Review: Star Wars — Darth Vader (Vol. 1)

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Star Wars: Darth VaderVolume 1
by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larocca, and Edgar Delgado

★★★★½

2015 • 160 pages • Marvel

It’s embarrassing, but I’ll admit it—I wanted to read Star Wars: Darth Vader because I thought Kieron Gillen wrote “Thank the Maker.” If you’re unfamiliar with “Thank the Maker,” it is actually a 2000 Star Wars comic written by Ryder Windham about Darth Vader encountering C-3PO during The Empire Strikes Back. Vader flashes back to rebuilding C-3PO as a child, defending droid rights to his mother as she tells him that creating a droid is a big responsibility. I was so touched by Vader feeling actual pain over how far they’ve traveled from that point in time that I immediately determined to read… Star Wars: Darth Vader.

In my defense, I knew Gillen was writing a Darth Vader title when I saw a few pages of “Thank the Maker,” so the two naturally conflated in my mind.

In a way, though, Star Wars: Darth Vader answers the same question as “Thank the Maker”: how do you square Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker in light of the prequels in a meaningful way? And I don’t mean that in a joking way at all. I’m watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars while I get ready for work in the morning (this is how I watch any and all half-hour programs), and I’ve been very much enjoying how the show tries to balance Anakin’s character and bridge the gap between Jedi hero and Sith villain. He’s heroic, dashing, and loyal, but he’s also possessive, violent, and impulsive.

Kieron Gillen, naturally, has a very good answer to this question, which is Star Wars: Darth Vader. Continue reading

Review: The Book of Margery Kempe

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The Book of Margery Kempe
translated by John Skinner

★★★☆☆

1999 • 343 pages • Book-of-the-Month Club

I am as frankly surprised as you are that my reading has taken on a religious bent these past two weeks. I threw The Girl of Fire and Thorns into my bag yesterday morning, and only remembered once I started it that I had wanted to read it because it was the rare fantasy novel that actively deals with faith. (Verdict so far: yes, good, continue.) I’ve suddenly become dissatisfied with everything I currently have out of the library, so we’ll see if this trend keeps up when I refresh my selections. (I imagine it won’t, because I have Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader on hold and cannot wait to read it.)

But I originally wanted to read The Book of Margery Kempe because it’s often considered the first autobiography written in English (and by a woman!). Although, of course, autobiography wasn’t really a genre in the fifteenth century—it’s more accurately an autohagiography. Still, it offers particular insight into the life of a middle-class laywoman in medieval England, as Kempe experienced her call to Christ after the birth of her first child.

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Review: Jesus Land

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Jesus Land

★★★½☆

2005 • 368 pages • Counterpoint

Ever since I watched Jesus Camp as a teenager, church camp has kind of spooked me. And I don’t mean regular, normal church camp. (I assume regular, normal church camp is pretty chill. I would have no idea, as Madame didn’t want me growing up Catholic and ashamed of my everything, but never settled on an alternative beyond “let the poor kid sleep in.”) I mean the camps bordering on indoctrination, the “pray away the gay” camps, the ones that feel like they’re preying on children. I just can’t understand why anyone would put their child through that.

This morbid fascination is why I alighted on Julia Scheeres’ similarly titled Jesus Land, a memoir of her and her brother’s time at Escuela Caribe, a “Christian boot camp” that’s a cross between those camps and the kind of camps that kidnap kids in the middle of the night to “straighten them out.” (These are real and they are horrifying.) It’s been on the Behemoth long enough that I no longer recall who recommended it to me, just that I came across in the little Carnegie library I used to live across from in Denver long afterwards. (Man. I used to live in Denver. Wild.)

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Review: The Scorpion Rules

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The Scorpion Rules

★★★★½

2015 • 384 pages • Margaret K. McElderry Books

Oh, Greta.

If you’ve been a reader for long, you may know that I have a soft spot for young royal women with steel in their eyes and the world on their shoulders. This stems from being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wherein that incarnation of the eponymous princess sacrifices seven years of her life and, perhaps, the player protagonist to save her kingdom. It’s a soft spot that goes often unsatisfied, because grim-eyed shield maidens have strangely not become a popular archetype in fantasy. But when it’s satisfied, it’s often satisfied well, as in the case of both Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue and Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.

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Review: Party Monster

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Party Monster
by James St. James

★★★½☆

2003 (originally published 1999) • 288 pages • Simon & Schuster

Quoth—or paraphraseth—Snatch Game: RuPaul’s Drag Race is so mainstream… (How mainstream is it, Clare?) RuPaul’s Drag Race is so mainstream that it won’t let you watch the current season online if you don’t have a cable subscription. Wherefore, RuPaul’s Drag Race? Why does being a millennial without a television mean that I must sacrifice the pleasure of worshipping at Kim Chi’s beautifully shod feet? Why can I not contribute to the eternal engine of RuPaul?

Yes, RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul, LogoTV, and World of Wonder have become awful cuddly as of late—presumably the result of natural aging, a more welcoming society, and higher production values. (Although I still spend a lot of episodes murmuring, “Man, remember when Mac was a sponsor?”) But they weren’t always that way. Once upon a time, RuPaul and the personalities of World of Wonder were young, tough, and viciously glamorous. Case in point: James St. James,

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Review: Funny Girl

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Funny Girl

★★★½☆

2015 (originally published 2014) • 452 pages • Riverhead Books

It’s a surprise to me that this is my first Nick Hornby. High Fidelity and The Polysyllabic Spree have been hanging out on the Behemoth for many a moon, but I’ve never made so much as a lurch towards them. And Funny Girl never even made it onto the Behemoth; I just saw the cover and had a vague, fuzzy memory of Jenny really enjoying it despite not traditionally enjoying Nick Hornby novels to the hilt. But I’ve been finding myself at my local library fifteen minutes before closing on weekdays, lately, stunned and a little confused by all this sunlight we’ve got now in the evenings, and I’ve had to make a lot of quick decisions in that amount of time.

But Funny Girl is, of all of Hornby’s work both fiction and non, the one most pandering towards my strange little demographic. I mean, I did recently watching all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and getting steadily more and more disenchanted…) and I was raised on British sitcoms (To The Manor Born and The Vicar of Dibley…) by Madame, so a novel about a young woman from Blackpool who moves to London in the 1960s and lands a leading role in a situational comedy that becomes a beloved British institution is right up my alley.

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Review: Throne of Glass

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Throne of Glass
by Sarah J. Maas

★★★☆☆

2013 (originally published 2012) • 406 pages • Bloomsbury

When Sarah J. Maas mentions that she got the idea for Throne of Glass in high school, inspired by dark music in Disney’s Cinderella, in the supplemental material in the paperback edition of said book, I thought—well, that makes perfect sense.

I do not say this to be shady, or, more correctly, needlessly shady. (Shade is being cast, is what I’m trying to say.) But it made sense to me that Maas has spent years and years with these characters. The overall effect of reading Throne of Glass is a bit like wandering into somebody else’s high school reunion and finding yourself bewildered, simply because you don’t have access to the connective tissue between in-jokes, knowing looks, and old stories told in laughter and dropped phrases.

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Review: My Life in France

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My Life in France
by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

★★★★½

2006 • 317 pages • Alfred A. Knopf

Oh, did I ever need Julia Child this past week.

For reasons I don’t particularly want to go into, my ever-fluctuating confidence in myself was quite shaken last week, so being able to escape into My Life in France was an absolute godsend in terms of both general stress relief and relieving my anxiety. (I don’t think I’ve ever read myself out of being nauseous from nerves before, so that was a novel experience.) I’ve never been a particularly ambitious woman, which, combined with being a queer introvert who doesn’t want children, sometimes makes me feel disconnected from the usual cultural milestones my culture tells me I should be hitting to qualify as a real person. So spending my commutes reading the words of a woman who found her true, passionate calling late in life, never had children, and pursued her passion in life simply because she enjoyed it? It was heartening on a spiritual level.

While I’ve never read Mastering the Art of French Cooking and have never been an active fan of Julia Child—I’m young enough that I only really know her from pop cultural osmosis and a viewing of Julie and Julia—I’ve long thought of her fondly, to the point that I can summon her voice in my ear despite not having heard her voice in years. (How odd, to put it that way, since she passed away in 2006. Memory is such a weird and wonderful thing.) Anastasia is actually the reason I hunkered down and put My Life in France on my reading list three years ago, and her recommendation was quite successful.

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Review: Burn

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Burn
by Elissa Sussman

★★★½☆

2016 • 272 pages • Greenwillow Books

I am very weirdly proud of my local library for carrying both Elissa Sussman’s Stray and Burn. I may have mentioned that my local library has the lackadaisical policy of never really circulating books back to their libraries of origin when holds crisscross this fair island, which means that I get to see what my neighbors are reading. (This is how I know that I managed to get somebody else hooked on Ōoku, because they are way ahead of me!) While I’m not as familiar with their young adult selection as I was of the public library I volunteered for in my teens, I am nonetheless very happy to see some feminist-minded fantasy young adult novels mixed in with more traditional fare. The teenagers of Brooklyn deserve Elissa Sussman’s books!

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Review: Rock She Wrote

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Rock She Wrote
edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers

★★★★½

2014 (originally published 1995) • 496 pages • Plexus Publishing

Have I ever mentioned how much I love reading women’s voices in chorus? I always love learning about women in community, especially when it involves women that the powers that be prefer to isolate, such as Jane Austen in the Western canon (did you know Jane Austen was influenced by Fanny Burney?) or Dolly Wilde as a footnote in Oscar Wilde’s history. Anthologies of women’s writing can sound a little dry, but something like Women in Clothes can be so astonishing just by the sheer variety of voices it entails. Feminine experience is multifaceted, varied—we’re so often denied this truth in even supposedly progressive media that to encounter it all at once is a choice experience.

Rock She Wrote fights back against the (white, straight) boys’ club of criticism by presenting a sample of over thirty years’ worth of writing on rock, pop, and rap. Editors Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, in the introduction, describe both the motivation for curating the collection and the treasure hunt of tracking down authors, soliciting recommendations, and hunting for lost fanzines. (As someone who dreams of discovering some secret trove of eighties Star Wars slash zines, I can relate.) And, blissfully, it’s not just a collection of straight white female authors—women of color and queer women also have their voices represented here.

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