people’s names extra long, write about a weird tree in the park even if you know you’ll edit that part out, stop using hyphens.

Honestly, I’m glad that I read this.  Even if you’re not into writing novels in one month, or you’re not even remotely interested in NaNoWriMo, he offers some great advice, and puts a smile on your face while doing it.

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

i work at a public library

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Humor, nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: In the time spent working at a public library, Sheridan compiled the funniest, best, and most relatable quotes from her patrons.  When you’re a librarian, you get to see the world as it truly is–you hear all the strange questions, see all the strange websites on public computers, and feel all the stickiness that somehow made it onto a children’s book.  On the bright side, you’re never bored.

Review: Oh…my god.  This book had me laughing out loud on the train on multiple occasions.  This collection of quotes was honestly so harrowing and hilarious that it felt like I was back at my old job as a Reference Desk Assistant.  I wasn’t a librarian back then, but I did work closely enough with them and the patrons to understand why libraries are a necessary and entertaining place.  In fact, they were the ones that inspired me to study Library Science next year at Simmons–and this book made me remember all the good times I had in the library and the good times that are to come.

This collection is divided into different topics such as computers (what I mostly helped patrons with), to reference work (which I helped patrons with when there wasn’t a librarian readily available), and communication (which was the basis of quite a few problems).  All of the topics are divided by the Dewey Decimal System, which gives this book a nice touch of authenticity.

Overall, this book is a very quick read, which makes it perfect for a train ride, or when you’re stuck somewhere with no internet access.  From a librarian’s (or, assistant’s) perspective, all of this is #confirmed–we overhear things like those mentioned in the book all the time.  And, if you’re a patron–you’ll probably get a kick out of this too, and take care to remember it as a bit of a cautionary tale!

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

liseys-story

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Horror, supernatural

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Marriages are full of secrets, arguments, and jokes.  No, no.  Scott doesn’t call them jokes.  He calls them bools.  Two years after his death, Lisey Landon finds herself rediscovering memories of her late author of a husband while she’s trying to sort out his unpublished works for a library.  Unfortunately for her, her sorting process is too slow for a university professor who manages to hire a hitman.  Scott, however, in his death, has managed to find a way to keep Lisey and her family safe.  But in order to get the prize, Lisey must go on a bool-hunt all while helping her mentally -ill sister, warding off this hitman, and trying not to think about Scott’s longboy, the thing with the pie-bald side that has haunted his memory, even in his death.

Review: I probably say this after each and every Stephen King novel that I read but THIS was really one of his most profound novels.  It’s a novel about marriage, secrets, sisterhood, authorship, and Strapping On When It Seems Appropriate.

I’ll also continuously praise Stephen King for his works being so diverse.  The main character of Lisey’s Story is Lisey Landon, an aging widow who sometimes helps care for her mentally-ill sixty-year-old sister.  It’s always incredible to see women taking control of their narratives in horror stories, but AGING women?  Who are at ease with the fact that they’ve been through some stuff, their body is getting wrinkly, and their hair is greying?  Love it.

There are a lot of reasons as to why I feel this is one of King’s most poignant works.  There’s a husband who helps Lisey from beyond the grave.  The husband with a hugely traumatic past who writes as a way to process the horrors he’s seen, and the horror that always seems to be watching him in reflective surfaces.  There’s doctors, policemen, university professors, and sisters.  The sisters, whose relationships are flawed, always come back in order to help one another when they truly need it.

And the timeline of this novel, god, the timeline, it’s incredible.  Lisey loses herself frequently in her memories which are both in the present and in the past.  There are memories within memories, stories within stories, all of which come together to create a flowing narrative, one that couldn’t have happened in any other way.

There’s family illness, patricide, hamburger helper, can openers, and the Boo’ya Moon.  The place where Scott drew all of his inspiration, the place where Scott remains.  But does Lisey want to visit?  Is it even possible for her to?  And if it’s night–it doesn’t matter how sweet the water is, all you can do is be quiet and hope that the Laughers don’t get you.

Overall, it was simply an incredible novel.  This is one of the Stephen King books that I’ll keep with me, close in my heart, forever.

The X Files by Joe Harris

the-x-files

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Horror, supernatural, mystery, comic book

Medium: French hardback

Synopsis: Mulder and Scully have adjusted to civilian life as Mr. and Dr. Blake.  Everything seems to be going swell until Skinner shows up with the news that their pasts are catching up to them with the breach in FBI security.  And who exactly are the people with glowing eyes, anyways?

Review: This was such a fun and quick read.  To clarify, this edition was in French, and I have to say reading French graphic novels/comic books does WONDERS for your reading comprehension!  I’m currently in the middle of season 3 of The X Files, so it was really fun to read about Mulder and Scully in a different medium.  This comic book gives off the same vibe as the show does, which is how you know it’s good.  In addition to this, there are so many art styles in this–there’s the classic “comic book” drawing style, but dividing the chapters are more realistic drawings of all the characters.

Ultimately, it’s a fun throwback to the show, and it’s a good vocabulary builder for foreign language learners!