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Onward towards our noble deaths / Shigeru Mizuki

Onward towards our noble deaths / Shigeru Mizuki 


Maybe you don't think you can do manga. the odd fantasy, the forced atmosphere of adolescence, the stylized bodies. Consider this a perfect test of whether you have issues with format or style: the bleak story of the Japanese forces defending a meaningless peninsula in the final days of World War 2. A company of people, seemingly vast but dispatched as fast as you become acquainted. Trying to keep their humanity in the face of hunger and disease and predators and bombs and officers and thirst and injuries and stupidity. The line work is simply amazing. Shigeru Mizuki is a master of his craft, doing amazing things with photographic recreation and finding so many ways to make various the bullet-headed soldiers whose identity is a thin veneer on the cusp of being smeared out of existence. A truly remarkable telling of that most unremarkable story: inadequate numbers facing an impossible task. If you enjoy stories of war, try this. If you abhor stories of war, try this.


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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland #2) by Catherynne M. Valente

The second book, Valente has given us of September in fairy land. This is a very different book than the first, but it builds on decisions made in that first book, while it subverts a lot of expectations readers will carry into a sequel. In many ways, this is a much more creative work than the first, which borrowed heavily on received lore about Fairyland. It is literally darker, but it is much darker in tone as well. There is next to none of the broken fourth wall that gave the first book a self-conscious story-telling quality, but there are far many more quotable parts about dealing with the dark sides of ourselves.


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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1) by Catherynne M. Valente

I came to this looking for bedtime reading material for my daughter, and I'm not sure it is that. The language is a bit dense, and as I read I constantly had Lemony Snicket in my head saying "a word which here means..." though I think there is a lot of appeal in books that do precisely that, challenge the idea of what vocabulary we should expect of kids and underscore that reading plays a big part in language acquisition. 
That aside, there is a bit of a slow start, but once we are in Fairyland this is truly a remarkable book. It is extremely creative, and the story is very compelling. Details are richly lavished on scenery and characters. There is a winking narrator who, like Lemony Snicket, is delighted to break the 4th wall and talk to you about the story you are absorbing and the tricks played on readers to do that. The traditional darkness of Fairy Tales is acknowledged, though the whole thing is finally flipped on its head in a way that makes me grin SO HARD. 



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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Reading this was long overdue, but it was worth it. It bears only the slightest resemblance to the Frankenstein of popular culture, the long brutish shadow of Karloff. This is florid and all the science and madness happens off screen. This is theodicy and an infinite set of subtexts tailored to fit the facts. As a thriller, as a pursuit of justice, it is appalling: the hunter makes idiotic decisions, blind to the tropes present day audiences have internalized and now lampoon in self-aware thrillers; the villain makes impossible leaps without even the dignity of plot-devices to be so omnipresent that you could be forgiven for thinking the creature is a figment of Frankenstein's imagination until the last scene. The two leads swing between sympathetic and abominable, unspeakably eloquent and freakishly obtuse. The style of it all is insanely grand, and there are some astoundingly beautiful passages throughout that are a wonder to turn over in your mouth. Descriptions so loving and detailed, overlaid with contemplations thick with Milton and gothic morbidity: these make for dense reading and I could easily imagine this book could be read anew every decade of your life and seem wildly different each time.


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