Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Ariosto

AriostoAriosto by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 3. Equal parts historical fiction & epic fantasy, Ariosto follows the poet Lodovico Ariosto near the end of his life in Renaissance Italy. Entangled in the deadly politics of the Firenzen court, Ariosto’s perspective is split between the frustrations of his patron Damiano de Medici & the poet’s latest epic about the Nuovo Mundo. Each world is threatened by great conflicting forces & Ariosto strives to live & write despite the pending chaos of each.

Yarbro’s book is one that clicked with me at just the right time. I had just finished rereading Dante’s Commedia so I was prepared for the court intrigue & the flowery style of writing found in the book. I also had a better appreciation for the conflicts of Church & State in Ariosto with Dante’s vision lingering on the edges of my reading as well. With that said, Yarbro’s historical research is evident in the dense world-building that takes up the first third of the novel & it took me some time to get through the material.

But even with the period details slowing me down, the novel truly shines in certain places. First, I loved seeing what another nation would have thought of the New World outside of the typical Anglo Protestant take I’d been taught in school. (Bonus points for figuring out the Italianized versions of Native American tribes like Cérocchi, Pau Attan, and Cica Omini.) Secondly, despite the obvious clues used to outline the courtly intrigue, Yarbro excels at keeping the readers guessing at how much Ariosto understands & how involved he may or may not become over the course of the book. He even tries to convince Damiano that help can come from the New World because his own desperation drives the poet to believe in his own characters.

Ultimately, Ariosto is about an artist living in a fractured, deeply paranoid society & with the current political state of my own country, I found myself moved to tears by an ending that would not have held such poignancy previously. I want to recommend it to anyone willing to give historical fantastical fiction a chance but with Ariosto hitting so many specific associations for me, I’m not sure it would be as powerful for others. If this review interests you though, I hope you’ll give it a try.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Sex Criminals, vol #1

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird TrickSex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet Suzie & Jon, two perfectly ordinary people who freeze time when they have sex & rob banks to save their failing local library. Wait, what?

No, seriously–she’s a fun, literate girl who works at the library & is trying to keep it from closing. He’s a curious, quick-witted guy who hates working at the bank that’s foreclosing on Suzie’s branch. They meet at a party, find out that they are crazy-compatible & bizarro hijinks ensue. Reader beware, if you are not into sexually explicit stuff, you won’t make it past the first few pages–not because of any terrible depictions, but because the frank, intelligent approaches to sexuality in this series are not going to go away.

With that said, Suzie & Jon are people with flaws, jobs, dysfunctions, & weird senses of humor like the rest of us. This volume follows their budding relationship & fills in their backstories, giving us a good idea of who we’re hanging out with here. There were lots of satisfying story moments that had me rooting for these two: their first meeting where they bond over Lolita, Suzie’s epic rock-out in a pool hall to Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls, even their texts to one another are charming. While the main premise of the series hinges on the wonderful & weird sex, there’s an equal focus on relationships & how amazing it feels to click with someone.

I also love how Zdarsky draws faces, how each is distinctly memorable but somehow relatable, as if I could meet people like them in everyday life. The background visuals are fun to linger over & are especially key in a world where people can walk through a time-frozen reality. Expressive, yet still silly, Sex Criminals is an offbeat series with a lot of heart.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Alina Starkov is a plain apprentice scribe in the tsar’s armies until an attack by dark creatures forces her to used magical talent she’s denied herself in order to save her own life & the life of her childhood friend Mal. Noticed by the Grisha, a class of trained conjurers, & their leader the Darkling, Alina is taken to their compound to learn how to hone her skills as a weapon to dispel shadowy forces unleashed generations ago. Alina struggles to remain true to herself amid the intrigue of court & the machinations of the Grisha.

I was fascinated by the world Bardugo has created. Vaguely medieval & ambiguously Christian, Alina’s Ravka reminded me of C.J. Cherryh’s Rusalka, as if her story could take place at a later time in that universe. Her perspective, though, is sort of straight-forward: girl-as-apex-of-love-triangle-tries-to-find-herself plot, making the characters around Alina more interesting in their familiar-but-reconfigured positions. I was obsessed with Genya, seemingly a court pet but soon revealed as a woman who is canny enough to maneuver her way through treacherous political waters. She’s an excellent contrast to Alina, whose torn desires between her love Mal & her lust the Darkling wear thin. Although the reclaiming of her powers is an interesting substitute for sex in this YA tale.

Bardugo also captures fascinating snippet of real Russian history to create Ravka–like the semi-Rasputin-like figure to the odd spartan routines observed amid the Grisha’s extravagance to the orphanage set up by a local duke. Overall, I’m kind of meh on the main story but the rest of the details are lovely, which is enough to keep me reading.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Bee and PuppyCat, vol. #1

Bee and Puppycat, Vol. 1Bee and Puppycat, Vol. 1 by Natasha Allegri

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A collection of stories written by Natasha Allegri & others following Bee & PuppyCat’s adventures as well as exploring their colorful world. Honestly, I love the Bee & PuppyCat series–weird, mysterious, silly & charming; I was sucked in from the first surreal short when it appeared on YouTube. But the episodes themselves are frequently open-ended & leave watchers wanting more, which can work in a creator’s favor–only to a point. This collection, unfortunately, is more of the same. Could we please have a little more story with the pretty pretty art?

The story by Allegri herself is another assignment that takes Bee & PuppyCat to Snowglobe Planet, undertaken so Bee can get back in her apartment after locking herself out. It’s a lovely little one-shot & the use of the QR codes are cool, but is this just another set-up for an unresolved plot? The rest of the stories are interstitial & cover everything from Bee’s inability to “adult” properly to game time with Deckard to actually putting off dealing with interesting consequences from one of the YouTube episodes. The varying art styles are fun & certainly recall the flood of fanart surrounding this series. But I’d hate for these characters to just be these cute objects without any real substance. Could I get some resolution please? Or is this series just a magnet of whimsy where everything is utterly precious forever?

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Books

Off the Shelf: Library Wars: Love & War, issue #9

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 9 (Library Wars: Love & War, #9)Library Wars: Love & War, Vol. 9 by Kiiro Yumi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kasahara & Shibazaki are successful ensnaring the library creep & the Task Force turns its attention to the upcoming exams for the rising corporals. Kasahara, Tezuka & Shibazaki all prepare for the skills test: taking over the children’s activities for an hour. The prankster boys from issue #3 return to tell Kasahara their petition has lead to their favorite books being unbanned. Which leads readers into another controversy at the Weekly New World. An interview with a popular hot actor causes him to sue the magazine. The actor talks extensively about being raised by his grandfather, a barber. However, “barber” is one of the censored words on the MBC’s list, meaning that the mag has had to replace every instance in their story, upsetting their subject. The community rallies in support & demands the reinstatement of the word.

So I mentioned in my last review that I was curious to see how the Task Force’s mission would go down & this mission actually introduced some odd stuff about Kasahara’s femininity. Or more specifically, how she thinks she’s lacking in that department. Shibazaki helps get her all dolled up as bait for the creeper but her teammates reactions to her are kind of weird. They tease, but then apparently “forget” that she’s a girl when she’s in uniform. Which is kind of weird considering they’ve been giving her a hard time throughout the series about whether she can make it as a team member, being as she’s the only girl to get as far as she has. And then there are moments like Dojo’s comment that she must be a woman after all when she knows a little bit about the symbolism of the chamomile blossoms on their badges or her repeated mention of her small bust size. . . they just puzzle me more than anything.

I think this confusion occurs mainly because when it comes to Kasahara, there’s a lot of talk around the concept of femininity without any real concrete examples as to what it means to her. Readers know that K’s parents would rather she found a husband than a career & we’ve seen what Shibazaki’s motivations are to keeping up a traditionally feminine appearance. We just haven’t seen specifically what Kasahara wants. . . despite some textual examples like her enjoying stuffed animals or owning some stylish dresses for special occasions. I guess it’s just growing pains as she becomes more confidant?

In other plotlines, Tezuka’s awkwardness with the children & his frantic attempts to study up on how to play well with children were adorable. His friendship with Shibazaki does well to draw him out of his perfectionist shell & out of the shadow of expectations by his family. He pops in & out of the story but when he shows up, I’m always happy to see that he’s loosening up a little bit more. He might actually act like a real person instead of a robot one day!

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