Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (Review)

Amazon Summary: Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

Rating: 3.5 - 4 / 5

Review: Coming in at a little over 700 pages, Anna Karenina felt like quite a journey by the ending. It took me a little over a month (while reading comics in between) to get through this one and I'm definitely feeling the sadness of being separated from the characters after so long. I've been writing up this review on and off all day because I'm not sure how to summarize a piece as large as this. The two elements that stuck out to me the most were the larger thematic topics the book broached (relationships, gender, family, class issues etc.) and the political commentary of the time/location. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a good portion of the political discussion went right over my head. Don't get me wrong - there are parts that are easy to follow despite having no background information - but there were large paragraphs where I had to concede my lack of understanding. Despite this, I was very drawn in throughout the majority of the book. The books sections take on a third-person perspective from each character's point of view which shifts the narration tone a bit with each voice. As might be assumed, the pieces from the titular character were the most interesting for me.

The book felt split primarily between the lives of Anna and her lover, Vronsky, and their distantly related acquaintances Levin and Kitty. Anna lives a much more liberal and upper-class lifestyle (due to her decision to leave her husband and child for Vronsky) while Levin and Kitty have a slow-paced, more traditional marriage running the family farm. I especially enjoyed scenes in which the women's lives were juxtaposed amongst one another - particularly because their interactions (the 'whore' vs the 'madonna') still somehow felt deeply relevant to our current society. I'm still amazed at how little our interactions and roles have changed despite how far off these characters seem from my own life. Levin, who is an obvious stand-in for Tolstoy, while not awful is a bit on the dull side and has some very long-winded passages.

If you consider yourself a writer or an avid reader, this book is worth your time if only to study Tolstoy's mastery of language. And I'm sure I was still missing some of the depth due to subtleties being lost in the translation. Each scene, no matter how simple and mundane was lovely to read and incredibly easy to get lost in. I was surprised to find the depth and humanity that Tolstoy gave to his female characters. I felt they were represented sympathetically and fairly the majority of the time - although I thought the ending was extremely rushed and did not give Anna (or any of the other ladies, to be fair) her due. I was really loving the book the majority of the way through, and it would have earned a solid 4 from me had it not ended as unresolved as it did. The amount of time given to Levin at the end vs. Anna and her family seemed self-indulgent and not as carefully planned as the rest of the book. Perhaps it was done for a reason that I'm not understanding, but I wanted more of a resolution after dedicating so much time to the story.

Final Thoughts: I have a feeling the average reader will find this a struggle to get through - but it's written beautifully and is overall well done. For readers and writers it's a must - for everyone else it really depends on your level of interest when it comes to realistic fiction and how much time you're willing to spend on one book.

Animal Crossing QR Codes (Paths)

One of the few things I tend to carry around with me all the time is my Nintendo 3DS. It's easily one of my favorite ways to play games because of how small and portable it is. The most relaxing & happy game I play (almost daily at this point) is Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I won't go into detail about gameplay as it is very popular and there are plenty of references if you Google it! One of the best parts of the game is the amount of customizable content that can be used to decorate your house & town. I've collected some of my favorite QR codes to share with you guys for your games! This will be the first in a series of posts - today I'm posting PATHS as our first collection.

Trip to Outer Banks, NC

I had the pleasure of spending a few days of my summer in North Carolina's Outer Banks with my boyfriend and his family. It was about a 10 hour ride to get from New York to our destination - and although the end result was quite fun I don't know that I'd necessarily be willing to take such a long drive in one shot again. I'm always a little scared to bring our camera onto the beach because I don't want sand to get into anything, but I decided to brave it on this trip and I'm pretty happy with the results. I hope you enjoy some of the shots I took!

Untitled Untitled

Chew - John Layman, Rob Guillory (Review)

Amazon Summary: Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he's a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn't mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why.

Rating: 2 / 5

Review: I read Chew and Sex Criminals back-to-back which was a very disappointing two days for me. I'd have to say I disliked Chew a bit more - less for political reasons, and more because it's just not my style, I guess. The story evolves around detective Tony Chu who is a "cibopathic" - it is explained to us that he receives psychic impressions about the food he consumes. Naturally, this leads to Tony being employed by the FDA. Why? Oh right, because while this universe already has food-related superpowers, it is also going through a chicken shortage. And the FDA is apparently spending a lot of time and resources cracking down on the illegal, underground chicken-selling market.

We meet Amelia Mintz (the love interest), who seemingly serves no purpose other than to give Tony someone to excessively drool over. She is a "saboscrivner". This means she can apparently write and describe food so well that people actually feel as though they are eating it. She uses this power to describe disgusting, rotting food so that their foes will vomit in times of peril ..... yeah (this was where I started to side-eye the book).

If my review sounds disjointed and over the top, you understand exactly how I felt while reading through this comic! After seeing the many awards and accolades it received I was expecting more than weak food themed world-building as a vehicle for amateur humor and excessive gross-out scenes. I've never been a fan of gratuitous potty humor and this brought little else to the table for me to grab onto. I got the feeling much of it is supposed to have a dry, tongue-in-cheek tone but I wasn't digging it. I can only stomach seeing someone eat an uncooked corpse so many times before I close the book - especially when I'm receiving little to no characterization.

Guillory's art is highly stylized, and was definitely the best part of the comic. It's not my personal favorite (a little too loud and cartoonish for me) but I would be interested to check out some of his other work and see how it comes across with a different story. If nothing else, it is very clean and well done.

Final Thoughts:If you don't like gross-out humor, you'll probably feel the same way I did. If that type of comedy is your thing and you dig it stylistically - give it a go. There is obviously an audience out there for it, even if it's not me.

Sex Criminals - Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky (Review)

Amazon Summary: Named one of Time Magazine's top 10 graphic novels for 2013! Suzie's just a regular gal with an irregular gift: when she has sex, she stops time. One day she meets Jon and it turns out he has the same ability. And sooner or later they get around to using their gifts to do what we'd ALL do: rob a couple banks. A bawdy and brazen sex comedy for comics begins here, by Matt Fraction (Satellite Sam, Hawkeye) and Chip Zdarsky (Prison Funnies, Monster Cops).

"On the surface, this is a hilarious story of two people, Suzanne and Jon, with the power to stop time after they orgasm, and then rob banks while (almost) everyone else is frozen in time, which is an amazingly original idea. But underneath that, this is a story of the beginning of a relationship: its exciting newness, its terrifying possibilities, its ups and downs, its secrets and understandings, and, of course, its sex." - PW

Rating: 2.5 - 3 / 5

Review: I feel alone. Alone in the world of comic fans when it comes to Sex Criminals. I'm not trying to say I absolutely hated it or anything - but imo there's plenty here to criticize. And I have the utmost respect for the creative idea and the work that was put into this. But it just was not for me, in addition to their being bits I refuse to support that, I'll speak about towards the end. I don't know if it was a case of mismatched expectations while going in - but realistically I will probably not continue reading this run.

The idea behind Sex Criminals is simple (and cool!) enough to understand - our two main characters have the amazing ability to stop time temporarily whenever they orgasm. When I first heard about it I immediately declared "THIS IS A COMIC FOR ME!" I mean, it's an inventive idea that flawlessly allows for discussion of sexuality while still giving us the excitement and mystery of a standard comic. I began to imagine all of the creative directions an idea could take you in, and I created a sort of dark, edgy, sexy comic in my mind. You know, with dark colors and semi-abstract art and really serious discussions about the nature of human sexuality.

Lo and behold, this is not at all the vision that Fraction and Zdarsky had. The art in Sex Criminals is bright and colorful and there's very little angst or darkness to wallow in. And so you can see going in why I was a little thrown. Not that it's anyone's fault that I let my imagination selfishly run wild. This usually wouldn't be a huge adjustment for me either - I really like bright, feminine, bubblegum art. But Sex Criminals never managed to tickle that side of me either. As I've noticed, a lot of newer comics (not the big superheroes) tend to have less polished art and I didn't find Sex Criminals to be an exception. Most of the reviews I've seen really enjoyed Zdarsky's art but it just never hooked me. It felt unfinished, too cartoonish (for my taste) and I never found myself really wanting to stare at a scene longer than I needed. Something about their faces turned me off. I do quite like all of the cover art though! It always could come down to different preferences though.

Suzie and Jon, our main characters meet and quickly discover that they've finally found another person with their unique 'power'. For obvious reasons, this leads to a relationship between the two. After sharing stories about their childhood and the discovery of their skill, they begin to devise a more serious plan to help rescue the library Suzie works at from financial crisis. They decide to freeze time and rob a bank - only to find out there are other folks who can enter their frozen time zone. And they're not happy about their rule-breaking. To be honest, this portion of the story held my interest somewhat. If I were to pick up another issue in the future it would be primarily to get some answers about the frozen-time police, dammit.

But I disliked both the main characters and their voices. So watching them fall in love and reminisce about their life wasn't very fun for me. There are two specific moments in Sex Criminals that made me really fall on the "meh" side of the spectrum. There is a scene in which Suzie and Jon are at a pool hall where Suzie decides to lip sync "Fat Bottomed Girls" on top of the pool table in front of everyone? And this was supposed to be the moment Jon thought she was "REALLY SOMETHIN ELSE!" I guess? I don't know - like I got bad secondhand embarrassment reading this scene and the whole thing was very manic-pixie dream girl. And to make matters 100x worse - Fraction and Zdarsky were unable to get the rights to the song. So instead of picking a different song or cutting the scene out, they made an attempt at humor by overlaying each speech bubble of lyrics with a post-it note of themselves talking.

First of all, this scene goes on FOREVER. Like if I pay for a comic book I don't want to see multiple pages filled up with lyrics to a song I already know that lends itself to very little character development. And I especially don't want to see your self-indulgent attempts at being funny instead. Ick.

The second incident comes during a discussion Jon and Suzie are having about the type of porn he watched as a teenager. He shares that he really liked a specific porn actress, "Jazmin St. Cocaine". This already left a bad taste in my mouth - even as far as porn star names go, that's a little much. While looking her up online, Suzie literally comments "It doesn't say which of her uncles touched her, but it's Wikipedia. They have pretty high verification standards". 

But then - something even more bizarre happens. I'm still unsure if this was an attempt at humor, an apology, a commentary - I have no idea. But the scene then proceeds make the "internet version" of Jazmin speak directly to Suzie in a fantasy sequence. Jazmin (in the computer screen) says "That's not cool. That judgmental bullshit of yours. I'm a real person y'know. And just because I'm a sex worker, you don't get to shame me or insult me or insist I came from a background of molestation and abuse. And even if I did -" to which Suzie closes the laptop on her and replies "Jesus, god, you called yourself 'Jazmin St. Cocaine'. Talking a little shit was inevitable" before going up to Jon and mockingly saying "Hiiii Jonny. It's ya girl, Suzanne DeQuaalude-Handjob and I want you to rrrruin me". That's right. They had their main character shame sex workers, and than I guess to let us know that they knew that was bad, they gave the sex worker a fake voice for 3 panels to refute it - only to have Suzie close the laptop on her and walk away with no mention of it again.

This scene was the one that really made me say "what the fuck"? If you knew that you were going down morally questionable ground by reinforcing a harmful stereotype about sex and sex work in general (and making your female character seem catty and competitive to boot) enough so, that you had to put some type of "disclaimer" in there than DON'T WRITE THE SCENE IN! Unless it was an attempt at saying "how ridiculous" that attitude is and Suzie should be allowed to say whatever she wants about Jazmin. Either way - yuck, gross, not digging it. Not to mention, it's just sloppy writing if I'm actually that confused over the point of a scene. I've had multiple people read it and none of us have come to a conclusion.
Look, I even took a picture cause it made me angry.

Final Thoughts: Eh. I think I gave you enough information to decide if Sex Criminals is for you or not. I was put-off enough by the above that I most likely will not continue supporting this comic.