bookshelf books

The Books I Read: July – August 2013

she hulk diaries marta acosta

The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta

I had high expectations for this book — a novel about a superheroine who usually doesn’t make it past the comic books. I was hoping that, since Jennifer Walters is a lawyer, the book would be about some courtroom drama, a la John Grisham, but with the added complication of superheroes.

Despite it being The She-Hulk Diaries, She-Hulk is barely in it. It’s more about Jennifer Walters, her human form, and her “girl problems”. The crux of the story is Jennifer tooling around, talking to her friend, and trying to get a job. She spends way too much time obsessing over boyfriends — past, present, and future. I don’t mind romantic relationships, but she spends more time thinking about them than I prefer in my protagonists. Especially ones with a higher calling.

When she transforms (apparently she can do that — I thought she was always “on”), “Shulky” takes control. She’s not so much a raging beast as a party girl. Walters sits back and waits for her to finish her C-list heroics, then whoop it up at the opening of “pLace”. Thus the story feels like those chick lit novels scattered all over Barnes and Noble. You know, the ones with pop art and cocktails on the cover. The text is full of teenspeak, lists, quirky tidbits (even the place she works is named QUIRC), and short attention span writing.

The whole reason I like She-Hulk is because she’s not bogged down by these female tropes. She’s a super-strong, green-skinned women who uses the skills she’s fought for more than the ones she inherited. She’s confident, self-actualized, and capable, but has the hang-ups that freaks like the Thing and Beast have. That’s what makes her fascinating to me.

But in this she’s just another woman with insecurities, passive-aggressiveness, and a positive but cowardly attitude. The She-Hulk I want wouldn’t be worried about her ex’s fiancee. The central conflict of this book is whether or not the rock star guy she had a one night fling with still remembers her. It’s a plot that would be immediately resolved if the main character just TALKED TO THE PERSON.

I don’t want a She-Hulk that acts like Ally McBeal (even though Iron Man was in both). I don’t get any sense that any of this matters to the world, to Jennifer, and not to the reader.

shadow moon george lucas chris claremont

Shadow Moon (Chronicles of the Shadow War, Book 1) by Chris Claremont and George Lucas

One word: overwriting. To the point it’s unreadable. I made it through one hundred pages, and only one thing happened.

I was excited when I learned there was a written sequel to Willow, one of my favorite movies. One that goes beyond favorite because I grew up with it. You’d think the sequel, written by the movie’s writer/director and a famous writer of “X-Men” could make magic, but they didn’t. The novel seems so far removed from the original movie, it can hardly be called a sequel. They don’t even call him “Willow” anymore. It’s something like “Ulfric Goodmoon”. And nobody returns except the annoying Brownies are still with him. They’re not as charming in print.

I stopped reading before it ruined my nostalgic memory for the little dwarf that could, the greatest swordsman in the world, and a woman who actually had some agency and character in a time when Conan the Barbarian’s love interest got five words spoken to her.

absolutely true diary part time indian sherman alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is a good book. I find it a shame that Sherman Alexie hasn’t written more. I was partly influenced to read this because I’d read and enjoyed “Reservation Blues” and partly because it had made so many “Best of Year” lists.

There’s very little that has influenced my opinion of native Americans in today’s culture than Sherman Alexie. He’s about my only source. Everything else, I can’t take at face value. I guess it’s like being black, you have to be it to understand, otherwise you just don’t get it. The story is enormously entertaining. It gets real, but there are also some loose ends, like his seizures and stuttering that don’t figure in.

scalzi the human division

The Human Division by John Scalzi

I really want Scalzi to branch out into new IP. He did so with Redshirts, which has now won the Best Novel Hugo. But then he went back to the OMW universe with a semi-serialized e-Book experiment.

It’s… I’m not sure what to say about it. It’s still Old Man’s War, it’s still Scalzi. It still feels like a novel, although it rests on a much more inconclusive cliffhanger than The Last Colony did. If you liked any of the other Old Man’s War books, you’ll like this too. Maybe a little bit less. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I like novels, and not a series of short stories. That’s just me.

speak anderson book cover

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

On the way to pick up “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, my eye caught this. I remembered Jim C. Hines talking about it, and remembering that it was about rape and selective mutism. Two subjects I’m interested in learning more about.

I was on-board with it for the first few chapters. A high schooler disaffected with life? Sign me up. But the story never starts. There are hints dropped here and there, but there’s no concrete narrative. No real goal or obstacles for the protagonist. Just a lot of complaining and sarcasm. There’s only so much vitriol I can read before I need a story or something.

And there’s an element of painting with such a brush of perspective. Not every high schooler is as vapid and mean and stupid as the characters herein. It’s like “Daria” the book, but played straight, which doesn’t work.

Then I finished it and read about it, and apparently it’s called a “problem novel” (a.k.a. social novel), which I went “this is a thing”? It’s a book where a social problem is illustrated through the characters in the book, and it’s not so much about the story but about the effects on the character. The story comes from the sociological theme, not the events or milieu.

So what I was complaining about in Speak speaks more about the mentality of the victim. It’s not just general grumpiness, it’s also about identity crisis. It’s not about the character trying to solve a problem or wanting something. It’s about illustrating what happened after the event. Like a denouement kinda thing. It makes me think that this may not be a novel I can judge as aesthetically as others I’ve read.

twilight sparkle my little pony book

Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell by G. M. Berrow

Um, I didn’t read this. It was… it was research. For my kids. But it’s at too high level for them right now. Yes, that’s it.

eleanor and park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is the best book I read for this time period. Months later, and I’m still thinking about it, wanting to revisit it. Just like Looking for Alaska. In fact, I heard about the book from John Green, who does a much better job of reviewing it than me.

It’s a YA romance about two teens in 1986. Park is half-Korean, but well-off. Eleanor comes straight out of Scalzi’s “Being Poor”. The novel slowly, methodically treads the course of their relationship. From the first idle glances, to words exchanged, in and out of misunderstandings, parental involvement, and their own sense of self-worth. These are two one-winged angels that need to hold onto each other in order to fly.

It’s a love story that’s not ridiculous Harlequin bodice-ripping or teen Dawson’s Creek drama. It perfectly illustrates the emotions, the awkwardness, the time when holding hands was enough. I don’t know how Rowell was somehow able to write such small things with such intensity — the first phone call, the little gifts and mix-tapes, waiting for no parents in the house, the first make-out session. I feel like an old man, looking at photographs. And each picture brings me to that reality. Just for a moment, I’m back there.

It’s also surreal that Eleanor looks almost exactly like my wife and that Park likes comic books and geeky stuff.

unnatural creatures neil gaiman

Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman edited by Neil Gaiman

Well, this ended up the same as the other short story anthologies I’ve read. Some I liked, and some I didn’t. Anthologies are always a crapshoot, and they’re always harder than a novel. I gotta get used to another universe and writing style every 5,000 words. I gotta figure out the new protagonist and plot goals over and over again. It’s a no-win situation. If you don’t like the story, it’s a slog. If you do like the story, it’s over too quickly.

The only reason I read this was because Neil Gaiman’s name was attached to it AND I found it easily at the library. Failing those events, I wouldn’t have picked this up.

chris kluwe beautifully unique sparkleponies

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe

This book consists of very short essays, most not more than 2 pages, about various topics, mostly sociological and political, and reprinted from Kluwe’s earlier printed articles. They’re all very angry, like someone’s LiveJournal rants, but aimed at a newspaper audience. Some feel like Andrew Ryan’s audio diaries.

He has creative writing in his similes, but really, he’s not telling me anything I haven’t heard before. And moreover, there’s nothing positive in this. Everything is bad, bad, wrong, wrong. I wanted a little glimmer of optimism, if for nothing else than to clear the palate. I want to know about things he likes.

Also, I was hoping for more personal stories, like what it’s like to be a pro football player and a geek, balancing family, nerdery, and footballery. (To his credit, there is a chapter that explains why he doesn’t include those sorts of things). I like stories, I like anecdotes. I guess I was expecting this to be more memoir-ish, plot-based, and not a collection of angry rants with creative swears.

peter pan barrie

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

A re-read. After this, I plan to re-read Tigerheart. This is all in preparation for Fearless, the unexpected sequel to one of my few five-star books.

Peter Pan still holds up, but I think it serves better as a book that’s read to you, rather than one you read. The great thing is that Barrie sets up a huge world, but only ever shows a tiny sliver of the stories that exist in it. I think that’s kept up the appeal of Neverland. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we see a renaissance like Wizard of Oz today.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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