Choose Your Own Adventure for Grown-ups

Photo by Sushiesque on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Did you read these as a kid?  I had one that was about a mystery in a horse stable (Google tells me it was #127, Showdown.)  These type of books are sometimes called “gamebooks,” because the narrative structure allows you to participate in the story by making choices.  There are multiple plot threads and endings to the story, which can be “good” or “bad.” It can even end with you dying!

These books were targeted at young teens, but I read two books recently that update this concept in a more mature fashion, though each in a distinct way.

Jane, Unlimited

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This novel, the latest release by Graceling author Kristin Cashore, was originally written in the second person as a choose-your-own-adventure with five different possible endings.  However, in the revision process the protagonist developed into the titular Jane, and the different endings, which split off about a quarter of the way through the book, should be read in order to get the most out of them.

The story begins with Jane being invited for a visit to the island mansion Tu Reviens; her late beloved Aunt Magnolia curiously made her promise to go there if she ever got the chance.  At Tu Reviens, Jane’s curiosity gets her embroiled in a number of mysteries, and each of the different ending spin out of which one she chooses to tackle first.  Though she’s struggling to find her place in the world, Jane is a fun and quirky protagonist; she likes Doctor Who and Winnie-the-Pooh and makes umbrellas as a hobby.  She also reads as bisexual, though the romance aspects are relatively minor.

In short, don’t judge this one by the ugly cover.  It’s one of the most creative books I’ve read this year.  Though the endings build on each other, each one also takes on qualities of a specific genre: heist story, spy drama, psychological thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy.  I don’t want to say too much else, just be ready to hold on and enjoy the ride.

One neat concept that is threaded through the endings, and is in fact tied to the choose-your-own-adventure format, is the idea of a multiverse: summed up by one character, “everything that could conceivably happen does happen, somewhere, in alternate universes across the multiverse.”

“…every time something happens, everything else that could have happened in that moment also happens, causing new universes to break off from the old universe and come into being.  So there are multiple versions of us, living different lives than the ones we live, across multiple universes, making every decision we could possibly make.  There are versions of us we wouldn’t even like, and some we’d barely recognize.”

It’s a great concept, and one that makes me want to re-read Jane, Unlimited to really appreciate its depth.  Is each ending taking place in a different dimension?  Is one of those dimensions “ours?”  There is some evidence that says yes…and some that says no.

Lastly, this book owes a lot to two classic Gothic stories of “orphan comes to a house of mystery:” Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which has inspired me to read and re-read them, respectively (they are both also selections for the Great American Read).  There are a few other interesting literary and artistic references as well.

My Lady’s Choosing

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This entertaining book is billed as an “interactive romance novel.”  It reminded me greatly of the old Choose Your Own Adventure format.  You begin the story as a penniless companion to Lady Craven and can go on to have any number of adventures including getting kidnapped in the Egyptian desert, delivering a foal in the Scottish Highlands, visiting a London brothel, and staying at a creepy Gothic manor.

There are four main love interests that you can end up with: Lady Evangeline, Lord Craven, Sir Benedict, and Captain McTaggart.  Each has several storylines and endings, plus there are a few other “side” endings you can also choose.  My favorite was ending up with Kamal, the nerdy curator of Lady Evangeline’s Cairo museum of artifacts.  We also have “many adorably studious children.”

This is not a serious romance book, but rather a bit of a satire of one.  It pokes fun at Regency romance tropes, including using a plethora of terrible puns and creative euphemisms in the sexy parts.  I found it absolutely hilarious, possibly because I read a lot of Regency romance.  If you would laugh at phrases like “a vision of Scottish virility” and “You kiss as though you are discovering islands off each other’s hidden coasts,” plus a mansion named “Manberley,” you are in the right place.

The “choose” points come up pretty frequently, and have hilarious little flavor text such as:

What, did you actually think you could fight off four enormous henchmen single-handed? Come on now.  Think of a better plan and turn to this page.

I was reading this on a Kindle which was an interesting experience for a choose-your-own-adventure.  It was nice because of the automatic links at the choose points that immediately direct you where you want to go.  But the links also mean there is no easy way to go back one choice and try a different path, which I used to do in the print versions by holding pages.  You’d have to keep making and deleting bookmarks or something.

I read through many of the endings because I was having so much fun.  I don’t think I would buy this book to read again, but it was definitely good for a few hours of entertainment.

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A Darker Shade of Magic

After I had my kid last year, I was kind of in a reading slump.  A good 80% of my reading was being done only on my Kindle between the hours of 11pm-6am while feeding the little Jedi, and I was reading mostly Regency romance novels.  There is nothing wrong with romance novels; it is simply a very uncharacteristic choice for me, a habitual reader of fantasy and sci-fi. In any case, I felt like I was missing something.  I guess I was missing the way I used to read.

A Darker Shade of Magic was the book, and then the series, that released me from my slump.  From the first chapters I knew it was going to be special, just as countless other bloggers and readers had told me.

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. (Goodreads)

As an ambassador (and the adopted son) of the king of Red London, Kell is tasked with visiting both the brutal monarchs of White London (and their Antari Holland) as well as George III of Grey London.  But he also runs an inter-world smuggling business on the side, and when a hand-off goes wrong he gets mixed up with Grey London street thief Lila Bard and a magical conspiracy that spans all four worlds.

This series has many strengths (world building and a neat magic system, an exciting and suspenseful plot), but to me its biggest asset is its characters.  Kell and Lila are so well crafted they feel real, and the supporting cast has wonderful depth as well—particularly Holland, Kell’s brother Rhy, and the pirate Alucard.

Kell with red coat
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Lila with knives

Kell is probably my favorite character, and he reminded me strongly of another favorite character of mine: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist.  Both Kell and Ed are completely dedicated to their brothers, willing to do anything to protect them.  They both have serious personalities, their default expression generally being kinda frowny.  They both do magic by drawing circles.  And of course, they both have awesome red coats.

Edward Elric from FMA

Lila is another fun one.  Her dream in life is to have a ship and be a pirate, and she prefers wearing men’s clothes.  I pictured her in my head looking a bit like Tilda from Into the Badlands because of her hair and knives, but her personality is really more like MK, impulsive and a bit immature.

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Tilda with sharp objects
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You should watch this show, too.

I loved the pacing of the trilogy, because a lot of the plot structure remind me of the Star Wars original trilogy.  Vitari and Osaron kind of reminded me of the first and second Death Stars.  The Essen Tasch in the second book was like Lila’s version of Luke’s Dagobah training.  And the cliffhanger ending of that same book, where Lila rushes off to help a captured friend, is straight out of The Empire Strikes Back.  I loved that cliffhanger, which is such a weird thing to say when normally people hate them.

My only real complaints about the series are that I didn’t get a real “Regency” vibe from it, especially Lila who’s from our London but doesn’t use any thieves’ cant or anything, and also that perhaps the last bit of the third book was not quite as tight as the rest.  But I felt satisfied with the ending.  I’m already planning to buy the series so I can see those beautiful covers sitting on my shelf and relive the magic whenever I want.

The Great American Read

How would you choose America’s best-loved novel?  PBS has teamed up with the American Library Association, First Book, and the American Booksellers Association on a project that aims to do just that: The Great American Read.  They recently surveyed Americans to select the top 100 books on our shelves and in our hearts and will be spending the summer celebrating these books before narrowing the list to just one.

PBS kicked off the Great American Read on Tuesday night with a two-hour special featuring these top 100 books.  You can watch the episode, hosted by Meredith Vieira, here; you can also catch it repeated on PBS over the next few days.  It was a very entertaining look at many of my favorite books and the ways in which they’ve impacted Americans.  I have personally read 32 of the 100 books; you can check out the full list here and take a quiz to see how many you’ve read here.

The episode featured many authors, actors, other celebrities, and even just regular Americans talking about their favorite book on the list and why you should vote for it as America’s best-loved novel.  The books on the list span many time periods, countries, and genres; to be included they must be fiction and published in English, plus each author is limited to one book on the list (so series count as one).  All of the books on the list got a shout-out in the episode, but a few got a slightly more in-depth look.

Some felt comfortably familiar: George R.R. Martin (whose Game of Thrones is on the list) talked about the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how it impacted him; when Gandalf died partway through the book, it was a lightning bolt moment where he felt like “anyone could die.”  John Green (whose Looking for Alaska is on the list) discussed Catcher in the Rye, and now the world makes sense to me because even as a teenager I never “got” that book, and despite how much I love John Green’s writing, I don’t really get his books either. I’ve even mentioned that previously on my blog!

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Some were more surprising but no less enthusiastic: Allison Williams discussing why Frankenstein was such a big deal, and Sarah Jessica Parker gushing about Things Fall Apart (she even dog-ears her pages!).

One of my favorites was a woman named Eliyannah from Chicago talking about Harry Potter.  She related to Hermione and the themes of bigotry in the books so much that she’s gone on to help create a web series called Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis.

Of course, I could never pick just one of these books.  Pride and Prejudice is the one I’ve read the most, but I can’t discount The Giver, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc. etc.  But luckily, I don’t have to!  For the Great American Read you really can “Vote Early, Vote Often.”  You can vote for as many books as you like once every day.

VOTE HERE

PBS with be continuing its series with themed episodes leading up to the finale in October, when all the votes will be tallied and the winner revealed.

The GAR is more than just a TV show, though.  It is meant to be an interactive experience for readers.  You can discuss the show and the books on social media like FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.  You can even participate in a virtual book club dedicated to some of these 100 books; the first “meeting” is today and will discuss Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

You can also check out your local library or bookstore for GAR events.  Here is a list of the libraries that got grants from the ALA to do official events, but many others have displays, events, or book clubs.

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GAR display in my local bookstore

Are you planning to participate in the Great American Read?  What book(s) are you voting for?

Review: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card

34713646Most fans of anime will tell you that there was a “gateway drug,” so to speak: one show that hooked them and got them into the medium of anime in general.  Ask people of my generation, and they will name shows like Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon as shows still hold a special place in their hearts.

For me, it was Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP.

From my first viewing of the terrible English dub Cardcaptors, I was hooked.  The manga, with two story arcs of six volumes each, was even better, and remains to this day my favorite manga.  I own two versions of it, a boxed set of the volumes and an omnibus edition.  If you like magical girl anime, it doesn’t get any better than CCS.

When I heard a few months ago that CLAMP was putting out new volumes of Cardcaptor Sakura, I screamed so loud my husband came to ask me what was wrong.  Wrong?  Nothing’s wrong!  This is only the best day of my life!

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The first volume of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is now available in English, with more to follow in the next months, and the anime is currently running in simulcast on Crunchyroll and in “simuldub” on Funimation.  I have not seen the anime yet, but I devoured the first manga volume when I got it for my birthday recently.

The Clear Card story arc picks up exactly where the Sakura Card story arc left off.  The first chapter expands on the last scene of the last manga, where Syaoran surprises Sakura on her way to middle school, saying he’s returned to Tomoeda to stay for good.

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S+S shippers rejoice!

The story continues in a very familiar fashion, hiting all the typical Cardcaptor Sakura beats: a mysterious figure appearing in Sakura’s dreams, strange forces working in Tomoeda, new cards (this time they are transparent), a new, upgraded staff, and of course new costumes made by Tomoyo-chan!  All of Sakura’s friends and family are back as well.  I like that it has such a familiar feel, and I can’ wait to see what twists and turns are coming as the story develops more.  What secrets are Syaoran and Eriol keeping?

The artwork remains absolutely gorgeous.  There are so many beautiful large panels and two page spreads that really let you appreciate the art.

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Release!

I really enjoyed the experience of reading this volume, because for me it was the first time reading a CCS manga without having seen the anime first.  I’m sure I will watch the anime soon, maybe even before reading more volumes, but it was kinda fun to have an “all new” manga to read.

The only thing I found slightly jarring was the incorporation of modern technology in the story, like smart phones, email, and texting.  While it was worked seamlessly into the story, it was just surprising to me because the story takes place immediately after the original volumes which were produced in the 90s and therefore barely had the concept of primitive mobile phones. So it was a big jump forward in technology with no jump forward in time.  However, I don’t think they could have handled it any better and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

Basically, it’s just wonderful to be back in the CCS world after fifteen years away.  And this volume has only just whet my appetite for more.  This is just the beginning!

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