punkheid: (Hermione Granger: brave at heart)
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21. House of M by Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Mike Mayhew, various others
"The Marvel Heroes have faced the most dangerous threats and saved the Earth and the Universe on occasions too numerous to count. But what do heroes do when the fabric of reality is threatened by one of their own? It is a question that heroes such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, the X-Men and the Avengers all have to face as former Avenger and daughter of Magneto, the Scarlet Witch succumbs to insanity and makes the world over into her maniacal father's view of utopia, ruled over by the house of Magnus."

After the horrible X-Men: Worlds Apart, I decided to try X-Men again with Olivier Coipel, knowing that I was going to love the art (and that it wasn't going to just be breasts everywhere). This volume has taught me that the colourists are obviously quite separate from the penciller(s), as, although I still reeeeally liked the line art, this collection didn't have the same vibrancy as X-Men: Élémentaire - the richness of colour and the play of shadows was less. I particularly liked the way Coipel drew Wanda, Pietro, and Erik (and Lorna as well actually, so the whole family; interesting), and facial expressions in general, with lots of different angles, including some double chins and silly looks of surprise. The settings were great too - the lush foliage in the palace, the ruins of Genosha, the bright, futuristic city. And this is the best story that I've read so far in the X-Men universe, the one that's touched me most; I almost cried a few times. I loved the portrayal of the relationships between Wanda and Pietro, and Erik and his children, as well as the exploration of what it means to give people what they ‘most want’, for those people and for the giver. I’m so intrigued by Scarlet Witch and her powers, and this portrait of her struggling and desperate was quite amazing. And yessss, I got a real kick out of her reaction to Erik’s “Wanda! You shall---” > :)

22. California Dreamin’ by Pénélope Bagieu
« Ellen Cohen rêve de devenir chanteuse. Sa voix est incroyable, sa personnalité aussi excentrique qu'attachante, son besoin d'amour inextinguible. À l'aube des années 1960, elle quitte Baltimore pour échapper à son avenir de vendeuse de pastrami et tenter sa chance à New York. »

So good, and so sad (kind of like their best-known music). No wonder Mama Cass was everyone’s favourite, she’s just fantastic (I also have a new appreciation for the power and depth of her voice). Each chapter is told from the point of view of someone who was close to her, from childhood to her tragically short adulthood, and I think it would be impossible not to love her from this portrait of her: hilarious, determined, presenting a front of not giving a fuck yet also very vulnerable, immensely talented, free-spirited, caring. My favourite chapters are probably from when she’s still at school, dealing with snobbish classmates with rejoinders that totally cracked me up, wearing outrageous outfits, her emerging talent blowing people away. It’s painful to see insecurities in someone so amazing; she deserved to know that she was the best, and for everyone around her to recognise it too. The bullshit from her agent about her needing to lose weight made me so angry, and the bittersweet defence of her band was heart-cracking. It was wonderful to get this intimate and loving portrayal of a fat woman, her complicated relationship with her body included. I loved the art, the sketchy style that managed to capture movement, expression, emotion, and atmosphere extraordinarily well.

23. – 25. Les Vieux Fourneaux : Ceux qui Restent, Bonny and Pierrot, Celui qui Part by Wilfrid Lupano and Paul Cauuet
« Pierrot, Mimile et Antoine, trois septuagénaires, amis d'enfance, ont bien compris que vieillir est le seul moyen connu de ne pas mourir. Quitte à traîner encore un peu ici-bas, ils sont bien déterminés à le faire avec style : un œil tourné vers un passé qui fout le camp, l'autre qui scrute un avenir de plus en plus incertain, un pied dans la tombe et la main sur le cœur. Une comédie sociale aux parfums de lutte des classes et de choc des générations, qui commence sur les chapeaux de roues par un road-movie vers la Toscane, au cours duquel Antoine va tenter de montrer qu'il n'y a pas d'âge pour commettre un crime passionnel. »
« Lupano et Cauuet décrivent avec toujours autant de drôlerie la chute libre de notre société. Restent Mimile, Antoine, Pierrot et ses anars malvoyants pour redresser la barre. Un versement inattendu de la « finance carnassière » arrive à point nommé, mais réveille également de douloureux souvenirs pour Pierrot. Sa muse libertaire, Ann Bonny, réapparaît... »
« Le phénomène de l'humour en BD revient !
Dans ce 3ème tome des Vieux fourneaux, Lupano et Cauuet se penchent sur le cas de Mimile, qui a passé sa vie à bourlinguer dans le Pacifique, entre bourre-pifs, rugby et amitiés au long court. Pirate un jour, pirate toujours ! En parallèle : Pierrot et son collectif "Ni Yeux Ni Maître" jouent les abeilles tueuses, et Sophie apprend qu'à la campagne, on ne prend pas ses œufs de poule chez les vieilles chouettes.
Bref, les « vieux fourneaux » sont de retour, pétant la forme ! »

I absolutely love this art style; it's so alive. The faces and bodies are very dynamic, and it's obvious that Cauuet just enjoyed himself creating all of the old people. None of them have grown old in the same way – their facial structures, bodies, and postures are all different – and this seems respectful of their individuality, as well as just of life, by not writing/drawing aging as a one-step, one-size event. The backgrounds are fantastic too, filled with the little details of real life: particular alcohol bottles, posters, dented pots, shabby shower curtains, rutted tracks – nothing generic. Some of the scenes in the countryside are stunning, especially looking down into the valley. The colours are warm and faded, which was comforting yet invigorating. It made me think that these people know who they are and where they come from; have really lived, connected to something, and will continue to do so. The stories too are full of life. They all have their moments of absolute hilarity; farcical situations and sly wee jokes. People keep very unexpected secrets. Sometimes it's very sad, and too late to fix the injustices of the past. Everyone is quirky and determined in their own particular ways, whether fierce or rather cowardly, and that spark of humanity in each person makes you truly care about all of them – they feel like my friends. The scenes in the base of operations in Paris are awesome and inspiring. It would be amazing to be part of a collective resistance like that, and the reading of these is like fuel to the fire!

26. Persuasion by Jane Austen
“Of all Jane Austen's novels, Persuasion is widely regarded as the most moving. It is the story of a second chance.
Anne Elliot, daughter of a snobbish, spendthrift Sir Walter Elliot, is a woman of a quiet charm and deep feelings. When she was nineteen, she fell in love with - and was engaged to - a naval officer, the fearless and headstrong Captain Wentworth. But the young man had no fortune, and Anne allowed herself to be persuaded, against her profoundest instinct, to give him up.
Now, at twenty-seven, and believing that she has lost her bloom, Anne is startled to learn that Captain Wentworth has returned to the neighbourhood, a rich man and still unwed. Her never-diminished love is muffled by her pride. Even worse, he appears to be infatuated by the flighty and pretty Louisa Musgrove.
What happens as Anne and Wentworth are thrown together in the social world of Bath - and as an eager new suitor appears for Anne - is touchingly and wittily told in a masterpiece that is also one of the most entrancing novels in the English language.”

It’s probably impossible to actually choose a favourite Jane Austen – as soon as I decide on one, I think of the merits of another – but I’m still really tempted to give Persuasion the crown. It’s definitely the most page-turning, for me, the most uncertain and fraught with tension, the one where I really wasn’t sure if what I wanted to happen was going to. It’s also more sexually charged than the others, I think because the sexual tension is shared and equal (unlike in Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park), and with a kind of maturity and naturalness mixed with its desperation (unlike in Sense and Sensibility). I really like the shift in structure, the event which would have been the climax of her usual style happening before this book begins, the narrative taking place in what would have been a vague (un)happily-ever-after. This switches up the character-development, as Anne has already been processing her disappointment for years, thinking about what happened and why, meaning that she’s already a more developed, self-aware person than the other heroines, her musings on life deeper. She also continues to grow in confidence and ease with herself – it’s refreshing and hopeful to be reminded that we’re always evolving. And she’s just such a lovely character, kind and patient and sensitive and clever. After reading it for the first time, I remember joyfully hugging the book when what I wanted did eventually happen, because how could you not root for her incredibly? The romance is classic (the glance at Lyme! The meeting in the shop! The letterrrrrr gaaaah, I’ve re-read it so many times), tempered by touches of hilarious sarcasm. Following this re-read, I bought this beautiful copy – the original illustrations are reproduced quite poorly, but the cover is glee-inducing :)

27. The Four Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott
”A constellation of everyday digital phenomena is rewiring our inner lives, argues Laurence Scott. We are increasingly coaxed from the third-dimensional containment of our pre-digital selves into a wonderful and eerie fourth dimension, a world of ceaseless communication, instant information and global connection.
Our portals to this new world have been wedged open, and the silhouette of a figure is slowly taking shape. But what does it feel like to be four-dimensional? How do digital technologies influence the rhythms of our thoughts, the style and tilt of our consciousness? What new sensitivities and sensibilities are emerging with our exposure to the delights, sorrows and anxieties of a networked world? And how do we live in public, with these recoded private lives?
Tackling ideas of time, space, isolation, silence and threat – how our modern-day anxieties manifest online – and moving from Hamlet to the ghosts of social media, from Seinfeld to the fall of Gaddafi, from Twitter art to Oedipus, The Four-Dimensional Human is a highly original and pioneering portrait of life in a digital landscape.”

Despite being occasionally annoyed by the self-conscious writing style, I found a lot of the ideas here very interesting, and many struck a chord, particularly those about the more painful sides of a life spent partially online. I related to his descriptions of that special kind of loneliness actually caused by the fact that we can be connected almost anywhere, at any time: when we do find ourselves alone, with no new emails or texts, no-one on Skype, or with someone there but with whom we can’t talk for whatever reason, the sense of isolation is like a broken promise, or it feels as though it must be our own fault. His idea about the internet’s changing our concept of time is intriguing: that the internet chronicles the past and also a seemingly endless present (as we can access in great detail the ‘now’ of other people all over the world) while giving us the impression that there’s not much future for us through the constant stream of panic-inducing news. I also liked his concept of noisy silence, text messages registering with us as sound (like we say that someone “said” when they actually “wrote”), and how this contributes to the claustrophobia of digitised life. And he had some interesting ideas about how the internet shapes our selves, from commercial pressures (like social media encouraging us to link all of our accounts to create a ‘personal brand’ – basically so that we become predictable consumers who can be efficiently marketed to – when the internet used to be all about losing yourself, expressing different facets of yourself), to community ones (humans have always categorised everything in order to make sense of it, and we’re using the new access that we have to vast amounts of data about the human experience to finely categorise ourselves, which is very interesting, but means that we constrict ourselves to fit with the groups we think we’re in, or we’d like to be in), and self-enforced, comparative ones (everyone is uploading the best of themselves, trying to chop off the unpalatable parts of their personalities).

28. The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
A shivering of worlds.
Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.
This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.
There will be a reckoning…”

This is a strange read; melancholy, nostalgic, irritating... The afterword explains that the book was still a draft when Terry died, which I wish I had known from the start, rather than painfully thinking that the simplistic prose and clumsy sequencing were due to his Alzheimer's. But perhaps his family and agents knew this would be the first interpretation of readers – in a way this let me mourn his loss, thinking that I could see him slipping away. One of the book's major themes is death, appropriately. The idea of meeting Death head on, prepared, knowing that you've lived well and done good, knowing that dying doesn't erase your existence, that your influence, memory, and presence remain, and that all of those will help the others who continue on. In this way, the book was also very much about living, and the fact that life and death aren't each other's opposites. I'm so glad that his last book was about Tiffany and the Chalk, which is such a wonderful setting, for its pastoral nostalgia and its integrity to Tiffany's character. Its sleepy comfort is warming, and also the perfect foil for the new ideas with which Terry surprises us, once we're lulled into thinking that we know how this goes. This has been the strength of all of the Tiffany Aching books (and actually plenty of his others). The plot line with Geoffrey and the old men, and his gifts in general, irked me as being too easy, but I can now imagine liking a more finalised version. This is a sad, yet hopeful, farewell, a very kind and warm-hearted message about potential change and caring for others.

29. The Library Book by various authors, edited by Rebecca Gray
'Reading is not just an escape. It is access to a better way of life.' Karin Slaughter
Whether brand new or steeped in history, real or imagined, libraries feature in everyone's lives. In memoirs, essays and stories that are funny, moving, visionary or insightful, twenty-three famous writers celebrate these places where minds open and the world expands.
Public libraries are lifelines, to practical information as well as to the imagination, but funding is under threat all over the country. This book is published in support of libraries, with all royalties going to The Reading Agency's library programmes.”

Reading this was like being wrapped up in a toasty duvet with a perfect cup of tea. So many of the authors basked in the warmth and safety of nostalgic childhood memories, and I joined them, remembering how magical the Carnegie Library in Ayr seemed when I was wee; the dark shelves, the gleaming brass banisters, the immensely high ceilings, the glass dome letting in pale, green-tinted light. Part of the fascinating mystery of libraries must be the silence; part of it the fact that they’re often in grand, old, dark buildings; and part of it simply being surrounded by books, knowledge, and people pursuing it, as even the tiny, one-roomed library in the village has a hint of that mystique. Maybe it’s also the contemplation that you do there, of yourself, life, the world. Common themes of the essays and fiction here were discovery, leaving poverty behind, and feelings of delightful sneakiness and sought-for belonging, all of which struck chords with me. Some of them were also hilarious, detailing the eccentric characters and unexpected goings-on of these supposedly solemn halls of learning. I thought about an episode during primary school, when we had taken our Buddies to the library (in primary seven [when you’re eleven], you’re given charge of a new primary one [aged five].) Some time previously, I had triumphantly discovered a huge 400-page brick of a book newly added to the children’s section, and, being the show-off that I was, immediately determined to get that one out so that I could claim the glory of reading the longest book there. Upon getting it home I discovered that it was actually a tragic bodice-ripper about the forbidden romance between a pair of twins, which had somehow been accidentally labelled as a kids’ book… After having skim-read it in amazement, I took it back without saying anything to the librarian, with the vague idea that I’d done something wrong. Fast forward a few weeks, and I realised that the school had matched me and my Buddy well when this wee five-year-old came back from the shelves looking very pleased with herself and bearing, of course, this massive, incestuous tome…

30. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
“The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later. Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.”

HMMM. I’m still really excited to see the actual play – it’ll be really interesting to see how they do the special effects, and I’ve heard that the scenery is amazing, but I was underwhelmed by this script. (Spoilers from here on in!) I did like the message about what bullying can do to you, and all of the time travel furnished hours of debating how it was possible, complete with diagrams (though the downside to this very fun time was that we didn’t really think it worked logically), and Scorpius was freaking adorable. But all of the stuff with Cedric was just way too OOC: he was so loyal and fair that it would have taken a hell of a lot more than that (something cataclysmic) to have his deep nature turn around so utterly. The trolley witch detail was random and weird and I’m going to try and forget about it. And Voldemort and Bellatrix?!? No way! Nooooo waaaaay. I cannot believe that he had any interest whatsoever in deliberately conceiving a child, and I just can’t imagine him 1. having casual sex (he was too inhuman to do things for pleasure), 2. accidentally impregnating Bellatrix (though she might have hoped it’d happen, why would he be careless?), and 3. allowing the pregnancy to run its course (he was going to be immortal. A mini-Voldemort would just be an inconvenience or even a threat). Also disappointing was the shoehorning in of a nice, normal hetero relationship. I let my hope carry me away for a little while, and seriously thought that we might actually see canon Albus Severus/Scorpius. The endearingly awkward first meeting on the train! The pining when they were apart! Scorpius being jealous and thinking of Albus to repel the Dementors!! Snape commenting on the similarity to his feelings for Lily?!? But… of course not. However, despite all of the above meaning that I can’t bring myself to consider it canon, I think it was worth reading just for the absolutely wonderful fact that Hermione Best Ever Granger is the fucking Minster for Magic. YES.

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