Friday, February 26, 2016

Trees: In Shadow

Trees: In Shadow was a really weird read. These alien tree things have descended on the Earth and have just sat, doing their thing for a decade. They don’t recognize humans as being intelligent forms of life. The graphic novel focuses on about four groups of humans, showing their lives and how they are affected by the trees. There’s a group of researchers who are trying to learn about the trees. There’s the Somalian president who wants to use the nearby tree as a staging ground to take over the neighbouring Puntland. There’s a special cultural zone in China, where people go to discover who they are (particularly their sexuality). And then there’s Cefalu, where a woman decides to take over her boyfriend’s militia with the help of an old special forces man she sees who disappears; she manages to track him down and convince him to help her learn to disappear.

I honestly didn’t care about most of the characters in Trees: In Shadow. I think the story skips around to too many places and doesn’t give enough time to develop them. But the story itself is oddly intriguing and kept me reading to the end.


I saw Groot at work the other day and thought it looked fun.  I read a page or so, but wasn't able to take it out at the time because someone else had it on hold.  I put my name on the list and got it today. 

Groot is a mostly solo adventure for everyone's favourite tree.  Groot talks rocket Raccoon into going to visit the Earth.  They take the slow way, starting out with hitchhiking.  They meet a multitude of interesting strangers on their way to Earth, which is largely fine until they meet a bounty hunter who wants the enormous bounty on Groot.  She captures Rocket Raccoon accidentally then decides to use him as bait to capture Groot, who she knows will come to save his friend (eventually!  He takes a rather long time to get there because Groot does things slowly). 

Groot encounters the Silver Surfer and goes with him and his friend, Dawn, to save a planet.  After parting ways with the Surfer, he encounters and befriends other people, who agree to come with him to save his friend.  This ends up a big misadventure where everyone almost dies, but he saves them all (and one of their new robot friends saves everyone in turn).

At this point, Rocket and Groot finally make it to Earth where they do all the things on their list (their friends told them things they should do, like listen to Starlord's favourite bands live, eat pizza and watch the best movie ever, and fight the strong super villains found there).  But really, Groot didn't come for these things, although he enjoys them.  With the help of the X-Men they party with, he manages to track down the girl who set him on his path years ago.  She's now an old woman, but she hasn't forgotten him.

Groot was a touching story about friendship.  It made me love that big-hearted tree so much.  Of course, it's also a fun adventure story too.  I loved every minute of this book!

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Sisters Brothers

I borrowed Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers from my brother a few months ago. My entire immediate family had read it, loved it, and kept wanting to talk about it so I knew I had to read it, too (at the very least to be in on the conversation). I started reading it last week, when I was specifically looking for an easy to read book (which The Sisters Brothers definitely is - most of the chapters are super short, making it easy to pick up and put down). I didn't get very far with it last week, but ended up reading about half of it last night when my internet wasn't working. So rather than do the stuff I was originally going to do tonight, I decided to finish The Sisters Brothers instead.

The Sisters Brothers is about Charlie and Eli Sisters, a notorious killing duo of the old west. They're hired by the Commodore to kill a man who purportedly stole something from him. The brothers have to track the culprit down in gold-rush San Francisco. But of course things aren't what they seem.
The brothers are an interesting pair. The book is narrated from Eli's perspective. Eli is a good-natured and rather sweet husky man who has a bit of a temper. He loves his brother dearly and will do anything to protect him. Charlie is a drunkard who likes killing and violence; it's his fault the two are notorious gunmen working for the Commodore. They use their last name sparingly through the book, but when they do it commands immediate respect; everyone knows who they are.

The Sisters Brothers is a fun romp through the American frontier. But it's also an interesting look at making the life you want for yourself, dealing with unfavourable life circumstances, and of course the powerful bond between siblings. As I already mentioned, it's a fast and easy read. But it's also full of beautiful and vivid descriptions. I really liked DeWitt's writing style; it's no wonder The Sisters Brothers won the Governor General's Literary Award (as well as other prizes and awards).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Taras Bulba

My brother lent me Nikolai Gogol's Taras Bulba some time ago.  When we were younger we saw the movie, but I honestly don't remember much from it (beyond Taras Bulba removing his scalp lock in anger at one point).  My dad decided he wanted to watch the movie again, so I decided to hurry and read the book before he gets the movie.  I started it this afternoon and finished it this evening (it's only about 140 pages, so totally doable in a day).

Taras Bulba opens with Taras Bulba's sons returning home from school.  Old Bulba (as the book often calls him) decides that they should immediately set out for Zaporozhe Sech, the training camp and base of the Cossacks.  After arriving there, his sons prove themselves to be adept warriors.  But the only way to truly have them reach manhood is to test their mettle on the battlefield.  Unfortunately, their current Ataman (leader) has made peace with their normal enemies.  So Taras sets about getting a new Ataman elected, one who will lead the Cossacks into glorious battle.  They decide on a course of action, but just before their army is about to leave, they get word that Jews and the Poles are ravaging the Ukraine (I think it was that the Jews were holding the churches in pledge, Jewish women were making skirts out of Orthodox priests' cassocks, and that the Polish priests were travelling around in carts which were pulled by Orthodox Christian men instead of horses).  So they decide to attack the Poles instead.

Their attacks go well until they arrive at the town of Dubno.  The Cossacks will not fare well against the fortified town, so they decide to wait until the townspeople starve.  It is there that Andri, Taras Bulba's younger son, discovers that the woman he is in love with is there.  He decides to turn his back on his people, his faith, and his homeland to be with her. 

Taras Bulba doesn't believe this can be so (especially since some of their numbers were attacked and enslaved during the night), but when he discovers it to be true, he is enraged.  He disowns the boy and vows to destroy the girl who would so tempt him.  But then the Cossacks get word of another tragedy: the Tatars have attacked the Sech and enslaved or killed all the Cossacks who remained (and stolen all their treasures).  So the Cossacks decide to split their army in half.  The Ataman will lead one half to save their comrades, while the second half, led by Taras Bulba, will remain to free their comrades at Dubno.  Taras Bulba manages to kill Andri just before he and his other son, Ostap, get surrounded.  Ostap is captured, but one of the other Cossacks manages to get Taras Bulba out of the battlefield.  Old Bulba was wounded in the battle, but after recovering from his wounds he decides to sneak into Poland to find his son.  This is much harder to do now that the Poles have put a huge price on his head.  He manages to do it though with the help of a Jew.  He is unable to speak with his son, but is in the crowd when Ostap is executed.  He later returns to Poland with a large force of Cossacks.  The other leaders agree to a peace, but Old Bulba refuses.  He takes whatever people want to go with him and pillages Poland in the name of his son until he is captured and killed.

So that was Taras Bulba.  A bit of crazy carousing and a whole lot of battle.  Gogol's prose is beautiful, particularly when he is describing things.  I was struck a number of times by his beautiful imagery, particularly when he was talking about the Ukrainian steppes. 

My one issue with the book was that I had a really hard time keeping most of the characters straight.  I had no problem with Taras Bulba and his sons, or the Ataman (because the book just referred to him as the Ataman once he was elected) and one or two other characters, but everyone else seemed to blend together in my head (rather like the dwarves from The Hobbit).  So when Gogol started detailing how people were dying in battle, at best I would have a vague sense of someone being a Captain or something, but that was it. 

Other than that, Taras Bulba was a very interesting read.  Most of the books I've read are by North American or Western European (ie English) authors, so it was fun to read something from Russia.  My brother lent me a book of Gogol's short stories, so that'll be a lot of fun to read in the future (I'm not going to read it yet though.  I'm going to read some other stuff first before coming back to Gogol).

Oh, I should also mention the introduction by Robert D. Kaplan, who likened a lot of what happened in the book to crowd mentality.  The Cossacks came together as a crowd and made decisions as a crowd.  It took only a strong personality to point them in a direction and set them loose.  I thought it was interesting that Taras Bulba often would point his brother Cossacks in a direction that suited him then join in on the action (almost surrendering himself to the crowd mentality after he was certain they were doing what he wanted).  Kaplan's introduction was rather thought provoking (and made me want to go read The Iliad or The Odyssey (which my brother and I are going to do soon!))