Thursday, November 19, 2020

Ukrainian Folk Stories

After reading (and getting depressed from) D-Day Girls, I decided I wanted something totally different. So I decided to give Ukrainian Folk Stories a try.  These stories were written by Marko Vovchuk in the mid 1800's, and translated into English by N. Pedan-Popil in 1983. Unfortunately, Pedan-Popil decided not to translate Vovchuk's stories for children and fables; what's left are the stories on serfdom and family live, which are overwhelmingly depressing!

Most of the stories are relatively short (the longest one, "Instytutka," was about 30 pages).  Many are about the hard life of Ukrainian serfs in the 1800's.  If they were lucky, they had a good master who rarely beat them; unfortunately the majority of these serfs had terrible masters, who beat them and verbally abused them.  There were a few stories about serfs who got their freedom, but even these often had terrible endings (I'm thinking of "The Slacker," where two women of Kozak lineage who shouldn't have been serfs get their freedom, but the daughter, who obtained their freedom, became a drunk in the process and passed away not long after becoming free; "Redemption" talked of the greed involved with masters, but thankfully has a happy ending, with a serf getting his freedom and being able to marry the Kozak woman he loved). Many of the other stories dealt with love, but often in terrible ways.  Take "Mismatched," where a woman's husband falls out of love with her, or "The Spell" (the only supernatural tale of the collection), where a woman who loves someone who does not love her back changes his betrothed into a bird so she can marry him instead (this story, which is pictured on the cover, in ways reminded me of Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors, at least in terms of how the man marries someone he doesn't love because his true love is gone).

While depressing, these stories give an interesting look at life in 19th century Ukraine. I just wish the fables and children's stories had been translated, too (especially if they weren't as depressing as these tales were)!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Beyond the Grid


I bought Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Beyond the Grid along with Shattered Grid.  I didn't know anything at all about this story (except that people who bought Shattered Grid often bought this as well). 

Beyond the Grid tells the story of various Rangers (both with and without their Morphin powers) getting pulled into another universe while aboard the Promethea ship. This universe has no access to the Morphin Grid, and so shouldn't exist.  At first they believe the dying universe is empty of life. But then they intercept a distress call.  Sending the last of those who can still Morph to investigate, the Rangers walk into a trap set by a mysterious Purple Ranger living in the Universe, who steals the power from them and their ship.  Who is this mysterious Ranger and how will our Rangers survive (and get home)?

Beyond the Grid is a tough read, particularly in the beginning.  The way the story is laid out, I had a really hard time figuring out what exactly was happening, particularly in the first few chapters (eventually I got the hang of reading it and was able to follow along a bit better).   By the end though, I found myself enjoying the story and quite invested in what was happening; everything came together really well (and pretty much everything that happened eventually made sense, which was another plus). I did have a hard time connecting with the characters though because there were so many of them (and it doesn't help that I didn't follow Power Rangers beyond the initial series on TV years ago, so I couldn't call on prior knowledge of most of the characters to help me here).

All in all, this is a very different story that followed Shattered Grid.  I didn't like it as much, but by the end I found that I did enjoy reading it.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

I remember my brother mentioning to me a year or two ago that he tries to make a point of reading historical nonfiction about the World Wars for Remembrance Day.  I thought that was a great idea, and so made a point of doing the same this year.  I picked out D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose, which tells the story of some of the female spies recruited by Britain to help prepare France for the coming Allied Invasion (D-Day).

D-Day Girls mainly follows three women (as well as a few others), detailing what their lives were like, first in training, and then behind enemy lines.  The book also details the larger historical context, mainly showing the games the British agency (back in London) and the German anti-spy and terrorism agency were engaged in over the years.  I found this quite interesting, as I had no idea women were sent as saboteurs to France while the country was under Nazi control.  The book is also an interesting look at how women were treated at that time: first there was a debate about whether to send them at all (which was hindered by the fact that the women didn't do well in training, which also wasn't surprising as they received less training than their male counterparts), then there were points when men in the field refused to acknowledge their leadership (the particular instance I'm thinking of had the men, who refused to take orders from a woman, leaking information directly to the Nazis, putting everyone in danger), and finally, there was the aftermath where the women's contributions were deemed lesser than the men's even though they all did the same work (because the women weren't deemed military, and so were ineligible for military honours or full military pensions).  But it also celebrates some important firsts, such as the fact that some of these women were the first women paratroopers who dropped into enemy lines.

While interesting, D-Day Girls is unfortunately also a bit of a tough read.  For one thing, the book is largely told, with very little shown; that makes for some very tedious reading (and also made it very hard to connect with any of the people within the book).  It also goes into some detail on torture and the like; I had to stop reading after one torture description (and the ending of one of the ladies, while sparse in detail, was sufficiently disturbing that I actually considered not writing about the book because I didn't want to think about that anymore).

All in all, I am very glad to have read D-Day Girls, especially for Remembrance Day. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Prince and the Dressmaker

A friend at work recommended Jen Wang's The Prince and the Dressmaker to me. In it, Frances, a dressmaker working under someone (lol it reminded me a lot of The Gown in that way) makes someone exactly the sort of dress they want, to the consternation of her boss.  When he's reprimanding her, a man comes looking to hire her for a mysterious client, who Frances discovers is the Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium. Prince Sebastian enjoys dressing in women's dresses and wants Frances to design dresses that everyone will notice and remember. Prince Sebastian starts going out on the town dressed as the Lady Crystallia, and Frances' dresses are indeed getting noticed, to the point where the pair worry people will put two and two together and figure out just who Lady Crystallia really is.

I loved this book.  Wang's art style is perfect (and I'm glad she decided to make them teenagers - she included a sample page of the pair as adults and the art just didn't have the same charm that the final version has).  I also loved how Sebastian's parents supported him in the end, especially his father; I wish that everyone could be as lucky as Sebastian was in this regard.

All in all, The Prince and the Dressmaker is a delightful story about being true to yourself and your friends. I very much recommend it!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

We Have Always Been Here

Someone at the library recommended Samra Habib's memoir, We Have Always Been Here when they returned it.  I forgot what the title was, but came across it a few months later and so signed it out. I didn't realize it at the time (or honestly until after I finished reading it), but it won 2020's Canada Reads! 

We Have Always Been Here is a super quick read (I powered through it in one night). For the most part I really liked Habib's writing style (although I did get annoyed when the narrative seemed to jump forward a bit - I wanted some of those spots filled in more).  I enjoyed her descriptions of places, especially in Pakistan, and smells.  Her story is difficult to read at times - she struggled as both a queer and Muslim woman against the constraints placed on her by her family and community; it has taken her a long time to find her own path.

We Have Always Been Here is very much worth reading, especially in this era of heightened Islamophobia.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Aquaman: Unspoken Water and Amnesty

 I used to buy the Aquaman comic. I'm not going to lie, I was buying it mainly for Mera, because she's awesome.  But I got bored with where the story was going (especially after the long and drawn out stuff when Arthur was crowned king and later presumed dead when King Rath takes over).  That was followed by the story arc of Unspoken Water, which was the last arc I bought.  But then I found it and the next arc, Amnesty, at the library, so took them both out to see what had happened since I'd given up on the comic.  (I also took Unspoken Water out because I couldn't remember if I'd read the entire thing - it turned out I had).

Unspoken Water starts with Aquaman on a mysterious island with no memory of who he is and how he got there (other than I guess presuming he was on a boat that was wrecked at sea).  He's also terrified of the ocean.  He and the odd inhabitants of the island help each other out, but the ocean seems to have turned its back on them, sending them only dead fish, slowly starving them.  And so in desperation, the inhabitants ask Andy, their name for Aquaman, for help.  They are forgotten gods and goddesses of the ocean, and had banished one of their number, who they believed to be killing the waters around them.  They ask Andy to bring the banished one's daughter with him, hoping to appease the banished one with a reunion.  

I remember this story line to be confusing; it was a bit easier to read the second time around.  But it's honestly pretty weird (and only has a little bit of Mera in it, so sad).  But I'm glad I reread it, as Amnesty takes place pretty much right where Unspoken Water ends, with the gods and goddesses fulfilling their promise and helping Andy get his memories back.

This was pretty weird too.  But basically, Aquaman died and this ocean spirit sent him back to help the gods and goddesses.  The spirit freely offers Aquaman some of his memories, but cautions him not to look for others as he may not like what he finds.  Of course he wants to know more, specifically about Mera, and he finds out she was the one who killed him...

...Now, it's been a little bit since I read the comics....but I thought Arthur Curry was presumed dead after Drowned Earth?  Maybe I'm remembering it wrong?  I don't know.

While this took some odd turns, it was enjoyable enough to read.  After regaining his memories, Arthur brings his new god and goddess friends back with him to Amnesty Bay. Queen Mera gets pressured to marry, so she chooses the most unlikely candidate, and uses her wedding plans to achieve her aims of rebuilding the Ninth Tride. There was also some craziness at the end with a sort of almost Lovecraftian-sea monster.  So while crazy, it was interesting enough that I'm willing to read the next graphic novel when I eventually get my hands on it.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Shattered Grid

I played through Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid a few weeks ago.  I'm not a big fighting game fan, but I loved the story! It opens with an alternate universe Tommy Oliver (aka Lord Drakkon) having stayed with Rita Repulsa.  But he decides that she's holding him back, so he kills her and takes over; he then starts hunting through the Power Ranger multiverse for different sets of rangers to steal their morphers.  Well, when I was telling a friend about it, he mentioned that the game was probably adapted from the Shattered Grid storyline from the comics.  So I snagged a copy of it from Amazon, along with Beyond the Grid.

While the basic story-line remained the same, reading Shattered Grid after playing through Battle for the Grid was an interesting experience. For one thing, I felt like I was dropped in part way through the story; the Power Rangers had already fought and beaten Lord Drakkon once; along with the Ranger Slayer (Lord Drakkon's universe's Kimberley, who was brainwashed - she was freed from his control in the game as you play, but in the comics prior to Shattered Grid).  

I also found that the big emotional moments kind of lost their oomph in the graphic novel.  I'm not entirely sure why that was - maybe because the game had voice over, so it was a totally different experience from reading the graphic novel, or maybe because I already knew they were coming.  Either way, I personally felt like some of the story was lost the second time through.

But in other ways, the graphic novel was a good read.  Some of the stuff at the end made a lot more sense than it did in the game (I honestly felt like this world's Tommy Oliver coming back from the dead was just thanks to *magic* in the game). And I felt like I got to know some of the other Rangers who were part of the story (I only really watched the original show, so in the game I had no idea who pretty much any of the Rangers were).  Also, Lord Drakkon actually wins for a bit. I didn't see that coming at all!

So while it was a different experience, I did still enjoy reading Shattered Grid. I'm looking forward to Beyond the Grid (and I'm going to have to figure out which graphic novel(s) introduce Lord Drakkon and the Ranger Slayer so I can see what exactly happened there, too!)

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Gown

I've heard really good things about The Gown by Jennifer Robson, and I finally got around to giving it a read (thanks to my mom for lending it to me!)  

The Gown is the story of the making of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II)'s wedding gown in post-WWII Britain.  The story is told through three perspectives: Ann, one of the Senior Embroiderers at Hartnell's, Miriam, a French embroiderer who moved to England to start a new life (and who ends up at Hartnell's), and Heather, Ann's granddaughter who is trying to piece together her grandmother's early life after Ann passes away and leaves her some embroidery samples from the wedding gown. The book shows how hard life was for people living in Britain after the war as the country rebuilds; Princess Elizabeth's wedding was an occasion to look forward to in the middle of just trying to survive.

While it took me a bit to get into at first, I really did like The Gown.  I liked Ann and Miriam, and their friendship and how they looked after one another.  I had a harder time getting into Heather's story, which was set in modern times (I was definitely not impressed with how Heather's mother broke the news of her grandmother's death to her), but once she got to London and met Daniel, I started to enjoy that too.  While I was devastated by what happened to Ann (although part of me suspected that something like that *might* happen due to the difference in social class between her and Jeremy - though I did not suspect his motives), I loved what happened to Miriam (and how absolutely perfect Walter was for her, willing to give her whatever time and space she needed).

I also really enjoyed reading the extras at the end of the book. The condensed interview with one of the real-life seamstresses from Hartnell's who worked on the wedding gown was fascinating; I also enjoyed Robson's notes on the research she did (and how difficult it was to do!)

I did find the ending of the book to be a bit lacking though.  The book really culminated in the royal wedding and when Heather finally got to see Miriam's embroideries.  While what happened after that did wrap things up, it all felt largely unnecessary (especially since we already knew that Ann ended up in Canada, so her subdued goodbye to Miriam and Walter was unnecessary; likewise the chapter with Miriam and Walter because we already knew they ended up together). 

But all in all, I really enjoyed reading The Gown.  Once I got into it, I flew through it; I really enjoyed this look at these women's lives in post-war Britain.