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A Reader of Fictions: October 2011

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Soul - Yael Naïm

Lily Renée, Escape Artist

Author: Trina Robbins
Illustrators: Anne Simmons & Mo Oh
Pages: 78 (for the story itself)
ARC Acquired from: Graphic Universe via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Lily Renée grew up in Austria. Her childhood was a pleasant one until Hitler came to power, spreading his control into neighboring Austria. With that came the persecution of the Jews, including Lily and her family. She managed to escape as part of the Kindertransport in 1939. Eventually, she obtained a career in the comics industry.

One of my favorite historical time periods to read about and study is that of World War II. I also adore graphic novels, so when I saw this one I could not resist. This isn't one about plot or surprising the reader; the publisher's description, like mine, reveals the beginning, middle and end of her story. That's not really what it's about; instead, the focus is on the quality of life she experienced and the success she managed to acquire despite her many hardships.

The art in the novel is beautiful and feminine, looking a lot like a clothing catalog, the kind Lily herself posed for and drew for during her young adulthood. This style fits very well with the story, and gives it an upbeat feel that goes along with the overall message.

This tale touches on the Holocaust, but is not one to read if you want to find out about the many atrocities of that time period. It's just one Jewish woman's story, and she happens to have been, all things considered, very lucky, given what could have happened to her. I like the story for its viewpoint and because I learned about the Kindertransport.

I would definitely recommend this as a good entry into studies of World War II and the Holocaust for children, as it is not at all graphic and gives a basic overview of the timeline, explaining some basic vocabulary. The additional materials following the story itself would also be excellent for such a purpose.

"I'm a young soul in this very strange world
Hoping I could learn a bit bout what is true and fake.
But why all this hate?"

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Who Are You - The Who

Green River Killer:
A True Detective Story

Author: Jeff Jensen
Illustrator: Jonathan Case
Pages: 234
ARC Acquired from: Dark Horse via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Detective Tom Jensen has been working the Green River case since early in his career, for almost twenty years. Finally, it seems they may have caught the man who killed 40+ prostitutes in the Seattle area. Unfortunately, this man, Gary, seems unable to recall any details to prove that his confession is true. Have they caught the serial killer or is he still out there?

Jeff Jensen, the author of this graphic novel, is the son of the detective. He wrote the story as a means of honoring and understanding his father's quest to catch this murderer. The story is, in some ways, like reading an episode of CSI, or perhaps Cold Case. However, those shows generally add really dramatic scenes for, well, dramatic effect. Except for the prologue, however, the scenes in this graphic novel are really understated, more thought provoking and mental than filled with action. The artwork works perfectly with the overall tone of the story.

Green River Killer made for an interesting read, but I, rather like Tom Jensen, am not completely satisfied with the resolution of the murder investigation. There are questions left unanswered that I would be really curious to discover the answers to. Of course, that's life.

"Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)"

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Tears to Shed - Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Horrocks and Enn Reitel

Dearly, Departed
Gone with the Respiration, Book 1

Author: Lia Habel
Pages: 379
ARC Acquired from: Random House via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Nora Dearly has been an orphan for a year. On the day another interminable semester at her school full of prissy girls finishes, her mourning period for her father's death has finished. Armed with her best friend Pamela, Nora returns home, only to be approached by an unfamiliar person with the milky eyes of the blind. Escaping, thanks to the fortuitous arrival of some policemen, she reaches the home she shares with her vacuous aunt, who informs her that they are out of money and both must marry well. Not only that, but the boy Nora's supposed to set her cap for is someone she believes to be a stupid jerk. She thought that was bad...until she was attacked by a large group of slavering flesh-eating creatures, only to be saved by another group, headed up by the person who confronted her before. When she wakes up on their military base, she discovers that she has been taken by zombies.

From the beginning, Dearly, Departed was a fascinating read. There is just so much going on in here, most of which I approve of. For example, this book, the start of a new series, manages to be both set in a future society and steampunk, which is, traditionally, historical in nature. So, while not technically steampunk, it reads that way entirely. Given that and the zombies, I bet Cherie Priest loved this book (or will love it...I have no idea if she's read it or not).

Above that, Dearly, Departed is also a dystopia, or at least has enough dystopian elements to keep me happy, er, unhappy. Actually, it has pretty much every kind of dystopia possible. Habel explains that the society in which Nora lives came about in reaction to a series of calamities that befell the human race in entirety (and Americans especially) 150 years previously. These include an ice age (didn't see that one coming), catastrophic storms taking out island countries, disease, famine, nuclear war, and the explosion of the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone. While I do think it's awesome that Habel included that stuff, I also feel like it may just be, focus on the pun, overkill.

That's one of my two concerns about the book: Habel seems to have tried to do a bit too much. While this didn't distract from my enjoyment of the novel too much, I did sometimes shake my head in response to the sheer number of crazy things, some of which were markedly unnecessary.

My other concern, in case you were curious, is zombies being hot. That's right, folks. Now, all paranormals are hot, even zombies. Of course, I have seen zombies that had relationships before, but they only dated other zombies (Breathers); this is my first run in with a couple composed of one living person and one dead person. That said, I really do like Bram, and, all things considered, this has been done as well as is possible. However, I cannot ship this or think it will end in anything but tears and/or nomming.

What I really loved about the book were the strong female heroines, Nora and Pamela. They are vibrant and really rise to difficult occasions. Despite being raised to be proper New Victorian girls (think Victorian social mores and customs), they refuse to be put into a box or onto a pedestal. Their chapters are definitely the best ones; I think I would have liked the book even more had it been told exclusively from their perspectives and could definitely have done without Wolfe's and Victor's sections (the POV switches). Examples of how cool these girls are: one of them climbed up rose bushes with bare hands while also firing at zombie attackers and the other killed a zombie with a parasol. Yeah, with a parasol.

To sum up, who doesn't want to read a good zombie novel where the living dead get taken out by a deadly parasol?

P.S. Is anyone else tired of every single paranormal book having a cheesy tag line on the front, such as this one "Love can never die." That's so melodramatic...and I'm pretty sure I've seen virtually the same thing on at least ten other books.

"If I touch a burning candle I can feel no pain
In the ice or in the sun it's all the same
Yet I feel my heart is aching
Though it doesn't beat it's breaking
And the pain here that I feel
Try and tell me it's not real
I know that I am dead
Yet it seems that I still have some tears to shed"

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Top Ten Most Amazing Hour Long Shows

Before anyone gets super disappointed about the best show ever that's missing from this list, please calm down and give me a moment. I have not yet seen every bit of pop culture, even when you restrict pop culture to just good things. I just don't have enough time, or have not had enough time so far. So, if your favorite's missing, comment on the post and let the world know why it rocks your socks. Of course, I may have seen it and disliked it, but you won't know until you try!

Notable items missing from this list include Buffy (which has some episodes that totally would earn the show a spot, if not for the number of less good ones) and Mad Men (which is pretty, but not my favorite, since the characters are all huge jerkfaces - especially you Pete Campbell!).

Things that almost made the list: Six Feet Under (which I've still only seen half of), Castle (which I love pretty much because of the awesome that is Nathan Fillion), Criminal Minds (which is, to my mind, the best of the cop shows...however, I hear that Mandy Patinkin leaves after season 3, which could be a problem), Doctor Who (because I've only seen a few seasons, which I quite enjoyed, but, given how much I haven't seen, I couldn't quite commit to adding it to the list).

10. Coffee Prince

You may be aware that in the last year or so, I have developed a fondness for kdrama. I had to include something from that on the list, and this one is by far my favorite of the ones I have viewed thus far. For those wondering whether kdrama is for you, do be aware that it is as dramatic as you might expect. Still, I love it, because it's kind of like a manga come to life. I love Coffee Prince for its gender bending (a tomboyish girl with short hair is mistaken for a boy and offered a job, so she continues the charade) and for its acceptance of people outside the norm.

9. Star Trek: The Original Series

To be fair, I have not finished watching TOS, but from the amount I have watched, I do know that I get a pretty reliable glee from the show. I have little doubt that The Next Generation is a far better show, but, not having seen it since I was a young child, I did not add it to this list. TOS is cheesy, campy and includes way too much half-naked William Shatner. Still, it just can't be beat. I love this show because of Spock, Bones' antipathy for Spock, and the poor special effects.

8. Dead Like Me

This show may have the best first episode ever. It's two hours long and completely fascinating. Honestly, it's so good that the rest of the show is a little bit of a letdown. However, it is a still a great show and well worth viewing, if only for the amazingness that is Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride for those who somehow do not know). I love this show for Rube, a view of life after death, and George's total deadpan.

7. True Blood

Part of me really cannot tell whether this is actually a good show or whether its a really bad show, but a powerfully entertaining bad show. I somewhat expect the latter, but the amount that I enjoy it necessitated a slot for it here. Of course, I have not yet gotten to watch season four, which I've heard is crazy, even in the context of the show. I love this show for Eric Northman, LGBT inclusion, and for being based on fiction. I do not love this show for Anna Paquin's tooth gap or the way Bill says "Sookie."

6. Gilmore Girls

Recently, I started rewatching this show with a friend and was surprised to discover just how good it is, at least in the early seasons. The dialog really does pop and feel quite natural. The characters are all quirky, funny and strange in a totally believable way. Who doesn't want to live in Stars Hollow after watching this? Unfortunately, the show went downhill later, when the writers decided to change Rory's character, but oh well. I love this show for Lorelai (really, she's fantastic), Sookie and Jackson, and for believing that broody, classics reading boys exist.

5. Eli Stone

What do you get when a lawyer gets a brain aneurysm? Musical numbers that presage future events, of course! I know this may sound weird, and, to be fair, it is, but the show is incredibly amazing and totally sells it. The cast includes Victor Garber, who totally loves singing. I love this show for Maggie Dekker, random musical numbers, theological inquiry and for Jonny Lee Miller (even if he's not speaking in his British accent...such a shame).

4. Veronica Mars

This show convinced me, falsely, that Kristen Bell can do no wrong. Because of her tiny adorable badassness here, I have watched innumerable unfortunate movies and continue to watch Gossip Girl to this day. That's how amazing Veronica Mars is. Kristen Bell plays a teenage sleuth, who solves a ton of small crimes and some seriously terrifying ones, like the murder of her best friend. Warning: the third season is not as good as the first two. I love this show for Backup, the theme song (We Used to Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols), the reference to the theme song in one episode, Logan Echolls, and her dad.

3. Pushing Daisies

What brought me to this show was Lee Pace, who is an incredibly adorable nerd, despite his rather gigantic eyebrows. The cast is fantastic, also including Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Ellen Greene Swoosie Kurtz and Kristin Chenoweth. Additionally, the show is incredibly beautiful and reminds me somewhat in its intros of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I love this show for Lee Pace, Digby, The Pie Hole (esp. its pie crust roof), nerdy jokes, cup pies, musical numbers and a Wonderfalls reference (Muffin Buffalo).

I have a tie for first place, because two shows have an equal part of my affection. Without further ado, two of the most amazing shows of all time!

1. One Tree Hill

The drama, the thirty year olds masquerading as high school students, the people getting married and reproducing way too young, the affairs, the backstabbing, the basketball. This really is the perfect show.

Or not. Did you believe that? If you did, for shame. Here are the real winners.

1. Wonderfalls

One of the most underrated shows of all time, Wonderfalls is unfamiliar to even some seriously hardcore nerds. Many thanks to my good friend Caleb, who I'm pretty sure was the one to introduce this show to me. I will not endeavor to explain the plot at all, because that tends to put people off. Suffice it to say that is incredibly well-written and quotable. I especially recommend this show to folks who enjoyed either Eli Stone or Pushing Daisies. I love this show for the wax lion, mace but no connection, the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel...and live, 'sodes, Aaron and Majandra, cow creamers, and incredibly clever, sometimes subtle jokes.

1. Firefly

My love for this show knows no bounds. Every time I watch it, my love for it increases. Once, someone tried to tell me that Buffy was a better show; though I love that person, I have to say that she is incredibly wrong on this one point. If you're a Joss Whedon fan and have not seen Firefly, get on that right now. Ditto science fiction fans. Ditto all nerds. I love this show for the theme song, Zoe and Wash's relationship, Kaylee's combination of innocence and horniness, Vera, Inara's clothing, pretty floral bonnets, dystopian elements, and the entire cast being perfect.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Persephone - Third Eye Blind

The Goddess Test
The Goddess Test, Book 1

Author: Aimée Carter
Pages: 293
ARC Acquired from: HarlequinTeen via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Kate Winters does not want to face the future, a future without her mom. Above and beyond the mom thing, her mother is also her best friend. Kate doesn't know what she'll do when her mother finally succumbs to the disease ravaging her insides. During her last days of life, her mom requested a return to her hometown, Eden, MI. Although Kate hates to leave New York City, she would do anything for her mother, except face a future without her. As soon as she moves to Eden, Kate's life starts taking a turn for the different and strange when the popular girl at school tries to trick her and ends up dying in front of her. Thankfully, a mysterious stranger named Henry brings her back to life, in exchange for Kate spending six months a year with him...

I really do not know why I did not read this book sooner! I've had an ARC copy of it for a while now and just didn't have a chance to get to it, but, had I known how good it would be, I would likely have bumped it up the queue. While the book wasn't perfect, as I had some concerns with the pacing, I wholly enjoyed reading every page.

First of all, my one complaint: the pacing. This may be an issue that has been resolved in the print version, but, as I read an ARC, I cannot say. In this version, a few times the plot seemed to jump from one point in time to another without warning, as though a scene were missing. One example I remember off of the top of my head is that Kate receives a puppy and then, in the next chapter, a dog named Pogo is mentioned, without any mention having been made of the puppy being named Pogo. I figured it out, but it was a bit clunky.

The writing was fantastic, though. I really enjoyed the characters and the story line, even though it was rather strange. So far, Aimée Carter is doing something really new and I'm loving it. The ending of the book was totally not what I was expecting and I have some serious questions. I really wish I knew someone else who had finished this, so that we could discuss the book's conclusion!

If you love mythology, don't miss this YA romance!

"I pushed away a summer breeze
I want the promise of a real spring

Free and born again

Help me

Old emotions are coming back to me"

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Volcano - The Presidents of the United States of America

Ashfall, Book 1

Author: Mike Mullin
Pages: 456
ARC Acquired from: Tanglewood via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
When the supervolcano underneath Yellowstone explodes, ash falls for days and days. Some bits of burning matter were flung as far as Iowa, where it hit Alex's house. He's lucky to escape alive and lucky that his parents and sister were away from home when it happened. Of course, he still has the difficulty of surviving the noise, the lack of food, the ash, the plummeting temperatures, and the dangers of other people all out for themselves. Can Alex survive to find his family?

For those of you who don't know, there really is a gigantic supervolcano underneath Yellowstone. This is one of many ways the world could (as we know it) could end, according to me highly optimistic Intro to Geology professor. So, in case you feel like all of that sounds preposterous, you may want to think again. I cannot verify the accuracy of the details, but the volcano is definitely real.

This definitely falls into the realm of shit goes to hell really, really quickly. In some ways, I question that. How could all of the food everywhere pretty much been claimed within a matter of days, especially given how difficult it was to move around? I mean, maybe that's realistic, but, goodness, how can anyone survive that?

Whatever concerns I may have about certain story elements, it certainly makes an excellent dystopia, especially since, despite the terrifying, it was really amusing to think back to geology. Also awesome was the fact that, even though the weather and all that is certainly bad, the real danger after the initial volcanic onslaught, is definitely other people. Trusting anyone is tough, since most people would rather kill you and take your food than look at you; some might even just eat you.

When the second book in the series comes out, I will definitely be reading it, to find out more about Alex and Darla, whether his parents survived and whether anyone can possibly live through this business. Recommended especially to people who liked Life as We Knew It. This is so much better and so much darker.

"It's in there flowin'... it's in there growin'
You don't believe me... that this scenery
Could be a cold blooded killer

It's gonna blow... Volcano
It's gonna blow... Volcano
It's gonna blow... Volcano"

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Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm Not That Girl - Idina Menzel

Leviathan, Book 1

Scott Westerfeld
Pages: 496
ARC Acquired from: Simon & Schuster @ ALA 2010

Brief Summary:
The Leviathan arrives in Istanbul (not Constantinople) only to discover that the Germans are controlling pretty much everything happening in the city, except for the rioting. The diplomats try to do their thing and convince the Ottomans that the British are better allies than those clankers or, if that doesn't work, to win the ensuing conflict. Meanwhile, Alec and his men are trying to escape the ship, fearing that their welcome will soon run out, despite having only done the best they could for the Leviathan. Dylan is doing well in her role as an airman, but struggles with her inner woman, who has fallen really hard for Alec...who will be leaving soon and is totally out of her league anyway, what with being a prince.

Scott Westerfeld writes some really strange stuff, some of which I love and totally want to high five him for. Others, though, I have been less impressed by. The Uglies series was interesting, but also highly frustrating to me. I loved his short story in Zombies vs. Unicorns and I really enjoyed Leviathan, the precursor to this book, although I was not sure whether that joy stemmed from Westerfeld's talent or Alan Cummings' as I listened to the audiobook version.

Having finished Behemoth, read on old-fashioned paper, I have to say that I really do like some of Westerfeld's stuff. His writing may not especially impress me, but he does have a crazy mind full of fantastic ideas. Of course, some of those ideas don't pan out (or so I've heard about what happens in Peeps). Anyway, I'm still totally digging this completely ridiculous and delightful revisionist history.

One nice thing about not having the audiobook, even if I do miss Cummings' vocal stylings, was getting to see the illustrations. They're really awesome and definitely a nice spice for the eyes (if you've read the book, you know what I did there).

Unlike the Uglies series, I also really like the characters, except for Dr. Barlow, who I still find annoying. Alek is a bit stodgy, but generally a nice kid, suffering only from his rather unique upbringing. Dylan is an awesome girl, who does not let mooning over a boy stop her from being a badass; she can moon and be a badass at the same time. My new favorite character, without a doubt, is Bovril, a perceptive new beastie.

If you enjoyed the first installment, you will not be disappointed by this one, unless you wanted more than five pages of the title beastie. Next up is the final book in the series. I am so ready!

"Don't dream too far
Don't lose sight of who you are

Don't remember that rush of joy

He could be that boy

I'm not that girl"

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The Perseus Chronicles, Chapter 4

Cat in a Box

I am proud to report that I have clearly passed my love of books onto my lil' darling. I went to a library book sale and came home with a box o' books, as is my wont. Perseus felt compelled to check out the contents of the box, surely to look at the titles rather than smell the smells. I am positive that's what he was doing.

Sniffing out a good bargain

Okay, so maybe he was just sniffing the books. Fine. Apparently, the best/most interesting smelling book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which seems somewhat appropriate.

Of course, boxes are also good for other things. Like hiding.

"You can't see me. I blend."

Percy's huge ears are a bit of a detriment when it comes to being all sneaky. He always thinks I can't see him, but they always loom up from behind his hiding place. Otherwise, he blends into the box pretty well. What's really funny is when he hides behind things much smaller than he is. Hopefully, I can nab a picture of that one of these days.

"I can pounce you from here. Don't think I can't."


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Trees Were Mistaken - Andrew Bird

Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest

Author: Amos Oz
Pages: 134
ARC Acquired from: Harcourt Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
There is a small town, much like other towns, except for one thing: there are no animals (except for humans). No bees buzz around the plants, no fish swim in the river and no wolves howl at the moon. All of the animals left, taken by the mountain demon Nehi. Everyone in the town just ignores the curse that has come over them, pretending they don't remember how things used to be. Except for some of the children, who sometimes think they hear or see an animal.

Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest reads like a folk tale/fairy tale, and actually frequently reminded me of a number of other stories, although it never actually turned into any of them. At one point, there was a clear reference to Persephone, for example. I expected a bit more fairy tale than folk tale, I guess, so I was a bit surprised to find it without a neat ending tied up in a bow.

The story is well-written and clever. I love stories about animals, even in their absence. Can you imagine a town with nothing but people? Ugh! Of course, I wouldn't mind getting rid of, say, all the cockroaches. What do they do anyway? And, given that I'm petrified of bees, I wouldn't mind them being gone either, except for the flowers and the honey. But kittens and dogs and horses and goats and everything? And beef and chicken and pork?

What the story seems mostly to be about is not so much the absence of the animals, but the way people react to the lack. In some ways, this seems to be a study of human nature, of hubris and curiosity, of bravery and fear, of cruelty and friendship. Really, the story doesn't fit into a particular box and is told in a somewhat atypical manner. I enjoyed this brief tale, and think it conveys an interesting message, although I think it's up to the reader whether the message is positive or negative.

P.S. About today's song. Andrew Bird is not always the most clear in his enunciation, so I was not able to locate or discern certain lyrics for this song. Nevertheless, I feel like he has the perfect feel for this book: nature, darkness, a bit of hope, and some craziness.

P.P.S. Although I usually post a picture from the cover I have, I'm not this time, because I like this cover so much better. Good change!

"This is a story, some kind of a story
This is a story about about a boy and girl,
A girl and a boy, a boy."

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

O Mio Babbino Caro - Puccini

Queens of All the Earth

Author: Hannah Sternberg
Pages: 126
ARC Acquired from: Bancroft Press via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
This novella, as I suppose the brief lengths makes it, is a modernist retelling of A Room with a View by E. M. Forster. The tale focuses on two sisters (as opposed to cousins in the original), one older (Miranda) and tightly-wound, one younger (Olivia) and breaking down, afraid at the impending loss of her childhood as she prepares to begin her freshman year of college. In deference to Olivia's mental state, the family decides to have her defer her acceptance to Cornell for a year, during which time she and Miranda take a week-long trip to Spain, where, in their hostel, they meet a cast of characters who greatly impact the girls' lives.

A Room with a View is my favorite movie of all time (to date at least) and one of my favorite books, so when I saw a book on NetGalley that was all about it, I knew that it had to be. Retellings can be quite a tricky business, because, while the author needs to do something original, they also need to stay true to the nature of the original story. Sternberg has done a good job here, although clearly much has been changed, particularly the time line and the additional focus on Miranda.

Sternberg decided to change all of the names, although some are quite similar. The story, however, can easily be compared to that of A Room with a View. Certain scenes are nearly exactly the same as those in the original, even though, all in all, the story takes a rather different trajectory and the soul searching is needed for entirely different reasons.

There were two huge changes from the original novel. 1) There was no Cecil. Everything gets wrapped up, to the degree that things are 'wrapped up' during the time frame of the trip, whereas in the original Lucy Honeychurch (now Olivia) goes home after her trip and tries to continue living as she used to, despite having been changed by her experiences in Italy (not Spain). 2) The character of Mr. Beebe is re-envisioned as Marc Castillo, a handsome young man preparing to take orders. Marc is in no way the same character as Mr. Beebe, although I cannot say why in deference to spoilers.

Overall, I definitely approve of what Sternberg has done here, even if I do miss some of the elements she cut and find her chapter titles a bit over the top. Ultimately, she keeps much of the spirit of the original, particularly in the characters of the Browns and Miranda (it's nice to see more depth into the Charlotte character). Lenny, too, is spot on for her counterpart, although I never did like her much. This is a brief, romantic story about two young women trying to find themselves in a beautiful, foreign landscape. Lovers of A Room with a View will likely appreciate this adaptation for its heart and obvious love for the original.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Time Trap - Built to Spill

The Revisionists

Author: Thomas Mullen
Pages: 402
ARC Acquired from: Mulholland Books via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
In the Perfect Present, people have even attained the ability to travel backwards in time. Of course, with this power comes great responsibility, namely that of preventing revisionists from changing history, thus changing the present. Such is the job of Zed, or Z. His current job is set in Washington D.C., where he is masquerading as Troy Jones, a missing man, who has a similar back story to that of Z. Z must prevent the hags, the people trying to change history, from preventing a major disaster.

Were it not for my current goal of reading every dystopia ever, or at least the first in a series should it be a series, I would have stopped reading this book. From the very beginning, I found it boring, heavy-handed, and completely improbably. Not only that, but confusing to. The opening chapters alternate between the perspective of Z and a selection of other characters, who, for the first hundred or so pages meant little to me and were hard to distinguish and remember.

The book did get better once Z had less chapters and the other characters became more familiar, but I never ever liked it. For one thing, I'm really not into political thrillers, of which this is most definitely one. If that's up your alley, you may want to go for this, despite my bad opinion or, perhaps, because of it.

I mentioned that the story struck me as improbably, which may seem strange from a person who just eats up all the latest paranormal nonsense and loves everything fantasy/sci fi. Here's the thing. I think if someone's going to write a book or make a movie on time travel, they have to be really careful explaining how that's possible. This story did not do that. You pretty much have to have the characters travel to another dimension/time stream or have to make the declaration that everything happens as it did in the past, because your future was in the past. Mullen did not do this. They were capable of changing the past, and likely did frequently. That just doesn't work, at least not with more of an explanation.

The one thing I really did like about the book was the interweaving between Troy Jones and Z. He finds himself become very bound up in his cover, and, in some ways, indistinguishable. This added a really cool psychological element to the story. Only, if I had written this, I would have ended the story on an awesome twist, rather than a boring logical conclusion to the ridiculous plot he wrote. It would have been so much cooler were it just about Z being crazy.

"It's barely yours on loan
What you think you own
The place that you call home
The ideas in your bones
In your bones

This would still feel dumb
Back where you're from
Do you want to change your mind?
Do you want to change your mind?

'Cause you could never know that
In a time trap
In a time trap"

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20th Century Boy -T-Rex

20th Century Boys

Author: Naoki Urasawa
Volumes: 22
Publisher: VIZ Media

Brief Summary:
A new political party/religious cult has arisen in Japan, worshiping the mysterious "Friend," who wears a mask and can bend spoons with his mind. He can even beat death. One day, Kenji, a dreamer and rock-and-roller stuck taking care of his missing sister's daughter and running the family store, realizes that "Friend" has been using a childhood symbol made up by himself and his close friends when they were kids. Not only that, but "Friend" plans to unleash destruction on the world and take over what remains, following a plot devised in their childhood secret fort. Only they, much older now, can stop him and only if they all band together. Who is "Friend" and can he be stopped?

A good friend recommended this manga to me about two years ago. I made a half-hearted attempt to read it, but swiftly gave up. That was definitely my loss. Now, having read through the whole thing, I can honestly avow that this rather length series is definitely worth the time to read, although I can see why I had a couple of false starts with it before getting through.

20th Century Boys did not grab me right off, and, given the construction of the story, I don't think that's particularly surprising. For many people, you may need to tough it out through a volume or two before becoming completely enraptured by the complicated and terrifying story. The reason it's difficult to get into is primarily the shifts in time. There are a lot of characters to get to know in several different time periods. At first, the constant jumps from the past to the present are exceedingly confusing and startling. Eventually, you do get used to them though.

Urasawa does some really interesting things in the way he built the story. There were a number of plot turns I did not see coming. At points where it felt like the story might end, you suddenly realize that the story goes so much deeper and gets so much more intense. Nor did they feel like off-the-wall changes, made only so that he can keep the story going. Urasawa definitely knew what he was doing; you have to in order to pull of so much interweaving and such a complicated tale.

Earlier, I mentioned that this manga was terrifying. To clarify, it's not a horror story so much as a dystopia, and a vision of just how evil young kids can be. This whole, incredibly successful scheme for world domination was created by a group of young boys, bored during the summer. Plus, there's the cultishness of the "Friend" group to add to the general horror.

For those who enjoy dystopias or shocking, twist-turning story lines that span generations, you will not want to miss this. Do not give up on it; trust the recommendation that my friend gave me better than I did.

"Friends say it's fine, friends say it's good"

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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Perseus Chronicles, Chapter 3

They Grow Up So Fast, Don't They

Today's picture of my little Mr. Perseus is intended to show how big he has gotten. Ignore me as much as possible. Note though how huge he is! Last Monday, he got neutered. He's around six months old now. What a big boy!

"Mom, what are you doing? You crazy. Put me down!"

He weighs somewhere around ten pounds and has big paws, ears and eyes. Unfortunately, the snipping has not calmed him down all that much, as I was told it might. He still wants to play pretty much all of the time.

Since I didn't post any pics last week. Here's a bonus pic of my little attention hound. He's sniffing my camera case.

"Pay attention to me!"


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tristan and Iseult - Tarkio

Tris & Izzie

Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Pages: 272
ARC Acquired from: Egmont USA via NetGalley

Brief summary:
In this modernization of Tristan and Isolde, the famed characters are in high school and they don't like each other much. Izzie already has a boyfriend for one thing and does not appreciate Tris' evident interest in her. Well, she doesn't like it until she accidentally drinks a love philtre and falls in love with him. Oops! And what's up with her best friend not telling her who she likes? And why are these weird creatures attacking her all of a sudden?

What a complete disappointment this book was. I loved her series that began with The Princess and the Bear. Where, I wonder, is the depth and complexity of that story? Perhaps I should have read more of the summary than the author's name and that it was a modernization of a legend. At that, I was sold...and convinced that the book had to be awesome. Plus, pretty cover.

Unfortunately, from the first this book held nothing but disappointment. Honestly, not a thing did I approve of. Perhaps the modernization was done well, but I actually cannot say in that regard because, despite all of my studies of Arthurian legend, I have never actually read the story of Tristan and Isolde, nor did I even watch the movie version with James Franco.

WARNING: The rest of this review contains spoilers.

Why did I dislike this book so much? Well, for one thing, the characters are completely vapid and one-dimensional, their behavior unrealistic. The story consists of two love triangles, with Izzie's best friend Branna in love with Izzie's boyfriend Mark and Izzie falling for the new guy, Tristan. Feelings change. That's fine. What's not fine is that Izzie, once in love with Tristan, does not break up with Mark. She wants to keep him, but that doesn't stop her from making out with Tristan. What a completely awful person.

Furthermore, the truth of Izzie's feelings is brought to light in a completely awkward scene, wherein she and Branna both take a truth potion and confess their feelings for the boys in the story. Let's not forget that accomplishing this little drama apparently required that Branna make out with a completely disgusting guy she didn't like first.

This gets even weirder post-confession time when everyone is totally cool with it. Even though Izzie wanted to keep Mark for herself, she is suddenly encouraging Mark and Branna to make out in front of her, which they do. AND EVERYONE'S COOL WITH IT. lol whut? Not to mention that Branna does a complete 180 from saying during the truth serum debacle that she both loves and hates Tristan in equal measure to being in disgusting, pancake syrupy, unquestioning true love with him. The two couples are immediate besties and there is no awkwardness. No, I am not making this up, but for some reason, someone did.

The plot, too, lacks inspiration. The battle scenes are completely pathetic and contrived. Our heroine never learns how to properly use her magic. Mostly, she just swaps sappy lines with her boyfriend. The big bad is defeated abruptly and with, in the grand scheme of things, little effort. Then, even though Tristan's injured, they spend a night not doing anything and wait to travel in the morning. That sure gave me a sense of urgency as to whether he would be all right. Oh wait, it didn't.

I highly recommend reading The Princess and the Bear and not judging Mette Ivie Harrison off of this subpar work.

"That story's pretty old.
It's a bit clichéd and hackneyed, I thought"

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Not a Robot, But a Ghost - Andrew Bird

Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant
Pages: 412
ARC Acquired from: Candlewick

Steampunk is a fun genre, one I have begun to explore with excitement. While I have not loved all of the steampunk novels I have read to this point, I have uniformly enjoyed the idea behind them, the out-of-place mechanization accepted as normal in an otherwise old-fashioned society. What attracts me most to this, I expect, is the similarity between steampunk and magical realism, the only difference being that the magic lies in the technology.

With such thoughts in mind, I was eager to read this anthology, particularly considering that some authors I already enjoy contributed stories, such as M. T. Anderson, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray and Cory Doctorow. In fact, these authors cap the anthology. It begins with the stories by the three I listed last and ends with M. T. Anderson's tale.

Despite what should have been a strong beginning, I found the start of the anthology utterly tedious. I did actually Clare's, Bray's and Doctorow's stories, but none of them blew me away. Then, the next four stories I found to be completely awful, the anthology not picking up in quality again until Kelly Link's story, which, while interesting, really did not seem like steampunk so much as science fiction or fantasy, depending upon where the summer people came from.

The latter half of the anthology, though, was totally satisfactory. I enjoyed all of the stories but the graphic novel Finishing School. Speaking of the comics included (Finishing School and Seven Days Beset by Demons), why were they so awful? I love that comics were included and applaud the blending of formats, but really think they could have found something better. Seven Days Beset by Demons was by far the worst story in the anthology, for it lacked plot, carried a heavy-handed religious bent and did not particularly smack of steampunk. Epic fail.

The best stories, in my opinion, were "Steam Girl" by Dylan Horrocks, "Everything Amiable and Obliging" by Holly Black, and "The Oracle Engine" by M. T. Anderson, the final three stories in the anthology. I must admit I am a bit biased against most of the others, because I quickly tired of reading the poor grammar of western characters, who say things like "I done seen them people." No thanks.

If you hate that all steampunk takes place in Victorian England and want to see where else it can be set, then you'll enjoy this wide range of interpretations (although personally, I found the ones in a modern setting a bit odd). Be prepared to slog through a couple of long stories that you might not be especially interested in. Or just skip those and move on.

"I hear the clockwork in your core
Time strips the gears till you forget what they were for"

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Books Made into Movies: The Republic of Love

I read and reviewed The Republic of Love just a few months back. Even so, my memory is such that I only remember the overarching story and am a bit hazy on the details. Thus, I cannot speak to anything but general points on how well this book was adapted.

I just love this banner.

The biggest problem, one that there really was no escaping, was that I just don't care for the guy they cast as Tom. He lacks some of the verve I expected from Tom and I also pictured Tom as being a bit more youthful. He's in his forties, but does he have to look every day of it? Fay, on the other hand, is completely lovely. She is adorable and could totally do way better than both Tom and her prior boyfriend. Then again, she is obsessed with mermaids.

His face is ugly, but at least he's in shape...

Speaking of the mermaids, there isn't much speaking of mermaids in the film version. The reason for cutting all of the information on her scholarly endeavors is an obvious one, but does make the film more of an out and out romance, rather than a women's fiction kind of deal similar to the work of Barbara Kingsolver and the like.

Here's why they cut the mermaid stuff: it's really creepy.

From a plot point of view, this film was pretty true to the book, from what I recall. Some of the elements seemed a bit disjointed, and I doubt I would have understood them, had I not vaguely remembered what was happening from having read the book. An example of this is Fay's relationship with Onion. The story made a decent film, but not one I see being popular with most viewers.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Know - Save Ferris

Eve, Book 1

Author: Anna Carey
Pages: 279
ARC Acquired from: HarperTeen via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Eve is the top of her class, about to graduate as the valedictorian in her girls' only school. After that, she hopes to be an artist. A bright future awaits her. Or does it? The class troublemaker, Arden, asserts that no good awaits them after graduation. Even though Eve doesn't really believe that, she feels compelled to check. She sneaks out to take a look at the college building and discovers what horrors it truly contains: women do not get further education, rather they become baby factories. Now, Eve just has to get out and try to avoid the dangers of men.

Undoubtedly, the most terrifying dystopias for me personally are the ones that involve the role of women in society after a calamity. Eve falls in with the like of Wither, The Handmaid's Tale, and Bumped. If reproductivity suffers, if a large segment of the population dies in some horrific event, if people are dying off younger, then women quickly lose the status they fought for decades to accomplish and become property, needed only to push out babies.

This subset of dystopias is terrifying largely because it requires very little suspension of disbelief to imagine such things coming to pass should something catastrophic occur. For all that women are much more equal now, I have no doubt that our position would not revert back to slavery and breeding chattel swiftly if that was viewed as the only way to save mankind from extinction. What's worse is that on some level, that response does make sense. What if that really was the only way for mankind to survive? I like to think there would be other ways, but what if there weren't? Is it worth it?

In Eve, the population was decimated by a plague. Many perished, including Eve's mother. Orphans, of which there were many, were gathered up and put into schools and educated until they were old enough to be of use one way or another. In Eve's school, she and her classmates are taught about the evil ways of men, of how they only want one thing and of the dangers of falling in love. They teach these lessons with examples from literature, such as Romeo and Juliet and Anna Karenina.

For the most part, this was a really interesting read, although I did find my attention waning as I got further into the story. There was a lot of running around and not a lot of plot advancement. One weird thing was a scene where Eve mentioned that she didn't remember the date of her birthday, although she did remember her mom singing a birthday song to her. Eve was young when the plague hit and she went into the school, where birthdays were not celebrated, but what kid does not remember their birthday? I mean, come on. If she was old enough at the time to have such clear memories of her mom, then she would totally remember when her birthday was.

All in all, a decent dystopian read and a chilling view of how quickly the status of women could fall. I sure hope nothing like this comes to pass.

"My mama said to stay from guys like you.
She said they were nasty make me do things I don't wanna do
Stay away from bad boys they've got one thing on their mind
Their hormones are raging and they want it all the time"

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Books Made Into Movies: Practical Magic

I first saw Practical Magic not too long after it came out, although that viewing was not especially memorable. While I liked the movie, it didn't make much of an impression on me and, overall, I thought it was kind of silly. Then one night during my high school years, I watched it at about 2 AM and I was in the precise mood to watch it. Ever since, it has been dear to me.

Just from looking at the cover,
you can tell that it's kind of a bad movie...

As a movie, Practical Magic is a bit silly, a bit romantic and a bit scary. It's a good one for the period right before Halloween, a nice blend of comedic absurdity and drama. Plus witches. As an adaptation of the novel, the writers clearly took some liberties. Many, many alterations were made to the story, although the overarching drama of what to do with the body of Gillian's ex remains mostly the same.

The casting was pretty good, except that Gillian was supposed to be blonde.
Oh well. She acts like one.

The rest of this post will essentially be detailing the main changes made in adapting the book to film format. There will be some spoilers for the book, so I would recommend reading the book first, if you care.
  • While it is true that Gillian and Sally were picked on as children, they became quite popular when they got to the age where kids start dating, because they're beautiful. This didn't happen so much in the movie.
  • As children, Sally and Gillian vow never to fall in love. In the movie, Sally even goes so far to do a spell to make herself fall in love only with an impossible man, one that can't exist, thus making it impossible for her to meet him. This does not happen in the book at all.

If I am the perfect man, why am I so ugly?
  • In the book, there are no midnight margaritas, which are the most awesome part of the film.

My friends and I actually do this. The question is:
why are we not doing this right now?!?

  • Sally's first husband was not magicked up for her by the aunts, as claimed in the movie.
  • Only the aunts really seem to do any actual magic. Most of the rest seems to be incidental. In the movie, however, they all do spells and actively have magical powers.

But at least in the movie, they can have one heck of a party with a corpse!
  • The movie takes place almost entirely in the environs of the Aunts' house. However, in the book, Sally moves out and lives in a different state after the death of her first husband.
  • In the movie, Sally's kids are young, both probably under 10; in the book, the youngest is 13.
  • The Jimmy plot line was all accurate, up to the point where his spirit inhabits Gillian's body.

They probably added this so they could make sweaty Nicole Kidman writhe on the floor.

While a lot of changes were made, I do think the movie stays fairly true to the spirit of the novel. I really think the main departure in meaning they made was in having the magic be so much more of an intentional thing, rather than magic realism.

Btws, this never happens. What is this?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives - Voxtrot

Practical Magic

Author: Alice Hoffman
Pages: 286
Publisher: Berkley Books

Of the three Alice Hoffman books I have read, this one is by far the best. Those familiar with the movie may expect the book to be a romance, and that is an aspect of it, but what the book is really about is family and, even more specifically, sisterhood. Though the book focuses on Sally and Gillian, the reader also learns details from the lives of the aunts and of Sally's two daughters. The connections between these three sets of sisters are vastly different, but all completely necessary and strong, even if it sometime takes a while for them to realize the importance of the connection or value one another entirely.

As with the other Alice Hoffman books I have read thus far, I was not particularly connected to any of the characters. They always seem to have a real distance to them that I cannot bridge. The result is that I never bond with them. Often, this ruins books for me, as characterization is the first thing I look for in a book. Of course, this is not to say that the characters in Practical Magic are not interesting, because they are, but that they did not take up a special residence in my heart as I read.

What drew me into the novel above all was the language and the magic. The diction and syntax in this novel has a simple beauty to it that I very much appreciated. This style worked perfectly in conjunction with the magic woven through the novel, especially since the magic was done in a very magical realism sort of way. Most of the magic done is not in spells, but in just making use of natural laws; much of it isn't intentional, rather it just is. This book reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen's, so, if you liked those, definitely give Practical Magic a read. I even wonder if this book may have been an influence on Allen.

Practical Magic is a lovely story for those who want to believe that magic exists in the world and that true love may just be out there, although it may not be that easy to find or keep.

"And if you see this world as ugly and thin
Then you'll be so cruel to the touch, you'll leap out the body you're in
To a land of angry soil, that swallows boys and cops or men
I've seen you taste the salt of your tears
You always stop when you start, and listen, you would be smart
To keep yourself in a world of mothers, sisters, daughters and wives"

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Forever Young - Rod Stewart

The Postmortal

Drew Magary
ARC Acquired from: Penguin

Brief Summary:

In 2019, a researcher stumbles across the cure for aging by accident while trying to figure out how to change hair color for good, because he wants to stop being a ginger. That's right. He cured aging. Of course, lots of people are really excited about this and go get the cure, even though its illegal. Others see it as the worst thing ever to happen to humanity and set out to prevent anyeone from reaping the benefits of it. One thing's for sure: being able to freeze the aging process at will has more consequences than anyone bargained for.

What an amazing book! Everyone knows I love dystopias, so imagine me doing a happy dance at finding a really great one. What I loved about this book was that Magary took such a philosophical view of the subject, considering the myriad reactions to and consequences of such a scientific breakthrough.

For example, people nowadays like to blather about the state of the family and all of that jazz, but imagine if everyone lived forever...could you make a marriage last indefinitely? When large changes happen, particularly dramatic ones, people turn to religion, so mightn't a new religion form? Because there are less deaths but the births aren't stopping, overpopulation is liable to become a huge problem. This might lead to harsher punishments for criminals, especially considering that it's one thing for the state to pay for life in prison for 60 some years and another to pay for what could be hundreds of years. Magary considers all of these issues and so many more...and I loved every minute of it.

The book starts with a frame story, a brief memo dated 2093, in which it is explained that the rest of the book consists of what are essentially diary entries by a man named John Farrell. These entries are intended to show why the cure can never be legalized. Starting the book off this way is a really interesting move, since it means that the reader has a good amount of knowledge of the ending at the beginning. This could seriously backfire, but it certainly didn't for me. Actually, the only thing I would change about it adding a brief frame story note to the end of the file as well.

I really want to see more from Drew Magary in the hopefully not too distant future, either later on in the post-postmortal society or some other fictional world entirely. If you love a book that makes you think or want something to incite some discussion in your book club, do not miss this one!

"And when you finally fly away
I'll be hoping that I served you well
For all the wisdom of a lifetime
No one can ever tell"

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Books Made Into Movies: Wuthering Heights

The Masterpiece Theater Version (2009)

Before its expiration date on Netflix Watch Instantly, I made time to watch the Masterpiece Theater adaptation of the novel. I read the book during my junior year of college (for fun) and, despite almost all of the characters being completely despicable people, I really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and the story quite dramatic.

See. Look at those dramatic faces. Heathcliff has an excellent pout.

This adaptation, from what my pathetic memory can recall, does a really good job sticking to most of the salient points. The characters, for the most part, look just like what I had imagined them to, although I imagined Linton the elder being more sickly and ugly, but oh well. Heathcliff and Catherine did a great job, especially.

It's hard to hate Andrew Lincoln after his cuteness in Love Actually.

The biggest difference I noticed between the book and the movie is that they removed the frame story with the man who moves into the neighboring house and is told this story. Getting rid of this is a really good choice, because it really adds nothing to the tale and would likely just be boring and confusing for the film's audience.

Honestly, the reason I know they changed things, though I know not what, is that most of the characters were at least a little bit sympathetic at times, which they super were not in the novel. I'm pretty sure they glossed over a lot of the completely awful things Heathcliff did, especially as a child, instead focusing on the way he was abused by the other guy.

This movie ALMOST made me ship them.
But then I remember the crazy.

I am sure other things are missing, but, all in all, it seemed like a really good adaptation. It runs just about two and a half hours.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gravity Rides Everything - Modest Mouse

Practical Jean

Trevor Cole
Pages: 230
ARC Acquired from: HarperPerennial via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
Jane Vale Horemarsh has come to a startling revelation: Friends should not let friends grow old. This realization came to her in the wake of her mother's death, which came after three months of suffering and helplessness, during which time Jean had to care for her constantly. Jean has seen what happens to the human body when it gets old and now considers herself required, as a good friend, to save her friends from this fate...by killing them now.

For fans of black comedy, this novel is just about perfect. Of course, black comedy doesn't appeal to everyone; certainly, it did not appeal to me when I was younger. Now, however, I find that I quite enjoy dark humor. Basically, if you find the description to be amusing and want to read more, then you'll quite enjoy the book.

Jean, of course, is crazy. What else could one possibly expect of someone stuck with the last name of 'Horemarsh?' Cole does a great job of making her brand of craziness believable. He sets up that this idea and her hardness is not coming from nowhere. Her past enables her to do what most people, even those who agreed with her that it would be a mercy killing, would never be able to do.

The cast of characters is lively and quirky, each one providing elements of humor. Here's a sample of the kind of dark humor you can expect: one of her friends betrays her, and as punishment, she does not have the honor of being killed. As I said, dark humor. If you think that's awesome, do yourself a favor and read this!

P.S. Before you start thinking Jean was onto something, please let me recommend instead Natalie's (one of Jean's friends) brand of friendship: "What says 'love' like a chocolate cupcake?"

"It all will fall, fall right into place
As fruit drops, flesh it sags

Everything will fall right into place

When we die, some sink and some lay

But at least I don't see you float away"

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