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Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Real Life

I don't really remember what attracted me to In Real Life, the new graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang.  I've read some stuff by Cory Doctorow and liked it, so when In Real Life finally showed up at the library, I was more than happy to read it.

In Real Life is the story of Anda, a girl who falls in love with the new MMORPG Coarsegold Online.  Her mother lets her play under the stipulation that she only hang out with girls her age, something relatively easy because of the guild Anda has joined.  But one of her new friends, Lucy aka Sarge, talks Anda into killing gold farmers for real world money.  Anda agrees and life is good until she meets Raymond, a gold farmer from China.  Raymond is the first gold farmer to actually talk to her.  And so she starts to learn about his life and the horrid conditions under which he lives (he farms gold for hours every day, and is suffering from a back injury but doesn't have a doctor or coverage to get it treated).  Things come to a head when Anda's mother discovers the money coming into her Paypal account and Sarge discovers Anda's friendship with a gold farmer.

In Real Life was a really interesting story about economics, video games, and bullying (sort of).  It was also a really interesting look at how we take our lives here in the West for granted (and what it's like elsewhere in the world).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Krampus: the Yule Lord

Back in 2009, I read Brom's The Child Thief.  I absolutely loved it and wanted to get a hold of more books by him.  A few years later, I stumbled upon Krampus: the Yule Lord.  I've been meaning to read it, but just never got around to it.  But when I realized I had both an article and book review due for work, I decided that Krampus was the perfect compliment to my article on Santa Claus.

Krampus is the story of the Yule Lord.  He was imprisoned by Santa Claus five hundred years ago.  With the help of his Belsnickels, demonic-looking people he has chained to his will, he is finally ready to break free.  All he needs is Santa's magical sack.

Jesse Walker has the misfortune of observing the Belsnickels make their grab for the sack, which falls into his trailer.  When he discovers the sack's magic, he thinks his money trouble is over.  But both Santa and the Belsnickels are after him.  And when the Belsnickels find him first, he gets caught up with Krampus and his ancient feud with Santa. 

I had a hard time getting into Krampus; it took until about half-way through the book before I started really caring about what was going on.  But make no mistake: after the initial set-up, this book gets awesome!  The Yule Lord is Loki's grandson, and Santa Claus is actually Baldr.  Their feud was really interesting, seeming to be started from a difference in both opinion and viewpoint.  The Belsnickels were really interesting people, being made up of Native Americans from 400 years ago, a surveyor from the turn of the century, and Isabel, a woman with the heart of a lion.  Krampus was a really fun but dark romp through Christmas traditions.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Santas of the World

Continuing with the research for my Christmas I themed article, I read George Ouwendijk's Santas of the World. This is another kid's book, meaning it was a really easy read. It goes through mostly European and North American countries, explaining the differences in what people believe concerning Christmas ideas on gift-givers. I found the book really interesting (although a lot of the facts were similar to the ones in The Truth About Santa Claus). Together, both books were good reads, particularly for the article I'm writing. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Truth About Santa Claus

I decided to write a Christmas-themed article for work.  So that meant I needed to find some books on Christmas.  One of the ones I found and read is The Truth About Santa Claus by James Cross Giblin.  This is an older book (from 1985), but it still seemed pretty good, giving a great history of how the Santa Claus we know today evolved.

The Truth About Santa Claus is divided into seven chapters.  It starts off looking at St. Nicholas, both the man (what little we know of him), and the saint who was a miracle-maker.  There was a really neat story about St. Nicholas anonymously giving money to a poor man for his daughters' dowries so the man wouldn't have to sell one (or all?) of them into slavery.  It was stories like this that led to the idea of St. Nickolas as a gift-giver.

People in England stopped worshipping St. Nicholas in the 1500's, in part thanks to people like Martin Luther, who denounced the St. Nicholas Day holiday (which is December 5th).  So new gift-givers sprung up, including Father Christmas (who is actually based off the Roman god Saturn), and the German Christkindl, who was the Christ child, believed to bring gifts to children.The Dutch kept worshipping St. Nicholas, but they added Black Peter, a frightening creature believed to serve St. Nicholas; it was Black Peter who carried a trunk full of presents (for good children) and birch rods (for bad children).  As a historical side note, Black Peter was often depicted as a sixteenth-century Spanish official, because the Dutch were occupied by the Spanish but drove them out.  Dutch children called St. Nicholas "Sinter Claes" for short; this eventually evolved into "Santa Claus."

From there, these various gift givers merged and became the figure of Santa Claus (for example, "Christkindl" eventually became another name for Santa, "Kris Kringle").  His image slowly became the jolly old elf, in no small thanks to Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("'Twas the night before Christmas...") and Thomas Nast's cartoons for Harper's Weekly.  Other characters entered the Santa Claus myth, including his helper elves, Mrs. Claus, the eight reindeer, and later Rudolph.

The Truth About Santa Claus was a really interesting read about Santa Claus's history.  It might be old, but it's still well-worth the read.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Shoplifter

I don't have a lot to say about Michael Cho's Shoplifter. I saw it while I was working one day and decided to take it out. Shoplifter is the story of Corrina, a girl who finds herself, several years later, in the same job she took right after graduating. The only time she feels alive is when she steals a magazine from the corner store. But then a series of events lead her to question her entire life.

This was a story that I thought would speak to me. It's about a young woman deciding to go and live life, rather than just waiting for something to happen. But for some reason, the story just didn't really work for me (possibly because I'm not at the waiting for life to happen stage anymore myself). I did enjoy the art though - the style is different from most comics and graphic novels that I read.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sunshine

The last several books I've read have been things I've had to read, for one reason or another.  So after finishing Between Gods, I decided that I was going to read something I wanted to read.  After deciding not to start a trilogy (meaning Terry Brooks' Dark Legacy of Shannara was out for now), I chose Robin McKinley's SunshineSunshine was a book that caught my eye recently, in no small part thanks to Neil Gaiman's endorsement "Pretty much perfect."  So I jumped in.

Sunshine is the story of Rae "Sunshine" Seddon, a girl who loves baking and feeding people at her step-father's coffee shop.  But she's restless one night and drives out to the lake by herself.  While there have been no incidents at the lake in a long time, on this particular night she finds herself surrounded by vampires.  They kidnap her and bring her to one of the old mansions on the lake as a meal for their "guest," a powerful vampire held captive by their leader.  It is during her captivity that Rae rediscovers the power of her father's blood and frees the both of them.  Of course, no one survives a vampire attack.  And even more importantly, no one saves a vampire.  Particularly by walking with one for miles through direct sunlight.  But she can and did.  And now she has to live with the consequences, dodging the questions of the SOF ("Special Other Forces"), dealing with a power that refuses to be forgotten, and hiding from the vampire master who imprisoned her.  Will her life ever be able to go back to how it was before she drove out to the lake?

I really enjoyed reading Sunshine.  It was a rather different take on vampire (particularly the way humans can tell exactly how Other they are just by being around them).  This is the first book by McKinley that I've read, but I'm sure it won't be the last!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Between Gods

I was recently given the chance to interview the three authors who are coming to the IFOA event in Thunder Bay.  One of those authors is Alison Pick.  I'm not at all familiar with her work, so I put her newest book, Between Gods on hold.  Between Gods is a memoir, a genre I don't normally read.  But it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a try.

Between Gods tells the story of a dark time in Alison's life.  While working on her novel Far to Go, she was going through a really dark depression.  It is also the story of secrets: Alison's family survived the Holocaust, but told no one they were Jewish.  And so Alison finds herself drawn to Judaism, almost on a cellular level.

But Alison is Jewish only through her father (Judaism is passed through the matrilineal line).  And she is going to marry a Gentile.  So the road to Judaism is a tough one.  She finds a rabbi who will sponsor her, but there is a catch: to become Jewish, her husband must convert, too.  While he is supportive of her desire, Degan does not want to convert.  And so this is the story of Alison's struggle to find her way back to the light (and back to the religion that feels so right to her).

Between Gods is a powerful story with beautiful (and at times haunting) text.  I loved every minute of reading it, and am now very interested in trying some of her fiction (particularly Far to Go).