Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Paris Apartment

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable
378 Pages

This book was previously reviewed by another person on this blog in August so I won't go into a lot of detail, you can read that entry below.  I also enjoyed the novel which was based upon a true event.  

Citadel of God

Citadel of God: A Novel of St Benedict by Louis de Wohl, 352 pages of God is the story of Benedictus, that is, St Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, but more space is taken up with the parallel, fictional story of Peter, Benedictus' former pupil, a young Roman nobleman who becomes deeply involved in the political intrigue between the courts of Constantinople and Ravenna.  In the tradition of pious classics such as Ben Hur, The Robe, and Quo Vadis, the invented characters are used to illuminate the significance of the real subjects without overly distorting the historical record.
After a successful career as a writer in Weimar Germany (and an odd turn as an astrologer with MI5 during the War), de Wohl became famous in the '40s and '50s for his novelistic treatment of the lives of holy men and women from King David to Pope Pius XII.  He does an excellent job here of contrasting decadent semi-Christian Rome to the monastery of Monte Cassino, and the transitory nature of worldly politics with the lasting power of truth.  The author inevitably takes considerable liberties with certain subjects, but avoids the obvious pitfalls (his Theoderic is an excellent administrator and a charismatic leader, not a stereotypical brutish barbarian).  Some issues are considerably oversimplified, of course, and there are occasional anachronisms (while Justinian had spies, they were not the medieval equivalent of the CIA), but nothing overly jarring, indeed, the changes probably make the story more accessible to modern audiences.
A light, easy read with a pointed message.

Girl Walks Into a Bar...

Girl Walks Into a Bar... by Rachel Dratch, 248 pages

You'd probably recognize Rachel Dratch. She was on Saturday Night Live for 12 years (her best-known character was Debbie Downer), and she's appeared as mannish lesbians and goofy old ladies in various movies and TV shows since she left the show in 2011. For the last several years, however, she's been pretty much off the map. In Girl Walks Into a Bar..., Dratch discusses those SNL years and the improv years leading up to them, as well as the few years since.

At the beginning of the book, Dratch explains that this isn't meant as a showbiz memoir and, while she certainly does talk about showbiz for a while at the beginning, she largely sticks to that promise. Instead, this memoir offers insights into Dratch's personal life, with stories about her miserable dating life (including one guy she refers to as The Cannibal) and her unexpected pregnancy at the age of 43.

Dratch does a great job of presenting these everyday stories with a heaping dose of self-effacing humor, while making the reader aware of how, yeah, things are the same for those people on TV (well, as close to "the same" as you can get when a spontaneous trip across the country is nothing to bat an eye at, financially speaking). I listened to the audiobook of this, and I highly recommend it in that format; in fact, I don't know that I'd want to read the actual book, as it doesn't come with Dratch's voice and comedic delivery. Those made the book for me.

Read this if you liked Tina Fey's Bossypants, or if you just can't wait for Amy Poehler's Yes, Please to come out this fall.

Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, 232 pages

When Alison Bechdel was in college, she came out to her parents as a lesbian. A few weeks later, her mother informed her that Alison's father, Bruce, was gay. And a few weeks after that, Bruce died in what was likely a freak accident, though Alison suspects it may have been suicide. Fun Home explores Alison's evolving relationship with her father, both before and after his death, as she attempts to unlock the mysteries of his life.

This memoir is told through Bechdel's detailed drawings and meticulous memoirs, discussing Bruce's life through the literary works that he loved. This is a beautiful, haunting book that opens up as many questions as it answers; it is clear by the end that Bechdel is still working through her childhood relationship to her dad and the influences it had on her early adulthood. There are some pages and panels that may not be appropriate for everyone--Bechdel is frank in her depiction and discussion of sex--though nothing is gratuitous. Otherwise, I highly recommend this memoir.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weight of Blood

Cover image for The weight of blood / Laura McHugh.Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh, 306 pages

This book came to me both highly recommended and from the best seller shelf so it had a lot to live up to. Not only was it able to live up to the hype but it is one of those books that sticks in your mind.

Weight of Blood takes place in the rural Ozark mountains here in Missouri. It is about a girl name Lucy and her mother Lila growing up a generation apart.

It is hard to go into any detail without giving anything away but this is a very intense novel. I would also highly recommend it.

Girl who Played with Fire Graphic Novel

Cover image for The girl who played with fire / adapted by Denise Mina ; art by Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso and Leonardo Manco ; colors by Giulia Brusco, Patricia Mulvihill and Lee Loughridge ; letters by Steve Wands.
Girl who Played with Fire by Denise Mina, 270 pages

This was another table top find, though I would have read it eventually anyways. While this graphic novel is not lacking for illustrated zest the story can be trying at times.

The Girl who Played with Fire continues following the life of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is continuing his bold hard-hitting journalism that got him in trouble in the first book, by going after a sex trafficking ring. Lisbeth on the other hand is being sought after by her legal guardian, a crime boss, and the police.

If you have not read the books I don't recommend reading this graphic novel. There are times where it is hard to understand exactly who the characters are. This is mainly due to nearly every male figure in the novel having blond hair and a similar looking face. This graphic novel also only skims the deeper story line that is in the actual novel.

20th Century Ghosts

Cover image for 20th century ghosts / Joe Hill ; introduction by Christopher Golden.20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, 316 pages

When I first picked up this book I was expecting a collection much like Haunted by Palahniuk but sadly this did not deliver. There were some good stories (The Black Phone and Best New Horror) but the majority were mediocre at best. I did not find any of them particularly horrifying and certainly none that stayed with me for any length of time.

Despite my love for everything else Hill has wrote, I can't recommend reading this book. 

Alex + Ada

Cover image for Alex + Ada. Volume 1 / Sarah Vaughn, story, acript ; Jonathan Luna, story, script, script assists, illustrations, letters, design.Alex + Ada Volume 1 by Sarah Vaughn, 120 pages

Alex + Ada was another table top find. I am not sure which patron has such good taste in graphic novels but I thank them.

The story is about a man name Alex who is depressed with his life. His girl friend left him and he is just drifting along. That is until his very rich grandmother decides what he needs is an advanced android he calls Ada. Most androids are perfectly fine and get along well with humanity as long as they aren't sentient.
Despite having Ada in his life Alex feels like he is talking to a toaster. So he looks into how to make her more alive.

Alex + Ada has a nice storyline too it, though it is simplistically illustrated. If movies are any indication, trying to make an android realer is a bad idea, so it will be interesting to see where this story will go.


Cover image for Warriors / edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.Warriors by Cecelia Holland, Joe Haldeman, Robin Hobb, Lawrence Block, Tad Williams, Joe R. Lansdale, Peter S. Beagle, Diana Gabaldon, Naomi Novik, Steven Saylor, James Rollins, David Weber, Carrie Vaughn, S.M. Stirling, Howard Waldrop, Gardner Dozois, David Morrell, Robert Silverberg, David Bell, and George R.R. Martin, 736 pages

The main reason I read these books, and the others like them, are for the tastes of various authors writings. With most of the novellas only hitting 30 pages you don't have to worry about struggling through any one author for too long. The fact that it has another novella about/from the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin helps as well.

All of the novellas follow the theme of having warriors of various types in them. Among my favorites were Out of the Dark by David Weber, The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor and Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld by Scott Westerfeld                              599 pages

This is Westerfeld’s newest book.  For people familiar with his previous books, this book is very different.  This is the story of Darcy, who, during her senior year of high school wrote a novel, which has been purchased and will be published in another year.  Darcy was paid a large advance and her plan is to defer college for at least a year and spend the next year in New York doing the rewrites for her book and writing the sequel, which has also been purchased.  Her parents, although not thrilled, agree, and Darcy is off to New York.  The story is told in alternating chapters between Darcy’s story of moving to New York, writing, finding love, and learning about life, and the story she is writing, about a girl who has a near death experience when terrorists attack the airport and then finds that she can see ghosts and travel to their world.  It’s possible to just read Darcy’s story or her book, if one of the stories doesn’t appeal, but both stories are awesome and there are some parallels that are fun to see, like when Darcy learns a new word, the word finds its way into the story she’s writing.  I think that a lot of teens would like this book, including fans of Westerfeld, but they should be prepared for the differences between this and his previous books.

Ogres Wife

Cover image for The ogre's wife : poems / Ron Koertge.Ogre's Wife by Ron Koertge, 79 pages

Once again I was lured into reading poetry, this time it was the covers fault. How can you not read a book that has a pipe smoking jellyfish on it?

Ogre's Wife is a collection of short and quite often humorous poems concerning just about everything. There is a poem about Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, another about poking a dead crow, and also about an ogre's wife. Of course there are others, but some of them I am not sure what they are about.

Since so many of the poems were silly in at least one degree, I can't say that I found any poems that were truly bad or that I would say I disliked. But there was also only a couple I would call good.

As a side note I would really like to have this cover art as a poster or painting.

One Plus One

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, 368 pages

Ed had it pretty good with a successful tech business and money rolling in...until he inadvertently participated in insider trading. Jess never had it good: she's a single mom working two jobs (house cleaner and waitress at a dive bar), trying to support her math-genius daughter and mascara-wearing stepson in a rough part of town. As you might suspect, Ed and Jess are thrown together when Ed inexplicably volunteers to drive Jess's family (and their huge dog, Norman) to a math tournament in Scotland.

Let's address the big hurdle with this book: this would NEVER happen in real life. Insider trading? Yes. Overworked mom with two not-quite-normal kids? Absolutely. The whole wacky car trip that throws them together? Not a chance. That said, this was quite a charming book. Moyes does a wonderful job of creating very real, three-dimensional, relatable characters, and in this book, she also does a great job of illustrating the financial differences between the main characters. It wasn't as good as Me Before You, but it was definitely good. I'll certainly be picking up her other books.


Cover image for The sandman omnibus. Volume one / written by Neil Gaiman ; illustrated by Sam Kieth ... [and 16 others] ; colored by Daniel Vozzo, Steve Oliff, Zylonol ; lettered by Todd Klein, John Costanza.Sandman Omnibus Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, 1034 pages

Having seen Kara blogging about this and hearing it hyped from multiple other sources I decided to try this series out. It might seem strange to try a series with an omnibus but I felt I could trust their recommendation.

The Sandman series is about Dream, the ruler of the dream world. It follows him on various adventures and stories that take place in hell, dreams and here on Earth. Along the way we meet various figures from mythology, gods, angels and demons. We also meet Dream's brothers and sisters Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair and Delirium.

There is a lot of chronological jumping around as some stories take place back in ancient times while others are present day. Gaiman also seems to play around with different art styles at times. The majority of the comics are like a modern day graphic novel, but then he will throw in one with a realistic or more abstract style. As a whole the series is very good and I enjoyed reading it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Notes From Underground

Cover image for Notes from underground / Fyodor Dostoevsky ; translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky [sic] ; with an introduction by Richard Pevear.Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 153 pages

The nameless narrator of Notes from Underground, Doestyevsky's first mature work and shortest novel, is an entirely pathetic figure, alienated from the world and himself, sick unto death.  There is a very little plot - a meeting with some old schoolmates and a trip to a brothel adequately convey the brokenness of the narrator, after which there is nothing of importance left to relate.  Notes from Underground fits snugly into the genre of confessional literature - if Rousseau felt pride for sins for which St Augustine felt shame, the Underground Man is proud of his shame, since that is the very sign of his consciousness.  He feels nothing but contempt for the modern world, but he has no escape from it, only himself and his books, and neither suffices.

Painfully true to life, this is not a book I enjoyed, but one that I admire greatly.

Dexter's Final Cut

Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay, 352 pages

Many people don't realize that the very popular TV show Dexter is based on a character from a novel series. I've been reading the series from the beginning, and there are some very drastic differences between the books and the TV show. The last few Dexter novels have progressively gone downhill, and this was the grand finale. The series ended in such a way that I'm quite sure the author was just ready to be done writing and hurriedly crafted a finish, leaving many things unresolved and ultimately ruining the Dexter character and everything he stood for.
The premise behind this installment is that a popular crime TV show wants to film its pilot at the Miami Police Dept. and the main actor and actress are to shadow Dexter and his sister, Deborah, to develop their roles. The main actress has a stalker who has been following her from city to city, killing blond women who resemble her to send her a message.
Dexter is assigned to be the actress's live-in bodyguard and ultimately becomes her lover as well, deciding he no longer wants or needs the family he is a part of as part of his illusion of being a normal member of society.
In case you can't tell, I was utterly disappointed in this book. To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with how they ended the TV series either. Hmm.

The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, 191 pages

Cover image for The chocolate war / Robert Cormier.Jerry Renault is high school student whose mother just recently died, and whose father seems lost even in his own home. When his school starts its annual fundraiser selling chocolates Jerry is the only student to refuse to participate. Meanwhile Archie Costello the leader of the secret school society the Vigils finds himself being coerced by the ambitious acting headmaster into making the Vigils responsible for the success of the sale.
I read this book for banned book week because I thought the reasons for the ban were hilariously trivial compared to other banned books. Overall I thought the story was rather good, I enjoyed intensity of the emotions. My only problem with this book was the ending, which I don't want spoil. My problem as not how it ended but because I felt it ended abruptly and that there should have been a more to it.

Fables: Camelot

Fables [vol. 20]: Camelot by Bill Willingham, 256 pages

Yay, I'm finally caught up on Fables! This 20th volume focuses on Rose Red, and her decision to create a new Camelot, complete with quests, chivalry, and a big ol' round table. This incarnation of Camelot also has a focus on second chances and redemption, and, in a bit of a gender bend, a woman in the King Arthur role. I'm curious to see how this Camelot will shake out, as nothing founded in good intentions will last long (as we learned from the original Camelot). Morgan Le Fay is still around, and we, the readers, are probably already familiar with characters who will inhabit the Mordred, Guinevere, and Lancelot roles. 

Speaking of Fables in general, it's obvious that there aren't many more issues/volumes left in Willingham. So far he's done a good job of winding these stories down; here's hoping he keeps up the good work.

(As a side note, if you're reading The Unwritten and get to the Fables/Unwritten crossover, read the first 2/3 of this book before you read The Unwritten Fables. It's much less confusing that way.)

Buddha, volumes 1-8

Buddha volumes 1 through 8 by Osamu Tezuka, 2,986 pages

Cover image for Buddha. 1, Kapilavastu / Osamu Tezuka.Buddha is a manga drawn by Osamu Tezuka and is an interpretation of the life of Gautama Buddha. The story takes place predictably in ancient India, and follows the intertwined lives of several characters as they face the challenges of everyday life such as warfare, famine, drought, and the injustices of the caste system they are born into. From slaves to princes, and even bandits these people are all brought together by the birth of prince Sidhartha, who upset with life sets off on a life changing journey. During his travels he becomes enlightened and attempts to end peoples suffering through his teachings which are still widely practiced today.

I first saw this series while I was shelving graphic novels and thought it looked kind of interesting. After reading it I can say that I definitely enjoyed this series. Tezuka's interpretation of Buddha is great, he takes a serious subject and balances it with his own broad sense of humor from visual jokes to cultural references, and even going so far as to provide character commentary on himself and his books.      

Saturday, September 27, 2014

If He Had Been With Me

Cover image for If he had been with me : a novel / Laura Nowlin.If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin, 330 pages

Have you ever just... gone into the bathroom and punched yourself in the chest 330 times? No? Well... me either, but I'm pretty sure I know what that feels like now. But this is a positive review! And I promise I'm not a masochist!

Almost from the title alone, you can tell where this book is headed. I feel like I can only diminish it by going into too much detail. Instead, I'll say this: while the story is simple, the writing is superb. Being able to sneak incredible insight (almost unnoticed) into scenes that feel perfectly real is a rare skill, and Nowlin does it flawlessly on many occasions here.

There's a four-page chapter almost squarely in the middle of the book that perfectly encapsulates not only what the book is about, but also why it's great. As much as I'd like to block quote all four pages, I'll just say "sometimes sad things are beautiful." This story is an experience that is often difficult to push through - for the most part, I read it in small pieces - but is worth the struggle.

It should be stated that this book fails the Bechdel test about as badly as it is possible to fail. But in a story about obsessive unrequited introvert love, it's understandable.

This would never be a novel I could recommend to everyone. But if you're wearing a breastplate, then you might be okay.