Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, the first in a trilogy

Ever since I picked up a copy of The Eyre Affair at a used bookstore in Chicago, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Jasper Fforde. Now on my second copy of The Eyre Affair (the first was lent and never returned) and with an addiction to the audio versions of his books as well, I hunger when I hear of a new publication.

I have been looking forward to Shades of Grey ever since the teaser went up on Fforde’s website. Unfortunately, the publication date was released, delayed, delayed again, and then finally established (of course, no matter when the release date is, it is always too far away). Lucky for me, the appearance of an advanced reader’s copy at the bookstore I work at meant no more waiting.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fforde’s work, he has written the Thursday Next series, the Nursery Crimes series, and now, Shades of Grey (the first in a trilogy). If you haven’t read Fforde before, start with the Thursday Next novels, move to Nursery Crime, an then pick up the newest. While Thursday Next is certainly my favorite, Fforde’s bizarre worlds and witty British humor are enjoyable in each of his series. Enough of this chatter- on to Shades of Grey.

Shades of Grey starts off slowly. Fforde’s new world is complex and confusing and it takes a good quarter of the book to establish an understanding of world and how it works. This initial section sets up the entirety of the book and if you hang in there, you will be rewarded. Fforde’s new world is wonderful; it has amazing potential which I hope will be reached in the sequels now that the whole messy business of explaining things is over.

The protagonist, Eddie Russett, is a fine, upstanding young man who truly wants the best for people. While he is not the sharpest tack in the tin, he understands the purpose of rules and governments, and how they can be used or abused. His easy going and generally genial nature allows him to befriend a host of individuals. Jane balances him well. She is smart, knowledgeable, volatile, and emotional. Together they create a dynamic pair who you hope will succeed in their plans (which I will not reveal to you).

With an intricate new world, endearing characters, and a political problem to be solved, Shades of Grey is a novel exploring the evils and corruption of governments and societies. But this intense science-fiction is tempered by Fforde’s delightful humor, so even those fictioneers who scoff at utopian novels may find something to love.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance

Candle Man, book one of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin

Take superpowers, old school detecting, and secret societies and throw a superhero into the mix and what do you get? Candle Man, book one of the Society of Unrelenting Vigilance.

As one might gather from the description above, the story is rather ridiculous and yet author Glenn Dakin takes his story very seriously- a bit too seriously to be truly enjoyable.

Young Theo has spent his life in Empire Hall. His life is completely controlled by Dr. Saint, who ensures that Theo receives ‘treatments’ for his ‘condition. Is Theo really sick? Or does he have otherworldly powers? When he escapes from the house, his adventures include strange creatures, superheros, and super villains, all with a slightly steampunk flair.

While the novel is entertaining, Theo isn’t likable enough to carry the story- his sympathies with the bad guys, while an attempt at depth and reality, are out of place in a character who is, as a child, susposed to smarter than adults and a superhero to boot.

With other mysterious series available (Series of Unfortunate Events, the Sisters Grimm, the Mysterious Benedict Society, and (to be released in March) the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) Dakin would have been better off picking one idea (secret societies, detecting, superheros, superpowers) and running with it.

Certainly a noble effort, I hope the sequels will be more developed- revealing the intricacies of the characters with a tighter and more fluidly moving plot.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marillier's Heart's Blood

From the moment I started reading Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, I was hooked. Now I anticipate publication of her works with bated breath. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to buy all her books, so am left waiting for the library to get a copy in- which can be a pain. But, this weekend, finally! A copy had been processed!

I find Marillier's recent novels not up to the standards of the first two Sevenwaters books. They're still wonderful books, but I can put them down if I try. Heart's Blood was an enjoyable read, even if I did guess the entire plot of the book early on. Marillier creates haunting and beautiful worlds and is skilled in describing the ethereal or supernatural. Her characters are endearing, though I found Caitrin and Anluan less lovable than her other characters. While I wanted their lives to contain happiness, I don't pine to see their life together now that the book is closed (I do not desire a sequel here). That said, the book is certainly worthy of a read if you're a Marillier fan and need a bit of escapism, but those who have never read Marillier would be better off picking up Daughter of the Forest.

A super-quick snippet of the premise: The protagonist, Caitrin, is a scribe who has run away from her abusive relatives after the death of her father. She ends up in a strange chieftain's house where things are not as them seem. The woods contain voices and strange creatures, the chieftain, Anluan, cannot go beyond the woods, and mirrors show strange images. As Caitrin organizes the library and translates Latin, she realizes there are one-hundred years of love and loss still at work in the house. Contains magic and the supernatural (these strange forces aren't from faerie, okay?)

We're in luck! According to Marillier's website, " "The new and official title for my next novel is SEER OF SEVENWATERS. This is the book formerly known as SONG OF THE ISLAND. The seer in the title is Sibeal." The good bit is the 'more Sevenwaters.'

Austen Parodies & Zombies

This seems to be the trend this year. I like to keep up-to-date with it, even if i am not a fan. Rather than reiterate my dislike of the Quirk Classic Austen books, I'll give you a few links to other people's opinions, discussions, and (more) books. has a fabulous blog. Check out this post reviewing Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters (which I was never able to finish it was so bad).

Mummies and Jane Austen? Might you be interested in that sort of thing? Mansfield Park and Mummies actually seems to have gotten decent reviews.

My quandary (which someone may be able to answer?): According to Amazon there is a book titled Alice in Zombieland. Does this book exist? Yes, it's on Amazon, but with no reviews, cover image or helpful information. Is it self-published? If anyone has seen a physical copy of this book, let me know.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Parodies: the perfect holiday gifts

Love your friends and family but can't bear the abominable smut they read? The answer is here! Parodies are perfect for the season! Specifically I am referring to the girls in your life who are strangely gaga over Twilight. Well, just in time for the holidays, here is Nightlight by the masters of literary parody, the Harvard Lampoon! And a review, if you're the sort of person to check these things out first.

*I just couldn't resist. And I'm taking my own advice and ordering one for my cousin tomorrow. "Why tomorrow?" you ask. Because I will order it from my local, independent bookstore! As the rest of you should.
P.S. Gift cards from some independent bookstores can be used at other independent bookstores elsewhere in the country. Isn't that swell? You can buy local and get all the books you crave! And to make things easier for you, here's the list of bookstores who offer this!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Paperback First

A quick note about English language books for the UK: they are published in paperback and then go to hardcover! Isn’t that ingenious? I would spend so much more money on books if they were initially released in paperback as I’d buy copies right when they came out, instead of getting them from the library and then buying them only if I absolutely adored them and they were already in paperback and I happened to have a coupon. Why the US hasn’t picked up on this, I’ve no idea. Come to think of it, advance reader’s copies are always in paperback anyway…

The Wild Things

I have not yet seen the film version of Sendak’s Masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are. But in Paris I picked up a copy of Dave Egger’s The Wild Things- a book about a movie about a book. And I was incredibly disappointed. Who, exactly, does he think he is writing for? Not me, not anyone I can think of. There were all sorts of uncomfortable moments, difficult issues, not to mention violent moments and parts that seemed sexual (almost like a modern Red Riding Hood). I’d prefer not to pull apart the story and explain this more fully- I’d rather just forget the book. And so, while I was looking forward to the movie, I am now avoiding it. The only thing that could bring one to pick up this book is the McSweeney’s Packaging- it’ll get you every time.

The Inheritance of Loss

After devouring Anathem in Italy, I arrived in Paris with nothing but a guidebook to read. My friend Valentine lent me Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, having already read and loved it. The first chapter is poetry. If you trust me, find the book, read the first chapter, and don’t read the rest of this post.

Okay. For those of you who simply must know more, The Inheritance of Loss (winner of the Man Booker Prize 2006) follows a few stories: that of a young Indian man working under the table in New York. His father, left back in India, takes care of an Indian judge who doesn’t feel at home in England nor India. The Judge’s granddaughter who comes of age amidst civil unrest. The characters are human, each has major flaws, but you wish them the best despite this. Their wishes and dreams, regrets and sins are so unique, perfectly connected to their stories. You will fall in, and emerge, gasping, at the end.

Neal Stephenson's Anathem

I left for a two month trip to Europe, taking only Neal Stephenson’s Anathem with me. As Cryptonomicon had taken me two months, I figured I’d be fine with just Anathem. I was in for a rather large surprise when I finished it in two weeks (it’s all that train time and decompressing after museums).

Anathem is more easily categorized as science-fiction than many of Stephenson’s other books- and this can only be seen as a compliment. Like Stephenson’s other books, Anathem uses religion, philosophy, and mathematics as an integral part of the novel. His exploration of such concepts is common in science-fiction, but Stephenson makes philosophic conversation more important than most other authors. But where this novel moves away from his others into the realm of sci-fi is his inclusion of aliens. Aliens? Do these not sound a bit strange for a Stephenson? Yes, they do. But his characterization of them is so perfect for the world he creates, there is no need to suspend disbelief, for by the time the aliens appear we have already questioned so much of the world through philosophical passages that we are ready to accept, question and learn. Not wanting to take away from the experience of reading, I will not say more, except that this is a wonderful introduction to Stephenson for sci-fi readers, and an interesting new novel for those already following his work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Comic Book without Pictures

Legacy, coming out October 13th, is the classic super hero story without comic book panels. "An innovative graphic novel?" you ask. No such luck. Legacy, written by Thomas E. Sniegoski, is a teen novel in which all the fight scenes are written and the gadgets described. Readers follow 18 year-old Lucas as he learns his father is the billionaire super-hero the Raptor. What follows is a coming of age story (complete with future love interest) of the grays in the black and white world of super-heroes.
Despite the lack of pictures, I must mention the design of the book. The cover features a collage of comic imagery that entices with its' pop colors and dynamism. The interior is even better. With page numbers on the sides of the pages and large chapter numbers without titles, the design is bold, clean, and quite lovely.

The story isn't bad, there just aren't any surprises if you know anything about super-heroes or coming of age stories. And the writing is seriously lacking, leaving readers wishing for pictures to come to the rescue with details and hints more subtle than the writing. While I think Legacy will be a big hit with the teen boy crowd (Twilight for boys. But with better relationships- I hope), I think they'll be better off with actual comics.

The likelihood of this book becoming a movie is monumental. With all the super-hero movies stolen from comic books that have been coming out in the last few years, perhaps Sniegoski should just have written a screenplay; I think his book may be one of those destined to be a better movie. My mom is already betting Christopher Columbus will direct.

The Carpet People

The only Prachett book I ever liked (excepting his masterful work with Gaiman on Good Omens) was The Carpet People, a book I listened to on cassette. Unfortunately, it has seemingly always been out of print. But you are all in such luck! For on November 24th, 2009 an illustrated version will be made available for your enjoyment! Callooh! Callay! I chortle in my joy!

The Carpet, like that one you need to vacuum under your chair. Zoom in. Very, very close. Where a dropped penny is a towering cliff, mined for eons, and the fray (vacuum) is to be feared even more than you fear doing it. Here is the setting for Prachett's adventure.

Where the Wild Things Are

The movie comes out in October. This is a most disturbing event were it not for the featurette in which Sendak gives his approval of the project. Not only has he worked with Spike Jonze, but he gives permission for audiences to view the movie as Jonze's Wild Things, which is different from Sendak's Wild Things, which is different from all our Wild Things, even those of Dave Eggers.

Dave Eggers? Why Dave Eggers? I will explain. Dave Eggers has written the book based on the movie. It even comes in a fur-covered edition.

Confused? So are we all. So, let's go on a Wild Things media binge in October and figure it out.

*To prepare yourself, check out Terrible Yellow Eyes, where illustrators pay homage to Sendak's influential art.


Yes, that answer. To that strange question. Written by none other than the brilliant Douglas Adams. If you have not read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, stop reading, find (borrow, buy or steal) a copy, and go read it with a nice cup of Earl Grey.

Assuming you have read it you will be shocked and amazed by this news: there will be a sixth Hitchhiker's. Yes, I know there is the unfinished Salmon of Doubt from Douglas' mac, but now Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame) has been given permission to write a different 6th book. And, based on the blurb found on Amazon, it does not take off from the snippets found on Douglas' beloved Macintosh. It is titled And Another Thing... and is currently leaving me speechless.

This book will be released October 12, 2009. When I return and get my mitts on a copy, you can expect a reaction.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Modern Hansel and Gretel

A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Graveyard Book... a number of dark books for young readers have been doing rather well of late. I do not think for an instant that this is because children like darker themes; more than a handful of boys have come into the bookstore in the past week looking for silly fiction, NOT SCARY, they insist. But if your tastes fall along the darker side of things, snatch a copy of Keith McGowan's The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children.

This is not "cooking with children" in the sense of "let's get together and make some nice cookies." This is cooking in the "stick a child in the oven" vein. Did I mention it's dark?

Siblings Sol and Connie move with their father and stepmother to a new town and are suspicious of the lack of children and the femur they see a dog knawing on. With pieces of the Witch's journal mixed into the narrative, readers unearth information just before Sol and Connie, heightening their sense of peril.

Connie is tomboyish and animal-loving while Sol is interested in science, technology, and books. While the two have their sibling spats, they remain close and work together to save themselves from the frying pan and the fire. Lovers of A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Sisters Grimm will devour this story and then stay up all night hoping for more while jumping at shadows.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters

I am halfway through an advance copy of Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters (one of the perks of working at a bookstore) and have finally realized what is lacking. I did not love P&P&Zombies and I am not loving S&S&Sea Monsters; they are intriguing, based on interesting ideas, but they have not been fully carried out. Both are first drafts of a novel, they have not been taken nearly as far as they should nor have the basic issues of setting and characterization been resolved.

In Austen, etiquette and manners take precedence. What makes an accomplished young lady? Good husband material? When does one go to London for the Season? In adding Zombies and kung-fu or submarines and seamonsters, Winters and Grahame-Smith are changing the very setting of Austen's novels. Therefore, before writing, they should have answered these questions for themselves: what makes an accomplished young woman in a place overrun with zombies? If everyone of high society goes to Submarine Station Beta for the season, what has become of London?

This is not to dismiss the idea of playing with Austen's classics, the idea is very much in vogue with Mr. Darcey: Vampyre coming out August 31st, Vampire Darcey's Desire on December 1st, and P&P&Zombies deluxe edition October 21st (with much better illustrations- see the samples on amazon). However, Austen's writing needs to be complimented by strong ideas and writing, otherwise it will fall into the category of has-been spin-offs. Therefore, I urge Quirk Classics and others to consider what is lacking: editing. S&S&Sea Monsters and P&P&Zombies have the potential to be enjoyable reads, they simply need a good editor to get them there. So, ask those questions, resolve your worlds, and then come back to me- I'll give you another chance.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A friend's reply to Lamb with some Austen Zombies thrown in

A number of months ago, I posted my reaction to Lamb by Christopher Moore. I then lent this book to my friend Sarah Bentley and told her to give it to someone else when she finished as I didn't want it back. Sarah likes video games and zombies (but also Jane Austen) so I wanted to get her view of the book. It's very much a raving sort of reaction, the sort emailed to a friend; she's given me permission to post her reaction here:

So I started out actually liking the book. It was like reading a fairy tale being retold!

And then everything went downhill and was horrible and annoying. And even though the author claims to have done research, I disbelieve him. He was unconvincing in the book and unconvincing in the afterward. The scene with the praising of the goddess Kali, it sounds like he only went to one source, which was Campbell's book, which was written during the British occupation of India. Yeah, that's totally unbiased opinion of someone else's belief being recorded right there. And roughly 1900 years out of the proper time. Gee, you think the religion might have changed a bit much? Especially since Kali doesn't even really show up in historical documents until 600 C.E.? Though, to be fair, there was a goddess who probably transmuted into Kali mentioned some thousand years prior to Christ. Even though when animals and men were sacrificed to her, it was only men and male animals. No women. Until the Thuggees, which were much, much later.

And if you're going to quote the Kama Sutra, than actually quote the damn Kama Sutra. Even though it wasn't properly compiled until about 200 years after Christ's supposed death and resurrection. Point is, this book did not sound well researched and just made stuff up. Which would be fine, if the author could have actually fit the made up stuff into the damn world. I mean, okay, the author is already working with a fairy tale, but he's also claiming that this fairy tale is something that has historical basis. Either make shit up, or actually base the damn story in real history. Don't make shit up and then claim to have done research.

And I felt like he had a lot of plot elements that he could have worked with, and didn't. And Biff and Joshua seemed to travel really, really quickly.

And I'm sorry, but even if you are using modern vernacular to tell a story, you cannot have a character say "Oh, jeez" two thousand years ago, because that is the shortened version of saying "Oh Jesus". You can have them using some other kind of modern vernacular, so long as it is not some form of Jesus's name!

Also, to quote the author, he says "I felt [an important question that] needed to be addressed, which is, "What if Jesus had known Kung Fu?"". Well, apparently nothing. Because it isn't like Jesus ever actually used Kung Fu, so why the hell would you bother to make a character learn Kung Fu if he isn't even going to use it?! Even Biff didn't get as much mileage out of that as he should have for the sake of the story. So why sacrifice historical accuracy for what is essentially a useless storyline?

This book was a trial in frustration and terrible writing. I can see why you don't want it back. But I can't think of anyone I hate enough to lend this book out to.

My response:
I think this is the problem with a lot of spoofs these days; there is no reaserch involved, not even an editor saying, "this needs to be more integrated," or "this is obviously anachronistic." I would argue that the reasons Lamb fails are the same as the knock-off Austen remixes. And the thing is, both of these were good enough concepts (fair reading materials have been founded upon less) it's just that they read as first drafts in which nothing as been called into question, including the fact that there are obvious historical differences. Yes, some anachronisms work, but if they are a key component of the book or the story you are playing with, they need to be incorporated into the story- and the seams need to be carefully hidden or embellished with pretty- and appropriate- trim. Something on which to muse: we enjoy A History of the World Part I, but not these recent knock-offs. Is this the key difference the medium used, or the way in which they were written and considered?

Also have you seen that Philip Pullman has a Jesus book coming out?

Sarah again:
Also, I think what made A History of the World Part I more enjoyable was that is was actually researched, crazily enough. Or at the very least, researched enough to be funny, and funny enough that anything anachronistic was amusing as opposed to annoying. Whereas my problem with say, the rewritten Austen books is that no woman in the Regency period would act that way, zombies and kung fu not withstanding. Possibly because no human would react that way, no matter the time period.

History of the World Part I works because the script is joking within the historical setting about the history that the story lines take place in. So if you are going to put zombies in the Regency era, you really should sacrifice the Kung Fu trope (Wait, you don't have enough money to give the girl's reasonable dowries, but you were able to take them to China? And like any respectable Dojo would have taken them on, anyways!) and make the story a dialog about the Regency era and how people back then would have reacted to zombies.

Granted, this would have taken talent and actually rewriting the books as opposed to adding the idiotic zombie plot in piecemeal, but there's a better chance of something halfway decent coming out of it.

Anyway, feel free to add your thoughts, opinions, and arguments. I've heard good things about Christopher Moore's other work, so if you suggest something else, we may try it out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Another God Story

(can't you tell I'm catching up?)

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff.
When I read I do laugh out loud. Sometimes. Or squeal (at the I-knew-it moments of authors I love). Or flail. And I did laugh at moments of Lamb. But soon after a laugh emerged, it would become bogged down in stupidity. Authors, pay attention here: There is a big difference between humor (think Douglas Adams, Wodehouse, Good Omens, Sedaris) and stupidity (think bad television). And though the line between the two may be thin, one cannot be replaced with another. Perhaps where Lamb went wrong is in this specific area: teenage boy humor is stupidity to all but a select few teenage boys. Got it?

The long and short of it is that if you are one of those select people who are amused by "teenage boy humor," Lamb is wonderful beach reading. To all others, perhaps you should read it and take another stab at it- Lamb was a good start, but I'm sure with a couple of drafts you can do better (much, much better).


Just to highlight sibling differences, I'll throw this one in next- lent to me by the brother of the girls who lent me Nancy Drew.

First of all, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, is a hefty tome that is easily three books, not just in sheer number of pages, but in the number of stories being told. World War II stories of soldiers and mathematicians are mixed with the stories of computer communications development in the late 90s. Serving heavy doses of war stories, cryptology, treasure-hunting, math, computers, special operatives, and much more, Stephenson builds a multi-generational novel from actual history and technology. The fast pacing of the story is occasionally broken up with sections detailing the mathematics or codes being used by characters. And while I was interested in these sections, it's difficult to take the time to really read them while another character, in another place and time, is at the brink of death or in terrible danger(and they always are).

After the epic chronicling of multiple stories, Stephenson's ending leaves much wanting. While ties have been drawn between generations and certain conclusions therefore reached, the novel ends in the middle of heightened action; the characters could die, they could become rich, or all might be forgotten, reclaimed by the jungle. But Stephenson never says, he just abruptly stops on the edge of a cliff, leaving speeding readers to fall off. With the extensive development of characters and the many faucets of their stories, they (and readers) deserve at least a ledge or branch on that sheer face of cliff.

But sometimes the fall is worth it- and in this case Stephenson gives readers so much that they'll manage to construct something before they hit bottom. Or they'll just get another of his books.

Nancy Drew

Yes, that infamous girl detective, whose early days were spent with a pistol in hand (early days which have since vanished). Now, up until June, I could safely say that I had never read a Nancy Drew Mystery. This statement was so shocking to some friends that a number of mysteries were forced upon me. I say "a number" because the friends in question had just been gifted the entire collection and had some difficulty in deciding which I should read first. As it turns out, The Scarlet Slipper Mystery was to be my first and last foray into the world of Nancy Drew.

Nancy Drew is a Mary Sue character; pretty, "slim", rich, well-loved, good at everything she tries, she is a character without major flaws, and therefore one who does not experience change. With a perfect boyfriend, a perfect father, and two friends who highlight her perfection, she is boring. Nancy Drew is the ideal of an upper-class American girl. And while the many (many) mysteries add spice and drama to her life, it is always at the expense of others- always less fortunate people. And while these less-fortunate individuals fawn over the perfect Miss Drew, one is left long longing for Miss Drew to finally fawn over one of them, showing that everyone can look up to someone else.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

Julie Diewald finished The Time Traveler's Wife at 2:30 am and I had a gushing email by 2:45 am. I thought I would share her emotional response with you in the hopes that it might persuade you to read the book- at least more than any normal review might. Or, read this if you've already read the book to know that others feel the same way (emotional and confused over the complexities of time travel).

Julie: So I just finished it.

It was an absorbing read and yet one I feared to end. I knew it would rip at my heart. I know it will leave an imprint in my mind for awhile. Tears. My heart aches. A beautiful picture of life with all its bumps and blessings. I enjoyed Clare being an artist and Henry a librarian. It's like our perfect combination of people. When Clare spoke of the creation of art, I understood her completely- as I'm sure you did. The author managed to tie up all the appearances and unknowns in such a complicated weaving of words that I'm satisfied but not. Ooh how could she rip him out of Clare's life? And how could Clare go forward when he is integral to her life? Ahhh. And the last scene- why not tell us more, paint the scene longer? I feel like Clare- waiting for something that has just vanished, unable to recapture. I don't know what to do now. sadness. Thankyou for the book. I enjoyed it. Even after all of these words, part of me feels like I never fully bonded to the characters. Surely to Henry more than Clare. He has a larger amount of book time. Maybe because of the realness of the world. The darkness and the light. Maybe because I have never experienced this kind of love. Or maybe the author has yet to convince me of their truths? I wonder what you thought of the book.

Marika (reply): That is a wonderful email. In all seriousness, I just got teary reading it. What with all the time travel, he never really knows how much life is truly left, and yet he knows the end, whereas Claire knows time, and is stuck there, yet tries to hold on to time which is out of joint.
I think you watch them more than bond. You are inexplicably unable to take your eyes off of them, which is made even more difficult when there are two Henrys or Claire and Henry are separated, or he is with a different her.

There is a trailer now for a movie of the book. I don't think it is the sort of thing that would translate well- I think the movie will just be a shoddy romance, without the true human connection pushed and stretched around time.

On another note, time travel has different rules in every single book, movie, television show,
game, etc. Which is your favorite form? What movie or book has a system in which all the
creator's rules make sense? What examples seem to contradict one another at every turn?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child

After waiting six weeks for an inter-library loan, I gave in and bought Wrede's Thirteenth Child. My expectations for Wrede are rather high due to her Enchanted Forest Chronicles (I was that kid on Halloween who was always an obscure character from a book and no one ever guessed what I was- in 1st grade I was Cimorene).

The slip cover properly brings to mind dime novels of the exploits of the midwest, though I am sure future books will hold more exploits of the wild west than this first one. The book follows Eff, a thirteenth child (and therefore bad luck) and her twin, Lan, the seventh son of a seventh son (which, as any mythologically minded person will know, indicates good fortune and talent). Wrede skillfully blends magic and the frontier, creating a world as rich and believable as the Enchanted Forest.
Thirteenth Child is the first in the series Frontier Magic, according to the spine. And the novel feels like the first in a series. This is not to say it falls below the bar, but the ending is a bit too rapid for a stand alone novel (though no where near the ends of the books in His Dark Materials) and readers will be left dying to know future awaits Eff.

I think the optimal reading range for the book is 3rd through 7th grades, though anyone who loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles or, indeed, Little House on the Prairie, may wish to pick it up. Middle and High School readers may also wish to pick up Wrede's Book of Enchantments (collected stories), Mairelon the Magician, and The Raven Ring. Keep your eyes open for the last two- I believe they are out of print.

Okay, I have now tooled about Amazon and come to the conclusion that college makes you horribly unaware of too many books. More specifically, Wrede's The Seven Towers, Snow White and Rose Red, and Caught in Crystal, many of which were originally published in the 80s and only rereleased this year. Approximately half of her novels are out of print, so keep your eyes peeled at the library and used bookstores. My library surprisingly had a number of these out-of-print lovelies and so I can recommend them whole-heartedly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Scream-Worthy News

When people see this, they tend to scream and jump up and down. If you don't, check out The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia. Then try again.

I have heard it is anticipated more than a trip to Europe by some.

Thank you to Julie Diewald for sending this to me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

The cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies calls out from the shelves.  An elegant young lady in three-quarters profile gazes at the viewer, her red eyes, decomposing jaw, and bloodied lace presenting the intriguing mix of  Georgian society and the undead.  
Attributed to both Miss Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies uses much of the original novel.  The parts Grahame-Smith has added pertain (as one might expect) to zombies, the Bennet sisters training in the the fighting arts, and the plague, which has resulted in the forming of the zombies, also called unmentionables.  This does not change the story line nearly as much as one might think, yet Grahame-Smith's additions are confusing; some of his additions contradict each other.  The portions of narrative dealing with the undead would have been much more amusing if Grahame-Smith's back-story were solid.  While we are told the Bennet sisters spent ten years in China learning the fighting arts, it is not known how this fits in with their other accomplishments nor to what extent training in the fighting arts is expected of accomplished young women.  
The interior illustrations do not live up to the cover.  The foreshortening is off and the anatomy skewed in a manner that does not appear purposeful.  Furthermore, the costumes are not Georgian nor of Oriental derivation, and are difficult to place in any category but vaguely historic.  
While an intriguing premise, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does not live up to expectations of comedy and satire.  It might be seen as beach reading, but only if one's stash is rather depleted.  It may be the medium that prevents Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from reaching satirical heights; it would make a very good bad movie.  With romance, period costumes, and witty dialogue for the chick flick lovers and zombies, blood, guts, gore, and Katanas for the action crowd, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could be next summer's block-buster.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Patricia C. Wrede

My mother read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles aloud to my brother and me when I was in second grade.  We adored them (to the dress up like a fire witch for halloween level adore them). Her regency era magic series, written in a letter writing game with Caroline Stevermer, was enjoyable, but didn't win its way into my heart as easily as The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.   

Wrede is not an author who I keep monthly tabs on, like Marillier and Pierce.  So, I was extremely excited (the extremely is necessary as seniors in college aren't good at excitability during finals week, they're mostly dreary) to see a Wrede post on Tor's blog.  

Her new book is entitled Thirteenth Child and is a combination of magic and pioneer America.  As I haven't yet read the book, look here for more information.  It is now the first book on my de-stressing after school list.  I promise a review once I get my hands on a copy....

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Resisting Crossover Tendencies

A recent article from BBC covers a recent move by publishers to put age bands on books.  These bands would be given an age plus recommendation prominently displayed on the book jacket.  After the Crossover phenomenon of His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman, Mark Haddon, Garth Nix, and many others (during which publishers found their sales rocket from the dual purchase power of adults and children), it seems retroactive to begin age banding books.  

If a parent can't take the time to skim a book to see whether it is appropriate for their child, there are other options to age branding (besides, do you really want publishers to decide the age range of a book?  These are publishers who wouldn't believe that Coraline was intended for children).  Librarians, authors, and independent booksellers are more than happy to give parents book lists and advice.  Librarians especially can gain a better understanding of what your child enjoys and their level simply by talking to you or your child- something publishers cannot.  

Furthermore, how to you age rank something?  Complexity of language?  This makes older books for older readers.  Issues?  This makes older books for younger readers.  What about the fact that few children of the same age actually read at the same level and are of the same maturity?  How do you rank Rushdie's Haroun & the Sea of Stories? (the only answer can be crossover)

Perhaps we should  remove age-est views from books, as they already exist in so many other facets of our society.  This can only help children relate to those other than their schoolmates.   

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Everyone has a different reason for picking books (though the publishing industry may think otherwise).  For the visually oriented, the cover, layout, type, and overall design.  For the tactile, the heft, weight, and paper quality.  And for some, blurbs.  Courtney E. Martin has an article in Publisher's Weekly about Blurbs I would recommend checking out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shaun Tan

I was already amazed by Tan's The Arrival, a glorious wordless graphic novel whose mix of fantasy and early 20th century immigrant stories is a subtle masterpiece.  Tan's newest book, Tales from Outer Suburbia is also amazing, and allows us to see the spectrum of materials and techniques he uses.  From the end papers made of a compilation of sketches to the use of stamps as a table of contents, this book contains not just wonderful illustrations, but very nice design.  

Like The Arrival, this is not a picture book for children, as indicated by the imprint (Arthur A. Levine Books is Scholastics' young teen group).  And I think it will soon find a broad crossover audience.  Though the stories contain Tan's mix of fantastical elements and characters based in reality, they have a bittersweet twinge- like a 75% dark chocolate bar with candied orange peel inside.  

And the illustrations?  I could go off in a string of wonderful words, but I will refrain.  From gouache to pastel, pencil, acrylic, scratch-board, pen , and collage each story has its' own distinct look.  All are distinctly Tan, though there are other influences ("our expedition" features Wayne Thiebaud influenced landscapes and "Make Your Own Pet" makes one think of Lane Smith (of Stinky Cheese Man fame)).  

The fractured nature of the stories (some are left very open ended) reminded me of some of Chris Van Allsburg's work, specifically The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.  This open-ended nature allows the time to contemplate, to imagine, to take the stories to a personal place for the reader.  And with such gorgeous illustrations, one will want to take the time to look at the pictures while contemplating the possibilities of the story. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rubbish as Reading

Rubbish is read a lot.  I don't have a problem with this, I simply have a problem with giving horrible messages to tween and teen girls, who already have enough problems and hormones that they don't need bad messages and examples on top of it.  What am I referring to?  The Twilight series, the blockbusting book and movie I wanted nothing to do with.  Unfortunately, their popularity caused me to take notice, not because they were getting girls to read, but because they promote abstinence, self-depreciation, and unhealthy relationships.  A very good article can be found in Bitch magazine (a feminist response to pop culture) here:

I am currently reading the books (slogging through is more like it) so that I can write a more thorough article on them.  Meanwhile, I encourage open discussion about the bad examples found in these books and a shift to more empowering fiction (Alanna, anyone?).  

Series Or the Missing Books

I am sitting at my computer in New York searching the online card catalog of my library.  Julie is in Massachusetts, sitting at her computer and looking at the online card catalog of her library.  And every time I come across something I’d absolutely love to read, a little window pops up on Julie’s screen saying something to the effect of, “this is absolutely amazing.  The imagery is gorgeous and it made me cry.” Or, “damn it! Why do they never have the first book in the series!”  And Julie will type something back to me along the lines of, “Let me see if I can inter-library loan it.”  Or, “I know!  The third and the fifth aren’t much good without the first.” 

What can be determined from these brief examples of our conversation is that (1) we read a great deal, (2) we prefer to read our series in the correct order, and (3) public libraries have a terrible habit of buying books with no regard to their order in a series.  This last conclusion is the most important of you are a public librarian.  If you are a public librarian, I suggest that you do a complete sweep of your library and fill in the gaps currently present in your series.  This means that if you own the third and fifth books in a series (which I have found to be the most common volumes in most libraries), you must buy the first, second, and fourth books in the series. 

Now, if you find that your search is not turning up these anomalies in your collection, I suggest that you skip ahead to science fiction and fantasy, where this problem seems to be an epidemic.  If you are still finding that all the volumes in a series are present in your collection, you are either not looking correctly and should therefore find a nerdy teenager to help, or you should be congratulated for actually buying books in the correct order.

To be fair to librarians, book buyers, and booksellers, I will admit that some authors do make it awfully difficult to keep a series in order.  For example, why does the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy by Douglas Adams have five volumes?  And is C.S. Lewis’ the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe the first book in the Narnia series, or the second?  The answer to the first question is you should never trust science fiction writers as their minds spend most of the day in outer space or on other planets.  The second answer: we wanted answers as to Narnia, and we got them in the form of a prequel.  As The Magician’s Nephew is delightful story, and answers our questions, you should not complain about so inconsequential a problem as the order of the books. 

As to the problem of figuring out what books in a series your collection is missing, the answer is quite easy to find.  If you are anti-computers, I would suggest going directly to the root of the problem: the books themselves.  Most, if not all, books in a series will display their position in a series on the spine, the cover, or inside the book on a page listing other books by the author.  If, like me, you are sitting at your computer, or if the numerical information cannot be found on the book, Amazon is your next best bet. 

I adore Amazon.  Yes, I know it is a mega-corporation that will someday beat out all the lovely little independent bookstores, but I still love it.  You can find everything, and I mean everything, even the out-of-print lovelies you thought you’d never seen again and the books that won’t actually be released for a few weeks.  But I’m sidetracking.  You can search any and everything on Amazon.  So, the simple way to find the gaps in your collection is to plug in the author or title of the books you are searching, and bing! Up will pop a nice window giving all the information you could ever wish to know about the book, including if it is in a series, and then you can even find the other books in the series.  And, get this, you don’t even have to launch another search- generally, you can just click a link.  Sometimes I do love technology. Just think, you could order the book, have it in less than a week, and have it on the shelf…. Oh, yeah.  I forgot about the process part of actually getting the book on the shelf…but I’ll deal with that later. According to the web, my library actually has the first in a series Julie recommended….  

Reading During Dinner

I read too much.  I have always read too much.  I am sure most parents say they would be over-joyed if their children read too much.  But the fact is, when it actually happens, it’s not what you think it will be.  I’m not saying my parents weren’t happy that I read too much, but they did spend a rather large amount of time telling me and my brother to “put the book down and come eat dinner.”  Now, if we had simply put our books down and gone running to the dinner table, I don’t think there would be as much trouble as there was.  Instead, we would have to finish the page.  But here’s the catch, on how many pages does the paragraph end neatly at the bottom?  Very few, I should think, and therefore we’d have to finish that paragraph also.  But when you’re gulping down fiction, the ends of paragraphs aren’t exactly noticeable, and so “just let me finish this page” would really end up becoming, “just let me finish this chapter.”  And now, any book-lover will be asking, “but why stop there?” 

Why indeed?  I believe that by the age of ten or so, I had trained myself to ignore chapters.  By that point, I didn’t really see what the purpose was to have chapters, for I had no problem sitting down and reading until I finished the book.  I still have no problem doing this, though now these one-sitting books have gotten much longer and therefore often last until the wee-hours of the morning.  But back to dinner. 

So, my brother would continue to read, through the end of the page, the end of the paragraph, and, indeed, the chapter.  Furthermore, we would be so absorbed, we wouldn’t hear my mom yelling at us to “just drop the book and come eat.”  Eventually we’d make it to the table, though throughout dinner we would pine after the books we had put down, or, more precisely, had ripped out of our hands. 

Nowadays, I would say most parents have to tell their children to turn-off the tv and do their homework.  In my house, it was, “put down the book and do your homework.”  This phrase sounds quite odd.  Put down a recreation you love and learn from to do homework that bores you.  Maybe even, put down the classic children’s novel to answer questions on a book you read three years ago and hated because you said the characters were underdeveloped?  Right.  That makes perfect sense. 

Reading for school was always difficult.  I don’t mean that the reading itself was difficult, or the questions complicated, that problem was that I read too fast and understood too much.  In schools, it is quite common for a class to take at least a month to read or study a book.  It would take me a day to read that same book.  A week, tops.  This meant, by the time the questions were handed out, or a project needed to be done, my memory of the book was at least three weeks old, and my mind was concerned with some new adventure. 

I remember getting in trouble for reading ahead while the class was reading aloud.  Examples from third grade come to mind, as do examples from tenth grade.  The teachers would make us read “pop-corn style” students would be chosen at random to pick up reading the book.  This method was used to ensure that everyone was actually reading the book.  My problem was that I while I was reading the book, I was most likely a few chapters ahead of the class. 

At this point I really must comment upon reading aloud; some people just don’t read aloud well.  I have listened to some amazing readers in my time, my mom, for one, my good friend Anna, another.  Anna and I used to read Shakespeare aloud together simply because it was so much nicer aloud.  In audio books, it is mostly the voice that makes for a good listen.  I have listened to books I hated to read simply because the reader had a fabulous voice.  I’ve also had to turn off books that rank among my most lent simply because the readers were so awful. 

In school, you cannot simply hit the stop button.  Therefore, I became very good at tuning out the rest of the world.  I have become so good at it, in fact, that you can dance in front of me and yell my name at the top of your voice, and I wouldn’t even know you had done it when you finally caught my attention.  This ability is not exactly cheered by teachers.  In fact, they rather hate it.  Especially during pop-corn reading. 

“Your answer is too long.  Go back to your seat and fix it.”  Come again?  You think the answer to the comprehension question is too long because it has too many examples and is written in complete sentences?  So you’re telling a second-grader that she comprehends the reading too well.  Since when has comprehension been a crime?  (Yes, since politics began comprehension has been a crime.  But I’m not talking about politics; I’m talking about elementary reading lessons.) 

Now, my second grade teacher was a lovely lady, I have absolutely nothing against her.  I’m just asking why a second grade teacher, or any teacher, for that matter, should have a problem with a student writing complete sentences and using examples from the text to back up her writing.  Time wasn’t the issue; it took me less time than most of the other students.  Even now, I have no idea what the issue was.  But I do know that from then on, I did the smallest amount of work possible to get an A.  Yes, it is sad, but it gave me more time for my greatest love, my greatest passion, reading what I wanted to read.  

Non Fiction

Something I personally dislike, but I have found some to like. 

Artists in Times of War – by Howard Zinn – This book is good for not just artists, but all people.  Zinn is amazing.  This book contains four short essays and is easy to read in one sitting (not a Marika sitting, a normal sitting).  This may be my favorite non-fiction. 

Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting by in America* by Barbara Ehrenreich- my mom’s college professor.  Follows the author’s journey as she attempts to get by in America with just minimum wage jobs.  An eye-opener.  I suggest anything by Ehrenreich. 

Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life* - I found this book insightful, especially after rereading her novels.  Highly recommended (and I don’t even like non-fiction).  This book provides insight into writing, reading, life, and religion.  Each idea is a page long so it’s good if you want something that’s stop-and-go.  It’s wonderful in conjunction with her fictional works. 

Big Fat White Men, Dude, Where’s My Country? By Michael Moore- these are a leftist-view of American economy and politics.  Some people can’t stand Moore, but I found his books insightful and amusing in high school. 

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn- an amazing, eye-opening view of American history. One of the best histories you can find.  Also watch the documentary on him: You Can’t Stay Neutral on a Moving Train.  

Night by Wiesel- a holocaust story that is short but heavy (I read it in 8th grade reading).  I’ve seen pieces from it done for speech and debate many times.  

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell- Amazing book that was passed from my mom to me, to my brother.  It explores the validity of first impressions, as well as their shortcomings, and how the brain goes about processing things.  I’m trying to get my hands on his most recent but haven’t yet succeeded. 

Crossover Fiction by Sandra Beckett- one of the only books written on crossover literature it is a very expensive book and difficult to get your hands on but well worth the wait of interlibrary loaning- especially if you are a librarian or teacher.  With chapters on crossover books in different languages and countries as well as some brief history on crossover novels in our past (though this is not quite as thorough as it could be).  Some very good quotes by authors are included.  This book played an important role in the formulation of my minor’s thesis.